Monday, October 29, 2007
Also known as Akaal Bodhan.
As is Le Jive Traditionell
You've got to feel sorry for these guys. What a waste of a Pujo evening.
And this one ... Calcutta instead of Le Havre?
(No, I am NOT implying I'm another Claude M.)
Laal paar shaari and shnidoor khela
Thursday, October 25, 2007
The Vada man, on chat, just raised a point that seriously worries me. Name the hottest babe in your service, sez he.
I was thrown. The most pacifist employee in Blackwater? Britney Spears’ great fashion ideas? Fernando Alonso's sporting gestures? Paris Hilton’s intellectual pursuits? As oxymorons go, this one is right up there. I can think of some men in my fraternity who are kind of cool and (presumably) hot, but women?
The Lack of Babes in IITs and IIMs is well documented, much bemoaned. (Only by males, of course. I’m sure the girls are OK with their position on the demand curve.) So add one more drought area – any given services training institute. I can only imagine the trauma of a guy who’s been through IIT, IIM and is then misguided enough to join the civil services. Halloo? Where’s the wimmin, mossyoo?
They’d probably have more chance of getting some in a seminary. Not to mention better cuisine. Good thing I made up my mind back in First Year.
So question to my SAO-15 (yes, the Vada also directed me to Joel Achenbach) – can any of you think of any career civil servant who is also (a) identifiably female and (b) hot? (Magsaysay Awards do not register on the hottie scale). Names not essential (though welcome – try e-mail!), just affirmations.
Important point - I have just been told that lady cops (or Customs officers, for that matter) have an unfair advantage, since some men will find even Condi Rice hot if she wears a tight uniform. So when nominating, please consider whether the lady in question would be hot without her uniform.
Umm ... no no, not THAT way. Oh bggrrttt, you know what I mean.
Tuesday, October 23, 2007
The Loss of Inheritance (well, sort of)
A slightly lost young Surd.
Goodbye, laptop. Farewell, iPod. (But why take my toilet-case?)
Finding - Delhi Police have pretty decent offices and station houses.
Sidelight – I can now take indirect responsibility for a bomb scare. The overnight case was abandoned in front of Golcha Cinema. Suspicious unattended bag. Bomb Squad. Daryaganj P.S. Forlorn bag handed back. Missing, one iPod. And one toilet case. Why? (They left me a shirt and undies. So kind of them.)
Thursday, October 18, 2007
The morning is bright, cloudless. On the way out to Kufri, a quick detour to Bemloe below the Clarke’s is a disappointment. In September, the stone-walled, slate-roofed cottage of memory would be filled with the sweet smell of Shimla’s own Golden Delicious apples, fresh harvest from the orchards of Chail. Evenings were spent watching the sun go down in flames behind the western ridge, striking sparks from distant windows, lying like lava upon streaks of evening cloud. Now the roof is a bilious green and the walls have been painted red. A fence shuts off the valley view from the sunset seat. The flower beds where gladiolii nodded amidst the verbania are now bare except for some apologetic marigolds.
You can never go home again.
Through the tunnel, Sanjauli is a traffic nightmare. The road inches tiredly past shabby tea-shops, past the bus-stand at Dhalli and the dirty workshops, opening suddenly onto a vista of terraced fields and farmhouses small in the distance.
The choice was between some time soaking in the view from Wildflower Hall, or a visit to the autumn orchards of Chail. Some of the orchards have day passes, where visitors can eat all the fruit they want. And, presumably, repent in a haze of acidity afterwards. The Himalayan vista seemed by far the better option.
At the last fork before Kufri, a brick-paved driveway leads up through an ornate gate. Wildflower Hall. As the car groans up, the horizon flowers with snow-capped peaks. Immediately, the air seems fresher, cooler. The building itself is ugly as a barracks, somehow reminiscent of a Nazi schloss, perhaps out of Where Eagles Dare. Alighting in a stone-walled portico beside a lawn so green it looks Photo-Shopped. Once through a slightly out-of-place revolving door, shoes squeak upon super-polished parquet floors, through the lobby, through the sun-washed morning room, to the terrace.
Words are not adequate.
Little red flowers line the parapet, framing the vistas beyond. On two sides pine forests, dark even in the brilliant sunshine, brood upon the songs of unseen multitudes of cicadas. In front of the terrace, layer upon layer of shaggy hills climb from green to blue towards the cloud-fringed horizon. But not all the white is cloud. On the edge of the sky, the
Peace comes dropping slow.
