Thursday, December 15, 2005

And it was just six years ago...

Today I had to make a call to Bank of America to get the address of the location where I opened my account. While I was asking the CS rep at BofA to help me with it, it occured to me that when I opened my account, the bank was called Seafirst, and so many things were different then. So much has happened since then, it doesn't seem like it was just six years ago. I can almost remember all the months, sometimes even weeks and days, that made up these six years.

Come to think of it, how can human brain just keep cramming up all these memories, and have them so readily available all the time?

We saw King Kong. I had been patiently waiting for this Peter Jackson remake of the 1933 movie, and it didn't disappoint. The New Zealander has put $207 million to good use.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

What makes it all worth it in the end...

People talk of crossroads, and the Frosts of the world have extolled the value of the road less travelled. I have been thinking about some drastic changes, some of which are now right upon me (such as marriage), and some I am thinking of bringing upon myself (such as work). There are several different ways one can go, and many different places one could potentially end up at. So I am asking myself, what makes it worth it all in the end?

Blogging has been light of late primarily because life's gotten a lot more mundane (yet hectic) since I came back from my vacation. I was in Chennai on a recruiting trip, and managed to dine at the fabulous Murugan Idli Stall. Besides that, nothing of note's been happening. I am off to Goa for a weekend of party before I tie the knot a week or so later.

Here's to the last few days as a bachelor!

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Reality check in Bangalore

I've been back in the office for the past 2 days. I am trying to figure out what I want to be doing now. In the meanwhile, everything about Bangalore only sucks more. Our office has moved to Banerghatta road -- which was supposedly voted as the worst road in India on a TV channel. After a couple of days of long commutes managing to stay alive despite craters on the roads and buses moving around like misguided asteroids, I am questioning why I am here doing what I am doing. Nothing could be worth enduring the shithole that Bangalore has become.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Shopping in Sri Lanka

A bunch of us spent some 4 days in Sri Lanka last week. It was primarily a trip to do some shopping, and also to travel a bit. The only thing going for Sri Lanka, I thought, was that there were probably a lot more beaches to check out.

We managed to only see Bentota beach, and a little bit of the beaches closer to Colombo. Rest of Sri Lanka seemed not very different from India, except that it was maybe a little less crowded, people were a little more well behaved (they actually stop for pedestrians!), and food was not as great. Other than that, as an Indian you would probably feel right at home -- almost to the extent that you would expect these people to know Hindi. It even happened to us a few times -- we blurted out in Hindi to the auto rickshaw driver or the taxi driver, and didn't realize for a second why they didn't respond. Indian Rupee works just as fine in most places, you have to haggle your way through everything, and we didn't look out of place. We felt so much at home that we decided we should be paying the Sri Lankan fares for all parks and temples we visited -- which were of course much less then the charges for foreigners.

We stayed at the Hilton for the first couple of days. I had found out that they have squash courts at the Hilton, so naturally I went prepared. I got a chance to play squash after about 6 months, I think, and loved every second of it. It left me quite sore for the rest of the time in Sri Lanka -- and I felt all of it when trying to jet ski in Bentota the next day.

Our time in Lanka felt like we were driving around most of the time. Traffic seems really slow there. The drive to Bentota took us longer than upwards of 2 hours, and it is just over 60km from Colombo. The next day we drove to Kandy and stayed at the really lousy Queens hotel there. The hotel seemed to have been left behind by the British, and the folks who took it over seemed to have decided that by just letting it be makes it all the better. On the way to Kandy we stopped at an elephant orphanage -- still called that though the original orphans are now grandparents and parents of the rest of the elephants in the orphanage now. We had had some really good time up, close and personal with the elephants in Nagarhole, so it didn't seem that much of a novelty. Nevertheless, elephants are majestic, and command respect when you lay eyes on them.

The third day we were back in Colombo, this time at the Taj Samudra. This hotel was definitely worse off than the Hilton, but better located and decent facilities. Their dinner pricing was quite baffling though. They had priced their buffet at three times the price of the most expensive item on the regular menu -- not surprising then that hardly anyone touched the buffet.

The fourth day was a rare day when I went on a shopping spree for about eight hours at a stretch. We started at Odel (great for clothing, especially t-shirts), moved to House of Fashion (amazing for jackets -- unbelievably low prices!), Arena (which was apparently unceremoniously shutdown for no apparent reason), Paradise Road (really beautiful store, good selection of Dilmah tea, hand paper stuff, handicrafts and more) and then back to Odel to wrap it all up. At Paradise Road I also picked up a book called "Colpetty People" by Ashok Ferrey. I've read half of it now and it reminds me of RK Narayan quite a bit in its prose, and Saki and Roald Dahl in its stories and characters. The book has short stories bases in Sri Lanka, or with Sri Lankan characters. I like it so far.

Back in Bangalore, it seems just like it was before, only worse. The rains have helped make the traffic situation worse -- and I thought it couldn't get any worse. Bangalore seems to heading to some kind of a climax -- one day the traffic will get so bad that everyone will run out of petrol just sitting in the cars, and will have to leave their cars on the road to go home; everything will come to a standstill. It really does feel that way when it takes 2 hours to drive half a km here. And if the people ruling this state would have their way, all of us should soon start farming.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Headed back home...

As all good things do, my surfing vacation ended. :(

But it ended on such a great note, I can't complain. For one, I am doing a lot, LOT, better than when I first started. I am turning more and more, and am able to go across waves!! How cool is that. Whenever I've taken holidays in the summer I've felt that I needed to have a summer sport. Snowboarding's been a great winter sport. With surfing, and, to a slightly lesser extent, diving, I finally have one. Ever since I saw the surfing movie Step Into Liquid, I've felt a need to learn surfing. I tried my hand at it for 3 days in Oregon about a year ago, and that was like tasting blood. Unfortunately I hadn't been able to do it again till now. It feels great to finally get past this constant desire in me to want to get into water.

The other reason it was so great the last 3 days was that, hold your breath, there were dolphins surfing right next to me!! Imagine getting on a wave, catching it, and as you surf a dolphin jumps out from beneath you and surfs the wave next to you! And this wasn't no Seaworld. This was open ocean. I can't describe the feeling... I was howling with joy when it happened.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Look Both Ways

I checked out this movie today at an art house theater in Brisbane. The theater, called Dendy Cinemas, reminded me of some of the smaller art house theaters in Seattle. Anyway, the movie was surprisingly very good. It is an Australian movie, and though I was expecting good stuff, this one exceeded expectations. Slow, downplayed emotions, very real stuff, and nicely put together.

Surfing got even better today after the break. I am beginning to turn and go sideways, and am hoping to take that a notch higher by the end of the week!

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Go Dive!

I took a break this weekend from surfing and came over to the Great Barrier Reef for some diving. I did two dives this morning and in one word, it was INCREDIBLE. I think everyone should learn diving, and then explore the world down below water. It's bigger than IMAX! ;-)

I am staying at the Heron Island, an island on the reef itself, in the Marine park. It is a really tiny island (takes about half an hour to walk around it), and it sits on top of a huge reef shelf. The dives were a short boat ride off the island.

During the first dive, I was a little disoriented. Being under water, at 40ft, is still somewhat of a novel experience for me. And everyone else on the dive being expert divers kind of made me look even more green. I was under water for nearly half an hour, and for most part I spent it kind of under the spell of the incredible beauty that surrounded me, not to forget trying not to make too big a fool of myself. It was one incredible experience -- to be surrounded by amazing stuff that IMAX movies are made of, with water squeezing the air bubbles in you, and then there is even more beautiful things that swim by you, taking you somewhat by surprise.

The second dive was a lot better. I was a lot more relaxed, and if I thought the earlier dive was fascinating, this one beat it hands down. We descended to about 18m, and swam along the reef for about half an hour. At one point the divemaster signalled us to come over, and we swam around a coral to find a, yes!, a shark beneath it. It was at least a meter long, maybe 1.5 meters or so. At first sight, I felt a slight twinge of fear. But when the divemaster just went close to its face and waved it out from the coral, I let myself just take it all in. I was swimming 18m beneath the sea level, about a couple of feet away from a 4.5ft shark, the one with the JAWS, so close I count its gills and had time to compare it with what I had seen in books, documentaries and Spielberg's horror flick, and my guide was even close to it and trying to scare it out of its hiding space. I assumed it wasn't going to come for me -- there were more meaty looking divers around me. Surely the guide wouldn't be waving at it if there was indeed a risk. So, I just watched, fascinated, enthralled. No shark cages for me, no sir! Just give me this fearless divemaster!

On my second dive I had taken my underwater camera with me. On the first dive, I reckoned it would be too much hassle, too much of a distraction. I clicked one photo before the dive to make sure the camera worked but, as though to make Murphy the lawmaker give the i-told-you-so smile, the camera refused to work once I entered the water. So I have no pictures to prove what I saw, but I know I'll never forget it either. Tara the fearless divemaster was there as a witness!

I think everyone in this world should learn to dive and explore the world under water. It is worth it! Go dive!

I am headed back from my trip to Heron Island, back to the "mainland." I start my third part of surfing tomorrow morning. My break from vacation has ended, and the vacation itself is drawing to conclusion. In another eight days' time I will be in Bangalore, and then there will be families, flights, weddings and back-to-work.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Bollywood is everywhere!

