Monday, November 16, 2009

Scintillating side berths

I had got what I had asked for; and got cozy for the night. The 'side lower' berth on Indian trains are unique in two aspects - being 'lower' berths, no one competes for them (they being shorter in length than full-sized berths); and each berth has two windows to its own. It's quite an experience at night on this kind of a berth; with both windows drawn up, one can observe stations, structures and foliage whiz past, somewhat symbolic of the progress of the Indian Railways. With the stars above and the wind gushing into you, what more could you have ask for one helluva night! Of course there's plenty of noise, but that doesn't disturb my sleep; it's the occasional departure announcement at some nondescript station at the dead of the night that would. Nevertheless, I'd take it for all that I get!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Hone your honk!

Honking in India is all pervasive... People honk when they turn left, right, while passing a lone sidestreet, when the stretch of road ahead is empty, when they're at a red, or just simply to show that theyhave a good horn on your vehicle. The loudness, tones, and duration all vary. Irrespective of the kind of vehicle, everyone honks... right from the autowallas to the 'national permit' lorries. It seems to be a kind of a way of asserting themselves on the road, which is sad.

There are adverse effects to excessive horning on the health of our citizens which honkers don't seem to realise. I've felt it myself, and I bet you have too - when someone honks right behind you, you get tensed and annoyed for a brief period - few of the many health hazards of noise pollution. Roadway noise is a major source of noise pollution; I could go on about its ill-effects (of course after some online research), but I'm not a health expert.

There's plenty of scope for self-regulating honking - when I've been the pillion, I've noticed numerous instances where honking is simply unnecessary. If we follow some simple road rules (moderate speed on city roads, maintaining lane discipline, being more observant & patient, and signalling using light where possible during the night) we'd soon realize that honking is unnecessary.

Compare our road behavior vis-a-vis honking with that of the U.S., where honking is considered a stern reproach to the guy who's ahead of you. You hardly hear a honk on the roads!

Alas, excessive honking has already defeated the purpose of the horn - most people here, myself included, ignore horns, because there are so many of them at one instant and simply because listening to and addressing every honk would be impractical. For instance, in a crowded street, how would you know whether the horn is directed at you, let alone take corrective action? :)

Monday, October 05, 2009

Ramblings after a long hiatus

Two and a half years into work and there's already a feeling of mental inactivity. The work-home-work rhythm that appears to have set in gives little time for more intellectual involvement. Back in college, I used to read magazines, novels and full length newspaper articles, and develop opinions on almost everything under the sun. My bro and I would argue endlessly on politics and social issues. Reading used to be one of my chief passtimes; alas, that's no longer the case now.

My reading stats are pretty abysmal for the past two years - No novels for the past year; magazines only when I go home once a month; The newspaper doesn't help either - I glance through the headlines once a couple of days on average. The absence of thought-provoking stuff only makes it worse. Work seems to have consumed all my time - the flute though is a welcome distraction, though learning on my own requires a LOT of motivation from within. Fortunately I have a background in carnatic music that really helps.

The big challenge now is to revive interest in reading; I've observed that I haven't lost it, fortunately - it's just the absence of time or interest to 'go after' books. I'm looking to purchase a couple of good books and start right away.. hope this plan materializes!

As part of this 'plan', I've decided to revive blogging as well. Blogging your ideas and opinions also is a good stimulus, apart from improving (or at the least, maintaining, depending on how much effort you're ready to spare ;) ) your vocab. I only hope this doesn't die down in a week's time (much like the 'resolve' to go to the gym regularly :) ).

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Air Conditioning contributes to dehydration!

While we rush to the air conditioned confines of our office to avoid the sun's terrible glare, do remember one thing - air conditioning contributes to dehydration as well. The dry air that's constantly pumped in by the a/c dries our skin off moisture. For people who spend most of their time under the a/c, remember to drink enough water everyday!

