Sunday, March 23, 2008

Half a weekend

The sun is rather obtrusive. Definitely not the slow lapping flow of dawn across the Discworld, no gentle peeking over the edge of the world. The haze on the horizon stages a brief and ineffectual struggle and suddenly the sun has arrived, leaping and clawing its way up the sky. The first shimmering track across the sea becomes a pool, then a blaze of bronze that inverts shadows on the wall of my room. It’s morning in Vizag.

The view from my room is … well, not awesome, but spacious. The kind of vista that makes you straighten up and breathe deep. A submarine surface-crawls across my sight, moving south towards the breakwater and the Navy base. I count seven eleven ships at anchor between the shore and the edge of the sky. A Coast Guard cutter follows the submarine towards the Dolphin’s Nose, where the lighthouse beam has faded in the sun. Two little sailboats scud along behind it. One looks like a log under a sheet. Seven little dark blips upon it; the last one must be the outboard motor. Farther north, a line of white pyramids stretches out to sea. Buoys. Last night they were lit up like party decorations. Right below my window is a morning throng. One pair of earnest joggers ignores the promenade and runs right along the road. So much energy at a quarter past six? Not just tiring but wearisome. I turn away for my morning work-out - two cups of coffee and the papers.

Vizag is sea-washed, hill-cupped, new, eager and hot. The roads are wide and smooth, the town is clean. Most Indian towns are disfigured by skeins of wires – cable connections, phone lines, power lines - that cobweb across the line of sight. Not so Vizag. So very civilised. The road from the airport is tree-lined, double-laned. As we enter the town the intersections are wide but chaotic. Something seems odd. Then I realise that the skyline around most of the crossings still stops at the second storey. Vizag is a town on the cusp of the boom, a city waiting to happen. Except by the shore road, where already block after block of near-identical condos hold their washing out to dry in the sea breeze. Land values have skyrocketed recently. The Telengana movement wants Hyderabad as its capital, leaving Vishakhapattinam (a would-be capital city is beyond diminutives!) to be the capital of Andhra.

I spent the previous day in the basement of the hotel, struggling through a learned workshop on Total Quality Management. My "take-away" is that even the most learned experts can be poor communicators, especially when carried away by their own enthusiasm for the subject. The basement cannot be accessed from within the hotel – we have to go out and come in again from the seaward entrance. The Taj Residency also has a very considerate plan. The breakfast room is so located that getting to it is bound to work up an appetite. It does have a view of palm trees and the sea, but the dosai are indifferent. Sad. I sacrificed my diet for THIS?

No, I didn’t. I sacrificed it to check out a place called Pastry, Coffee & Conversation. Recommended by an old friend and confirmed by a blogger. The way they hyped it, I thought it was a large bistro. Turned out to be a tiny shop tucked away below a rising road. Serves the most ‘mazingly good chocolates and decent pastries. The hot chocolate could be improved, though. For anybody visiting Vizag, it’s 50 ms. up the hill, on the right as you pass Karachiwalla’s store. It's run by Rajan (a suave version of Mahesh Bhatt) who is Calcuttan by birth. N wonder the place is good!

No Rishikonda beach by moonlight for me. I staggered back to the room, showered and passed out at half eight. And slept till the sun came up like thunder ‘crost the bay. Too hot to go anywhere. In any case, the view from the Kailash hill the previous evening was quite comprehensive. The amusement park up there is too awfully tacky for words, but the view and the breeze make up for it. All the way to the lighthouse beam on the headland, lines of surf along the beaches, wooded hillsides. The lights coming up in the city, and out at sea on the ships at anchor. (Wonder what the turnaround time is at Vizag port?)

The problem with small airports in India is that they don’t invest in air-conditioning. Mem: do NOT visit Vizag in summer, I’d probably collapse before I got out of the terminal (my friend has seen the board at Vizag station record 50 Celsius. Birds drop out of the sky in that kind of heat. Stupid twits to try and fly.)

My first trip on Deccan. Or Simplifly or whatever it's called these days. The first row is the only way to avoid claustrophobia, but I’m too late for that. No tele-check-in. Damn. But there are only a couple of dozen people on board when the doors close, the entire rear half of the plane is empty. I wander off and get myself a row of seats with the arm-rests up so I can lie down.

Bizarre moment before take-off. The second stewardess comes amidships and starts demonstrating the safety drill. You know, that entire “pull down the mask and place it over your face” schpiel. For an audience of one. Viz., me. It must have showed on my face, for when she caught my eye her face crumpled into a grin. A joke is always improved by sharing.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Awld Tom goofed

He was wrong. April is not the cruellest month. March is. At least in India, where the fiscal year runs from April to … right, March. Peter Finch in Network was a model of restraint compared to how I feel now. Factor in the infinite wisdom of a system that demands weekly reports on a 5-year project. Oh Death where is thy sting etc.

Coffee breaks don’t work either. Because Bloglines has lost its charm. There must be more than 50 blogs on my list and I can’t bring myself to read any of them. Well, most of them. Which is why I don’t comment either, not that any of you would have noticed. Yes, I’m feeling very Eeyore at the moment. Or Marvin, depending on whether you read Milne or Adams.

What I am reading is The Wind in the Willows. In good company. Mostly on the way to school or at bedtime. (Not my school or my bedtime, thank you. Though I HAVE been known to fall asleep before the person-being-read-to.) Due to severe critical analysis, we have not made much progress. Apparently the passage on the first page where Mole “scrabbled and scrootched and scraped” is the most riveting piece of prose ever. Despite my very high regard for the critic in question, the passage palls on me after the 7th or 8th reading.

Then she laughs in delight. And it’s all quite all right again.

Sunday, I had an epiphany. Lunch at the new Mainland China in the South City Mall. (Food not great but quite acceptable, the starters were actually quite good. In any case, where on earth would you get a spread like that for about 300 bucks a head? They probably charge that much for a soda in Bombay! AND the guys know how to pamper regulars, we always get a tasting platter of some new dish.)

Lunch was followed by a long browse in Starmark. Now if they would only put up a counter that served Irish Crème coffee … Problem – I desperately need to buy new bookshelves. Or at least a couple of trunks.

Well anyway, the Starmark expedition required a trip to the car to cache the loot. While the rest of the expedition wandered off to other floors. (It’s a HUGE damn mall, specially by Cal standards.) Follow closely here, boys and girls. Big mall, many floors, reportedly 160,000 people passing through after 4:30 on weekends … so easy to lose people there, innit? Whereupon I retired to the car with the Sandman. Very nice.

Two niggling points. Amid all the glitter and the admiration for the vast atrium, my usual guilt about a comfortable life resurfaced. How many kids could you send to school with that kind of investment? Oh well, at least the mall isn’t built with public money.

And the other … as I left the washroom I complimented the attendant on keeping it spotless. He smiled a big smile and said thanks, feels good because nobody bothers to appreciate it. Which made me feel all cheery and benevolent until I thought, would I ever be able to do a job like that? Dear gods, eight hours of that could drive a man insane. Day after day after day. Damn.

**** ****

Sunday, March 16, 2008

The pity of it all

This guy seems to have spoken sense, but of course truth and common sense are not priorities in politics.