This Sunday I spent the afternoon at the Queensland Multicultural festival in Brisbane. The program listed music and from from lots of different countries. In fact, it was crammed with performances all day long, with 4-5 shows at the same time. There was food from everywhere as well. I tried a Bolivian dish, the name which I already forgot.

There was a significant presence of Indian music there. And food too. There was a classical music performance, and a Sikh music performance (a guy called Dya Singh who was made out to be a world famous, but I hadn't heard about him before). But what seemed to be much more predominant theme from India was Bollywood. the emcees kept talking about the Bhangra show in the evening and a chance for everyone to learn the dance moves of Bollywood. Among other cultural shows there were bunch of performers singing and dancing to Bollywood songs. Bollywood seems to be defining the Indian culture everywhere, for good or bad. The "filmi" dances and the mushy songs with peppy music are everywhere and there is no escaping. It's like one of the asian underground performers said, the brown invasion has begun.

Friday, September 30, 2005

Crazy Frog

I had heard this song on radio in Maui, couldn't find it in the stores in the US or in India, but finally found it here in Australia. It's funky and though I haven't heard the original Alex F, I like this version.

On my way to Brisbane this evening I heard an incredibly funny recording of a guy in the US, who calls his boss while he is driving, and happens to see a road accident in front of him. The RJ said that the conversation is available on the internet as a podcast and an MP3, but I haven't found it yet. If I do, I'll post a link. It was a rare gem. If someone does have access to it, please send me a link!

Surfing's been great. Little by little I'm getting the hang of it. It get damn tiring after a couple of hours out in the water. But when i catch a wave, it's just sweet!

I checked out the local Carrumbin wildlife sanctuary yesterday, and spent some time up close with kangaroos and koalas. Koalas are incredibly cute little things. I saw a few sleeping in the trees -- all rolled up into a ball, wedged between two branches.

This weekend I'm planning to check out Byron Bay area, and more of Brisbane. I had dinner there at a restaurant/bar called 1 degree, and a drink at the Jade Buddha, both at the Eagle St pier. It was Friday evening, and almost everyone seemed to be out and about. The central area is littered with hip restaurants, coffee shops and bars everywhere -- and all of them seemed to be packed today.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005


This morning was great. I surfed for some 3 hours and the conditions were just about perfect. On the Rainbow beach here, waves were glass-like and the Sun on the sky made everything even better. My third day into surfing here and I think I am getting a lot better -- it may have just been the conditions, but today felt great. The conditions gave me a lot of rights (the waves coming in from the right) that I caught all the way in. Awesome, awesome.

In the afternoon, I took a train to Brisbane. I had bought the Brisbane Sunday Mail, and I was overjoyed to find that Miyazaki's Howl's Moving Castle is playing here. And in Japanese version with English subtitles too! It wasn't something I could pass up on. I had written a long time back about the movie, and I knew there was no way I could catch it in India. It's a shame that there is no mainstream audience for international cinema, even in metropolis, in India. There are all kinds of small cliquish clubs that watch old cinema classics, but that's about it.

The latest from Miyazaki was beautiful as ever. Miyazaki's world is so enchanting. This time around, however, the movie itself wasn't as impressive as his earlier works. The story did not seem very well put together, and the characters seemed to be almost rip-offs from Spirited Away. Nevertheless, it was worth the afternoon.

The rest of the time, I roamed around in Brisbane, mostly around South Bank. Whatever little I saw of the city, I liked. I've always believed that a river, and to a slightly lesser extent an ocean, gives a city more character. Cities that have neither aren't worth living. Brisbane has both! In just the small area I spent time in was littered with several restaurants, coffee shops, and art galleries. Over the next week I am thinking of checking out several more parts of Brisbane.

Some thing I learned about this area: signs of "XXXX" mark bars or beer shops. I am not sure if this is widespread across Australia, I believe it is something specific to the Queensland area. Apparently a joke goes that the sign says this because Australians can't spell beer. Also, the shops that sell liquor are called, very aptly, "bottle shops."

Monday, September 26, 2005

Gold Coast, Australia

I finally got an Internet (dialup) connection at home here in Coolangatta, Australia, and am logging on. I've been here for two days now, have taken my first sufing lesson, have bought groceries for the next month I am here, have a prepaid SIM card in my tri-band phone and... well, I am just about as settled as I was in Seattle or in Bangalore.

I don't have a rental car yet, but I soon will. That will just about complete whatever's missing.

It is becoming such a small, and simple, world all over. Staying connected is universally similar and downright easy (and cheap). It cost me, what, A$15 for the pin converter, A$30 for the SIM card and A$20 for the internet connection. Credit cards, what an ancient invention now, are of course everywhere accepted. Not to worry about the bills, you can pay them online, using the internet connection you just purchased. Of course, I am not exactly in the outback or in the "middle of nowhere," but nevertheless these things make it really simple to travel and still not be too far. (Does it defeat the purpose? Maybe.)

The place itself is quite nice. It is a bit slow, but the beaches are beautiful, the ocean is everywhere, and just about everyone seems to surf. The apartment I am renting for a month is very sexy, very elegant. It overlooks the Coolangatta beach, is very nicely done, something I wouldn't mind spending a much longer time in.

The water was a little cold today, and is expected to stay that way for the time I am here. The time I spent in the water today was great though. I am excited about the next few weeks of surfing. :-)

Thursday, September 22, 2005


I just posted some photos on Flickr. If you subscribe to the feedburner feed, you would have already seen them show up. If not, check them here:

Leaving for Australia

Bangalore is still the same, probably only a little bit more congested. One night I was driving to the Forum mall in Koramangala, to catch a movie that started at 10. Naturally I left my home, close to Cunningham road, an hour earlier. Since I had the tickets already, it seemed a safe enough gap. All of us in the car were amazed to find ourselves at the mall in about 15 minutes. The roads seemed to be very much devoid of traffic that particular day, though I don't know whom or what to thank for the good fortune. I repeated the drive a few days earlier, and still gave ourselves an hour, and it did take us close to 45 minutes to get there. So whatever happened on Tuesday must have been quite a rare fluke.

I had an interesting conversation with the folks in the Australian embassy this morning. The gist of it was that they promised to try send me my passport today though they couldn't commit to it, but the interesting part was that they wanted me to call in two days to find out if they had actually sent the passport. This was after I had told them I had a flight reservation for tomorrow. It was even more frustrating because whoever I was speaking to was acting as a relay device between me and someone else on the other side. Nevertheless, they thankfully despatched my passport today and I am going to board my flight to Brisbane tomorrow night. Next post will be from down under!

If the blogging is light for the next few weeks, it is probably because I am having too much fun. :-)

Monday, September 19, 2005

Lugging books on treks has its rewards

On the trek to Chandertal, that I had to give up on due to bad weather, I carried 3 books with me. One of them was a trekking guide to the area, a novel and the third one was a collection of papers by Knuth. I had to think about carrying these -- I did not want to lug around extra weight unless I was pretty sure I was going to need it. And surely enough, on the last mile before Hampta pass, I felt the weight of every single ounce (that seemed to become heavier with every step). What clinched the argument was the fact that I was getting horses to carry most of the stuff, so they could easily carry these books too.

However, when I had to stop hours at end waiting for the storm to go away, these books came in very handy. I devoured the trekking guide book many times over, and every time I found it lacking the detail I was looking for. The novel was the next to go. For the last two days, I went through the book by Knuth and spent quite a bit of time trying to solve some of the problems I encountered in it. All said, I was very, very happy to have got those books with me -- they kept me good company in an otherwise lonely tent. :-)

The trekking guide I used was Trekking in the Indian Himalaya by Harish Kapadia. When I first leafed through it I found the book quite good. It helped me choose the trek and plan for the number of days. But that's where the usefulness of the book ended. Once I started on the trek, I realized that the plan that the author laid out, similar to the one charted by my guides, was for a lazy stroll and not a trek. I mean, we started around 9am the first day, and we had already put up tents by 1pm. So I pushed the guide into squeezing two days' worth of trekking into the second day, and things looked much better. The book was full of errors, had the order of campsites wrong, had elevations wrong (surprisingly, the text didn't match the figures as well). I think the author probably spent some time in the town of Manali, sat down with some guides and in a week had slapped some stuff together and sent it for publishing. Quite a letdown.

The novel I was carrying with me was the very fat Cryptonomicon. And fat, of course, also means heavy. But this book was what made passing time real easy. It's a very geeky book, what with encryption algorithms and perl scripts in the middle, talk of Riemann zeta functions and an appendix by Bruce Schneier. It was a blast, though. I thought it turned into a bit too much of fantasy towards the end, but till then it was a great ride. It did make me more curious about some of the Maths involved.

