When it rains in Madras

August 6, 2017 § 1 Comment

When it rains in Madras, it could very well be a place you have fantasised. Forget the potholes and the inevitable inundation for a moment, and just enjoy the magic of an afternoon transformed into an overcast evening, fit to go with the three o’clock steaming coffee and hot onion pakodas or molaga bajjis.

Growing up, I always found it hard to relate to the dullness and dreariness English writers associated with rain and overcast conditions. I remember a July a decade or decade and a half ago when it poured after a spell of drought. Schools postponed their sports days and daily march-past drills as heavy clouds finally stormed the city. I lay on the couch and watched English bowlers swing the ball under sunny conditions on the television while munching on hot pakodas.  The commentators were over-joyed at bright sunshine, which they seemed certain makes a good day- not to a Madras boy though, especially one who has run from third-man to third-man under a mid-May noon sun.

It doesn’t rain often in Madras. Every time the umbrella was brought out, my thatha would recount how everyone in Trivandum used to hang one on to the back of their shirts while walking. A much-green me would dream of distant places where the monsoon was a thundering beast at the sight of which the trees shuddered, and the rivers ran.

If you have lived in Madras, you will know of those evenings when a bunch of clouds threatened to wash away the city, but all they actually did was shed a half-reluctant tear at the sight of kodangal lining-up in front of hand-pumps, as if we deserved no sympathy.

It rains sometimes in May, a light evening reprieve during the scorching Agni-nakshatram days. It rains on a couple of June days, which year-by-year seem hotter than the one before, and then there are a few temperamental showers in July- South-West monsoon mostly avoids us, but every now and then a bit of her flaying skirt brushes the ever-growing fingertips of the city. The real rain comes after the second summer in October, as the winds change, and the North-East monsoon huffs and puffs, and roars into town.

The veppam reduces, and the air-conditioners can finally be switched off as T.Nagar lights up for the festival season- one traffic jam at a time. The season also brings cyclones and kinder versions of it. The ever-enterprising crows and the rowdy parrots shut up for a while and the nagaram stands eerily still as the storms march through and the winds trumpet as if royalties still ruled here.

A couple of Decembers ago, Madras faced the worst rains it had seen for a century or so. The city was turned into islands, as the three rivers which are usually dry or filled with sewage, roared with such might that a medieval saint-poet would have been inspired to praise them with a couplet or two. As the streets lay dark and torn with festering scars, an awe swept us all- we were grains of sand on the Marina, waiting for the day a big wave carried us away.

When it rains in Madras, it could very well be a place you have fantasised. The city’s strides slow down to a hesitant step-by-step prodding, lest you are sucked into an open manhole, the honking not so incessant and there’s an uncertain sigh- the steam out of a pot of perfect tea, whose leaves are from a distant estate with a silent mist hanging over a rippling stream with grassy shores.

My Madras is a bunch of names who criss-cross each other as streets. The city always has felt old to me, holding out with its own, all the while borrowing from those who came to call it their home. And on a day when the sun can’t be seen and a drizzle to fore, there’s a melancholy which lingers on- of grandfather’s tales and time forlorn.

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Belum caves and Gandikota

February 14, 2016 § 1 Comment

The Andhra Pradesh border is about 50-60kms from my house. Yet, I have never really been anywhere in Andhra, except Tirupati and Pulicat lake. Aswath and I have been planning a trip to Gandikota for a couple of years now. And when both us finally found the time(Pongalo-Pongal) we decided to explore the unexplored, the mystical, the late-breakfast eating state of Andhra. We recruited Venkatadri to balance the weight in the car and as a handy bodyguard in case my hindi/telugu/pidgin ended up getting us in trouble. Truth be told, both Aswath and Venkat speak pretty good  passable Hindi, while I will tell you to go inside the bridge(as against under) because it will surely lead you onto the highway to Hogwarts. We didn’t really use much of our rudimentary Telugu- to our surprise almost everyone we encountered seem to know Hindi or generally understand what we were trying to say. Of course, I’m still not sure which language I spoke in- more of a mish-mash of everything I know- for all I know, I might have sung Malare to some unsuspecting cop.

 

The ideal plan is to stay at Gandikota, catch the sunrise, go to Belum and return to Chennai. However, the only resort at Gandikota was full and we decided to stay at Kadapa instead. Not so bad, since Kadapa is about 250kms from Chennai and it was 6:30pm by the time we rolled into town- considering the condition of the road between Kadapa and Gandikota, it wouldn’t have been wise to drive there in the dark anyway. The drive from Chennai to Kadapa takes about 4-4:30hrs. The drive between Reinugunta and Kadapa in the evening was lovely. One thing though- throughout the trip we had to watch out for unmarked big speed-breakers on the highway. At one point Venk even considered buying an helmet. We found a lodging- hotel Ziara through Tripadvisor and after being given the runaround by Google navs through narrow market street, we found our way to it. A charming 8th grade kid, the brother of the owner(I’m guessing) showed us the way to dinner(a certain Meenakshi place) where we had humongous barottas.

