Sunday, November 26, 2006

As the bike bobbed up and down in an attempt to traverse what was a rather bad excuse for a road, it ground its way over dust and stones, while its usual purr steadily degenerated into a whine. The best of journeys, I tried hard to convince myself, could have inauspicious beginnings. I was trying to make my way to the Nasik highway, for I had never ventured due north of Pune before.

The highway, once reached, pacified the body, jangled and rattled as it was by the connecting road. The seismic shuddering of the bones that appeared all set to continue forever was soon eased, courtesy National Highway number 50. While the said highway was well short of the dreamy playground-like expansiveness of the legendary NH4, the space it afforded more than sufficed for pleasurable driving.

Most cities taper off as you approach their periphery – colourful high rise homes give way to the dull grey of industrial estates, which make way for the dusty single homes and shops of townships, which in turn diminish to shacks and farmhouses, which eventually fall away to open up vast free, unpeopled stretches. Like every city, Pune too withered away before my eyes. As the last of its colourless chimneys exhaled dark wisps, the lonely, unpeopled hillocks that stood behind them intently watched the puffs of smoke meander upwards.

Even as the city was dissolving into the emptiness of the countryside,
there were hills to be gone across. The highway took a forthright approach – it refused to round the hills and tortuously wind its way around them. The NH 50 simply mounted every one of the slopes much like a kid would amble atop a slide in a park. On these hillocks, the upward moving roads evaporated into curly clouds – you couldn’t see the road plunge downwards on the other side of the slope.

Not all hills, however, take kindly to be treated in such an impudent manner –the Khed ghat was one such. It refused to let the highway through without a circumambulatory payment of respects. The highway, unmindful, wound its way through the ghat, greeting the taller of the trees in the valley that craned their necks so as to peep onto the road.

As the highway snaked its way to the top of the ghat, and I prepared to switch my engine off during the descent, surprise – there was no descent to be found! The highway continued straight on – only, wedged at a higher altitude, as the slopes evened out into flatter tracts, and only the bald emptiness of vacant sweeps of land remained as they strolled away towards the faraway skies.

Once upstairs, the blankness of the terrain was intermittent. Just when you thought you were going to get a good long spell of nothingness, along came a town, swathed in the afternoon redness of mud and dust. The metallic shimmer of the highway’s black faded to an uneven mishmash of ginger and cowdung-green, as the omnipresent sand drowned out the dusky tarmac of the road.

Quarter to three. Time, perhaps, to turn back? Slowed near what appeared to be a hamlet. Right sole went gently down upon the brake as I eased to a halt underneath a banyan tree. Gloves and jacket came off, a swig of water went in, and I tried finding a place to sit or perhaps lie down while I let the engine cool.

At first sight – no place promising enough to sit down. Go down the road, find another spot? Then it was that it caught my eye – this decently big milestone across the road. Wondered if the candybar shaped yellow and white tombstone would be comfortable enough. Tried – wasn’t too bad, so decided to park self upon the stone.

Hamlet residents one and two walked by, clearly not accustomed to seeing young men perched upon their friendly neighbourhood milestone, and issued me a what-the-hell-is-the-matter-with-you stare. I refused to pay attention to them, they walked on.

Settled thus, I had the time to do all the nothing I wanted to do, as Bill W. would have put it, and so proceeded to do the same. Looked around, past the fields on either side, beside the knoll that looked an enormous haystack, noticed the footpath etched onto the side of the said hill and spotted a cyclist amble upwards on it, saw a group of young men walk away with baskets atop their heads, perused the silhouettes of the looming hills a long, long way off that the road seemed to dissolve into, realized that I’d watched only the land, only what was terra firma, even though the vaster, larger horizon was all around me. I hadn’t noticed the enormous balls of fluffiness in the sky even though they dwarfed everything upon land that I’d watched. Made amends, watched the skies, and all the emptiness inherent therein.

The highway beside my perch, of course, continued to flow unabated. Rattle, buzz, purr, roar, grrr, tinkle, beep, pom all reached the ears. The little flowers flanking the road on either side of my perch nodded in response to the airflow engendered by the passage of traffic. The flora shook their heads vigourously to trucks and buses, and acknowledged cars and jeeps with a more understated hello.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

A group of us have started a new sports blog - Silly Point, which will be a features-and-opinions blog. Much like other topical blogs, but one exclusively pertinent to sport.

Transmission has begun - I've posted this piece I wrote this morning.