Once I was done with Cryptonomicon, I turned to Selected Papers on Computer Science by Knuth. Knuth is sometimes really difficult to read, just because of the sheer density of material in his text. These papers were at times much easier (some of them were almost like stories), and at times just as difficult to follow. But they were almost always interesting. In one of his papers, he discusses whether toy problems are useful. After recapping some older mathematicians' point of view, he jumps into some actual problems. One of the problems was given by a Stanford professor to his class in 1975 (or some such year): Write a program to divide the square roots of numbers 1 through 50 into two sets such that the sum of numbers in the one set is as equal as possible to the second set. Further the program should not take more than 10 seconds of computing time. Of course ten seconds of computing time was a lot less than what it is today, but the problem was interesting. I didn't have a computer at hand, but I tried solving it without the use of one. The result was a good amount of time doing simple algebra and some simple insights. I had a solution but I knew it was not the best. It did help me spend some time sitting in a dhaba, consuming glasses of milk tea and scribbling on a letter pad, while a snow storm brewed outside. Didn't someone say mathematicians are a machine for convertng coffee into theorems? The other interesting problem that I remember is the discussion about the hash tables and average cost of insertion with open hashing -- just the mathematics parts were interesting and sometimes difficult to follow.

Next time onwards, I am definitely going to carry some books on treks with me. I might consider, however, tearing a novel the size of Cryptonomicon into 3 or 4 parts and dividing the load across the horses. ;-)

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Serving up delicacies at 4000m

Yesterday I arrived back in Manali from the trek. Unfortunately we ran into lousy weather, almost from the 2nd day onwards. By the fifth day, we were in the middle of a storm that just refused to go away. After waiting for about 3 days at Chhatru -- the only place in its 80km radius with a phone connection -- we decided to end the trek and head back to Manali. And of course the weather opened up today. But by yesterday our tents were all wet, and we were more or less done with sticking it out in the relentless rain, and even snow at times.

The first four days, though, were good, despite bad weather. On the third day we reached Hampta pass, close to Deo Tibba, at an elevation of 4270m. I couldn't see a thing from there as the visibility was less than some 20 feet. That night we camped at Sheda Ghauru ("cold place"), and I spent almost the entire time in my tent waiting for the biting wind and rain to subside. It felt like North Pole. The analogy isn't far from true -- I met a couple of Swedes later who took pictures at Sheda Ghauru to show their friends that there are places in India that look like somewhere in Norway or Sweden.

One of the things that caught my attention on the trek -- and it doesn't require trememdous observation skills -- is the amount of shit that covers Himachal. Litterally. All through the trek I had to be careful to avoid stepping into something that came out of a four legged creature. It came in several variety too. There's the wide, circular buns of cows, brown lumps from horses and mules and the droppings from goats and sheep. The number of animals I saw didn't quite match up to the amount of shit everywhere, so it seems all the more amazing. The place we camped on the second day -- Balu Ghera (circle of sand) -- was entirely, I kid you not, covered with cow dung. You had to really step around carefully to find clean ground -- or really ground covered with dried up shit -- and there was absolutely no strolling around in the dark. And of course, half the place smells like the stuff covering the ground.

The trek covered beautiful meadows in Kullu valley in the first 4 days, and then descended into the Lahaul valley, all the way to Chandertal. We didn't go much into the Lahaul valley. We camped at Chhatru, close to some dhabas and a satellite phone operated out of a rest house some 15 minutes' hard walk away. At that elevation, devoid of vegetation for most part, that walk took much more than what seemed at first.

What was really amazing on the trek was the stuff that the cook churned out every evening. It may not sound that spectacular to think at first that he made banana pie one night (at Sheda Ghauru). I must remind you that this place was in the middle of nowhere. I had once heard this phrase applied to Columbus, Ohio. But that doesn't even come close. I mean, if you stepped out of the tent and looked around (if you dared the piercing wind), you would see... nothing! There's no sign of civilization around (if you can ignore the ground). You would have to hike about 5 hours to get somewhere. Then you will have to drive another 5 hours to get someplace that begins to get somewhat close to the middle of nowhere that Columbus is. So, when the ever surprising Om Raj, the cook, presented the banana pie, I was justfiable amazed. On other days he had made macaroni, momos, pooris and he had planned to cap it all in the end with pizza and cake on the last day (which didn't occur thanks to the weather).

I am headed back to Chandigarh tonight, and then to Bangalore soon. The trekking plan didn't work out as well as I had hoped, but it was great nevertheless. it is beautiful country here, and deserves many more trips. And yes, I'll put up some photos once I am back in Bangalore.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Trekking in Himalayas

I arrived in Manali this morning on a rickety bus from Chandigarh. Once I was done with everything I need to do to plan the trip to Australia, two days ago, I packed my bags and flew to Chandigarh yesterday morning. From Chandigarh I had reserved a "deluxe" bus to get me to Manali today morning. For those not in the know, a deluxe bus in India is slightly more expensive and promises more comfortable seating. However, when I arrived to board the bus a very different looking bus greeted me. I was told that the original bus had broken down and this was the replacement. It was not "deluxe."

This bus broke down about 2 hours before Manali, at 4 in the morning, and I hopped on to another bus passing by after about an hour of wait. These non-deluxe buses are exquisite pieces of minimality. Everything just barely works. Seats have cushions but they flatten to paper-thinkness once you sit on them. Almost every screw, bolt and frame creaks, rattles and sings if the speed of the bus is anywhere between 5 km per hour to 60 kph -- they are surprising happy and quiet beyond that.

Anyway, I arrived in Manali this morning and met up with my guide. I leave for the ten-day trek to Hampta pass and Chandertal tomorrow morning. It goes up to some 4200m elevation, lower than what I hoped to reach this time around, but promises good scenery. This time I will have an entourage going with me -- a guide, a cook, a porter and 3 ponies. It should be a walk in the park. :-)

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Scuba 'n surfing...

Following my earlier post, I finished my PADI certification at the beautiful Ulua beach in Maui. After that, we took another dive to some 40ft to check out some turtles. The green sea turtles put on quite a show for us. We took some photos, and I will put them up online soon.

I took another surfing lesson, with much better results this time around. I managed to catch quite a few waves, to my own surprise. Goaded by the instructor, I even tried a 180 stunt -- jumping on the board to turn myself by 180 degrees. Didn't quite make it, but I sure had a great time that day!

In the last few days there we snorkeled at Hanouma bay in Waikiki, Honolua-Waikelu (sp?) bay and Black Rock Pt in Maui and then, the best of all, at the Molokini crater. At Molokini we had visibility of nearly 150 feet, and saw a huge variety of fish and coral.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005


I've been in Hawaii for four days now, of which 3 were in Maui. Beyond doubt, it is one of the most beautiful places on earth. The beaches are great, there is a whole bunch of things to do.. I took one surfing lesson, but apart from the three times I stood up and surfed to the shore, I spent the entire morning paddling or falling into the water :-). I am also one open water dive away from my PADI certification.

Today's dive was quite amazing. We dove to some 20 ft, off of the Makena beach here. Somewhere in the middle of the dive my instructor pointed a finger at something, and I looked up to see a giant sea turtle swim by. The visibility was great and the turtle swimming by only a few feet away as I took my underwater lessons was quite a sight. These turtles have a kind of smug, bored look about them. I guess it comes from spending a lifetime chilling in warm waters around here. :-)

I drove around the island a little bit today, mostly the northwest part. I was surprised to see a sign for "Blow Horn" on the curvy hilly roads here. It was funny because it is probably the first time I have seen this sign outside of India. The drive was nice, going uphill and around the green hills, with lots of photo-worthy sights. This drive isn't advertised much here, probably because of the nastiness of it -- it is mostly a single-lane road with lots of blind turns. On the other hand the "road to Hana" is on everyone's list of things to do in Maui -- and is full of cars. I am planning to check that out tomorrow. After, hopefully, I get my PADI certification.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005


1984 evokes many different metaphors. The one that springs to mind first, of course, is the Orwellian world. Of late, however, there have been memories of what happened in India, Delhi in particular, that have been more on my mind.

I recently read another fascinating book by William Dalrymple -- City of Djinns. This books is an account of the author's one year in Delhi, sometime around 1990. Dalrymple writes with wit and has a fascinating collection of anecdotes. On top of it all, his curiosity and passion for the city of Delhi is amazing. And it shows in his narrative.

Coming to the point about 1984, the author recounts conversations with people in Delhi who suffered through that nightmarish episode. For many people in Delhi, it seems, the partition in 1947 and the riots in 1984 have left scars that run deep. The incidents in 1984 might even be topical these days, given the resignation of Mr. Tytler and the statements from prime minister Manmohan Singh.

I was 9 years old when the riots broke out in Delhi, and many other parts of India. I recall seeing the news on TV about Indira Gandhi's assassination. I don't recall the news about the massacres that happened soon after. One morning, a day or two after the assasination, I woke up to find that a Sikh family who lived in the house opposite ours were camping in ours. My mother explained to me, still half-asleep and quite perplexed, that there were fears that their house might have been attacked, and therefore my parents had brought them home in the night. Another family was similarly camping in our next door neighbour's house. I didn't quite feel the fear then, rather I felt kind of happy to have their kids at our place. But I did feel my family was kind of heroic in doing what they did. And then we saw a house in some distance go up in flames -- we rushed up to the roof, and we could see a couple more fires in distance. I don't recall a whole lot more but I do recall the fear in the air.

I think the people responsible for the riots deserve to be punished. However, hoping for justice and expecting it in India are two very different things.

Life in New York

Deep down, I've always wanted to spend a lot of time in New York. Every time I go there and leave, I feel I want to come back here and stay here for a while. Maybe it will happen one day. Till then I'm content with occasional visits.