 

Somewhere near Rajampetta

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The next day, being true Chennai boys, Aswath and Venk, decided we shall start early. Early being seven in the morning. Now, Tamil Nadu is a state which is notoriously early. You will find shops open at five and people generally getting on with their lives, like brushing their teeth while riding a bike, reading paper at the local tea stall or waiting for the first bus at four in the morning. Evidently not in Andhra. The hotel guys were sweet enough to make us some coffee before we left, and that’s all there was till about 8:30am in a random village where we had breakfast.  We changed our plan- there was no point in going to Gandikota first since we had anyway missed the sunrise. Instead we drove to Belum caves. You take the Kadapa-Kurnool four-lane highway for about 36 kms and then have to take a left(there’s a detour involved and google map’s navigation is correct), you drive past Jammalamadugu and take the Tadipatri-Jammalamadugu highway- the road here is mostly decent. There isn’t much of traffic and you pass through a few villages. A highway is under construction, so there are a few diversions along the road.  After 85kms on the road, take a right at Kolimigundla and in about 5kms you will reach Belum caves.

 

A village where we had breakfast on the way to Belum caves.

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Belum caves is the largest cave in the Indian plains, and has those pointy-pointy(Stalagmite and Stalactite) rock formations.  The caves are made of Kadapa stones(black limestone) and carved by random superpower which rules the universe, homo sculperus WATER. Considering we did not have to cross Silk board, TIDEL park or any of those awful signals, we made it in record time-9am- only to find that the place did not open till 10am. But being the bony (first sales) for the day has its advantages- by the time we left the caves, the place was infested filled with tourists. Add to this that the temperature inside is around 33C and humidity at Chennai-summer level, it could turn out to be not-so-pleasant trip. But it is fascinating. To think that water did this over millions of years, is mind-blowing and almost unimaginable( cue a few million years long movie with nothing but water flowing through the caves). Of course, some humans did feel the need to put their name on it and claim it as their work:-

writing on the wall

 

 

After the humbling experience of the caves, we headed out to Gandikota. You head back to Jammalamadugu, go into town and take the Muddanur road. Once you cross the Pennar river, take a right- the road ends at Gandikota. The trip is 60kms long and takes about an hour. The road up to Gandikota is  a winding road, which looked specially lovely in the evening. Having had only a sparse breakfast we dug into some Andhra meals at the Harita resort in Gandikota. The place was teeming with families, bikers and other sorts of humans who had all had the same idea as us. After napping for a while in the car, we finally walked up to the gorge. What a brilliant sight it was! For the second time in the day we were stunned by the power of water. And well, you just feel inconsequential in general- the world has been around for far too long, things have been happening anyway and the big bang happened so long ago, and the universe is still expanding- and just wait for the day we find out the quasars aren’t moving out any faster, but heading back in(okay, highly unlikely a) that will happen b) that will happen now, even if it were to happen).

Anyway, after being humbled beyond origins and meaning of life and what not, we clicked pictures with our fancy-ass camera and mobile, grumbled about the litter, got into the car drove back. (not before I shot this pic) –

On the way back from Gandikota. #gandikota #travel #andhrapradesh #india #eveninglight #evening #sunlight

A post shared by Vishesh Unni Raghunathan (@poeticgooner) on

 

The 90kms drive from Gandikota to Kadapa is bad. The road till Yerraguntla is terrible- a highway is under construction and majority of the paving was removed. Yerraguntla to Kadapa wasn’t so bad, except for the fact that there are unmarked speed-breakers which you have to wary of and there is a lot of lorry traffic with big blinding headlights. After getting suitable lost in trying to find the place we had dinner the previous night, we found another place to eat. If you are going to stay at Kadapa, I would recommend you stay near the bus stand, although the hotel we stayed at(Hotel Ziara) was good. The city does have KFC, dominos etc for those you who need your does of vapid fast food.

The next day, we found out again that Andhra just isn’t the place for early breakfast- this time at 8am, inside Kadapa city. After a quick grab at a small tea-stall-esque place, we headed back to Chennai. On the way we stopped at Kodandarama temple in Vontimitta- while I managed to get away with it, they don’t allow you to enter the temple if you are wearing shorts. We were also stopped at checkpoints to see if were smuggling red sanders. We weren’t.