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Tadikalapudi Trek

I had bravely enrolled in this trek, thinking that it would be a breeze for my rather strong physique (yeah right, it's an oxymoron :) ). No sooner had I registered than I fell ill with just two weeks to go for the trek! Fear began to creep into me, and I wondered at one point whether to cancel the trek. Luckily, I recovered in time.


First came the preparation which in itself was tiring. I being a first-timer, had to purchase a host of stuff, including a backpack (a rather large one), cooling glasses, a sleeping mat, and a cap - all of which cost a cool 3k. And then came the heaviest of them all - water - 8 whole litres of it (for just two days!). When my bag was fully loaded (with 2 kgs of food), it became difficult to carry. I was wondering how far I could go with this before collapsing :).

We (14 of us) took Machilipatnam Exp from Secunderabad.


We reached Tadikalapudi at 4.15 in the morning. Having a penchant for frequent headaches, I emptied a litre of water early in the morning, hoping to keep one at bay that day. We started our walk from the station at dawn around 6 AM and kept walking through lovely cotton and paddy fields. Then I saw the ornage morning sun - something which I hadn't seen in a while :) . We walked around a couple of hills and approached a small hill. It looked puny to us, but no one had an idea of what it had in store for us. We met one of the villagers on a bullock cart (which was in itself a rare instance - the first and the last time we ever saw humans in the trek!) who suggested to us to take a path a little further away to cross the hill. We ignored his suggestion, and took the nearest 'route' right in front of us. By the time we reached the peak, my breath had become faster, and we all needed rest. So much for this 'tiny' hill!

Having climbed down this hill, which in itself was an ordeal with lots of thorns (my protruding sleeping , we then reached the plains and our walk became easier. We reached the base of a taller mountain around 8 and settled for breakfast near a stream. A hundred grams of corn flakes with soya milk was all we had for breakfast (Poor me...I was used to eating upma and pongal!).

Yours truly emerged stylish after breakfast with sunglasses and a cap :) . We then started our ascent through the pass between a couple of hills. Our mission was the head of the stream, where we were planning to cool off with a possible bath and a swim. The ascent was smooth at first, and then became rocky. Climbing became difficult, but I was able to manage rather well, usually among the first few in the group. We crisscrossed the stream, and the weather was also perfect during this time (still morning at around 10 AM).

Somehow, in the next half hour or so, we lost the stream, and the land became kindof barren, with just dry grass and fewer trees. Combined with the hotter sun (the season being almost summer), trekking became difficult with more dehydration. I started sweating more, and consuming much more water.

A word has to be said about our leaders. None in the group had any idea where we were going, and simply followed Ravi and Raghu. Both these guys knew this place (this was their third trip here) and often asked the group to rest while they ventured out in the sun to explore routes when they were not sure of the path to take. And yet, they continued to climb with ease! Where did these guys get their stamina from???

The group as a whole started taking more frequent breaks till lunch. Then came the search for a lunch point. We couldn't find a single area with a shade for around half an hour. Then came two smaller such areas, where we split in two and accommodated ourselves. Five chapathis with rajma and channa masala was our lunch. We stayed there for an hour and half (a few even slept).

Thinking we would all be energized post lunch, we resumed our trek - only to rest in another ten minutes :) . We had reached the peak of a 400m high hill and agreed to find the nearest decent plain area to retire for the night. Ten minutes later we found a good spot; but Ravi was still reluctant. "Our original resting point is atop that peak", and he pointed to the top of a adjacent hill 600m tall ("peak 2075" - which measured 2075 feet)! To reach there, we had to descend the peak we were on and ascend the other one.

