Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Friendship, a song, plus a drink or two

You may have my friendship,
When this song no longer reminds me of you,
Until then, just let me be.

You may have my song,
When you are but one of the crowd,
Until then, just let me be.

You may have my company, plus a drink or two,
Whenever you ask me to,
But it's better if you just let me be.

You may sing with me, blend your breath with me,
When our souls merge together may be,
But for now, just let me be, just let me be...



Inspired by 3 Rounds and a Sound by Blind Pilot
(Cuz this reminded me of you...)




They're playing our song
They're playing our song
Can you see the lights
Can you hear the hum

Of our song
I hope they get it right
I hope we dance tonight
Before we get it wrong

And the seasons
Will change us new
Be the best I've known
And you know me
I could not be stuck on you
If it were true

I was sleeping
My eyes were dark
Til you woke me
And told me that opening
Is just the start
It was...

Now I see you, til kingdom come
You're the one I want
To see me
For all the stupid shit I've done

Soil and six feet under
Killed just like we were
Before you knew you'd know me
And you know me

Blooming up from the ground
Three rounds and a sound
Like whispering you know me
You know me

So this was our song
This was our song
I still see the lights
I can see them

And the criss cross
Of what is true
Won't get to us
Cause you know me
I could not give up on you

And the fog of what is right
Won't cover us
Cause you know me
I could not give up a fight

Soil and six feet under
Killed just like we were
Before you knew you'd know me
And you know me

Blooming up from the ground
Three rounds and a sound
Like whispering you know me
You know me

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Reverse Encounter

A few days ago, I woke up in the middle of the night with an idea for an Indian movie called Reverse Encounter.

In India, the police are said to fake encounters with criminals (or innocents) in order to kill them off. The official report will say that the the police were attacked when they encountered the criminal accidentally or in the course of an investigation or arrest, and in the ensuing shooting, the criminal was killed.

In my movie, the hero is externally a weak-looking common man, with a hidden angry young man persona. He creates false encounters with corrupt police officials in order to bump them off. Is there a viable story line here for a masala fillum that will make money?

India Trip Report - Dec 27th to Jan 23rd

I traveled to India from Dec 27th, 2011 to Jan 23rd, 2012. The best photos from my trip are posted in the following album. Be warned - there are close to 200 photos in that album! If you want to read the comments I have posted under most of these photos, click on the album below to open it in a new window and view the individual photos with comments.



Here are some of my experiences, impressions, India travel tips, and such, in no particular order:

1. I have almost never gone on trips by myself. I usually travel with family, friends or colleagues. This time, in India, I went on a long trip on my own. My total stay in India was for four weeks, and I spent half that time (the second and third weeks) traveling on my own. Parents were not very pleased! In addition, I went on another 2-day trip with my parents.

2. Although I did travel to most places on my own, I have to mention that I stayed with friends or family during most of my travels. That was a huge factor in making my trip so much more convenient. I stayed in hotel rooms for only 3 days during the entire trip. Incidentally, one of the hotels I spent a night in was called 'Gayathri Rest Rooms' (at Bhadrachalam)!

3. During my trips, I traveled by buses, trains, auto rickshaws, a taxicab (car), boats and flights. Most of the tickets were purchased either the day before my travel or the day of travel. Even the two hotels I stayed at, I did not do advance booking. I walked in to rent rooms and got them almost immediately. Only 3-4 times did I purchase tickets more than one day in advance. One of those times, I had to cancel the train ticket within minutes after purchasing it due to a change in plans. I lost Rs 48 (just under a dollar) on that cancellation.

4. I deliberately did not purchase any tickets in advance. When I started my travels in India, I had a good idea of the places I wanted to visit. But beyond that, I did not do any more research or planning. Before leaving for India, I had decided that I would travel in India without my usual detailed planning. This was a goal / challenge I setup for myself to go outside my comfort zone.

5. Given India's huge population and the enormous number of people who are usually vying for any tickets (train and bus tickets get reserved weeks in advance!), I thought I would have a tough time with my ad hoc ticket purchases. That was not the case at all. All tickets and reservations were shockingly easy to come by at short notice, and I never paid more than a very nominal extra amount due to not booking well in advance!