Do check the blog out - we hope to make it pretty comprehensive soon.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Station-ed in the metropolis....

*********

*********



Not exactly dove-hodiyodu*.

********



*******

Woah, what I would give to get to work from an office like this one... Envy of them Central Railways employees engulfs me... It is, of course, not all peace and tranquility and Brit raj charm - indeed, before you can say Shree Shree Shree Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj terminus, a gazillion people will have passed through this place... Which isnt too big a price to pay anyway...

*******



*Consult nearest Ban-ga-lora-ean for precise definition.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006


The baap of the devil.



Significant material possessions.




Cattle class


Cattle class redux.

Going, going, gone....












Thoughts of trains....

While waiting for the last local back home at a half past eleven. Having a not-so-great cam does have its advantages - you get dreamy, wispy, stud images that look right out of an Edward Hopper painting.








From a local train door, earlier in the day. The places perhaps will never be written about. Suffice to say they're approximately 42km from home.











Some single-serving friends....














Friday, April 21, 2006

Portraits of the driver as a young man - I.

A steed. A maze of untouched, unexplored highways stretching away, inviting you to wade through every one of them, to go on through enormity after enormity of nothingness. There may be temptations that can be resisted, but this definitely isnt one of them. A new cam meant some portions of this ride across nowhere were recorded, at least to the extent that the not-particularly-great resolution of the cam permitted. Here be those sets-of-thousand-words.

That table on which the glass is, it's sub-lime, aint it?

We've come a long way, baby.

Reflections on protective gear.


Some 42km outside town, minutes before sundown, when torn between rushing to town before dark and imbibing some of the Best Sugarcane Juice in The World(TM). Said juice was drunk, darkness caused no harm to befall the driver, since city lights began a short distance after. Said driver did, however, end up with a headache due to the city traffic, whose slow-start-stop jams dont quite drive you ecstatic. Not after a no-worry highway cruise.

Portraits of the driver as a young man - II.

Sunsets and sunrises are the among the most common motifs in art and aesthetics, yet they never bore you or cease to hold your imagination. Out in the open, on a highway in the middle of nowhere, watching a sunset all by yourself makes it a first hand, close up experience, much like riding across nowheres, that makes you feel closer to, in proximity with nature, with the sunset.

Sunflowers! Bad photo, but REAL sunflowers! Not on TV or in a tourist album, not even a fleeting glimpse through a speeding bus or train, but field after field of glaring yellow running away to infinity - right here, right now, right around me. I hopped off the highway, parked on the side road that coursed through the midst of these fields, sat down upon a the edge of a little bridge. Their calm was infectious. It helped that it was late morning, and that I'd been driving since sun-up and so was in need of a break, so much time could be spent here.


This was another of the times when I wished I had a much better camera. This was a swampy stretch that I viewed from the ledge of a cliff outside Hospet on NH13. I parked upon the stones on the roadside, regretting as one does on such occasions - that things like these, those that we love the most are those that we cannot stay forever with. Some half an hour was all that could be devoted, for sundown, alas, approached, and a town had to be gotten to before dark, before the killer trucks would begin to go on the attack.

Portraits of the driver as a young man - III.

The Re-loins stations. Very neat, very well kept, amazingly spacious and comfortable - with hygienically prepared horrid tasting food - it tasted equally bad in the couple of stations I went to across three states. The perfect places to stop over and take a nap, after you've had lunch elsewhere.

Eh? Why should I give a caption for every pic?

That's un-burn.



The phantom steed.


Still life with unkempt hair.








Monday, March 27, 2006

The steed was de-lighted. Her lights were refusing to work. That fact came into my cognizance only after I'd slithered onto the Bangalore highway on my way back home. Which fact, you'll quite agree, is distinctly unfunny at a quarter past ten in the night on a dark highway, particularly when 15 km of that thoroughfare has planted itself between you and home.

During previous rides, the headlight being in order had quite attenuated my sensitivity to the fact that there were, in fact, no street lights on the said highway. I could, of course, navigate the steed by the lights of the city that loomed beyond the knolls and go at 70 or so, but proceeding for some 10 meters sufficed to convince me of the hopeless inadequacy of the said so-called illumination for the requisite speed.

I was by now 10 meters ahead, which quite ruled out the possibility of going all the way back into the city and clutching the old highway. There was lethargy pertinent to the extra distance to be driven, there was also what I was trying to tell myself was pride, and how I'd be proud to have driven at 70kmph in pitch darkness – tale for grandchildren and that sort of thing.