(Self-indulgent original version of something that appeared in print today - on Friendly Advice, put up in two posts)
(Self-indulgent original version of something that appeared in print today - on Friendly Advice, put up in two posts)
The most vivid memory is of the light. The moon swinging between the hills on its way down to the horizon, while the moonlight hung in the air, glowing, translucent, liquid yet at the same time crystalline, brittle. Driving through a dream in that hour before dawn, as the car swung and swung again, on the road reaching upwards through the dark of the pine-shadows and the patches of hazy moonlight through the mists.
Morning came in primary colours. The shadows of the hills sharp on the opposite slopes, brilliant sun glinting off roofs far far away, lighting shades from the grave darkness of the trees to the playful green of grassy meadows. A distant ridge with its top sliced neatly off, the new airstrip for Shimla. Fly in there and then drive two hours into town? Much better to take the good old Kalka Mail overnight, snug under the sheets with a book in the upper bunk, lifting the flap on the reading light for a delicious hour while the man in the opposite lower snores softly and the train sways and grumbles over points. Then the drive up, revelling in the chill that creeps in as the car climbs, deciding against a smoke in the pre-dawn dark because it would mean rolling down the windows. Waking to find the sun well up, and stopping at a roadside dhaba for sweet milky tea
And bread pakoras. Comfort food from the ‘80s, when they’d be a hurried breakfast at Barog while the engine snuffled and snorted to itself, like an impatient uncle exhorting a bunch of teens to get a move on. Sitting on the footboard, legs dangling, flinching as the tiny train bustled through one of the 108 tunnels on the line up.
The story goes that Col. Barog was in charge of this section when the railway was being built back in 1903. He started work on a tunnel from both ends so as to save time. The shafts didn’t meet, Col. Barog was fined one rupee by the Govt. and committed suicide from sheer humiliation. Our present-day technocrats have less extreme reactions. Fortunate. Or maybe not?
The sprawl of buildings comes into view from miles out.
But the sun is out and eventually, at or a little after, Shimla is on its way to work. The women in neat bright salwar suits, quick-eyed and bright-cheeked, most of the men in ties, geared against the fickle weather in sleeveless woollen vests, greeting friends without breaking stride as they take the slope in that unhurried gait that still eats up the distance. Lots of bakeries, above them all (in location if not in quality) Baljee’s on the Mall next to the statue of
Out on the northern edge of the Ridge, the breeze comes in under the cedars. a jacket seems like a good idea. Terraced fields and farmhouses sweep into the distance, but the immediate attention is grabbed by the sprawl of Lakkar Bazaar below. This is Shimla’s standard tourist trap, the curios and handicrafts pitch. A little time spent poking among the fretwork screens and faux antique hookahs can turn up a good bargain. A tiny hand-carved hollow ball turns out to be a cunning candle-stand, a walking-stick’s head unscrews to reveal a little gold-specked fob-watch. A much better idea than the supposed ‘local’ woollens that are in any case cheaper in
Up from Lakkar Bazaar is
In the other direction lies hedonistic pleasure. Shimla’s Middle Bazaar is ugly when viewed from afar, but a stroll through the winding lanes (winding in three dimensions, stairs and little footpaths connecting different levels) is richly rewarding for visiting foodies. Between two landings lies a tiny place known to generations only as Auntie’s. Not for the faint-hearted, this is a no-nonsense ‘authentic Chinese’ joint where take-away is definitely the better idea. And very satisfying. The other gem here is Sardarji’s sweet shop, where an early morning visit yields ambrosia – fresh jalebis broken up in a huge steel tumbler of hot milk. Bliss well worth the penance of an extra mile on the hill roads.
The noise and fumes fade as the lift glides up. A huge suite, coffee, signs warning guests to keep the doors and windows closed for fear of monkeys. And from the balcony, the expanse of the southern ridge and the town, the valley still cut in half by morning shadow.
The day clouds over as the seminar winds towards lunch. A couple of quick showers come and go. The TV tower on the opposite hill gleams in the sudden dark, the roads and roofs gleam with the run-off. Then after lunch the heavens open and the rain pelts down for hours. Where do the monkeys go in this downpour? Water splashes over shoe-tops during mad rushes across the terrace. A persistent man keeps sopping up the puddles in front of the lift, only to see them grow again in seconds. The roof resounds with the insistent drumming. The valley vanishes behind a curtain of cloud and spray. Rain in the hills is not for the faint-hearted.
Afterwards, soft as a lover tender in the afterglow, the faintest of breezes creeps into the chill of the evening. The stars come out and settle on the hills, sprinkled on the slopes all the way down to the valley and up into the sky.