6. If it takes 7 to 12 hours to travel to some place in India, an overnight train journey is an awesome way to do that. You get to sleep comfortably in the train, you save on one night's hotel expenses and the travel experience is much smoother than a bus trip on Indian roads.

7. Indian Railways' tatkal booking scheme is a godsend for people who don't want to book their tickets weeks in advance. Tatkal literally means instant. You can reserve train tickets under this scheme the day before travel, starting at 8 AM. Tatkal tickets are not available to travel agents until at least a couple of hours later. Which means, private travelers like you and I have a head start ahead of travel agents to get our tickets. The tickets can be booked online and you don't need a print out of the ticket in order to travel. All you need is the ticket confirmation sms or email on your phone, and you are good to go.

8. I took great advantage of the tatkal scheme while I was traveling in India. I did not have to worry about making travel plans days in advance. While on the road, I would look up the train schedules on my phone, a couple of days before I wanted to go some place. The website http://erail.in/ was awesome for this. Then, I would have a friend or my sister buy me a ticket online, on the train of my choice when the tatkal booking opened at about 8 AM, on the day before my travel. I would instantly get an sms and an email on my phone confirming my reservation. We never had a problem getting a ticket this way. Unfortunately, Indian Railway's online ticket purchase system is still not phone browser friendly. That is the reason I had to get a friend or my sister to buy tickets on the computer. If not, I would have bought the tickets using myself using the phone. I fully expect this to be rectified by the time I go to India next (I hope!).

9. I never felt unsafe in all my travels. Only in the crowded places in old Hyderabad, around the Charminar monument, did I hang on to my wallet and backpack a little more closely, and took photos with my phone instead of with my camera. I felt very comfortable and safe everywhere else, even in the crowded markets of old city Jaipur. I also did not feel like I was being cheated or taken advantage of for most of the major purchases. Of course, the fact that I am a native Indian male with glorious brown skin helped keep people's attention on me to a minimum. :-)

10. It is a given that when doing small shopping / purchases, every seller quotes a higher price to every buyer, including to the locals. The more foreign the traveler looks, the more outrageous the quoted price could get. I am sure that I paid a little more for most small things that I purchased than a real local and/or an Indian woman would have paid. I accepted this and it did not bother me much. It helped that when I converted the cost of most things (or the extra amount I thought I was paying) to US dollars, it was usually an extremely small amount.

11. Once, I thought an autorickshaw driver in Rajasthan was trying to cheat me and after much arguing and haggling, paid him Rs 5 (about 10 cents) less than the price he asked for. Later, when I double-checked with somebody else, to my utter chagrin, I learnt that the price quoted by the driver was actually fair! In my defense, the price quoted by the driver was about 7 times the metered price! Apparently, the metered prices had changed in Jaipur not too long ago and most autos were running with the old meters.

12. Autorickshaw drivers almost everywhere in India refuse to turn on the meter when they realize that you are not a native of that city. They insist on quoting a fixed price before you get in. In places like Hyderabad in Andhra Pradesh, they often refuse to turn on the meter even for local people. Unless I was in a real hurry, I always refused to hire such autos and waited for a guy who agreed to turn on the meter. Most of the times, the metered price turned out to be almost the same as the price quoted by the drivers who refused to turn on the meter. In fact, 2-3 times, I ended up paying more on the metered price than the price quoted by a driver I refused. Which means, that the driver I refused would have actually made less money from me by not turning on the meter! Given these facts, I have no idea why the stupid auto drivers refuse to turn on the meter and instead prefer to haggle with customers, making everybody uncomfortable. I rejected such autos on principle.

13. Rajasthan is an awesome place to visit and extremely tourist friendly. Unfortunately, I did not get to see as many places as I would have liked to because I reached there with a stomach flu that kept me indoors for the first two days of the week I spent there. Fortunately, the flu was totally cured with just one day's worth of medicine from the local hospital. But, I couldn't go to any other city in Rajasthan except for Jaipur. Definitely have to go back to Rajasthan.

14. We went all the way to Agra to see the Taj Mahal on a Friday, without doing adequate research to know that the Taj is closed to visitors on Fridays! So, we had to make do with seeing it from afar, from a park across the Yamuna river behind the monument. It wasn't bad for a long view, but it was not the same as actually visiting one of the wonders of the world!