When I landed in New York, the weather was hot and humid and, as everyone seemed to agree, quite unfriendly and quite unlike New York. Nevertheless, we hit the town soon after brunch. We were headed for the matinee show of The Lion King. We had time to kill and based on someone's recommendation (looking to counter the heat that was beginning to get to us), we stood in the queue for twenty minutes at Coldstone's to treat ourselves to a large cup of ice cream. Not bad, but it didn't quite hit the spot.

The Lion King show though definitely did. It was everything people had described, and maybe a little more. The only other Broadway show I have seen is the incredibly funny Urinetown. The two were both different from each other but the Lion King's setup seemed incredibly well thought out and very clever.

After the show we rushed to the Quad cinemas to catch a show of Tony Takitani. This was a 75 minute movie adapted from a short story by Haruki Murakami. After reading Norwegian Wood, I'm ready to lap up anything from this genius of a writer. The movie was kind of contemplative, and had a creative way of involving the characters into the narration of the story -- it kind of brought the characters closer to the screen than what a simple background narration would have done. I enjoyed the movie, and felt all the more a desire to spend time in this city, and watch a hundred more such movies before they disappear from the collective consciousness of mankind.

When we stepped out of the show we found New York wet and dark. A huge downpour had descended on the city and we were stuck under the awning outside the theater along with other fellow filmgoers. For some odd reason it reminded me of a scene from Woody Allen's Annie Hall -- I'm sure someone who's seen the movie will know which one. :-)
We managed to catch a cab, with the help of a friend who had come to join us there after the movie. We were headed for 11 Madison Ave., for dinner at a hip Indian fusion restaurant -- Tabla.

Tabla wasn't a disappointment, by any means, but didn't measure up to my expectations. Nevertheless, a great place to catch food with a touch of Indian flavor and a dose of creativity and fusion.

The next day in New York presented itself with a fresh face. It seemed as though we had time-warped into the fall in just one day. We celebrated by packing our rollerblades and hitting the Central Park soon after breakfast -- Central Park being another great reason to live in Manhattan. I couldn't help myself from comparing Cubbon Park in Namma Bengaluru to the Central Park. Well, comparing isn't exactly the word. I did think about Cubbon Park. Both are a large, green expanse in the middle of a bustling city. In case of Central Park, the city is New Yotk and park is much bigger, has reservoirs, running tracks and more. Cubbon Park definitely has its own charm, one must admit.

It is the 16th today, and officially my vacation has begun. I am headed to Maui on the 19th for scuba diving. I have a small fear that I might end up becoming a beach bum by the time I am done with my time off from Amazon. Either that, or a snow bum, if there is such a thing.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Let's get serious

After a long stint at Amazon, I finally decided to take a break. I've been toying with the idea for a long time, and finally things come to a point when I thought the timing couldn't be more perfect. Or almost. Nevertheless, the die is cast, and I am taking off on a sabbatical from work. The time off starts August 16th and I return mid November.

What am I planning to do? So many things... and three months seem so little! For now, I have tickets booked to the US, landing in New York. After a couple of days there and then a couple of days with my sister in North Carolina, I plan to head out to Hawaii and complete my PADI certification for scuba diving. I hope I am able to finish it this time around. I return back to Bangalore in early September. I am hoping I'll be able to wander around in the Himalayas for nearly a month without having a fixed plan. There are places in Himachal (Lahaul, Spiti, Narkanda) and Garhwal (Nanda Devi) that I want to spend time at. I might even spend some time in Ladakh again.

I am also looking into getting some surfing action in October. It looks like my earlier plan for spending time in Spain might not be feasible then. Australia looks more likely. New Zealand looks like it will be colder and more expensive.

Ah.. all these plans. I hope I'm able to see them all through.

Last weekend I went back home to Chandigarh. It was such a pleasure to drive in the city beautiful. There's so little traffic and the roads are actually wider. It is also pleasantly surprising to see roads being constantly widened and there is an acual plan for a mass transit system. Bangalore, on the other hand, despite being the so-called IT hub of India, is way behind in its public transport and mass transit.

On the trip I managed to wade through the rest of the White Mughals. I had written about it a while ago, but somehow didn't manage to finish it then. As before, I found the account of the British times in India extremely fascinating. What with Mangal Pandey coming out and all, it might even be topical. The movie also features a British guy taking on a Hindu girl as a lover. The book even recounts how women come from England in the hope of finding a suitable match, only to find that the British men here preferred Indian women (and these womenfolk who returned empty handed were called "returned empties" back home.. the British didn't have much imagination in those times, maybe...).

The trip also gave me time to read what I thought was a really great book: Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami. It has been a very long time since I read a book where the characters were so real, and so well written. There were parts where the book nearly made me cry. I have two more books of his lying on my shelf and they are not going to remain unread for long!

Back from Chandigarh, this week just feels like vacation already. I just can't keep myself from thinking about surfing, diving, trekking... Aaargh! It's time to get serious about having some unalderated fun. Work's for suckers.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Podcasting and NPR

You can't listen to NPR in your car in Bangalore. At least not on the radio. Oh well, at least not being broadcast on air. What you can do however is download podcasts, put them on your ipod and have them transmit to your FM radio in your car. So now you can listen to NPR show from Seattle while driving your car in Bangalore. Cool, eh?

On my last trip to Seattle in April, I picked up
an iPod plug-in for transmitting FM
from Monster. I had tested one from Belkin earlier and didn't like it. The one from Monster has worked great so far. About a month or two ago I started downloading podcasts to the iPod and listening to them. However, iPodder and other tools I tried didn't work quite as well as I liked. I knew it then that it was only a matter of time before iTunes solved the problem for good. iTunes 4.9 indeed did. Now I manage my podcast subscriptions directly from iTunes and these get uploaded to iPod when I plug it in. When I get in my car, the iPod plugs into the FM transmitter, and voila! there's NPR on radio in a car in Bangalore! Heh.

Friday, July 22, 2005

More photos from Leh

I posted some more photos from Leh on Flickr. All these new photos are here:

I used the feature on Flickr to add notes to a photo to mark out Stok La, the highest point of our 3-day trek. Really cool feature, I have to say. My respect for Yahoo! went up by a little bit the day they bought this cool website.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

The forests of Bandipur and Mudhumalai

I spent the last two weekends in the Bandipur-Mudhumalai area. The first weekend was in Bandipur, and the second in Mudhumalai. I don't know how much the Lonely Plant to India covers it, but there is surely a lack of good resourecs on the web for these areas. These are some of the thickest forests I have ever seen, replete with wild life. Over the two weekends, I saw herds of wild elephants, even tuskers, lots of deer, a pair of black bucks, some mouse deer (something I didn't know existed!) -- but seem to have a lot written about them -- and some more.

The first weekend in Bandipur we stayed at Tusker Trails. Good food, good cottages, friendly staff and good set of activities to do -- in all it was a perfect weekend getaway from Bangalore. The second weekend I had extended family in town, and we stayed at the Casa Deep Woods in Mudhumalai. The facilities weren't as great (no pool!), but in general things were better organized. We did a short trek through the forest and on the way back chanced upon a huge herd of deer. Seeing the deer run and jump across a stream was a fascinating sight -- beyond doubt it is one of the more beautiful creations. As I write this I recall more than one stories I saw on National Geographic featuring deer being caught and eaten by alligators or tigers or lions... Ugh!

Anyway, Mudhumalai itself was great. After a day in Mudhumalai we headed to Ooty. I had made reservations at the Willow Hill. While it didn't meet my expectations, it was definitely a nice place to stay. I was hoping for it to be more of a retreat with much more charm. Ooty itself scored low on the charm factor. We visited Pykhara and Glenmorgan on the way to Ooty, and thanks to the clouds and the greenery most of these places looked right out of a Hitchcock thriller (in a good way! :). The next day we headed to Avalanchy and Coonoor. The small trek to the Avalanchy lake was nice -- through the greens and exposed land, along a small stream. The drive from Avalanchy to Coonoor was quite spectacular. The drive is surrounded by very green tea estates all around. With the clouds descending down to the hills, it made for a very enchanting drive. We didn't visit a tea estate till we reached Coonoor -- where we were disappointed somewhat at the High Fields estate. Next time I plan to spend a more chilled out time at a tea estate and do little else in Coonoor and Ooty.

I am back in the Bangalore noise now. Over the last few months I've gone from liking this place to disliking it completely to getting used to it to the point I've stopped caring enough to like it or not. Lavanya Sankaran recently wrote a book with stories from the city -- I read only the first couple and I found it just as superficial as I find this city. Nevertheless, there is money pouring into the city, and people too, with hardly any room to accomdate the latter. So, it goes on.

I'm considering another trip to the Himalayas sometime -- Hemkund/Valley of Flowers is a potential candidate, and Ladakh-Zanskar valley another. There were some discussions on a bicycling trip to Leh, but I doubt it'll happen this year. I am sorely out of shape and it requires a lot of training. Meanwhile I am happy to follow Lance's trail in France.