"Come on guys, it's just 1 km!" Yeah.. if we jump down straight, break our heads and then climb up straight! Otherwise, easily more than 2-3 kms, if we were to properly get down and then up. The group managed to convince Ravi to calm himself down and rest for the night :) . We then prepared the spot - flattened the grass, spread out our sleeping mats atop plastic sheets, and prepared a fire for dinner after collecting dried wood, and removing all the grass off a 2m wide circle. (The last thing we wanted in that scorching heat was a forest fire that we triggered). That was when my headache which started around noon worsened, and I took a tablet and slept soundly for an hour or so. I appeared in such a poor shape to quite a few people that they thought I was dead :)

After sunset, we began our dinner prep - a pack of noodles each for most people on a kadai. We noticed a couple of forest fires - one, on peak 2075, was composed of two magnificently bright lines tapering towards each other, and the other on our peak (the fire itself was not visible, but the fumes were). This was what really scared us - we did not know if and when this fire would hit us, and were told to pack up our stuff and be ready to start descending if we actually saw the fire. However, I and most others slept rather soundly, believing that it wouldn't hit us. Karthik later revealed that he was so afraid (he even woke me up a couple of times), that he didn't sleep well, what with both his legs bent (fearing a snake bite :) ).


Sure enough, as the night got cold, the forest fires disappeared - and when we awoke the next day at 5 AM, they were no longer there. We started our descent at 530 AM - the descent was tougher than the ascent since we usually do not use our hands during descent for grip (we would be on all fours throughout the descent if we did :) ) and had to rely on trees, and consequently I fell down twice. Thankfully we reached the base by 730 AM well before the shadows left. We moved on near the breakfast point, and after freshening up, walked towards the station. We were there by 11 AM and took a passenger train to Bhadrachalam by 12. We were there at Bhadrachalam Road by 1230 AM, and took a dorm. Most of us were truly relieved to see a town with facilities that we usually take for granted :) . After a good lunch, most of us went to the Ram temple there (35 kms away from the station) while Karthik, Venkat and myself stayed behind (Karthik had a swollen knee, thanks to his bent leg the previous night :). I had been to Bhadrachalam the week before and had visited the temple, and Venkat was not interested). After idling around for the rest of the day, we had dinner and boarded the train to Secunderabad.

Overall, it was a fun trip and I'm looking forward to the next one!

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

The art of bargaining

"How much does this cost?"

My mom and I were at Pondy Bazaar, one of the main shopping areas in Chennai. We were at a roadside shop, one of many which thrive thanks to the overwhelming crowds there. The article of interest was a foldable magazine holder made of wooden strips. Mom had zeroed in on this, and popped up the question.

"375 rupees" was the reply.

My mom (and most other women) has this ability to judge the value of an article perfectly,by just looking at one. She knew that this would not be worth more than 150 bucks, and braced for a bout of bargaining. It was amazing to watch her play this out :) She looked disappointed and surprised and waved her hand indicating that she was not satisfied. "Why are you quoting such a high price? I can only give 150 for this."

"Ma,am, for your sake, I am reducing the price by 25 rupees. Please pay up 350! Besides, this is imported material; you can see how strong and durable this is". The vendor opened and closed the holder to prove his point. He then went a notch up - he picked up 200 rupees from his pocket, and claimed -
"Ma'am, this was the amount that another lady just paid for a smaller version of this same stuff. This is a larger version and is worth a lot more".
My mom, not to be let down, retorted -
"Such people are those who have money in plenty and who splurge. I can give you only 150". (At this point, I could not help but laugh quietly :) )
"Ma'am, I'm sorry... Your price is not feasible".
"Fine.. Keep it with yourself."

Then she played her trump card - she began to walk away, with me mutely following. Women use this technique so effectively against vendors. I personally don't prefer this, since I'm afraid that I wouldn't get this product elsewhere and won't be called back again by the vendor. But my mom simply knew that the vendor would agree to her price. Sure enough, he called out.
"Ma'am, give 250 and take it."
My mom returned - "No way, I'll settle for nothing more than 150"
"200 maam"
The deal was done. My mom handed over 200 rupees, with a touch of disappointment. She later reaffirmed to me that the holder was not worth more than 150. At almost half the quoted price, an article had been bought.

Men generally hate to bargain, which is why we shop at retail shops and malls where bargaining is pretty much ruled out. What would I have done in such a scenario? At the maximum, I would've bought the article at 20 rupees lesser than the original quoted price. When will we ever learn to bargain effectively? :)