Easy does it, I thought. All I need do is latch onto another motorcyclist and follow his tail light. Other motorcyclists were quite at the desired speed, so I let go as soon as the next whizz went past, and charged ahead. Seeing a blot of red 20 meters ahead and heading straight on in that general direction shouldn't be that difficult, I told myself.

A curve announced its arrival by the shoving the road away to my right, and this I had to negotiate without the benefit of any sort of illumination, for the red dot lit no part of the road, and illuminated nothing but itself. Being on the edge of the road, ambitious of touching 70, it isn't the easiest of tasks to avoid contemplating the possibility of the tar underneath your wheels sprinting off to your right and giving way to gravel, or worse - to bushes and vegetation lining the road, or to ditches and drains that were in equal abundance, or for that matter to air which would gladly proclaim its presence whenever the road would prop itself upwards.

Thoughts of the sort, therefore, walked into my head, checked in and made themselves comfortable. By now, the red spot had drifted away. The gently rising embankments of the hillock lay both to my left and right – those on my right being pockmarked by sparks, by dots of various shades of yellow and white of the city lights that punctured the darkness like shards of broken glass glinting in sunlight, but which sparkles stubbornly refused to be bright enough to show me my way ahead.

There were other red lights I could chase, and I could even do so at 60-70. But to do so and simultaneously stay on the road was, I reluctantly admitted to myself, rather beyond my abilities, considerable as they might be. I therefore resigned myself to having to take the steed along at 30 or so. Due deceleration was effected.

Given the highway was this one, I feared that a pace of 30 odd would amount to sheer torture. The next swing of the road to the left drove into exile such, and all other thought, for I was by now really paying attention, really looking, concentrating, on what I could see nothing whatsoever of. Call it survival instinct if you must – not wanting to end up on a hospital bed, I must humbly confess, does come rather naturally to me.

For the first time since I had begun driving, I was actually looking ahead, forward, and not sideways. What was my sole concern was what was immediate, and not any of the accompanying frills or sideshows. Sometimes, while on the road, when you see, love the people, the landscapes, the hills, the rivers, the skies, you miss the road itself – it's easy to skip the obvious.

I could today see the dull, dark twin blotches stroll away ahead of me, and see nothing but that. There were occasional shimmers of the radium signposts flanking the path, there was the yellow-white stripe on the left edge following it loyally to the end of the world, there were thickets that you could only see the outlines of – that earlier rides had told you were the clumps of bougainvillea that had sprung from the dividers. The road waved about left and right in curls whose roundedness I had never noticed before – somehow all that seemed to have mattered before was the speedometer reading. Mohandas had told me too – there's more to life than increasing its speed. The smooth curvature – like that of an infant's cheeks, looked like one huge, unconcerned swoosh of some cosmic paintbrush.

Sometimes embracing the hillocks, sometimes breaking free to be all by itself, sometimes taking a peek at a the shimmying of a lake that lay downstairs, occasionally crawling underneath bridges, sometimes wiggling between cliffs, at times going up on its toes to skip across rivulets, the road stretched itself out upon its back as it lay down underneath the blanket of the inky sky, even as the occasional roar of an overtaking vehicle dissolved into a crimson speck in the distance.

It moved on seemingly in ripples - flutters that used to be concealed from you before by speed, preoccupations, everything else you thought was terribly important. It gently, softly sauntered up, making of itself a mound that you felt you could almost slide off, and as it leisurely ambled down the rise I saw a glimmering stream of golden yellow, which was all you could see of the lights of the few oncoming vehicles there were at this time. It was an incandescent dribbling brook of gold that sputtered irregularly forth from far ahead, and lay before you in a neat straight line comprising of fluorescent droplets. The intermittent, discontinuous garland of approaching embers threaded together by the black of the road gave out a dazzle that glared into your eyes as it approached, and for that reason I had to try all the more harder to see the road directly ahead, immediately underneath my tyres.



***

One is reminded of these verses. Also these, and these.

Monday, March 06, 2006

There’re times when something you read or see exactly reflects what you think, but have never, ever managed to put down in writing. I came across Rahul Bhatia writing about traveling alone, and doing it not just beautifully but with the sort of truthfulness that’s a relief after you see writer after writer, traveler after traveler reduce the act of travel to clich├ęs, to what it is supposed to be, to what you simply know by experience is, if not contrived and fake, infinitely less fun. This is simply because most travelers treat chronicles as advertisements they have to design so as to make travel look cute and/or macho, and not a depiction of what they’ve actually felt. Sexiness demands careful decoration and packaging, but all that beauty asks for is the truth.