Monday, July 04, 2005


Of late I have been on more than one flight. The flights to Leh and back and then to Pune for Hemant's wedding. I managed to read about 3-4 books in the meanwhile. During the trips to Leh, I read the The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency. The author tries to fashion a detective after Miss Marple, and does a good turn by making the tale more like folk stories from Africa. I had picked up another book for Leh, Red Carpet, by an author based in Bangalore (or at least writes about Bangalore). The book however got forgotten in Delhi enroute to Leh, and now that I have it in my possession again, I've started it. The first story was no great shakes.

On the way to Pune I picked up a Wodehouse, hoping to get an easy read. It was. Luck of the Bodkins, as it turned out, was something I had read earlier. But then, it is difficult to remember the Wodehouses separate from one another sometimes. Unless it is Leave it to Psmith, which stands out, in my humble opinion, the best of Wodehouse and one of the funniest books around.

Back in Bangalore, I picked up the The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. It is a book written in first person, from an autistic teenager's point of view. I have no knowledge or experience with someone like that, but the book did make a good read. It sure does make feel one more comfortable with one's idiosyncracies, if there are some :). I wasn't sure all through if it was meant to be a children's book or not. There is sadness in the book, but from the autistic child's point of view, there is a simplification to everything. And the actions of this child, that would otherwise seem so strange (and they do to the people in the story), have very logical reasons.

Currently I am also reading Ignited Minds by APJ Abdul Kalam. I am through with the first couple of chapters. In some ways, the book tries to preach wisdom, and in some ways tries to inspire one to dream and make big things happen. What I liked most about the book so far was that it acknowledges outright that the book is not intended for cynical adults like me, and tries to speak to the children in their language, for Mr. Kalam believes it is these minds that will listen and will act. Sitting in India, seeing things broken around one in so many ways, it does make one nod one's head in agreement as one reads along.

Besides the books, every morning now I wake up early to pick up the newspaper. Not to read the news but to get my hands on the daily Su-do-ku puzzle. I had printed some out for the flights to Leh, and managed to crack some of the "very hard" ones during the flight. Alas, the papers carry easy to medium ones only. Apparently these are gaining huge popularity across the world these days. Someone in our office circulated them around before they started appearing in the newspapers, and now it seems too mainstream.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Photos from Leh

I posted some photos from Leh at Flickr. I am going to post more next week. Till then:

A couple of them will show up in my feedburner feed as well.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Riding to Khardung La

I spent the last eight days in the fabulous Ladakh region. On the last day of the trip, after all the other people I was there with had left, I rented a Yamaha RZ135 and rode it to Khardung La. Khardung La happens to be the highest motorable pass in the world, with a road at 5605m above sea level. That's more than 18000 ft. That's 2500 ft higher than Mount Rainier, the highest mountain I had climbed till then. We had also trekked to Stok La, a pass at 4900m elevation a day before, so Rainier already felt small.

It was a fabulous feeling. Of course, it felt good to know I can't be riding a motorcycle anywhere higher than this. Besides, I had made it there alone despite horrible weather, a junk of a rental motorcyle, no shoes (I only had hiking boots and I decided to not wear them for the trip because the three day trek had given me a blister!) and really bad road.

When I got there, my camera seemed to be not working. I did manage to take some pictures, and I am waiting for the results to come out to back my claims with a picture :).

Friday, June 03, 2005

Sleepless, thinking of Seattle

I miss Seattle today. I miss my friends. I miss the drizzle. I miss walking in downtown when there are still people around in the evening, when it is slightly cold and wet but nothing to really get you down. I miss the feeling that I can get up and go hike up a mountain anytime I want to. I miss having Whistler just 4 hours of a drive away. I miss the sight of Rainier peeking out of clouds. I miss the movies at the Egyptian. I miss driving on roads where traffic stays on its lanes and there isn't that much of it to begin with. :-(

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Feedburner feed

I had signed up with feedburner sometime back, and integrated this blog, my Flickr account etc into one feed. Here is the feed URL to subscribe, if you want:

Bande à part, part II

I did finally finish watching this movie. I thought that the movie was kind of strange. First the visuals. There were, repeatedly, shots that ran for a very long time in one stretch. And for most part they didn't seem to serve any purpose than that the director wanted to shoot these shots. It seemed as though there was a purpose in the movie -- Godard wanted to make the movie in a certain way rather than making a certain movie. The subject could have been something completely different and he would have probably been equally happy with it. The story was quite simple, if I try to narrate it.

Then there are the dialogues. Whether it is the background commentary or Franz reading from a book (happened to be called "Odile," same name as the character of Anna Kareina in the movie), they again seem to have almost no relation to the actual story of the movie. There is an eclectic mix of book-readings, background poetry, commentary and whole bunch of stuff that the director seems to have interjected into the movie purely because he thought it would be neat.

There are also references of all kinds. There is the book that Franz reads. In the middle of a reading of Romeo and Juliet, Arthur passes Odile a note that borrows from Hamlet, the two actors enact the killing of Bily the kid, the music director's credit shows up as "the last(?) score for a movie" by him, the last scene in the movie (on the ship) seemed somehow reminiscent of something one would see on a mushy postcard, completely unlike the rest of the movie, etc., etc. The movie seemed more like a puzzle than a movie.

Luckily for me, there was a section in the DVD called "The Loot." One of the chapters here covered the movie in detail and put together all the pieces in the movie that puzzled me. As it turns out, there were more references than what I had observed. The movie was definitely paying homage to a whole bunch of movies, books, incidents, advertisements -- the current time in general. There are several references to the book Odile and other books by the same author. Several places there are references to music in other movies of the time or by the same music director -- there seem to be more than one references to the The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. The last scene on the boat was apparently a homage to Charlie Chaplin movies. The Shakespeare references were acknowledged. There were still more. The characters were named after specific people of the times, or related to Godard. The poetry was by Arthur Rimbaud, a poet who had turned gun-runner in Ethiopea, and of course one of the lead characters was named Arthur Rimbaud.

At the end I felt as though I've just spent a couple of hours in a cinema class, being educated about Godard and Bande à part. Not that I minded, of course. I can understand why this movie would be loved by cinephiles. As I said earlier, it isn't one of the most accessible movies.

Then there was a reference that I'd like to imagine exists even if the DVD did not acknowledge it. The last dialogue in the movie compares the state of affairs to a "pulp novel," where nothing wanes (can't remember the entire thing). Given the fascination Tarantino has for this movie, maybe this is where he picked up the title for Pulp Fiction? When Kill Bill came out, it didn't hide the fact that it was paying homage to movies of various genres. The mood seems to be right from Bande à part. Kill Bill can spawn off a research into movies and can keep one engrossed for a very long time putting the pieces of the puzzle together. While Godard probably made references to things around him for most part, Tarantino wraps his arms around almost the entire history of cinema and wraps all genres into one movie, be it anime, western, samurai sword fights, yakuza movies, kung fu, blaxpoitation and many more.

It would be fun to be inside Tarantino's and Godard's heads and watch some of this stuff being created.

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

The Climate of Man

I recently read a three-prt article by Elizabeth Kolbert in New Yorker, called The Climate of Man. It is an extremely well written article that tries to make it manifest for the rest of us that we are dangerously close to a state of global warming that may be irreversible, and may result in very drastic effects on civilization in a very short time -- if not in our times, defintiely in the next generation's.

Here is an excerpt from the last part of the article, that highlights how the greenhouse effect has worsened considerably in the recent years.

In the seventeen-eighties, ice-core records show, carbon-dioxide levels stood at about two hundred and eighty parts per million. Give or take ten parts per million, this was the same level that they had been at two thousand years earlier, in the era of Julius Caesar, and two thousand years before that, at the time of Stonehenge, and two thousand years before that, at the founding of the first cities. When, subsequently, industrialization began to drive up CO2 levels, they rose gradually at first—it took more than a hundred and fifty years to get to three hundred and fifteen parts per million—and then much more rapidly. By the mid-nineteen-seventies, they had reached three hundred and thirty parts per million, and, by the mid-nineteen-nineties, three hundred and sixty parts per million. Just in the past decade, they have risen by as much—twenty parts per million—as they did during the previous ten thousand years of the Holocene.

The article also talks about two feedback effects in the warming of the earth that make it even worse. Here is another excerpt that explains the first of the two:

At one point, Perovich asked me to imagine that we were looking down at the earth from a spaceship above the North Pole. “It’s springtime, and the ice is covered with snow, and it’s really bright and white,” he said. “It reflects over eighty per cent of the incident sunlight. The albedo’s around 0.8, 0.9. Now, let’s suppose that we melt that ice away and we’re left with the ocean. The albedo of the ocean is less than 0.1; it’s like 0.07.

“Not only is the albedo of the snow-covered ice high; it’s the highest of anything we find on earth,” he went on. “And not only is the albedo of water low; it’s pretty much as low as anything you can find on earth. So what you’re doing is you’re replacing the best reflector with the worst reflector.” The more open water that’s exposed, the more solar energy goes into heating the ocean. The result is a positive feedback, similar to the one between thawing permafrost and carbon releases, only more direct. This so-called ice-albedo feedback is believed to be a major reason that the Arctic is warming so rapidly.

“As we melt that ice back, we can put more heat into the system, which means we can melt the ice back even more, which means we can put more heat into it, and, you see, it just kind of builds on itself,” Perovich said. “It takes a small nudge to the climate system and amplifies it into a big change.”