West of the Mall, past the Gothic fantasy of the Army HQ, where a 50 foot wide road is christened
But we were at the
Sunday, October 14, 2007
Flying. Also, not.
It’s a little like being inside Google Earth. From 30,000 feet the earth is richly detailed, a luxe version of the ‘physical’ (as distinct from ‘political’) maps in a school atlas. Only, as the plane rises farther, there is no guide to scale. There are no names printed on this map, no margin with answers to the questions that rise.
What is this river, flowing north and then east, its course dry with sand, traced only by little veins of water even in October? Why are some of those fields so richly red while the others are green-brown? Why are all the lakes straight-edged with dams on their northern sides? Parallel ridges run (presumably) west to east beneath the belly of the plane. Do they have names, are they full-fledged ranges or just taken for granted by the people who live in their shadow, nameless parts of their lives? Old water-courses are betrayed by their dark earth, the silt of centuries rich below the stark upper reaches of the plateau.
Off near the horizon, a sweep of tumulo-cirrus looks like a fish in motion, right down to the scales and flexed tail. Shadows. On the ground far below, shadows of the fluffball clouds that float beneath us. Layers of perception? Perhaps only layers of sight, but still, texture, dimension, even revelations. Suddenly, I want to be down there among the reeds on the shore of a lake, shading my eyes as I look up to see a cloud crossing the sun, the shadow cool, almost thirst-quenching in the October breeze and the respite from the day’s heat.
Or perhaps I’m better up here, sailing in a vessel of the sky, savouring a hot buttered croissant slathered with honey while I pontificate on the landscape below. No question. Given a choice, comfort over adventure any day.
NOT a term to associate with that airport. If the queue had been any longer, I could just have walked into it from the hotel door. IF one can find the end of the line, which snakes around on itself like a politician’s explanation. This, mind you, was just to get into the terminal. There was another line after check-in. A super-line. It stretched, it looped, it doubled, it split. It was one line trying to encompass the entire universe of queues. About 57,328 people, several thousand bawling kids, half a million large lumpy bags, trolleys that rode into my ankles. We moved a couple of feet every alternate year, I felt like I was putting down roots and wondered about the legal status of my retirement if it came around while I was still in line. I wouldn’t have been surprised to see the occasional Galapagos tortoise or stegosaur lumbering along. THEN they asked us to trot over to another gate instead. That man has no idea how close he came to being disembowelled.
What is wrong with these people anyway? They can take over the IT world, get all the chavs and yobs and rednecks frothing, generate a billion dollars of revenue in a quarter, but they can’t see they need more security gates and personnel at the airport? The other airport has been in process for 6 YEARS now. What are the specs, are they planning for a space-shuttle landing? A LAUNCH, even? Morons!
More fun and games once ON the flight. Three of us had boarding passes for the same seat. The emergency row was full. Were we supposed to strap-hang all the way back to
Then I got an upgrade. And cold towels and orange juice and pillows and stuff. And, of course, buttered croissants and loads of honey. Which led to transformation from Stegosaurus-in-bad-mood to Bear-in-hunny-tree.
And ruminations. On things nice and not-so-nice.
Traffic, NOT nice. Definitely not nice. More like a bleeding nightmare, even past ten at night.
Jumbo prawns at Karavalli, very nice. Also the fish in the cascade pool outside, all yellow and orange and flashing, like those lines in Tartary and the illustration on the glossy page of an old old Radiant Reader …”and in my pools great fishes slant / their fins athwart the sun”. (Appams not-so-nice, though. Still have not found any place that matches
Nice – the very polite signs that request ‘road-users’ to try an alternative route because there’s a Metro being built along
Nice – a suite looking out on a park and trees, with yellow flowers nodding outside the window. Very nice – mellow evening sunshine on the opposite wall and a cup of cream coffee with
Very very nice – two visits to Blossom, coming away with two Camilleris, a Dibdin, Mark Shand’s River Dog, Bryson, Barry, the complete Woody Allen and – oh crackers and cream cheese! –
Though there are some others ...
Friday, October 05, 2007
The waiters (refreshment supply executives?) at Rodeo in
I remember the leg of lamb at Rodeo from some years ago. Tender, succulent, served with baby potatoes and greens, a pot of sour cream and two kinds of hot bread. This time round, we were too famished to wait for the main order. Chicken wings, two minutes. In short order, we got … wings, minute. Four of them. Was the guy being funny? The leg of lamb, when it arrived, made up for our early disappointment. To judge by the size, the lamb in question must have pumped iron. Enough to feed three normal people, i.e., just about enough to keep us from starving before breakfast. As good as, perhaps even better than memory. I asked for herb butter and got it. Also enough sour cream to curdle an entire dairy. Most satisfying.