Admittedly, what Rahul writes isn’t all there is – there’s so much more to freestyle travel. But it is so incredibly difficult to transmogrify an experience, a sensation, a feeling into dry, neatly chiseled words, almost as if to say nature is as orderly, as regimented as we wish it to be, and that we can conveniently fold and fit its sensations into the colorful gift-wrapping of words. Difficult is probably the wrong word, writing is easy enough, it’s just that the write up seems so grotesque an approximation of the reality, you just feel you’re killing the spirit of the ride by doing it. You only feel like writing about something as precious, as personal as freestyle travel if you can bring to the writing at least some of the beauty, some of the truth that you’ve actually experienced.

**

Biking alone, while a subset of freestyle travel, is so very different. You are aware, awake, switched on all the time(you crash if you aren’t), so you perceive the fine details, the trifles that, while being easy-to-miss, light up your day once you spot them.

It’s crucial to take time and distance out of the equation, the augh-there-might-be-a-ghat-ahead-to-slow-me-down, eek-the-engine-is-hot, I-simply-have-to-get-there-before-5pm types of rides with a place to get to, a deadline to meet that would perch on the back of your mind, those types of rides – on bikes or otherwise, considerably diminish pleasure by their persistent nagging.

It’s so much freeing to just go, not have to get anywhere, amble, sit back, stop, look around. 400 laid back km a day are so much more satisfying than 650 frenzied ones(as I learnt during the last trip, a frantic rush to Panjim and back). The thought made me make my plans for subsequent rides much less grandiose – I’d originally planned to run about all over south India, go everywhere and see everything. It’s a choice that, I realize, while enabling me to see more, would let me appreciate what I saw so much less. The plan is therefore revised, we have resolved to go more slowly, see lesser number of places, but we’ll see more of each of them, and love them so much more.

**
On a bike, you realize, more acutely than on any means of public transport, what no Liverpudlian will tell you – that you always walk alone. Oddly, it’s a feeling that at once releases as well as frightens you – you see clearly that there’s nothing ever that you really need or require, all you need is yourself, and yet, that if you crash, or break down, or get robbed, you’re all alone, naked, with no other resource than yourself to look to.

**

It turns out, Rahul has been in Revdanda too, a piece of knowledge that corrected a belief that no non-Revdanda-ian other than me had been in the place(please note - passing through a place or seeing it is NOT the same as being there). I was able to stay there only a couple of hours, regretting that I had to go on, so I will reluctantly admit that Rahul partook more of what Revdanda had to offer. However, it was determined back then that Revdanda would be revisited, so all is well.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Peter Roebuck writes in the first issue of the Cricinfo magazine:
 

Watching Brian Lara bat is a delight to put beside African sunsets, dry white wine, eating a ripe mango, catching a wave, reading PG Wodehouse and listening to Mozart and Bob Dylan. In short, the Trinidadian satisfies the senses. Even the most jaded cricketing palate belonging to an ancient reporter condemned to decades of fretting about 12 th men and cloak and dagger Indian politics feels his guard slipping as Lara constructs a humble defensive stroke. Having reluctantly accepted that the ball cannot be put away with the certainty demanded by his circumstances, Lara does not lower himself merely to interrupting the ball's progress. Rather he constructs an ornate and yet impenetrable blockade that serves its purpose without giving too much ground to the prosaic. Never has 'thou shalt not pass' been so prettily done.
 

Makes you realize, a thing of beauty inspires otherwise prosaic imaginations to quite beautiful creations. It was only someone as beautiful as Brian who could cause Roebuck to erupt into such prose. Reminded me of other writers whom the man's deeds have similarly moved – in particular, write ups on that 153 at Bridgetown, the 213 at Jamaica and that series in Sri Lanka. Also brought to memory some people with not-so-great-English who amazed me by coming up with some brilliant writing simply because they wrote of what they were in love with.
 

(Alas, I cant find a soft copy of the complete article, so cant link it.)
 

**
 

And then there're sub-headlines like
 

After the 2004 incident, the men in blue lost a one dayer in Peshawar again. But they ENJOYED a different date with history in the city after visiting the Khyber pass.
 