In the last part of the article, the author talks about the attitude of two different countries towards this issue. Both are developed nations, and their attitudes are the pola opposites of each other. Netherlands government, activists and people are concerned and are taking actions (such as "room for the river" project). The Bush government, on the other hand, refused to even join hands with the rest of the world on the Kyoto agreement and has its head buried in the sand. And this despite the fact that the US is the biggest contributor of the greenhouse gases.

I live in Bangalore, and I cannot ignore the pollution that envelops this city all the time. While it is easy to point to the US, I think it behooves the Indian government to be still more concerned about it. It is heartening to see the improvements in Delhi over the last three years. It is, today, a much cleaner, nicer city than what it was some years ago. It is apalling to see the attitude of people and government alike in Bangalore. I almost have nightmares imagining the continuous increase of people and traffic in this city, dreading a day when everything will come to a standstill.

Monday, May 30, 2005

Are you making a difference?

I ask myself this question sometimes. I am not sure about the answer.

I am 30 years old, and over the past many years I have met several people about whom I can answer this in the affirmative. I recently ran a 7km race in Bangalore for an organization called Dream A Dream. I didn't really go out of my way to find how I could run for a charity organization. A friend's fiance is currently in Bangalore working for this organization. She's taken a whole year out of whatever she otherwise does to spend it with this organization. She is from the US, hardly speaks the language and Bangalore is probably not her most favorite place to be. Yet, she is putting in an effort, and I do believe she is making a difference.

On my recent trip to Seattle, I met up with Dave again. He had left Amazon sometime back, and told me he is about to start working with a non-profit microfinance company. Dave's a great guy and makes a huge difference in whatever he takes up. The organization he is working with, Unitus, is making inroads into alleviating poverty in different parts of the world. Microfinance is not something I was familiar with till Dave told me about it, but I've read about it a little since then. I like what they are doing and their strategy resonates with possibilities and hope.

When I went home to Chandigarh recently, I heard another story. My dad's friend's peon's son (a peon, for those not in the know, is the officeboy, the garcon, the guy who fetches glasses of water and does the running around so the babus in the office can chill in air conditioned offices) was doing very well in his high school studies. Once he graduated from class X, he wanted to prepare for competitive exams. My dad's friend figured out the best teachers in town, got him introduced and admitted to their tuitions, paid the fees and made sure the kid lacked no resources to prepare for the exams. I also found out that he runs a non-profit organization for such students (who are bright but lack resources), and there have been more such stories that I hadn't heard about so far.

I remember a dialogue in Casablanca. Rick congratulates Victor Lazlo on his work. Lazlo, trying to be modest, says "I try." Rick replies, as only Bogart can, "We all try. You succeed."

Bande a part

I recently joined a movie store in Bangalore. It's called Habitat and it's on Church Street. The store is pretty expensive to rent movies from -- it costs about Rs. 130 for a movie, the same amount I used to pay to the phenomenal Scarecrow store in Seattle. The good thing is that they have a pretty decent collection of movies I want to watch -- though a large selection of movies that I want to watch is missing as well.

In any case, ever since I joined I am back in almost a movie watching spree. I got a chance to catch up on Almodovar's The Flower of my secret -- and I did not like it as much as I liked his other movies. I am currently watching Bande à part. The primary reason I picked it up is that it is from Godard, but a very big reason I picked it up is also that Tarantino is such a huge fan of this movie. (His production company is called Band Apart.) For most part I find that French movies are kind of pretentious, so full of themselves and self-indulgent that they become boring. There are several exceptions of course. And I am mostly referring to more recent cinema here. Older French movies were a lot better. Cinema there, as pretty much everywhere else except for Korea and Japan, is in utter lack of creative juices.

Bande à part is in some respect quite an impressive movie so far. But it is not a very accessible movie. Maybe I'll write more about it once I am finished with it.

I also caught up on Coen brothers' Raising Arizona, and that was a hoot.

Friday, May 20, 2005

The morality tale called Star Wars

I just read the New Yorker review of Star Wars. I have yet not seen the movie, but I'd have written similar stuff (mine would lack the wit and the humor of the article, perhaps) about the rest of the Star Wars movies. I dislike all of the Star Wars, though I enjoyed the episode IV when I was a kid. Here is an excerpt from the review that I just loved.

The general opinion of “Revenge of the Sith” seems to be that it marks a distinct improvement on the last two episodes, “The Phantom Menace” and “Attack of the Clones.” True, but only in the same way that dying from natural causes is preferable to crucifixion.

We just put together the set of magazines to subscribe in the office, and New Yorker topped the list. Our office folks have also put together Kannada teaching lessons -- something I am sure are going to come in handy in Bangalore. Nannage ishta. (I hope I got that right! :)

Tuesday, May 17, 2005


I've been meaning to checkout what podcasting is all about for a month or so now. I finally got around to spending some quality time with my Mac and plugged in. I first downloaded iPodderX, subscribed to some feeds (Talk about films, one music feed, Berkeley groks talk show). iPodderX was somewhat of a disappointment. Nevertheless, I got the downloads into iTunes, downloaded them to my iPod, and using an iPod FM transmitter listened to it while I was driving to work. Sounds a bit geeky, and it felt that way too. There are definitely tools missing that will make it seamless for any user.

The podcasts I downloaded were pretty disappointing too. The conversation about films was barely audible. The rest was content I wasn't particularly interested in. So why did I download these? Because there was nothing that told me what the content was going to be like in any of the podcasts available online. No reviews, no ratings, no tags.

Yesterday, I browsed for other tools besides iPodderX. I downloaded iPodder 2.0. This was a much better tool. I downloaded a new set of podcasts and dumped the ones I had subscribed to earlier -- and I am probably never going to go back to them. My first downloads did not just show up in iTunes -- I had to explicitly add them. Since then I've tuned the settings for iPodder a little bit, and I expect this to work more seamlessly next time.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Made in India

I recently read that 20th Century Fox is going to remake Munnbhai MBBS in English. I found it quite amusing. When I first saw Munnabhai MBBS, it came across as a remake of a Hollywood movie -- Patch Adams. It was adapted to Indian tastes extremely well, and definitely added dollops of humour that was absent in the Hollywood film (which was more trying to potray a real life story than make a comedy). In any case, this game of Chinese Whispers amuses me. It reminded me of a joke I had heard when I was much younger -- where nations compete to create the thinnest wire made of steel; each nation continues to improve upon the previous one till it reaches India where we stamped it with "Made in India."

Every other movie I see in theaters is "inspired" by something I have seen earlier. My Bollywood-crazy cousin was in town last week and we checked out a couple of movies playing in theaters. "Main aisa hi hoon" -- a dull, manipulative tear-jerker of a movie -- was copied from I am Sam. Most of "Kya Kool hain hum" -- and all of the funny part -- is a rip-off from the incredibly funny Roberto Benigni movie Il Mostro. Originality be damned.

I recently picked up a coffee table book about Bollywood cinema, despite the fact that it had Aishwarya Rai on the cover. The book has a pretty good coverage of India cinema. I wish the cover featured the famous photo from Sholay (the two dudes on the motorcycle, one riding on the other's shoulder), or anything else that was a bit of a landmark in Indian cinema. Aishwarya Rai? The doll that can barely act and comes across as someone with no brains in her interviews? Is she the identifying face of Indian cinema?

By the way, I saw a photo of a much younger Prithvi Raj Kapoor. I think the guy was extremely dashing. All of his progeny sucked in the looks department compared to him.

Monday, May 02, 2005


I spent the last weekend in Pondicherry. It was no Goa, but I had been warned to not expect one. No surprises there. That said, it was a great weekend. After a long time I got to do a long drive (well, not so long maybe -- total of 300km in two days) on a decent road in India!

I flew Air Deccan down to Chennai. They gave me tickets at a reasonable price with just one day's notice. Air Deccan turned out to be a pretty decent experience though I have been told of horror stories from others. They are a new one in the family of inexpensie airlines around the world (Southwest being another; I've heard of similar ones in Europe).

We rented a car from Hertz and luckily we got to drive the car ourselves instead of being chauffered around. We headed out from Channai early morning and hit the East Coast Road in no time. Before we knew it, we were in Mamallapuram (aka Mahabalipuram). A short visit to the Five Rathas and the Shore temple and we were on our way again. In hindsight, the temples were quite fascinating. At first sight they seemed really "fresh," if you understand what I mean. I was told later that these temples were cleaned and somewhat touched up recently.

Pondicherry itself is a mix of any other town in south India and a sleepy, quaint French neighbourhood that is reminiscent of New Orleans. There is a visible influence of Aurobindo on the town. We stayed at one of the rest houses affiliated with the Ashram. We also paid visit to the ashram as well as the Auroville. Besides that, there was little to do there (or we found little to do). We did check out a couple of restaurants. Rendezvous was great. We also tried "The Club" -- it has apparently morphed into three restaurants, and we ate at the bistro. It was ok. The bakery "Hot Breads" was quite good -- and it was the only one open at 7 in the morning.

The best part of the trip probably was the drive from Chennai to Pondi and back. Great road, very little traffic and a decent scenery.