Gandikota- click on photo to open album

Trusty old system

January 17, 2014 § 1 Comment

The problem with pulling up issues in a system in India is that you will be given examples of thousands of other things which are wrong. “That is the system.” You will be told, as if it is the vedas reduced to a mantra.

In a country where rapes are staple, and we pretty much don’t do anything about it, what do you expect to be done with regard to anything else?

Here’s the low down- the results are out again, and surprise, surprise, 3.15% of those who the exam have cleared. Is this really such a difficult exam? Maybe yes, maybe not. But what the majority of us feel is a frustration. Frustration that this system is like a lottery. Just because we are ‘students’ doesn’t mean we lack the instinct to know if what is needed has been done- especially when the papers are made of questions from earlier papers and the board has given out its answers.

Marking is subjective. Does it make sense to have a system where the bias of the corrector would affect the paper? We go through at school- where people with a prowess in a particular subject are marked down for ‘showing too much’, but in a professional exam? It isn’t about ‘showing too much’ here, rather where thousands of people write and evaluated by thousands of others, how do ensure consistence? This question stems from a larger issue, which might sound ugly on paper, hence left out.

Add to this a subject with outdated syllabus, (56 kbps internet connections, anyone?) and you are in hell. But looking beyond this- we are told time and again that results are manipulated to suit the demand and supply. Whatever that is. We are told horror stories, of how bad the evaluation is, by people who have made it to the other side. And you know what is annoying? Not the system, but people who refuse to do anything about it.

It is like screaming into the dark and the voices reply you are right; turn on the light and ask them, they shall say, you are wrong. No one will do anything about it, because this is our system. It ensures, I really don’t know what. We believe that people’s lives and careers are numbers, and who cares what happens?

Maybe this post is all wrong- maybe I am really not good enough for this course, like all my friends out there, who are at least as frustrated as me. But that’s another story. Stop giving me advice, I can, we can, deal with it. If you really want to help, do something about the system; if you care. We can very well see the albatross around out necks, we don’t need you to point it out, time and again.

This post is written in frustration. The only way I know to deal with things is to write about it. Don’t bother commenting on this with nine yards of advice- it amounts to nothing. I refuse to understand this is how things in this country work. It is wrong and I refuse to rationalize it. I am now sure even if I were to clear this exam, I wouldn’t feel a sense of achievement. At the same time, taking nothing away from those who have cleared these exams, now, in the past and in the future- a few might say you were lucky, and maybe you are- but you still had to give enough for that luck to come into play.

At the moment, all that remains is an utter sense of hopelessness. I will recover, because that is what I always do. I am glad to have friends who can help me through this, but again, another 7-8 months of my life would be left in a lurch. The exams require mental and physical strength, apart from a good few months of prep. and that is no fun. And there is nothing which says things are going to be fair next time.

It is okay to fail in something- no one ever succeeds in everything they undertake. But to know you were given a fair shot at things is more important to be able to move on.

Again, maybe I am all wrong about this. Probably, I am? After all, this is your favorite, trusty old system.

A city

December 17, 2013 § 1 Comment

A city is a beast made of dreams; built house by house, and then home by home, slowly laid, and then cramped into little matchbox rooms where the cement holds unabridged, the promises of a tomorrow. This creature of wonder, an ensemble, of people together, almost the same, yet ever so different when you look closely, is best understood when you walk it.

Walking a city is a learning. Each step is a surprise, even if you have lived there forever. That morning you wake up to see the slight haze hang over the complexes or the walk along a promenade near the sea, you discover  a crumbling building which you never knew existed or that there is an old man in your neighborhood who sits at the same spot everyday.

And then you learn a city is made of parts, an area has its own air of unique dirt and smoke, a road is full of wisdom and another full of vice, yet another lane is where you would find blinkered tourists buying their share of memorabilia. There are lakes where chirping birds saunter their days, away from the screaming horns; there are rivers filled with sewage, with kites circling over, even while crows scout from atop hoardings selling underwear, condoms or perfume.

There is food, in all shapes, tastes and hygiene. You could brave diseases or choose to obey what your mom thought you and eat from seemingly neat looking places with tampered mineral water bottles. As you walk, you can chew on that bit of fine bajji coated with oil reused and reused, or better still just watch a friend do it.

A city is an adolescent who woke up on a morn to find that she’s a teenager; a teenager who finds that she an adult. The old lady of the village, she would never be- forever left in the drive of one generation or another, spewing and spawning, breaching, growling and growing, in mind and spirit, guilty, then wont and then unaware of her past, left to dry like tanks and ponds, only to be covered by landfills, dirty roads and finally buildings of hopeless belief.

