Monday, June 30, 2008

Private Moments of Pain

(clicked by Pallavi during one of those not-so-private moments)

Although all these days I was a staunch supporter of the school that believes your most private and productive moment is at the loo every morning, I realized yesterday that I was a little overzealous and perhaps too biased towards the potty break. You may attribute this affinity to my affection for this activity early morning, but when these morning visits become rarer and skinny down to about three times a week, you tend to go less and less creative. You find no time to be with yourself. You seem perpetually lost. In front of the keyboard, you stare at a blank screen.

Although the uninitiated call this “constipated” and the intellectual call it a “writer’s block,” it is not to be taken lightly if you remember the cases of Virginia Woolf, Hemingway, or Sylvia Plath. No matter how much their suicides have been associated with depression and the like, a well-informed research into their medical histories tells us that they were all staring blankly at the screen before their deaths. Okay, paper. Therefore, we can safely deduce that a clean WC = clean paper = depression = listlessness = suicide.

If you notice, I mention that this realization dawned on me only yesterday. I was inside a helmet looking at empty stretches of a highway with some bikers in red in front of me. Every bike had a red rider on it: Pallavi wearing her newly acquired red Cramster, Nita and Tana wearing their red Cramster Dynas, Love wearing his red Cramster K2K, and I too had a red Cramster Meteor on, but couldn’t see myself through the helmet. I was the sweep, so I was at the end of the group, riding at a steady speed, feeling numb, missing music, almost dozing off when it struck me: man, isn't this my most private moment?

(the red bikers: clicked by pallavi)

Yes, more prolonged and more private than the early morning break. This made me sit up and stretch, and my mind started wandering. My first instinct was to cuss at nobody in particular. So I muttered a light “behenchod” inside my helmet. It felt good. Then I shouted it out only for the word to reverberate and come back to my ears amplified. So the third time I lifted the visor and screamed “BEHENCHOD” at the road. Felt damn good. In your private moment, you are allowed to do anything. While on a mobike you can’t experiment too much except with your mouth, so there I was… cussing out loud and feeling very very good about it. I personally don’t like to cuss too much and soon got irritated with my choice of word and cussed at myself. Looked straight at Red Eye, with Love and Tana on it. Yes, I know you think it is a typo, but that’s the name of our new friend and fellow biker: Love Joshi. And although the name might want you to cast aspersions on how loud or tacky the real character is, he comes across as a pleasant surprise. Love.

I mean, what a name, man! Not even Luv of Luv and Kush. It is Love, and means love.

Yes, so I saw Love and Tana before me, riding at a steady pace. These uneventful highways make you go at a steady pace although the idea of a cruise control mechanism on bikes is rather preposterous and never occurred to me, I swear. Okay, maybe once when I was very sleepy. Love's bike is called Red Eye, and he has lovingly fixed a free-flow exhaust called Goldie. A very punjoo name, but your pickup does go up considerably assisted by a Goldie. So Love has a Goldie and he is riding in front of me. A free-flow exhaust, if you don't know a bullet, takes the beautiful thump of a bullet and makes it sound like a rocket in the need of . . . well . . . you got it. The sound hit my visor, made its way into the helmet, and kept wreaking havoc with my eardrums: FUT FUT FUT FUT FUT instead of the dub dub dub of a normal bullet. Our highways these days have some six lanes, so I quietly moved to the slow lane to avoid the exhaust hitting me.

Love followed suit.

In the midst of the unavoidable FUT FUT, I saw Love patting Tana's left knee at regular intervals. I never doubted his right as a husband to pat her knee, but the fatherly nature of the pat made me suspicious. What is he trying to tell her? "Don't worry, next time we won't ride with these guys," "Don't worry, I will stop at the next bookshop and buy you the copy of Hitchhiker's Guide that Pallavi never returned," "Don't worry, we will stop at the next filling station and you can use the loo there," my mind went on an overdrive. I told you it was a private feeling?

We stopped at a dhaba for chai and food. There I learned that Tana was falling asleep every five minutes and Love was trying to keep her awake.
"Okay then, fertile brain, go take a walk, or worse, have some yellow egg fried rice."
"Did he sing 'love will keep us alive?'"

