Thursday, June 29, 2006

Trying too hard, really

Too sick to write, yet inspired by this blog . And by the Griff.

Il Duomo, Milan.
As I've mentioned earlier, it has been called a "rococo hedgehog". Built and re-built for over 500 years. Each of those spires is topped by a statue, one has to go up on the roof to see them up close.

Trudging back from the Ile de la Citie,
happily footsore after a day of walking, I chanced upon this frame.
A window of the Louvre, somewhere opposite the Comedie Francaise.

Sunset highway.
Driving back from Shantiniketan early this year.

From a balcony at Diamond Harbour.
I used to live there once. The first time I heard a ship's horn as it passed through the inner channel, right next to the bungalow, I thought it was running aground. It was THAT close.

Setting forth.
Lake Windermere. We thought the clouds had ruined our trip, but it turned out to be what the Irish call "a braw soft day". Lovely shaded moods in those greys.

Silhouette, Singapore.

Up on the 63rd floor, thanks to an upgrade. At the time, this was the highest I'd been with my feet on a concrete floor. There was a swimming pool and some tennis courts far far below. When I looked down it was like a helicopter view and yet even those were on the 8th floor.

The same view, only this time from out on the balcony. Nothing very artistic, just the experience of seeing for miles. And all those ships out in the bay.

Kind of geometric.
The ceiling at Pudong Airport.

I have a better shot of an airport ceiling, that should go on Flickr soon.

Gathering storm.
Driving back from Kashid, some time in 2003. Other bloggers have put up photos of the Murud-Jinjira fort - this was taken just after we'd passed it.
The digital camera makes such a difference now.

This one is just about my favourite photograph.
Some time after lunch on a Sunday, almost broke.
I didn't have enough money to go inside the Hotel des Invalides.
This splash of colour amid the dual-toned chiaroscuro more than made up for it.


Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Been through it all on a trip with no name ....

On the first part of the journey
I was looking past all the shops
There were clothes and shoes and baubles and mops
There was junk and trash and fops
The first thing I met was a klutz with a phone
In a shop where he bustled around
My head was hot and the wimmin were mad
And the air was full of sound

I've been on vacation with women who shopped
It went beyond all pain
On holiday, I knew I wuz copped
And there wasn't no one for to hear me complain
La, laaaa, la-lala-la, la laaa la …

After two days on the shopping trail
My head began to go spare
Three days left me haggard and pale
Life SO is not fair
The story got worse when we rode the rails
Made me sad to think I wasn’t dead

I've been on a journey with women who raved
After a while, I felt no pain
On holiday, I carted and slaved
'Cause there wasn't no one for to take me home just then
La, laaaa, la-lala-la, la laaa la …

After nine days the wimmin let me run free
When the hills had run down to the sea
There were clothes and shoes and tea-trays and lamps
Thinking of it gives me the cramps
Shopping gives meaning to a woman’s life
Opposing it causes strife
Despite all the shopping they had nothing to wear
And they kept buying large bags. In pairs.

You see I’ve been shopping in Purgatory
Nothing can hurt me again
From shopping, escape is illusory
If they stop you can be sure they’ll start up again
La, laaaa, la-lala-la, la laaa la …

(with thanks and apologies to Dewey Bunnell of America)


I was afraid. Very afraid. For the first two days, I laid low. I said little except to worry aloud about the amount of luggage. I even left one suitcase (about as large as a camper caravan, wheels and all) behind in Delhi so that there would be less space to carry shopping in. In Dehra Doon, they stayed in the room, relaxed. So did I.

Mistake. The lull etc.

We reached Mussoorie after breakfast. By three o’clock, market analysts across India were puzzling over the retail boom in Uttaranchal. My feeble expostulations about luggage space were as chaff before the reaper’s blade, Giles before Saurav Ganguly at Old Trafford. At the slope just before Kulri, my mother smiled widely and asked the man behind the counter whether they also sold bags. Whereupon the shop-man (may he rot in a hell of honeymooning hicks … come to think of it, that IS his life for six months in the year), grinned even more widely. And produced enough bags to load the Titanic to well above the Plimsoll line. He even had the gall to offer a choice of colours. An entirely irrelevant consideration. I mean, when you look at something the size of the UN Building, what do you think about first, the colour or the frickin’ SIZE?

They bought THREE of them. Oh sweet Lud.

At least I didn’t have to carry them back from Kulri to Library Point. They were kind enough to deliver free of charge. Oh yeah. So kind. Can you see where this is headed? Back in our room, I was pondering my immediate future (and a possible vocation as a Sherpa) over a cup of tea when the bell rang. Deliveries started. For the next fifteen hours (OK, OK, minutes), the world was full of sweaty men and large packages.