A city eats as much as it feeds. She takes away the best from those gamble all they have in hope to quench their purple dreams and feed them vanilla days of slow despondence, with taints of fading grey- uncertain virtues and decided vices, tears of ephemeral pain and fleeting joy.

A city is of the people; but not made by the people; rather by those cramped buses  which carry to work, the hoards in crumpled shirts and salwars, even as the gears groan tiredly in arthritic pain. As you walk into those districts of tall and taller buildings, as you push past the crowds of the shopping streets, haggling with fate itself(of others and yours), and walk into those stations which lead into the mofussil, you can feel a pulse, sometimes strong, sometimes not so loudly, but surely of a beast who is growing, stretching her arms, ready to embrace all those would dare, maybe even a little peck on the cheek, maybe even clandestine love like those behind her parks’ bushes.

A city is best understood walked- through her broad arteries or narrow bazaars leading to temples, mosques or churches. A city is best known in the eyes of those who push and shove each other out of the way, those who push through her breaches, in as much to redefine this bit of humanity as to define her, to decorate her and in the end to berate her as they stand cramped in locals or stuck in foreign air-conditioning.    

A city is a beast you grow to love, and then to hate, but in the end who will still love her. A city is your hope, as much as you are her’s, and as you walk past the shut door late at night, there is always a crow which shall cry in sleepless fright, for another day shall soon follow, to wallow, to screech, to grow, yet another day, mighty, with her own usurped grace.

 

Sachin and the 90’s kids

November 17, 2013 § 3 Comments

As Carlsen pulls another one out of the proverbial magic hat, a reporter throws a question to Vishwanathan Anand about Sachin. Frankly a very silly thing to do, when a fellow has just battled for  about 5 hours and lost it for seemingly a single error. But what it does bring to light though, is the story of a generation for whom a guy with a short stride forward and push through the covers did more than anyone else, a guy on whose shoulders they let the weight of their expectations rest, An atlas of sorts; and he held it.

The praises and the tears flow much like an overflowing river, perhaps to touch the feet of this cricketing god, or so it would seem. This country loves to worship, loves to throw it all in, to gamble its emotions and let the stars do their bidding. On a little man, for years, it gambled all that it could, and in some measures it was repaid. Personal hopes and unfulfilled dreams were left in a blissful abeyance, as he shooed away those miscreants who dared impose their presence on his bright side screen. As the little red cherry was wistfully driven away to the fence, at a Perth, at a Wacca or at a Lords, the fellow drove the placid to tears.

The story isn’t really about cricket, or golf for that matter, or curling. The story is about how a boy who as grew into a man came to define a generation. How a name could turn penury into a few seconds of ecstatic bliss. It doesn’t matter, how he did it, rather what he did for those who pledged their hours to wristy cuts leaves an emotional footprint to be fossilized for a couple of centuries, at least. He might have stood against wall, he might ridden plaintively in quiet determination through those years when games were supposedly thrown away at a price, but that night he flicked away an Akram at Sharjah or the day he swept away a Warne at MCC was enough for the nation to taste its heart, sweaty, greasy, but still hopeful.

This is the story of a boy who caught the tails of television, of live telecast and the clever commentary of a certain Bhogle. With him they could let their dreams seem bigger than they were, feel a bit more whimsical about life in general, even while at the other end a Dravid slowly worked a boring reality of sorts, grinding the willow, adding flying bits of the leather to a grassy top. This is the story of a man of not merely stats, but of the unstated. A man whose dash across the 22, seemed to solve more problems than yatras did.

This is the story of the generation(s) who were ready to give their hearts and years, who coveted happiness and instead found joy unbound in those fleeting moments. None shall be able to the same- because with the little master of unbroken dreams retires that fleeting love affair. Talent, ability and achievements are elements, yes, but more than that, to sate belief through darkness and to sally hope through foggy yearnings is a task of a different order.

None shall be the same, because that generation has now grown up. The romance has already been written and now shall be allowed to while away till it acquires that particularly lovely tint that old books do. The generation gambles no more, but sullies in thought of days ahead. Maybe it would find a hero, but she shall be of a different sort. The story it wants to write is no more romantic, but of bravery, boldness and unflinching strength. That is how it wants to be seen, and for that it will hunt far and wide, peering deep into its own musty soul.

As the masala moves along, this story ends with a national award, which till date has been reserved for life time achievers, the rulers and their friends. In a sense, the script has been worked wonderful, with shades of the 90’s even. In this, shall the generation recount its tryst with star-dust, with the same gusto reserved for certain stars, a la Rajanikanth.