After the food I realized I need more than the FUT FUT to keep me awake and my mind working. As Confucius say, "Your reflex go better if you increase speed." He also say "no fart in empty elevator" and "no jerk off in tub full of water, it stick to your hair everywhere" but the increasing speed thing caught my fancy. I quit being the sweep and opened the throttle. Now Rocky and Pallavi are some riders. They increase their speed to such an extent that they almost fuse together and ride as one. Yesterday it was difficult because Pallavi's red jacket and Rocky's blue Fieldsheer were at loggerheads, but soon they fused and became like one black (red + blue = black, you color-challenged idiot!) Knight Rider. 100-120 kph on Indian roads is like flying and in my bid to follow them I felt someone had abducted my pilot and my bike had a mind of its own.

To my dismay, I found that QuikSilver, Rocky's bike, has an equally loud exhaust.

Earlier yesterday we left for a place called Lepakshi, which has some monolithic structures and an age old temple. Pallavi will blog about it soon. When we rode in the morning towards Lepakshi, I was still a member of the earlier school: your most private and creative moment is when you are alone with yourself "there." The entire onward journey was so eventful that never for a moment did this idea get challenged. Halfway through the journey a cyclist appeared from nowhere in front of Prateek's bike and they fell after hitting the cycle. As Prateek and Nita were trying to get up and gather themselves, I could see Pallavi promptly walking up to the guy on the cycle and practice some chaste Kannada swear words on him. It is a rare sight in any South Indian village to see a white woman in helmet cussing in the local language. I think the villagers had never seen people in spacesuits before.
(spacesuit: clicked by Pallavi)

After she had threatened the crowd to her heart's content, we promptly left the place lest those guys realized we were mere bikers and not space travelers and attacked us. We stopped a little while later to assess the damage. As Rocky and Prateek looked at the bike, we could see Pallavi scurrying after a couple of buffaloes with her huge camera. Tied to the buffaloes was a hapless old woman, who was being dragged around by the beasts, who too hadn't seen women in spacesuits charging at them before. Poor guys.
I was almost thinking of how the PETA activists would have reacted to Pallavi terrorizing the poor souls, when we spotted some HUGE trucks on trucks, and our attention got diverted.

Maybe that spontaneity makes her such a great photographer. Check out her pics of the trip here:

She points the camera at anything and anybody, anywhere, with such dexterity, that the Indian Army is planning to hire her to train their soldiers.

By the time the trucks passed, I noticed that Prateek and Nita were beaming, admiring their riding jackets and how they escaped unscathed. I didn't tell them I was thinking how it would feel to take a fall wearing my new jacket just a little before they actually fell. Will take their word for it.

Till then, let the private mind get wild in the confines of my helmet.

Sunday, June 22, 2008


When I captured these guys sleeping, I wondered what one needs for blissful sleep. They sleep with no worries, like today's the last day, so sleep. I noticed they had no slippers or shoes, and they are probably laborers who carry loads from one state to another. Laxman, as his name most possibly is, might have started off from Nagpur three days back in a truck. This consignment of heavy-duty cables had to be unloaded at the client's warehouse in Bagalkot. The driver read BGLKT as BGLR and drove straight down to Hyderabad and then on to Bangalore. Laxman took turns with Ramkhilan in driving, and they drove continuously for two nights and three days and reached Bangalore. Tried calling up the client's office, but couldn't reach. The truck had to go back, so they dumped Laxman with the cables in Bangalore and left.
There he is, fatigued to such an extent that he has forgotten his worries. He has spent his last few rupees having lunch and feeding the other two and they all slipped into dreamless sleep.
Tomorrow is another day. Sleep now.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Brothers in Arms

My friend Raja is right when he says we are not imaginative enough with eggs. I would add sausages to that list. For example, when you have Khubchand's pork masala sausages, you don't really wanna think too much about whom you hit on the road rushing home or how you cook them when you reach. I am not too bothered about basic civilities like sharing my food with others and stuff like that. That's reserved for boring meals.

This morning I suddenly discovered a forgotten packet of beef sausages in the freezer. It was an indescribable pleasure and can only be compared to how Tintin felt when he discovered Red Rackham's treasure at Marlinspike Hall. (Wodehouse would have definitely compared it with the exact state of mind Keats was in when he heard a nightingale. But I have no such lofty analogies at hand. Tintin is the farthest my mind can reach.)

And then I combined two of the most neglected ingredients that chefs don't experiment with: eggs and sausages. Again, very unimaginatively, because they taste so good posing as eggs and sausages, you don't need to disguise them as anything else.