And titles like
 

Hutch in their clutch
 

That's the new Sportstar's abysmal formatting. The upper case is for emphasis, I quite agree – but surely we aren't that stupid? That kind of juvenile formatting is an insult. I cant imagine how people like Rohit Brijnath, Ram Mahesh and Brian Glanville allow their articles to be thus ravaged.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Having taken Friday off, I was going on this ride this weekend. As I went by upon the Bombay highway near Khandala, I saw the road sloping downwards and swiveling away to the right without warning. It is a matter of complete amazement to me as to how drivers and riders actually pass by it and manage to stay alive, given that they go along the preceding straight at 80 and upwards, and thus hardly have time to notice the curve.

Of course, they that do crash may be considered fortunate, for, if you manage to clear the first curve at 80, there's no way you'll get past the next one that lies just 20m ahead unless you're at under 30 with your foot hard upon the brake, which curve is comprising of a road contorting itself into a grotesque reflex angle, making you wonder about the purpose of such a road, one so unnavigable. This second curve, unlike the first and like the subsequent ones, doesn't offer you the cushion of a wall to crash into – you miss the road, you fly off the cliff.

But then, such are the roads that surmount the ghats, that lace through the hills, as I found through the weekend that these curves inaugurated. It was just that I was new to driving on this sort of terrain. On these, or for that matter on any hills, your most important assets are your brake and your horn. You can forget your accelerator at home.

**

Death is a familiar passer by upon the Bombay Pune highway. Two motorcycles lying lacerated upon the ground in small puddles of glass shreds – giving no hints about the fate of their riders, one lorry 10km ahead, rammed into the wall of the tunnel causing a mile long clot in the traffic behind, another lorry lying overturned further ahead, with an enormous smear of red upon the tar around it, 3m of the all too frail and inadequate stretch that was the railing gone missing, having been driven through, making all too obvious the fate of the car which'd have sliced through it and taken a leap down the rock face.

Amid the mile long congealing of the vehicles, a police van flits by noisily, an ambulance rushes in with its shrill alarm. Slowly the crowding gawkers disperse, one particular motorcyclist weaves away amid the 4 wheelers to the front of the traffic jam, the jam dissolves, we all instinctively move into gear 4 and begin to accelerate, firmly convinced that it always happens to someone else.

Monday, February 06, 2006

1026.7.

That was the reading on the distance indicator on steed(known henceforth as The Muse) as on yesterday night, a circumstance that was the cause of much rejoicing and tribal dance performances(for reasons mentioned here). My one spot of bother was that the moment couldnt be captured for posterity - I wish I had a cam, ra. However, there were pleasures that more than compensated.

The 1026.7 was brought up in a memorable manner too – the last few kilometers being covered at 71kmph on the bypass/Bangalore highway/whatever you call it. Whatever it is that you decide to call it, it’ll still be a rather unassuming name for as grand, as expansive a stretch of road.

I’m trying hard to keep myself from tumbling into poetic/melodramatic mode, but what can you say about a stretch on which you don’t need to go below 60? Where you can keep off the clutch, brake and gear, and just be. Just exist, just go on, in almost zen-ic equanimity wherever The Muse takes you. In a pothole-less, interference-less, traffic-less state where the mind is without fear, and that sort of thing. A video game ambience, with bridges, hills, rivers, flyovers and the occasional overtake-able lorry/auto thrown in for effect, amid the blemishless streak of black that sprints away, demanding aloud that you go ahead and call it infinite.

What civilization is visible is at times quite reminiscent of Hobbiton, with extents of rocky mounds rearing up on either side of the road, and illuminated multi-storeyed apartments and residences perched in a staggered formation upon the ledges of the mounds, like on the steps of a staircase.

At the end of the highway, you see the road go on due south-east. The small matter of a 1200km longer.

Drool. Salivate. Slurp.

**

What invariably follows a jolly ride/high/pleasurable experience is a thud-down-to-earth. So it was with The Muse and I too. Turning off the bypass onto the homeward road, we proceeded to bounce about on the potholes and stones at 70kmph.

We continued thus until we were met by another bike rider, who, unable to decide whether he should cross the road or not, concluded that parking his vehicle in the path of a 70kmph bike would enable him to reach the decision he was hitherto unable to arrive at.

A nanosecond-long prayer, a scrape, a bent number plate and lots of visions later, considerable sobering resulted. Home was reached at a more modest 39.99 kmph, a figure evocative of them old days.

**

This ride was preceded by some profound discussions upon the beautiful game, with special reference to the batsmanship of one particular player.