Candles (Candles?!) Cutlery. (Cutlery?!) Carvings (Yes, these I expected) But canvas? No, not canvas. Wall hangings. And enough cardboard cartons to package the Gateway of India. Whole.

Stepping sideways in the aisles between the containers, I tightened my jock-strap another two notches and Got Down to Packing. There were 48 hours to go before we left Mussoorie and it didn’t seem anything like adequate. Exaggeration? OK, try this.

Take one Container. No, not a baking dish, ducky. A FORTY-FOOT container, the kind they use to transport industrial boilers. A fully loaded one. Clear so far? Good. Now take suitcases, large, two numbers. Plus duffle bags, also large, four numbers. Transfer contents of forty-foot container to said suitcases and duffle bags, taking good care to store separately ...

(a) baby’s stuff, as in clothes

(b) baby’s other stuff, as in bottles and Wet Wipes and diapers and the Devil knows what

(c) the rest of baby’s stuff, don’t even ask, I believe the damn things breed in there

(d), (e) and (f), stuff belonging to two ladies and more stuff that aforesaid two ladies have to have close to hand when they travel although in 2 weeks of driving around I never once saw either of them open that bag

(g) stuff belonging to a Certain Lady and to attendant Coolie with Strolley

(h) stuff that Certain Lady needs to have close to hand (stuff other than the Attendant Coolie, that is. He doesn’t go in the bags, worse luck, he carries them)

Tried it? Whadyemean, you can’t make it all FIT? Of COURSE it can fit. You’re just not TRYING … Remember you still have to fit our SHOPPING in there ... don't be such a drama king, there's nothing wrong with you, yes you can breathe perfectly now STOP the play-acting already and NO, I will NOT get you some water ...


On the fourth day of the journey … We were due to leave Mussoorie in 3 hours. Lunched at Whispering Windows for old times’ sake. It’s amazing how perceptions change over the years. When we were in training it seemed tres coolth. And expensive. Whereas now … Anyway, lunch was ingested, view was enjoyed. Coolie was then summarily dismissed. Entrusted with the duty of taking Very Small Person back to the rooms for an afternoon nap while the Powers that Be “pick up something we ordered yesterday, we’ll be down in a quarter of an hour”. Now this nap thingy, with the attendant singing of lullabies, telling of tales and clutching of finger by small hand, is something this Coolie quite enjoys. (Awright, so I’m a sap when it comes to the Small Lady). When, however, said nap runs its course, tea tray is brought in and there is still no sign of the Powers that Be, the Coolie tends to Worry.

Cell-phone connectivity in Mussoorie is not the best (though still awesome when compared to Nainital). I was debating whether to Panic Large Scale and call in the police, when the doorbell rang. The Powers that Be filed in, eyes slightly glazed, a certain swagger to their collective walk like a bunch of trainee vampires who’d just stumbled upon a blood bank. You know what I mean? Kind of proud and satiated and a little disbelieving of what they’d Gone and Done.

Except that the procession did not end with them. For lo, verily behind them came there came a caravan. One surmises gold, frankincense and myrrh were part of the loads, though I did not espy the apes ivory and peacocks. After the first speechless glare, I asked (I’m afraid I actually squawked in the heat of the moment. Humbling to realise that when one most needed to sound grave and Last-Trump-like, one sounded more like Chicken Little played at high speed) where they proposed that I should accommodate the train-load of junk. Their reply was a repeat of the Packing Order.

Then, in what I thought was a Master-Stroke of Reasoning, I pointed out that we could buy n number of bags, but we couldn’t fit them in the car. Surely they didn’t propose that we hire another car?!

Mistake. BIG mistake. Three faces lit up with sudden inspiration. I retreated to the balcony to smoke a moody cigarette or two. O Tempora, O Mores would have about summed up my mood at that moment.


One must give Credit where it is Due. The Better Half bought Nothing for the first ten days. (Assorted cutlery, the odd sackful of cushion covers and a bushel of embroidered stuff apparently counts as Nothing). I was eloquent in my gratitude and in my appreciation of her sterling good sense, I was effusive in my praise of her depths of sympathy and consideration. This is a HelpMeet, when comes such another, I thought and glowed with pride.

Cometh the Dawn …. Three hours to the flight back home, and I was taking a well-earned smoke break before I went to shower and change. I fancy there was a certain gleam of pride in my eye as I surveyed the Bringing of Order from Chaos. Suitcases, duffle bags, occasional bags – all stuffed to the gills and beyond, standing in line all through the room across the living-room down the hallway to the door like a file of obese children about to start on a nature ramble. I was also (mentally) thanking the Better Half for being Wise Enough to take the rest of the paltan out to visit a family friend, thus Giving me Space to Wrestle Stuff into Bags.