A post about creativity

I'm still reading through the article on Gaping void (it's a pretty old one, I just happened to be late to the party).

It's titled "How to be creative." The post is nicely written and though it may not come as a revelation, it does remind you of things you might have forgotten. I remember reading somewhere that one suceeds at doing what one enjoys most. I recall one of the professors at IIT Kanpur (whom I met exactly once, and that too because my dad was in town and pulled me along to meet this acquaintance of his) told me, "Enjoy what you do, and do what you enjoy!"

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

A few good books

I've been catching up on some reading lately. I have to thank the time I got on flights recently to get me back in the reading habit.

Mjarne Satrapi, a Persian author, came out with an interesting comic-book format for her book, Persepolis. Lekha had recommended the book to me more than once, so I decided to check it out. It was a short and fascinating read. It also brought back to mind another movie based in middle east about a child growing up in a war-torn country -- West Beirut. Both of these are charmers and I recommend them wholly.

I took a sneak peek at the Time's 100 most influential people edition at the airport. There were some who stuck out for me. The best was that Miyazaki features on the list!! The other surprise for me was the author Malcom Gladwell. I read his Tipping Point very recently and I have now begun to realize how widely it has been read. I kind of guessed it by the number of copies lying on the counter at the small bookstore at the Bangalore airport. The book is indeed a good read. I came away with good insights into network effect, and in general have come to revere the author's abilities.

I am in Seattle this week. I had stopped over in Palo Alto for a day -- a day spent entirely indoors in office meetings. Nevertheless, one thing stood out about the place that I found interesting. I had not seen such a high proportion of cars in an American town to be European -- mostly Audi's and Mercedes.

Monday, April 04, 2005

Miyazaki's latest

I have been patiently waiting for Howl's moving castle for a while. I had heard about it ages ago on Orkut. It looks like it is not going to be released in the US till June. And that's not a great help for me either since I don't expect the movie to show up in India ever. This means either I have to wait for the DVD to come out, or I have to time a visit to a country playing this movie. Why am I so crazy about this movie? Check it out!.

Movign to Bangalore has made a serious dent in my movie watching. First off, this town has no taste in movies. After the whole rage around not showing non-Kannada movies for the first few week of release died down, I still find that hardly any of the more interesting, offbeat movies make it down here. Delhi seems to be a much better place in that respect. Nevertheless, I managed to catch a somewhat offbeat movie recently -- Chai Pani. The movie was another amateurish attempt at mocking our corrupt system, though it had hardly anything novel to it. Most of the characters were predictable, most situations contrived and in general the movie had hardly any impact.

So where have all the good filmmakers gone? I notice a new trend in Bollywood these days. Besides just introducing new starlets in movies, producers (renowned ones too) are bringing in fresh directors. It looks like Karan Johar, Ram Gopal Verma and the Chopras are the primary pioneers here. Three cheers for them!

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Tasting the waters of river Kali

It has been a while since I updated the blog. I've promised to myself that I will be more regular in writing still more useless stuff about my shenanigans. A lot has happened since the trip to Auli. Or so I would like to think. In the two months since then, I've been involved in a nasty road accident, had a chance to explore Goa once again, and now have been kayaking and rafting on river Kali. In hidsight, maybe not a whole lot has been happening. :(

For anyone who is not familiar with Indian traffic laws, here is a piece of sincere advice: Do everything your intuition and feeling of goodwill tells you not to do, and do not do anything that seems right in any civilised country. Yes, there is a long story here, and I am not yet ready to say it, but will write about it soon. One more lesson learnt -- when you move to a place where you don't know the local language, you should probably have a driver who speaks one, or put in the effort to know the language. It helps.

But this post is not about that story. A week or so ago, on the long weekend, we decided to head over to Goa once again. The last time we were there, the beaches were isolated because the tourist season had yet not started. This time I hoped the tourists would have left. Wrong. Goa seems to be a place where no one wants to leave. The season was ebbing, but still tourists swarmed the beaches of Goa like ants.(Ever since Navjot Singh Siddhu started putting out analogies, I have been making an effort to avoid them, but can't resist the temptation sometimes.) Anyway, Goa seemed very different from last time. We stayed at the Bagha beach again, this time at Baia do Sol, at the very end of the Bagha beach. The hotel was ok, charged us about Rs. 1700 for an AC room for two people, including breakfast and one meal. It seemed like a reasonable deal, given that most other hotels were sold out. The hotel also hooked up a motorcycle, at Rs. 200 a day (pretty reasonable, especially since the travel books said that we should expect Rs. 250-300), and that made a huge difference. Equipped with a map (Rs. 30) and a motorcycle, we explored beaches away from the crowds. We chanced upon the Morjim beach, to the north of the Anjuna and Vagator, and it was the most perfect place. A small local shack (quite unlike the very commercialized ones on Bagha) set us up with umbrellas and chairs and drinks and food, at one-third the prices on Bagha, and much better beach with much more seclusion. Needless to say, we were there the next day as well. This time, the shack owner made us a prawn curry with three bigass tiger prawns floatin in it. If you have not had prawns sitting in the shade under the Sun on a beach in Goa, with the beautiful empty beach around you and waves crashing in front, I can't relate the experience in words that will do it justice. It was one of those times that Wodehouse would describe as feeling all is well with the world and you are on top of it. Sigh..

We also happened to land at the Saturday night bazaar in Arpora this time. It is a huge flea market. Most of peddlers and visitors are foreign tourists. It is easy to doubt if you are actually in India while roaming the bazaar. The prices are about 50 times what you would find outside the bazaar, but not for everything. Variety is interesting and huge. You hear just about every language and accent you can think of in a span of 100 meters. The place very much adds up to the whole atmosphere of impending doom that lurks about Goa.

Back from Goa, I found out that Hemant and others are planning for another trip there. Tempted though I was, I couldn't join them for that. But I did jump at the chance to do some kayaking on river Kali enroute to Goa. We hopped on to a bus on Friday night, and found ourselves having breakfast at the Jungle Lodge in Dhandeli by 9am the next day. We hooked up with Andy, our kayaking guide/instructor for the day, and spent the day getting a taste of white water kayaking. "White water" is a bit of an exaggeration though. I didn't actually hit any rapids on the kayaks. Most of the time we spent learning to roll and keep our kayaks going in a straight line, both of which I found to be pretty difficult to perfect -- not that I did perfect it. In the process I gulped down a lot of river water too. I am almost expecting something drastic to happen to me as a result, but nothing yet. The next day, we joined the white water rafting trip with other folks staying at the lodge. Soon we had 5 rafts with about 7 people each heading down the river and hitting the rapids. Out guide -- Ravi -- was probably the most fun rafting guide I have met. He was throwing people overboard for a swim, was doing somersault dives off the boat and had us stand up and "jiggy-jiggy" on the boat in the middle of a rapid. These guys surely knew how to have a good time with a somewhat wild river and an inflatable raft full of tourists.

I've been very impressed with the stuff Jungle Lodges and Resorts have done for eco-tourism. If you haven't checked them out, pay them a visit:

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Auli Skiing -- Take the doctor along

I just came back from three days of snowboarding in Auli. This was my first time snowboarding in India, and I feel like kicking myself for not doing it more often. Just about everything about Auli was perfect -- and had it not been for an accident on the slopes, the vacation would have been perfect.

For those who don't know where Auli is, here is some basic information. Auli is in the Garhwal region of the Uttaranchal state in India. I flew from Bangalore to Delhi. There I met up with SP, Gagan and Amit. We took Mussoorie express, an overnight train, to Hardwar. I had reserved a taxi through the GMVNL PRO ( from Hardwar to Joshimath. The taxi met us at the train station. It was a pretty spacious Toyota Qualis, and cost us roughly Rs.1200 a day, including petrol, driver, taxes etc. The driver was pretty cool, and managed to get us to Joshimath in roughly 8 hours from Hardwar. The last cable car from Joshimath to Auli left at 4:20, and we took that to the Clifftop Club hotel.

From then on, for four days it was a pretty relaxing time on the slopes. Snowboarding was pretty laid back, food was great, and weather couldn't have been better. We landed at the hotel in the middle of a huge snowstorm. The storm subsided by the next morning and the Sun shone on clear sky for the three days we were in Auli. Soft, dry, virgin snow around us was better than what I have ever seen before. The only problem was that there was just too much of it. As a result, the areas off the groomed runs were a nightmare on the snowboard. I couldn't hike out of the skiing area either. Nevertheless, the groomed runs offered a ton of fun and I took in as much of it as I could.

Auli has one chair-lift and one tow-rope. The runs are not huge -- the total length of the run from the top to the bottom is probably under 1.5km. What Auli lacked in size, it made up in views, snow and weather. The might Nanda Devi loomed in fron of us along with other tall snow covered mountains that were much closer.

The downsides were that due to a small number of people on the slopes, the chair lift was only partly operational. The operators took lunch breaks, and the lifts stopped working during that time. After skiing is done, there is little to do in the resort. We spent our time playing games indoors and feasting on some good food served at the Clifftop.