You are advised to desist from killing yourself if you did not understand the reference in the previous sentence.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Stung by persistent critiques of the alleged artlessness of his game – the man Afridi decides to show ‘em.

He proceeds to execute an impromptu choreographic performance, the spikes upon his feet simultaneously etching a breathtaking pattern upon the ground. Yes, with a brand new medium – a cricket pitch as canvas - he brings together in one glorious performance two disparate forms of art - conjuring an exquisite piece of modern art upon the ground beneath his feet even as he waltzed away in a flowing, flowering, aah smooth dance - extemporaneously, forget not, creating art that in its dynamism expressed absolutely his personality.

His belief of his genius is cemented by the fact that his genius wasn’t being recognized in his lifetime – the peasants who catch him on camera decide not only to exile him for three games (see also - this, this) but decide also to obliterate his art by rolling the pitch - woe, never will generations to come believe that such art existed.

Oh, he pleaded, he explained, why, he wept that it was ground-breaking work, and they replied that that was why he was being ejected. Tis, ah, a cruel world. They verily are blown to dust who attempt to leave their footprints upon the sands of time.

Monday, January 23, 2006

The best part about staying alone is that you experience what it is to be free – you can actually see that the choices you have are quite equivalent, and that it's you alone who will choose, which gives you a sense of absolute power, total control over your life. What that means is that you can be as whimsical as you want; you can do without a second thought or a qualm what would be frowned upon at home or in a hostel.

Case in point was the evening of this Friday, one on which I, suddenly, on a whim, told myself that I would gift myself an evening of pursuit of impulses and fancies without questioning, without any sort of preconception or prior planning whatsoever, suspending deliberately all strategic thought. Just for the heck of it, just like that.

It kinda kicks you to know you're going to astonish even yourself. It's a beautiful way of loving yourself, this surprising yourself – keeping from yourself what you'll be doing the next hour, or even the next minute, and deciding what is to be done with an instant of time when you get to that instant, and not anytime before.

It does, of course, help that I am in the possession of a steed, whose presence makes them journeys pleasurable that are for most people interludes between more significant events.

So I began - just ambling around with steed. I kept going, every once in a while deciding to change direction rather suddenly – it was amusing to see that random a series of acts, it'd seem loony to you – it was that arbitrary, the paths I took through the evening intertwining in a strange patternless, empirical, capricious zigzag.

Passed home, went cityward, turned off the highway towards this township where pedestrians crowded the road sufficiently to force me onto 2 nd gear throughout – which was just as well, because I'd have missed seeing what was around if I'd gone any faster. Kept going, turning, taking detours at random until, to my surprise, I reached this place I frequent often – place called Bhel Chowk, one whose name, when uttered in Hindi sounds rather suspiciously like an abusive term – you, gentle reader, being in possession of sufficient quantities of perversion, will be left to figure the said insult out.

If you've extricated yourself, dear reader, I was at Bhel Chowk, around which considerable hovering was done, and upon reaching another intersection, my whim ordained that I go back towards the township I came from. Unquestioning obedience being the only ground rule for an evening of complete freedom, orders were duly followed.

The corner of my eye pounced upon a glimpse of the word 'Bhel' in paint, and compelled the rest of me to direct my attention thitherward. The next command – dinner time. It was a stall, for a change from the gazillion gaadis I'd been patronizing so far. Basement. Front desk harbouring young couple who handled sale of packed mixtures and chips. Backstage – their grandmom making those chaats. And *I* thought I'd seen it all. Three dishes – sev, tikki and pani puri. Dinner done. At least for the time being.

Had this ugly cramp as I tried to start the steed. Ugh. Limped off steed. Hobbling, somehow managed to place stand underneath steed. Clutched hamstring and almost lay down on the road – the piercing pain that tore its way through me made me feel so terribly lonely, so enormously helpless, so massively insignificant and incapable, I couldn't believe it was me.

In our most joyous and most agonizing moments, we're all alone – no one else can come close to really knowing or fathoming us. Before my eyes appeared my worst fears, everything that could possibly go wrong, everything that had, driving me relentlessly towards a state of inexplicable panic. It was a state of discontinuity, one frightening simply because it managed to exist. Solitude and loneliness are sometimes much closer to each other than we think. Perhaps we're never really free. However, the hamstring eased up, the smoke cleared, the steed being the Muse that dissipated these thoughts and brought in a supply of fresh air.