(I had spent two days shamelessly dumping large bags on anybody flying back to Calcutta who was not a total stranger, thus reducing the Mess to Manageable Proportions while creating Alarm and Despondency among my circle of acquaintances. Even so, I had the distinct impression that my arms were a couple of inches longer from Hauling the Heavies.)

Then, as I wiped the Sweat of Toil from my Brow and prepared to sluice the Tons of Soil from the Self, the doorbell heralded the Return of the Powers that Be. With the Better Half in the vanguard. Followed by … oh déjà vu … yet another caravan. With no more bags to spare. And hardly any time till check-in.

Words failed me.

They still do.

Aarrggghhhh …..

**** ****

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Fire on the water

Sandhya Arati
at Har-ki-Pauri, Haridwar. An unlikely place to be reminded of Deep Purple?

**** ****

Sunday, June 18, 2006

You can never go home again

I went down to the sacred store

Where I’d heard the music years before

But the man there said the music wouldn’t play …

Diesel fumes. Litter. Traffic jams. The ceaseless monkey chatter of hordes of stupid people. Shopping. Heat. This is not my refuge.

I lived here, on and off, for about twelve months between 1989 and 1991. Most of my companions said they hated the place. I could never figure out why, because I had everything I wanted. Shaggy hills, cool air that was pleasantly crisp when I went out on my midnight rambles, a library, gym, tennis courts, the smell of greenery. Even like-minded company every evening in 30, Ganga.

Well, 30 Ganga doesn’t exist any more. Now it’s #214. Even 5 Narmada, which I made my own over three phases of training, is now just #105. Gah. The view to the east from the top of the hill, where we looked out over miles of space to the next ridge, is now blocked by a monstrous building out of The Empire Strikes Back.

Oh, the campus is neater now. Where we struggled uphill after breakfast over pathways of concrete slabs, there are now covered well-paved walkways. Lit up at night, too, so there’s far less chance of a well-lubricated probationer taking a tumble on his way back to the room and turning up sheepishly at Dr. Jain’s infirmary the next morning. Our pathway between Cauvery and Ganga blocks has vanished under another covered walkway, with a staircase where we clambered (three careful paces down a slippery slope, jump down onto a small rock, then once more to a larger rock before we found level ground).

But the billiards room is locked and silent, in contrast to our good times after dinner when we’d watch and cheer over the click of the balls, and sometimes mask our amusement when an aspiring Lothario tried to “teach” a lady the finer points. Have you ever considered how deliciously improper the cue-ist’s stance is, especially if an “instructor” is leaning solicitously over her and trying to improve her bridge? Oh gumdrops and green cheese!

The Happy Valley block is still faintly eerie at night, the roof creaking in the breeze off the hills, spooky noises from the firs outside as the monkeys stir in their sleep. I didn’t go down to the stables; Dara is long gone. Dara – barrel-chested cynical cussed nimble-hoofed handsome fruit of the loins of Belial, who persistently tried his best to kill me and once nearly succeeded.

The old blocks – A.N. Jha Block, Mahananda – still slumber in the summer sun under their green roofs. The Director’s Block stands guard at the edge of the lawn, but now it is dwarfed by the bastard space-port opposite. Besides, it is no longer the lair of BNY - tall, dark, cadaverous, opinionated despot, half genius and half con-man. We sneered at him, we bent his rules, once we even shouted at him (it probably cost me a few rungs on the ladder) but he ruled our world with undisputed authority.

I did an evening walk-about, up and down the hill, then went back in the sunshine the next day. You know how sometimes reality doesn’t live up to memories? That was what I was checking out. I stood on that hillside and looked out to the west, and I wasn’t disappointed. Even with the stucco-sided monstrosities, the strip-lights and the tiles, I could be happy for a year with just these views. (I have to admit the riding ground is greener now, that's an improvement over the sea of dust from our days)

Or wait – could I? Was it about just the place, or was it the people? Perhaps what I’m really thinking of is (barf cue!) a reunion. Blleeeaahhh ….

Now I should shut up and go away before I start spewing old stories in an awful soggy gush of Old-Gafferism. (Update: four members of the Royal Club - R, the Man with the Smile, the Paranoid Punj and the Bong - did have a reunion of sorts in Delhi. It was good. But we missed the Horrible Hillman. Hoo-oop, Bong!)

**** ****

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

(Bath)room with a view

After dinner

Two stars. Half a moon that drenches a candelabra pine rising beyond the glass. Half-way to the sky, the Doon valley is a carpet of sequins slowly pulsing, sometimes flickering, in the silence of the night.

**** ****

Sunday, June 04, 2006

with my feet up

A picture window framing the hills that cup the horizon. Layers of blue and grey merging with a cloud bank, like a Chinese painting. My pipe drawing just right. Under a blanket, a Very Small Person shares a siesta with a Comfortable Person.

Life gets better.