15. Every time I had to fly in or out of the Bengaluru airport, the morning fog delayed my flights from a few minutes to 3 hours! Aren't modern flights supposed to be able to land and take off in low visibility conditions? Or, does that only apply to military aircraft?

16. Indian roads are getting better and better, especially the highways. The reduced travel time, convenience and joy of freeway travel is coming to India slowly but surely. Although there are too many toll booths, and they are not strictly freeways. You are still likely to find animals, both living and dead on them. There was a huge carcass of a horse or some kind of cattle on the highway from Agra to Jaipur when we were returning doing over 80 kilometers per hour in the night. If we had run over that obstacle... well, I don't want to imagine that, let alone describe in gory detail. Coming across herds of animals from different types of cattle to goats and sheep to even packs of dogs is still very common on all kinds of Indian roads. Also, it is a real mindfuck when it takes an hour or more to get across 10 kilometers in the city traffic, and once you are out of the city, you cover the same distance in less than 10 minutes!

17. Considering my hectic travel schedule in India, I was not able to see many of my old friends nor go to the home of my favorite aunt. This is something I always managed to do every time I went to India. But not this time.

18. Most Indian websites are still very clunky and unreliable when it comes to making online payments or purchases. Describing all the frustrations and troubles I had with them will take up a whole post in itself. Some examples: a) Most of Indian websites pass control totally away from their own page where you are trying to make a payment or purchase, out to a third-party payment gateway. The idea is that the third-party payment gateway facilitates the process of taking money from your bank account or card, and passes control back to the original website with confirmation of your payment. Sounds okay in theory, but extremely iffy in practice, especially with the slow Internet connection speeds in India. b) Most Indian websites don't accept payment from any standard (VISA or Mastercard) credit card. Instead, they have extremely limiting one-to-one tie-ups with a handful of banks. If you don't have an account with those banks or don't have a credit/debit card from one of those banks, you can't make a purchase on that site! This was true of even sites like BSNL, which is a nationwide wired and wireless phone service provider. Unbelievable, but true!

19. Getting prepaid cellular service turned on for my phone with a 3G data connection was more complicated and frustrating than it should be. This, despite the fact that the prepaid sim card had already been purchased by my uncle before I got to India. If I had to first buy sim card on my own and then get the service turned on, I suspect it would have been even more of a hassle. Half the problem was due to the fact that I was a total foreigner in India (as far as this process was concerned) who did not understand how it all worked. Half the problem was due to the process itself being clunky and unnecessarily complicated. And half the problem was due to the government-operated BSNL employees not being fully knowledgeable about their own products, services and processes. Yes, I know three half problems make 1.5 problems, and that is exactly the point I am making!

20. As I mentioned before, in dollar terms, all the prices in India are extremely cheap. My local travel expenses within India (all transportation, entrance tickets and lodging) came to just 585 US dollars. I could have reduced that amount by half (a full $276) if I did not take a couple of domestic flights in India. But I was traveling a really long distance and it was a choice between two days by train versus half a day by flight. I also saved a lot on hotel expenses by staying with family and friends. I did not count food as a travel expense, because I have to eat regardless of whether I am traveling or not. Moreover, food in most places in India is extremely cheap compared to the US. Note that most tourist attractions in India have a higher entrance ticket price for foreigners (I don't like that policy at all!) and many places also have an additional fee to take in cameras! If you are curious, my air ticket from the US to India was just over $1300 which is an extremely low price for that time of the year. I got lucky with a British Airways sale.

21. Any negatives I mentioned above are small obstacles par for the course in India. The real deal is that it is an amazingly beautiful country with very friendly and helpful people. I feel very nostalgic when I think back on my trip and I miss all the people I met during my travels. Most of the people who really love me and care for me are in India, and I miss them a lot. I miss my two beautiful nieces who are growing up too fast. I can't wait to go back again. And once I go back there, I can't wait to start traveling in India again! Vagabonding is indeed extremely addictive.

Jallikattu in Tamilnadu

On January 17th 2012, on the way back from Vellore to Bengaluru, I had a thrilling experience. I got to watch the popular bull taming sport in Tamilnadu called Jallikattu. This is part of the tradition on the last day of the Pongal festival there.