It's a pity they didn't make refrigerators in the Romantic period. I wonder what Keats would have felt had he actually discovered a forgotten packet of sausages. The nightingales surely would have gone unheard.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Sonodyne and DNM

The DNM stereo integrated amp is capable of churning out 100 watts per channel into 8 ohms of impedance. The speakers featured here are Sonodyne Sonus 2605 floorstanders, which can take up to 130 watts per channel. After having bought the speakers in April, it took me two months to zero in on an amp. Obviously it is difficult to get a decent amp with budget constraints like mine, and I had almost decided to go for a used NAD 352 BEE (80 w p/c x 8 ohms). Also considered was the Marantz PM7001, but the dealers in Bangalore don't give you free home demos, and I couldn't carry my speakers (11.5 kg each) to every dealer. And I shouldn't forget to mention the Sonodyne pre and power separates that sell for about Rs 28,000. That was not considered because of the price.

Then I met Sreekanth on hifivision... online. He is this absolutely passionate fellow who makes his own speakers and subs. When I heard his DIY speakers, made with 3.5 feet of horn in each and only with a single driver, I was floored. Had never heard such clarity even at the Sonodyne listening room. He believes that for pure sound you just need one driver and one high-frequency tweeter. Using horns, you can make that driver produce a sound that is closest to the original.
Sreekanth came home one day with his monster cables and the amp to give me a demo with my speakers. Obviously by then I was in love with his speakers, but still loved what I heard. He played Allan Taylor's Beat Hotel and some of his audiophile grade CDs bought over the net from the UK.
Decent sound, good midrange and the low frequencies are represented pretty well. Still don't have a dedicated audio CD player. Managing with the DVD player for now, but that doesn't satisfy my thirst.

Will arrange to set up my portable RCA audio CD player, but that needs a 1x2 interconnect, which I seem to have misplaced. Sreekanth gave this amp to me for a decent price and also threw in an interconnect free. It is Stone, but I don't know about the quality yet. Sounds okay.

Also attached the Worldspace radio to the amp, but the volume has to be upped considerably. Good enough for the Riff channel, but then could have been crisper and a tad louder.

Brought in Rajiv's turntable yesterday. It is a Sharp, and the LP i played last night sounded so clear, it touched a chord inside. I could even hear the thin rasp of the pin on the, how do you reproduce that in words!

I have my music now. Well, almost. It is just a journey well started...

Monday, June 09, 2008

In Tibet for the second time

Mcleodganj is perhaps the nearest I will ever go to Tibet. Although I have been to the huge Tibetan settlement, Bylakuppe, in Karnataka, I had never been to Dharamshala or Mcleodganj, where the Dalai Lama stays and where you get to see Richard Gere and Goldie Hawn and Steven Segal roaming on the streets. It was not so much for the Tibetans as for the love for their delicacy, the momo, that we planned this motorcycle ride to the Himalayas this time. Aaron had to see snow, so that was on the agenda too.

Because this is more about Mcleodganj, and I intend to keep it short, I won't go into the details of how we started from Delhi toward Manali on April 7, and eventually, a week later, reached Mcleodganj. For the first part of the ride, please read Prateek's writeup here:

He has loads of photographs, so when you are done reading this, go check out our physiognomies there.

The journey from Pandoh to Palampur the previous day had made all of us sad, because the view from Manali was awesome, to say the least, and Aaron could be taken to the snow line there. Here, the Dhauladhar range, wasn't as white, and Palampur, despite being in the foothills, was kinda warm for my tastes. It had rained that day, and riding with a kid strapped to you in the rains is not a very pleasant idea, as I discovered. Overall, the feeling was of being let down.

Prateek had left a couple of days back from Manali to Delhi, so it was just the two bikes that were left: Sayantani, Aaron, and I on our Machismo A350, and Shuvo and Suchi on their Thunderbird. With our minds full of "should we have stayed back in Manali?" kinda questions, we chugged in to Mcleodganj, 35 kms from Palampur.

Tibetans are dirty people. All mountain people are generally dirty, although rather pure in their hearts. People in the plains of India are dirty both in their lifestyle and their minds, so let's not even think of comparing. Tibetans are dirty, and their kitchens are so dark, you don't think of all that while having the momos. Surprisingly, most of the Tibetan restaurants this time weren't selling chicken momos and the Italian and Israeli ones didn't have momos on the menu, so our intial fantasy of living off beef and yak momos was dealt a severe blow. We did find a couple of good restaurants eventually, but by then we had lost a couple of meals to ordinary food. After Dragon Guest House at Manali, we wanted nothing but the best. (The idea of abducting the chef at Dragon Guest House did cross my mind more than once, but we were already three of us on one motorcycle (which is illegal in India!), so didn't want to take a chance. It would have been hard to explain to the police a wriggling body bag tied to my carrier. I will abduct him when I take my jeep next year.)