Went past Bhel chowk(pronounced appropriately, of course), fiddled around streets, lolled around in first gear going through trafficless lanes, glancing at times at them houses. At one point it struck me that I'd never ever looked at my own house that way – with this weird wistful expression of wonder, of love – in fact, I'd deliberately avoided going back to houses, streets of my past when I'd revisited those cities.

A couple of sharp turns, then down a couple of desolate roads, telling me that I was some distance away from the main roads, by now my sense of direction rather distorted by the repeated random turns. Across a bridge over a drain – slowed down enough to pluck a glance at the glare of the streetlights in the shimmering dark water riddled with wrinkles. Dead end. About turn, pick the other road. Followed the twirling road, hadn't a choice. Up a steep incline next.

It hit me with its suddenness as much as its brilliance – I abruptly found myself at an elevation, a perch upon a hill. One side of the vacant road had apartments, the other had, well, nothing. That side was a balcony view – darkness yawning immediately underneath, but a carpet of the twinkling city lights stretching away, scattered across the horizon. Not absolute, not complete, without a pattern or design, yet the randomness, their sporadicness making their infinite stretch one that would be endless in variety just as well.

Not continuously or finely spread but haphazardly, randomly, at varying distances and distribution, the yellow incandescence of the metropolis an attempt at mirroring the white dots that glowed upstairs. Sometimes in clumps, occasionally in clusters, some others all by themselves in proud solitude, but always twinkling, glimmering, glistening, winking. Not stale or stagnant with constant light, but full of the life, change and volition that the constant on-off of the flickers indicated. Not loud so as to intrude upon the comforting darkness where I stood, yet exuding a kindness, a benevolence by whose glow my spirit warmed itself.

I stood in the darkness, the steed turned off, watching this great tapestry of sparks dying and coming alive every moment, looking at the rest of the city that stretched away before me.

From nowhere a streak of white whizzed into the darkness immediately below me – the tubelights within a train that went flashing by, gliding away noiselessly in the silence, as the train stretched on and on, a vision that made me grin, smile uncontrollably. As the white stripe faded away into the expanse, the darkness and silence fell softly, gently back in place, ensconcing me in a warm, tender hug.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

The rite thing

My office buses, those devoted, faithful machines reach office an hour before office hours begin. Why, you ask? To be on the safer side, declaimeth them official directives – to make allowance for possible delays. Thoughtful, very, yes.

 

Of course, we employees absolutely love groggily wading out of bed at ungodly hours in order to stand   shivering (but at attention nevertheless) at the bus stop, as long as it is for the sake of that dear old company of ours, that company unto whose surf-dom we are bonded. Loyalty. Faithfulness. Please name some other such virtues and add here. Work verily maketh us free.

 

Our only regret is that we get to do this only five times a week, but we understand - running buses 7 days a week would drive the company bankrupt (at 1100 bucks a month per head, bus fares form the largest source of the company's revenue).

 

A decided advantage, then, of being in possession of a steed is the needlessness of having to wait for these office buses. That, of course, to spare them poor old buses the burden of having to ferry one more individual. Anything, anything at all for the greater common good.

 

The joy of being in the advantageous position indicated in the previous paragraph multiplies considerably when you see that the quantum of work you have is so minuscule that no one really cares if you arrive an hour late and go an hour early.

 

Unfortunately, as with all silver linings, there's a cloud here too. The problem, then, is that there's a power cut a 7 30 every morning. What that means is – even if a concerned employee chooses to spare them buses by traveling by his own steed at 10 am, he still has to bathe while the water is hot – the groggily-wading-out-of-bed-routines that characterized those bus-days wouldn't change at all.

 

Or so it would appear to they that dare not to think beyond. That spirit of scientific inquiry, that self same spirit that led one of my ancestors to not only rub two stones together just to be able to burn his own hand, but also to actually think of giving it that wholly appropriate name – fire, that self same spirit that lived on in me was stoked, and I applied myself entirely to the problem at hand.

 

To be truly scientific demands that all assumptions be discarded, that there be a total suspension of disbelief. From this knowledge, then, it was one step of logical reasoning to realizing that that ritual which I had assumed to be the cornerstone of the problem – the bath, wasn't essential at all.

 

Now, now, dear reader, will you please dislodge your hand from your nose? You'll suffocate. Cleanliness, godliness et al, yessireee. I'm not that uncouth, mind you, to avoid bathing altogether. If only to preserve memories of hallowed rituals that were once undertaken, I resolved, then, to perform this rite called bathing once a year. If for no other reason, why, I'm a driver now and not a cleaner.