While not a fan of the game or the player, leaving aside records, contributions, controversies, what strikes me as an observer, is the emotional impact Sachin Tendulkar had on a whole generation which grew up watching him in their little screens. 

The Customer is an asshole

November 19, 2012 § 2 Comments

The customer is an asshole because he demands you to deliver what you promised. Surely, the customer should know that all promises are empty? Well of course, the promise on the currency note , “I promise to pay…” is not empty, because the customer owes us. As a company which employs thousands of people, it is natural that there are salaries which might be paid and bonus which might be given if the employees are obedient enough to work all those unsaid, unwritten hours.

The customer is an asshole, because he takes away all those goods that took hours to produce, a fine product of human evolution- the amount of effort, time and capital put into it and still he finds something wrong, and shouldn’t he just shut up and admire evolution of humanity and admit that mistakes do happen, especially when so many people are involved? Doesn’t he have kids who shout aloud in trains?(not in planes because when employees wear short skirts they can kick out anyone they want)

How can he ask the market leader to waste precious capital(human and otherwise) on solving the problems of the tiny insignificant tittle twerp that he is? What will happen to the bigger picture, shouldn’t he just pay the bills whatever happens and understand that sometimes companies have to cheat and take that extra ten, hundred, thousand, ten thousand? What about those big shareholders who get tax-free dividends and owners who have multi-storey houses, how will they pay for that extra private jet?

The customer is an asshole, because he demands too much. How can you expect to have websites which actually work? How can they expect a business to not store personal information and bombard them with a million spam? How can a customer ask for a refund if a card is swiped twice? How can he demand that he tip for the service and not be forced to tip them anyway, even if the waiters are rude?

How can the customer ask for what he paid for to be provided when we don’t have it? Doesn’t he know all ads are misleading? Just see the newspapers, they know it and add a tiny disclaimer in some insignificant corner. The customer is an asshole because he can’t read the fine print and understand all those unsaid things- much like the labourers, what do these people know about economies anyway? What about share prices? What about bank loans? And all those other things which actually matter?

The customer is an asshole. Because that is what is the truth. Caveat Emptor. This is a fucking capitalist world and no that Ayn’t some Rand-om concept.

Newspapers

October 23, 2012 § 1 Comment

Once upon a time newspapers were used to swat flies, but now the art of swatting flies with newspapers is dying, restricted to a few, especially since many seem to read papers online. The irony of course is that, papers of old actually had news in them, whereas papers today are either advertisement catalogues or are made of toilet paper or both.

Somewhere along the way these newspaper companies figured that as people who are stupid enough to pay to find out stuff from a piece of paper hours after something has actually happened must be really stupid, it is not worth providing them with stuff which they anyway do not use but instead they should be bombarded with advertisements where everyone claims to be selling the cheapest mobile phone or the sexiest underwear.

Newspapers also want to be old people friendly because surely with all that honking and noise, they have enough to put up with, so no more headlines which would make you pop- they replaced it with more advertisements. There is an ad everywhere, so much so that find the news might turn into a game at old age homes(hmm…more specifically the parliament).

There is this newspaper which apparently is supposed to make you clever, smart and ready for your pre-marriage interview with your future Father-in-law, but I hear it is now riddled with grammatical mistakes much like Chennai roads were riddled with cows a few years back. It has these wonderful tabloids as well, made of tissue paper and nothing less trying to appeal to the next gen. with paid write ups and not paid but with love articles, sometimes definite but mostly indefinite.

Then there are these other papers, which one sees in waiting rooms and in some people’s houses(I will not name you, don’t worry). For-owing-the-damned-brains-sake, what the hell do they think? Their philosophy seems to be what can’t be made stupider cannot be made stupidest. Freaking-humanity’s-sake can you people actually writing something sensible already?

You see papers were supposed to be proactive. They took on governments, companies and government companies and politicians and people with gold teeth because they believed in themselves and something else which they thought was worth it. Now, they seem to have retired and taken a back seat to these weirdo channels which dear-oh-dear live telecast bomb attacks!

So where the hell does one get news from? The internet. The irony is that it still is the newspaper and TV people who mostly share this news. They tweet because they all own smartphones and they pretend to be clever. What wrong can you go in hundred and forty characters anyway?  In between apparently asking questions and apparently being all radical by having pony tails, they try to say a couple of smart things a day but end up saying stupider things. What follows is…

P.S:- Why would any paper carry an advertisement as cover? Or should we just pay a minute’s silence as the paper might be the last ever? *sips filter coffee*

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