As all Bengalis are wont to, Sayantani and Suchi, daughters of the famous Sipra Nag of Kulti, were hellbent upon buying the entire contents of the flea market in Mcleodganj, with no consideration about our means of travel. Once in a shop, they tend to forget that we are supposed to behave as backpackers and act like Caucasian hippies. Their true Indian self peeps out and takes control, manifesting itself in the form of huge paper bags full of FREE TIBET tees, junk jewelry, prayer wheels, tees for the neighbor's kids, etc. About the "how to pack all this extra luggage on to our existing already extra luggage" question, they are absolutely irreverent. That is not a question they allow people to even harbor in their minds, forget asking.

During one of these terrifying shopping sprees, I ventured out to some other shops, with the intention of window shopping. I really wanted a pair of The North Face hiking boots (almost original), but then I am not Sipra Nag's daughter, so the fantasy was brushed away with utter disdain. However, the Bengali in me somehow took me to the nearest shoe shop, and even managed to drag me inside.

The guy at the counter, obviously Tibetan, looked at me and figured I was one of them. He was busy attending to a couple of white customers, who, believe me, start haggling from levels that an Indian shopper would refuse to stoop to. If the guy says something is Rs 300, the white guy will offer Rs 35 and then go up. An average Indian would generally try to bring that Rs 300 down to Rs 250.

The guy figured, as I said, that I was Tibetan too. My haircut, my boots, my tennis court cheeks, my wannabe monk look had him fooled. That was until I spoke. I asked in English whether he had The North Face hiking boots.

What followed was very strange and it's a pity I could not capture it using somebody's handycam. The look on the shopkeeper's face changed in a few seconds. The moment he realized I am Indian (as opposed to a refugee Tibetan allowed to stay, do business, eat, and live free in India), his face contorted in disgust. Although his face was a direct giveaway, he still managed a polite but stern "check out from outside."

I was kinda furious for a moment, but because Aaron had followed me inside soon after, did not kick up a row or throw one of his displayed boots at him as my sane mind was urging me to do. I walked out and kept walking, wondering why the Bengali sisters (our wives) were oblivious to this rude behavior. I was sure all the other Tibetans were like that. All of them were rude, so they must have been rude with Sayantani and Suchi too. They are nice only to the white tourists, who, for a couple of weeks, show solidarity with the cause of Tibet by going on candlelight vigils and praying at the monastery, but soon get disillusioned and go back to their Ferraris and Lamborghinis and mansions and chateaus. Maybe I am exaggerating. The Europeans cannot afford Ferraris. They just make those for the American customers. The European tourist probably goes back to her Volkswagen Golf. Sorry for the outburst, my dears. But fact remains that they do go back.

I walked back up the road, trying to control my outrage, and then spotted some colors. Colors, polychromatic stuff of any kind, kinda lift my spirits, so I stopped to check the wares. Somebody had left a box full of embroidered silk cellphone covers out on the street. I picked up two and kept looking for the shopkeeper...and in my quest landed inside the shop of an Indian guy.

"Ah, so you sell these! Why have you left your wares unattended?"

"Oh, nobody steals here. That happens in the plains," he was nonchalant.

That, from an Indian, was so funny to hear. India is the largest manufacturer of security alarms and iron gates, and also has the maximum number of security agencies in the world. Go validate it, am not bothered, but to hear an Indian say "Nobody steals here" was so hilarious! Although at that moment I was kinda taken aback and thought he was joking.

After paying him for the cellphone covers, I asked "Sir, you are so nice to me, but most of the Tibetans here don't want to do business with us. Why is that?"

And then he explained the story to me. The reason for the Tibetans being rude to Indian customers. "Sir, am not talking about you, but you know how the Indians are. They come into a shop in hordes, check out seventy odd items, and eventually want to buy just one. And even for that item, they want to haggle. The Tibetan guy can use that time to do a lot more business with the white customers."

He had a point. I saw his point. I witness this every day, everywhere.
When I walked up to the shop where my wife and sis-in-law were shopping, my pace had increased. As I was approaching the shop, I saw them coming out with huge bags and the beautiful Tibetan lady coming out to say "goodbye, come again" to them with a huge, simple, smile on her face that you can see only in the hills.

For once, I was happy they had shopped like they had and in my mind picked up the boot I had thrown at the other guy and kept it back in its place.

Will I go back? Yes, to try and change the image of an Indian in a Tibetan's mind.