 

May I, gentle reader, having suitably enlightened you, take leave now? That most holy ritual – the annual bath beckons. Amen.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Footbored

Footboard travel, as the more perceptive of you will have been enlightened, can be injurious. To be precise, jaanleva, in the words of the announcer at Dadar, whose words of advice on the subject I managed to salvage out of the cacophony prevalent on the platform.

I am, therefore, being very afraid. Brrr. Such like non-English expressions. I did, therefore, resolve to defeat fate in the nefarious designs it concocts by eschewing the act of footboard travel. I proceeded to acquire for myself a bike, oddly, ironically enough – on the 6th of January, exactly 12 years later, to the day.

It was a sudden decision, one due mainly to the influx of a considerable quantity of capital in a single night. That was in a quiz, let me hasten to add, lest you, in your infinite perversion, proceed to make incorrect assumptions.

This new steed, then, would render train journeys, and consequently footboard travels unnecessary. Maybe not obliterate the practice altogether, but minimize it significantly.

Or so I thought. Considerable moisture, unfortunately, was precipitated upon the plans that were hatched in the preceding days.

“Sir, please don’t cross 40kmph until you’ve traveled 1000km.”

I put on my most nonchalant-unruffled-man-who-doesn’t-have-to-try-too-hard manner, ”I’ll try. Not crossing 140 is rather difficult, but I’ll manage.”

Ha.

“Forty, sir. Not a hundred and.”

“Eh? FORTY? What the hell is the use of a bike if you cant even cross 40? I’d rather walk.”

Silence.

“I wont do it. What’ll you do?”

“Please show up for engine repairs every fortnight then.”

A light glowed somewhere. A wily smile planted itself upon my face. Surely a 850 km trip in a general south-easterly direction would eat up these 1000km double quick. One such trip next month had already been planned during the design of air castles in the preceding days – indeed, long distance riding was a major reason for the acquisition of the steed.

The guy, unfortunately for me, was psychic.

“And sir, no long distance rides either for a 1000km.”

Mental note - order guillotine for use on guy.


“On pain of repairs, I presume?”

He nodded, glad that I understood.

Silence.

I was called away to affix my signature on 37 different pieces of paper. It was a while before I returned.

“Why sir, you’re planning to go to your town on this bike sometime?”

“Yes. Been thinking of.”

“How far is it?”

“850”

“850? You wont do it in a day.”

The nonchalant-unruffled-man-who-doesn’t-have-to-try-too-hard mask came on again(it’s tiresome how often I’ve to do this:).

“Duh? That’s 14 hours. 6 am to 8 pm. Elementary, my dear. What son, do your math properly.”

“You might actually manage to go 60kmph for 14 hours without getting friendly with a lorry, I don’t doubt that at all.”, he mentioned with this air of a spiritually superior sage who is trying really hard not to pity the ignorant sinner who’s come to him.

Silence. I knew what was coming.

“Your engine’ll blow up if you try driving continuously that long.”

“That, presumably, is why it’s called an internal combustion engine?”, I helpfully elucidated.

Without paying the least heed, he continued in his sagely-advice mode ,”Rest your bike every couple of hours. Don’t go continuously all the way. I’d tell you to take two days if you’re trying 850.”

BAH.

Soon enough, more lights went out. I had, during the painstaking construction of air palaces in the preceding days, observed, to my considerable delight, that the chart that indicated the toll to be paid on the express highway to Mumbai didn’t mention two wheelers at all. I wouldn’t have to shell out toll. Free. Free at last, and that sort.

Only to find out today that bikes aren’t allowed onto the express highway in the first place.

From that piece of knowledge, it was one small step to realizing that the road due south east was a part of the self same express highway.

Ostracized. Damn. Why, oh, why? Bikes don’t hurt no flies.

The road less taken it will be then. Hah. The management jargon spouting people at office will be quite proud of me. I think I should add words like challenge, motivation, quality and proactive somewhere here just as well.

***

The moment I reached home with the bike, I was mobbed by the young women residing on my street.

“Kya style maarta hai.” typified the comments that followed. Modesty prevents me from describing how impressed they aLL were.

We proceeded to converse upon the nature of life, universe and everything, until them young women were summoned back home. Homework, as one particular mom indicated. When young women are six years old, they haven’t much of a choice. I sent them on their way with the rejoinder ,”Do homework. It builds character.”