In this particular location, the bulls were basically let loose to run one after the other, down a slightly inclined path, with crowds of people all around, lots of noise and drums. And the braver ones among the crowd tried to grab the ropes tied around the bulls' necks to bring them under control and stop them from running away. Sometimes the bulls got out of control even while they were being led up the hill, before they were turned loose.


(Click on the album above to see the photos in bigger size)

I found a nice view point right in the center, at the end of the bull run track. I thought the bulls would all be stopped well before they reached the end of the path. Apparently, I was wrong. When they really start running wild, all the brave guys do is run out of its path, instead of grabbing its ropes to control it. One of the bulls ran right in my direction! I didn't know what I would do if it came for me. Fortunately, the bull veered to my left and passed just a few meters away from me. It was an adrenaline-inducing moment! After that, I felt like getting more involved and seeking more of the thrill. But we had just stopped to watch this for a few minutes en route to Bengaluru, returning from a two-day trip. We didn't have time to linger longer.

That was probably the wiser decision cuz we heard that one of the bulls had already sent 3 people to the hospital earlier in the day. When I was a young boy, we had an acquaintance who lost half his upper teeth while just standing by as a spectator during one of these events. I kind of understood why people seek dangerous sports again and again.

My first Namma Metro ride!

On January 19th 2012, I got the chance to travel in Bengaluru's very new metro train: Namma Metro. Only the small section of the route from Byappanahalli to MG Road was open at that time. Much of the metro route is still under construction and not operational.


(Click on the album above to see the photos in bigger size!)

It cost Rs 15 (about 0.30 US dollars or 30 cents) to travel from Byappanhalli to MG Road. And the entire journey was less than 15 minutes! Unfortunately, the journey was at night, on the last train leaving Byappanahalli at 10 PM. So, I did not get to see and take photos of the Bengaluru city views from train, which runs on elevated tracks for most of its route.

The metro train stations as well as the train were nice and clean. In fact, the stations were so new, some sections were still under construction and not open for public use. The train was very similar to the metro trains I have seen in the US. One curious difference - it appeared that the trains compartments were open from one end of the train to the other, and you could move from one compartment to the next from inside the train. This is not the case with the metro trains I have seen in the US. You cannot move from one compartment to the next from inside because each compartment has the driver's cabin at both ends, which makes it convenient to drive the train in either direction without having to turn the whole train around. So, does this mean that Namma Metro's compartments have the driver's cabin at only one end? I don't know. Hope someone can clarify.

Another curious thing - the security guard at the MG Road station was not pleased that I took photos at the railway station. He told me that we were not allowed to take any photos within the railway stations, but we could take photos of the train outside the station. Doesn't make sense to me. If this rule is for the sake of the security of the railway stations, it is not very effective. A person who wants to cause harm can easily take as many photos as he/she wants inside the railway station without being obvious about it.

Before riding the metro train, you have to pass your bag through the X-ray scanner and you have to go through a metal detector yourself. So, forget about getting to the station at the last minute and hopping on to a train in a hurry.

The last part of this story is not a happy one. I rode this train when returning from a friend's house near Byappanahalli. I had gone to the friend's house earlier in the evening, by autorickshaw from Indiranagar. At that time, the rush hour traffic was too heavy and the auto was literally crawling. I noticed the Indiranagar metro station on the way, and asked the auto driver to drop me off there so that I could take the train to the Byappanahalli station. I figured correctly that the train would be much faster than the auto caught in rush hour traffic. The driver told me that only the MG Road and Byappanahalli stations were operational, and none of the stations en route were open to the public yet. That was a big fat lie! I found out when returning by train later in the night that the Indiranagar station was very much open. Not only did the auto driver lie to me and made me pay his fare all the way to Byappanahalli, when we reached there, he claimed not to have change for the money I gave him and pocketed the remaining amount. In total, he swindled Rs 28 out of me. That's only little over half a dollar, but the fact of being cheated by an autorickshaw driver in my own native city is hard to digest. Plus, the auto driver was obviously not a native of Bengaluru! And, he cut into the precious time I got to spend with my friend and his family. Grrr!

Confessions of a Cutter

Note: This is a work of pure fiction. I have never deliberately cut myself. Except when I was about 5 years old, and purely as an experiment, I tried to cut my finger with the knife the way my mom cut vegetables. I don't intend to ever deliberately cut myself. Ever since I saw the movie Secretary, I have been curious about why some people cut themselves and wanted to explore it in writing... Hence, this piece.


