Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Chennai Connection

It’s called “walking down memory lane”. For me it was almost literally true. Chennai does not have too many wide roads, now that I compare them to Delhi roads. Hence, would call most of them as lanes. (No offence to any Chennaite. I love Chennai myself and would love to settle there if situation demands).

Getting back to Chennai after a gap of almost two years had an amazing feel to it. Although, I landed almost at mid night, courtesy on of the low-cost, no-freebie airlines, the city hugged me instantly. The biggest surprise was, the moment I got into the cab, I was talking to the cab driver in the same broken but understandable Tamil I used when I left Chennai, early April 2005. What an irony, I married a Tamilian but still I had not spoken Tamil since I left Chennai. But once inside the cab, it was as if I was out for a day or two on an official trip and getting back to the Bachelor’s Den (where I stayed with friends in Chennai before I moved to Delhi and finally got married). The other astonishing fact was I remembered each and every turn to take to get to my destination even in the dark night. I was pleasantly surprised but the driver was upset. He must have thought he will take a littler longer and confusing route and then ask for extra money for roaming unnecessarily for such a stupid address in the night! My instincts didn’t let that happen. He was visually miffed while in I was getting down. I was so happy by now that I tipped him some extra bucks on my own even though it was a pre-paid cab. He gave that special smile which the cab driver gave who I tipped when I was leaving Chennai the last time. I knew there was some connection.

Our real intention of visiting Chennai was attending two morning weddings of my B-school batch mates and their evening receptions falling on the same day. Also, since for a couple of months, my wife and I have to stay in two different cities, meeting each other was at a premium. This was an occasion which was satisfying all needs. The weddings and reception events were attended and enjoyed by one and all. Meeting old friends gave instant gratification and brought back campus time delights as discussion topics. A funny photo session followed. Since, there was a gap of about 6 hours between the weddings and the evening reception; someone suggested all of us go for a movie. Lots of movie names came up which ranged from English to Hindi. I suggested we go for a Tamil movie which was lapped up by all. Tamilians would love that and non-Tamilians (read as North Indians) would no get another opportunity to watch one any sooner. And what a movie it was 3-hours of 100%, non-stop and fantastic fun for non-Tamilians. I was told during the interval and finally when we were walking out of the hall that the movie is trash! Who cared, as long as we all enjoyed together. We clapped, whistled, danced and shouted till our voices were hoarse right through the movie. I was one of the people who was over excited. I knew there was some connection.

We attended the reception in the evening. Now, down south, receptions start at about 1830-1900 hours and dinner is over by 2130. Which meant we finished dinner and were left with nothing much to do by 2200 hours. We had the whole night to us even after attending two weddings, two receptions, a thrilling movie show and atleast 3 hours of driving through the Chennai traffic on full working day! Isn’t that an amazing feat? So, we decided to celebrate the same the best way possible, boozing till dawn! This connection was well known to all.

The next day, once we were back to our senses, all the people in the house decided to take a trip to Mahabalipuram, a small beach town about 55 kms from Chennai. Actually, the discussion started with visiting Pondicherry but then it made no sense for all the sensible people discussing this to go and again loose our senses so far away if we had an equally better option closer to Chennai. We started after lunch and were there in about an hour and half. Since, we did not get an accommodation booking before we left for Mahabalipuram; we looked around for a decent hotel and in between visited a top-of-cliff cave and a temple too. Finally, we went to the beach and spent a good hour sitting and taking in the fresh and salty sea air before checking into a hotel for the night. We were physically tired, but mentally ready to start a rave party. So, after a while of talking some non-sense, we decided to become non-sense! We commenced another sitting with the “gin(ie) in the bottle”.

Just as most people visiting a beach town would discuss, we started our evening deciding to see the sun rise on the beach the next morning. We fixed on a time to wake up, put alarms and as a ritual kept the “final decision” aside. Our topics for the evening ranged from being friends discussing our married and single lives, to B-school batch mates comparing our salaries and perks, to brand ambassadors of our respective organizations glorifying the current initiatives. In all these conversations, one thing was common. All seemed to speak sense most of the time. I realized, we had surely matured with age. Needless to say, the sun rose at the right time. We switched off our alarms at the right time too. But we did not, or to correct myself, we could not wake up to watch the sun rise from behind the waves. The sun would rise everyday. We would not get a chance to catch up on each others’ lives soon enough. We had slept barely a couple of hours before sun rise. Hence, all gave sunrise a miss without much guilt. We visited the beach after breakfast though. We spent a good amount of time. We did want to loiter on the beach a little more before rain killed plans. We ran back to the hotel, got ourselves a fresh start to the day and checked out. On our way from Chennai to Mahabalipuram we had crossed a lake where wanted to do boating. On our way back to Chennai we satisfied ourselves. It was fun.