On the last day of skiing, SP fell on the upper slope while skiing. That's when we found out about the real lack of infrastructure in Auli. They had no stretcher to transport him to the resort. One of the instructors -- Rakesh -- carried him down on his back (quite an amazing feat -- I saw him ski down with SP on his back!). At the resort, there was no medical help available, not even basic first aid. We called up a doctor in Joshimath, and took the cable car down to the town. The doctor, Dr. Bhandari, was of limited help. He sent us for an x-ray, which required us to carry SP up and down some 50 stairs. Quite a ridiculous setup! It turned out that SP had a fracture in the lower right leg. We didn't feel comfortable getting treated by the doctor -- who in any case left for home at 6:30 despite us still there in his clinic -- so we headed back towards Delhi.

If it hadn't been for the incident, the trip was one of the best skiing trips I have been on. I plan to go back there (but after I've taken a basic first-aid course, or if I have a doctor with me :) and check out some of the backcountry skiing there. From what people told me, it sounded quite inviting.

Sunday, January 09, 2005

The IKEA hangover in Bangalore

I have been looking around Bangalore for furniture and other stuff to furnish my apartment. There are furniture stores of all kinds and variety -- from small carpenter shops with low prices and matching quality to high end furniture shops with very niche clientele. In the middle somewhere are some interesting stores with decent prices and fairly innovative designs. I haven't seen any website cover the furtniture stores online, so I thought I'll put up what I've discovered so far. (Which reminds me of another thing about Bangalore -- maybe India in general -- that I wish we could fix: most of the information about the city isn't available anywhere to find out, you have to ask the people who know.)

So, first the major areas that I know of so far. I live pretty close to Infantry road. We ordered a bed from one of the shops there -- they made it to order from a design. Rubberwood, decent finish, delivered on time -- worked out well. This was from a shop called the The Woods. Infantry road itself is infused with lots of shops that sell very similar furniture, and can put something together from a design you show them. The only problem is that the end product looks close to what shows in the picture, but is almost surely going to differ slightly. The difference is mostly going to be in the final look. These folks are probably good carpenters but optimize to save time and cost, and in the process eliminate some of the interesting aspects of the design that in the first place made them attractive. The advice, therefore, is to stick to simpler designs as much as possible, and be very clear about the nuances you want correct. And yes, almost all shops carry stuff that looks somewhat similar to what you would find in those shops around the world with a blue and yellow sign.

Besides Infantry road there are quite a few stores on the 100 ft road in Indiranagar. Most of these shops carry furntiture similar to what you can pick up in a Walmart or Target stores in the US. Most of the furniture is particle-board stuff and a unreasonably expensive. Some of the stores carry a little bit (or even more) ornate furniture -- something I don't think I could see myself buying.

Then there are some interesting stores with designs more to my liking. There is the Design store on 100 ft road in Koramangala. I ordered a bed and a simple entertainment center from there. I found it a little bit expensive, but good stuff. There is another store off of 100 ft road in Indiranagar, whose name I forget now. It is close to the Cafe Coffee Day there, on a road perpendicular to the 100 ft road. These stores have more innovative designs that go easy on the eyes and are very functional.

One of the rental agents I was working with when hunting my apartment had pointed me to an interesting furnishing store in Ulsoor. I tried looking for it again by myself and couldn't find it. Still determined to find it, I went back and circled the lake looking for it. I finally managed to locate it. It is called Yamini, and sells some really nice fabric, cushions, mats and more.

I am sure there are many more stores that would be worth checking out. Do drop me a note if you have a recommendation.

Sunday, January 02, 2005


I finally managed to get away from work and Bangalore and the surrounding noise, and drove to Coorg. During my first week here, I picked up the Outlook Traveler book called "52 Weekend Getaways from Bangalore." All in all, it has a wealth of information about the region around Bangalore and makes a lot of things seem easier to access than otherwise. In short, it was the perfect thing for an ignoramus like me. The book lists several options in Coorg as possibilities -- Dubare, Madikeri, Siddapur and so on. I made reservations at the last possible minute and though Kabini was my first choice, I opted to go for Dubare. It seemed equally nice, and -- more importantly -- had available accomodation not too far.

I tried booking something through the Jungle Lodges, but they didn't have anything around Dubare. They instead pointed me to homestays around Dubare, and hooked me up with Anoop, a guy who manages some of these. Anoop confirmed he had a place for me abou 20 km from Dubare. I had no idea what kind of a place it would be, but after having called dozens of numbers, I couldn't let it go. So, Saturday morning we were on our way to Coorg, with our cameras, minimal backpacks and anything else we needed for the five-hour drive. And yes, did I mention Dubare has an elephant camp where you get to interact with these huge mammals and even get to scrub and wash them in the river?

The drive itself was long. In general getting into and out of Bangalore (especially on Mysore Road) is a pain. We opted to take the South End road from Hosur Road and connect to Mysore Road close to Kangeri. BIG mistake. South End Road sounds pretty upscale and looks pretty nice on the map. We drove at aboud 20kph on probably one of the worst maintained roads of the city. Not to forget the crowds and the deadly traffic. But then, this is Bangalore. Mysore Road itself is under a lot of construction. So we had to drive for most part on single lane roads, with no shoulders. We ran into lots of diversions along the route. The traffic on the way was not too bad. Soon after Sri Rangapatna, we started seeing signs for Coorg. There is an obscure turn off the road that has a board saying Coorg to the right. We missed it initially, but we suspected so and confirmed it from someone down the wrong road.

The road to Coorg is one of those older highways (the newer ones are still being constructed) that have tall shady trees lining the roads and barely-in-shape roads interspersed with potholes and nasty speed-breakers. I loved the drive. There was hardly any traffic all through the route, the views were green and occasionally quite scenic, and all along the route we found small towns and villages. I wouldn't say all these villages were particularly charming, but within Coorg, these even smaller places are quite picturesque.

We met Anoop in Kushalnagar, picked up our vouchers for the stay and the elephant camp and were soon on our way. We were going to stay at a coffee estate, in a small cottage in a valley. It sounded great. It turned out to be quite like what Anoop described. About 5.5km before Madikeri, we turned onto the coffee estate's pebbled road. The cottage was indeed nesteld in the middle of the forest, about 200 meters from the main estate quarters. The estate quarters themselves had some 3-4 rooms that were occupied by some families visiting from Calicut. The place was quiet, clean and fairly spacious. In hindsight, I wish I had carried some simple stuff with me (a toilet paper roll, soap, nicer blanket or sleeping bag, slippers). But I really didn't miss them. In the evening, after dinner, the guys running the estate lit a small campfire for us. The electricity kept coming and going, and we were for most part in the dark except for the campfire. There were hardly any mosquitoes -- something a bit surprising to me -- and the weather was pleasant enough to enjoy the campfire and not feel cold at all.

The next day began early. We had to be at the Dubare camp by 8:45. We rushed through the not-so-great breakfast at the estate and drove back towards Kushalnagar. I always find driving in the hills a lot more pleasant in early morning than any other time. Not to get too poetic, but sunlight filtering through the trees, mildly cold air and soft colours almost naturally bring a smile...sigh.

Dubare itself was a beautiful place across the Cauvery river. There is a huge eddy and the current itself is pretty weak here. A boat ferried us across to the elephant camp. When we got there, there wasn't anyone around except for the manager for the Jungle Lodges resort, Mr Sivaram, who turned out was Anoop's dad. Soon, an elephant came down to the river and gladly lay down for us to scrub and wash him. These elephants seemed to drink in the water, urinate and shit there before lying down. Ugh. I enjoyed giving the thick-skinned tusker a scrub on the nose and back. She seemed to enjoy it too. I say she, because the other two elephants who came down were pretty evidently male. Maybe it was the mating season, or maybe it was just water. In any case, the elephants seemed to enjoy being bathed and scrubbed.

We spent a couple of hours more over there, hanging out, listening to interesting info-session about Asian elephants (very interesting stuff about how the elephant herds function). Usually I find this stuff somewhat boring, but for some reason the characteristics about Asian elephants -- like visiting the grave of a deceased ancestor, protecting the newbord and welcoming him with trumpeting noises -- were fascinating.

In the afternoon we drove up to Madikeri. I was trying to get to Orange County resort, a place I hd heard a lot about. I didn't have clear directions and decided to give up in the end. It turned out, it is closer to Siddapur, which in turn is very close to Dubare. We tried finding a place in Madikeri to get akki roti, but had to settle for some regular south indian fare at a hotel near the bus stand -- Capital Hotel. Bad food, poor service. We had stopped for a moment at the East End Hotel and the Raj Darshan, and those places looked much nicer.

On the way back, we took at detour at Bylkuppe to check out the Buddhist monasteries. It was almost surreal to find a huge Tibetan settlement in the middle of South India. Imagine seeing an old Tibetan woman herding sheep by the side of the road, and sprawling hills on both sides. It felt like we were somewhere in Himachal or Garhwal, not Karnataka. The "golden temple" monaastery itself was quite ornate and beautiful. We tried finding veg momos in the settlement, but no luck.

We started back around 4, and despite losing our way once and almost reaching Mysore we managed to hit the Bangalore city traffic by 9. Night driving in India, if you haven't had the joy of experiencing, is something only for the nasty. Avoid it if you can. It is not fun at all, and unnecessarily risky.

It then took us another hour to navigate the Bangalore traffic to get home. By the time I got home, Coorg already seemed very far. :(