Given that the entrée was about 25 times as substantial as the starter, I expected a ginormous bill. The lamb was 500 bucks. DOWN from 4 years ago (when it was 700)? Weird, but who am I to complain? Waddled out feeling like an anaconda with the tapir's hindquarters still sticking out of its mouth. Totally happy. After a few double espresso shots at the nearest CCD, I was ensconced in nostalgic comfort in an upper bunk on the Kalka Mail. Peace, memories, repletion.
Friday night in Shimla, a chill breeze gusting under a sky washed clear of rain, I took a family friend to dinner at the
Saturday morning was beautiful, Saturday afternoon eventful. I can't tell you about the morning for fear of the Most Formidable Girl-Child (who holds that if she offers to buy my work it gives her seigneurial rights over just about everything else too; I don't contest that as long as she's on the other side of the country). This picture will have to suffice.
But the afternoon, gadzooks! What should have been a leisurely ramble down the slopes became a sweaty anxious re-take on Sholay. Ummm … after the Ram Gopal disaster, that’s a frightening analogy, but somehow more apt. We’d left Shimla with loads of time to make the train from Kalka. Even stopped to kill some time (and eat some sheekh kababs) at a nice place (some ‘ghat’, there’s a private university coming up a couple of hilltops away), had a couple of coffees and a stretch. Snoozing and rubbernecking took us down, the milestone said ‘Kalka 5 km’, we had 45 minutes in hand, then we come round a bend and BIM! The next 5 kilometres are one continuous snarl of traffic.
There’s just one road connecting the Kalka rail-head to the hills. And traffic is heaviest on weekends. So obviously the best time to repair this only road is … what, late at night? On a week-night? (Insert disparaging chuckle) Chhora bakhla gya re! Of COURSE we do it in the middle of a Saturday, how else will people SEE how hard we’re working? Tar-wagon, roller, sundry large ugly machines parked in series on a 200 meter stretch of new macadam, NO traffic police anywhere in sight, nosirree, just a bad-tempered trucker’s sidekick waving a rag on a stick and 3,946,502 vehicles honking at the hills. Strewth.
We managed to catch up with the train at
Things improved rapidly once in
Once back in Calcutta, there was also a nice evening at La Cucina, thanks to Slim Friend who Has His Own Food Show. Zanuso, the new chap at La C, is yet to prove himself the equal of Davide. Davide was Good. I shall go further, he was DaGoods. His carbonara … if there is better, I am yet to come across it.
After which, there was a bitch of a week. Never home from office before 9. But I had been fortified by good times, not to mention good friends. Rajarhat is full of kaash phool. And Mohalaya is Wednesday morning. Life holds hope.
Tuesday, October 02, 2007
A word in defence
The leading news story in
But not a witch-hunt. We are free to surmise what happened, what went wrong. I have my own ideas. From all accounts, Rizwanur was a very fine young man and his death is a loss not just to his immediate family but to all of us who value decency, humanity and hard work. The media circus, however, is turning the matter into a jatra, a melodrama that depicts only one side and presumes that all those named in connection with the affair have complicity in his death.
But … I know personally two of the three IPS officers whose names have come into the discussion. One I have met several times – soft-spoken, polite, helpful and from all that I’ve seen, a decent person. The other has been a colleague and is a friend. I have trusted him with my life and would do so again. Not only is he a fair and decent man, he also respects the law he works for. On one occasion many years ago, he pulled me back when I lost my temper in a conflict situation. Not just because it might have sparked further conflict, but also because he believed – and he told me this – that as an officer, violence should be my last resort.
This man is not a murderer. I’ll stake anything on that.
Update: A friend in a GoI police organisation pointed out that –
· A hired killer is more likely to operate under cover of darkness than in broad daylight
· It is common practice for such killers to dispose of the body far from the site of murder (sometimes even in another state) rather than leave the body at the site
· People under stress may have sudden suicidal impulses
· There were several procedural irregularities on the part of the police, starting with the fact that the matter lay within the jurisdiction of the West Bengal Police and not the Calcutta Police Commissionerate
The Telegraph today asks why the focus has shifted to punishing the police officers instead of finding out how Rizwanur died. I agree. Justice is not served by branding scapegoats.
And I say again, my friend is not a murderer.