I cut myself because I want to feel. I cut myself because I want to cry. More precisely, I want the relief that comes from crying.

Do you know that spot on your body, which is exposed to so much stimuli that it has become less sensitive than the rest of your body? You need to apply extra heat or extra cold or a sharper pin to make that spot feel something. I suspect my heart has become like that. It is already crushed, run over and broken so many times, I don't even feel it any more when it breaks into even smaller pieces. I know that it is breaking. I can see that it is breaking. But I can't feel it. I can't feel the pain. And because I can't feel the pain, I can't cry.

There have been so many tears over the years, the tear glands are almost dry and won't give up their precious fluids any more. I can't scream or curse or bawl, and use that as a valve to release whatever pressure is crushing my heart.

No pain, no cry, no relief. That is why I cut myself.

I remember how it started. There had been a betrayal, a heart break that was totally unexpected and shocking in its suddenness and finality. The shock had numbed me for days. I went through my life in a daze, mechanically, without fully being conscious of what I was doing. I don’t even remember anything from those days. Except how that phase ended. I was cutting honeydew melon when the knife slipped and cut a finger. It wasn’t a big cut. Not even a deep one. But that cut was enough to cause a sharp pain which cut through my numb daze. I remember looking at my finger with wonder as the blood oozed out of the cut and spilled down in pretty little red drops on the green honeydew slices. I moved my finger over the cutting board, letting drops spill randomly over the fruit. As I admired the immense bright beauty of those red drops on the green slices, my vision blurred and the tears flowed. My knees weakened as I slid down on the kitchen floor and cried myself to sleep right there. When I woke up the next morning, I felt refreshed and healed. The cut still needed a bandage though.

It must have been a couple of years later when the next heartbreak struck me. This time I knew exactly what to do. I went on a shopping trip on a sunny Saturday morning. There was a feeling of sacred excitement as I left my house and went about procuring the items. I bought a beautiful wooden jewelry box. Cotton balls. Rubbing alcohol. Gauze pads. A whole bunch of band aids. An antiseptic ointment. And several surgical blades.

I returned home and laid all the items on the bathroom counter. I placed one leg up on the counter, folded at the knee, my thigh exposed. My breathing was long and deep. I was in a meditative state, but acutely aware of everything. Every sound, smell, sight. I wiped a spot high up on my thigh with a cotton ball and rubbing alcohol. I unwrapped a surgical blade from its package and held it up. My hand shook. Only slightly. Only for a few seconds. Then, steady as a surgeon, I drew a horizontal line across my thigh. Just about 3 inches long. Not very deep. The blood welled up in a bright, shining red line before I felt the pain. Then, the sweet, sweet sharp pain. Then the explosive release of deep sobbing tears. It was wrenching. Ecstatic. Orgasmic. The tears were the lens of the microscope through which I could see the pieces of my finely broken heart.

By now I have several scars on my upper thigh. Some new. Some old. There will no doubt be more that will join them in the future. All very dear. The notches on a casanova’s bed frame count his conquests. These scars count my healings. They don’t count my heartbreaks, which are too many to count anyway. These scars are the traces of the doorways through which my tears and my pain bled out, and my healing flowed in. To make me better. To make me beautiful. To make me loving. To prepare me for the next heartbreak, like the lamb is raised for the next slaughter.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Bho Shambho

Bho Shambho on the occasion of Maha Shivaraatri! May your Being bloom with Love and Happiness on this auspicious day.

Raagam: Revati
Taalam: Aadi
Lyrics: Swami Dayananda Saraswati
My Tune:




pallavi

bhO shambhO shiva shambhO svayambhO

anupallavi

gangAdhara shankara karuNAkara mAmava bhavasAgara tAraka

caraNam 1

nirguNa parabrahma svarUpa
gamAgama bhUta prapanca rahita
nija guhanihita nitAnta ananta
Ananda atishaya akSayalinga

caraNam 2

dhimita dhimita dhimi dhimikiTa kiTatOm tOm tOm tarikiTa tarikiTakiTa tOm
matanga munivara vandita Isha
sarva digambara vESTita vESa
nitya niranjana nitya naTesha
Isha sabEsha sarvEsha