Once we were back to the city, watching the people with serious faces and worrying looks running around on the streets brought the feeling of getting back to work the next day. Till that moment, we had forgotten Office, colleagues, work. There was no mention of tension. This connection too was well known to all.

During all these chaotic ceremonies, events and travelling, I stole some special moments with my lovely wife. We had an amazing time “together alone” and together in a group. Infact, some of the best times we had before and after our marriage.

But one thing was certain. There was something mysteriously familiar yet unknown which kept me thinking if and whenever I was alone. There was definitely a connection between the city and me. Only when I was back that the facts unfolded. Chennai was where I started my first job, initiated my second love story, received my third promotion in one year and learnt my fourth and most important language, Tamil. It was following a sequence. This city was an indispensable part of my life.

The Chennai connection now had a clear network. All signal bars were up and personal.


Friday, February 02, 2007

Fly High

Am not a frequent flier with any particular airlines. Infact am not a frequent flier at all. Once in two months, sometimes three, is my frequency. But whenever I do, its fun. With these no-freebie-low cost airlines coming in, prices have dropped and people don’t think twice before booking a ticket. But then there are some who tend to have an air around them and even on flight, when all are in air, they want to maintain that air! Hence, they fly only certain airlines and proudly flaunt their frequent-flying, privilege passenger cards on airports, many even before entering the airport and some long after they have checked out of the airport.

My last visit to the airport was pretty interesting. I had a flight of events flying all around. I took a cab whose driver was a regular driver, dropping people to the airport. The moment he took the second gear, his monologue on people going to the airport began. His recitation ranged from the way people talk on mobile while on his cab, as if they are going to catch the flight to Greece and not Gandhinagar, the way they keep checking their baggage zips as if they are walking through a crowd and not sitting alone inside a cab to the way his passengers keep looking at the watch knowing well that the distance will not shorten any which way they look at it. His final statement was a winner. He said, “I too have a passport, so what’s the big deal in flying”? I almost laughed on his face, through the rear mirror ofcourse, but controlled.

At the entrance, courtesy the online booking and ‘print your ticket’ option, a passenger was quarrelling with the security guard who was not letting him enter as the guard could not read the print out! I was allowed in, even though I too was on a ‘print this page’ ticket, but my page was more legible than the other guy. I could not find that poor soul inside the airport even after sitting for 20 minutes, so I really don’t know if his print out kept him out!

The best part is always the flight. Since, its winter time, fog is an inevitability in my part of the country. I was surprised that none of the passengers actually raised his/her voice over the 20 minutes delay in the take off. I guessed, most of them were pretty tired. Oh, I am sorry, I did not tell you I was taking the last flight of the day. So, most of the people on board were half asleep. I assume most of the air-hosts and hostesses too. There were no freebies to be distributed, but then there was no hospitality shown towards passengers finding it difficult to find their seats. They stood with a stale smile, so (un)welcoming at almost mid night. Now, here comes the clincher again. The moment the prettiest among the ugliest group of air hostesses I ever flew with, finished the ritual safety instructions, I heard clapping from the rear side of the plane. Most of us turned back to see who it is. A gentleman with loosened tie and a light blazer on was standing in the aisle and clapping. He paused momentarily, and finally said with a wavering voice, “very good performance, very good. Amazing”. (Pretty much Boman Irani style in Khosla ka Ghosla). I think there was no one on the plane who did not roll in laughter. Except the gentleman, ofcourse. He stood for a minute or so, confused why people are laughing?

Only later we came to know, we were only flying high. The gentleman was ‘high’ on the flight.


Excess of anything is bad. Be it food, travel, work out or appreciation. I almost gave up my job because I was doing, well, excessive of nothing and receiving excess of appreciation. Looks contrasting? Read on…

There was a time when I was out of work. I mean, not exactly. I had a job but no work. Sounds like heaven, right? I mean what’s better than a paid holiday! So, I shall not self loathe and shall put it as, I was low on the responsibility sheet in Office. There were a fixed number of tasks I had to perform to earn my daily wage. I needed ways to keep myself occupied in Office. (Generally, in Offices, one needs to look busy more often than actually being busy). For people walking across my workstation I would have to look busy and for myself I needed to actually keep myself occupied.

Being Internet-savvy and the prolific number of networking sites online, it should not have been a problem. But then, too colorful a webpage on my computer would attract visitors to my corner. Also, ours being a technologically advanced company, most of the sites which would have been (un)productive to me were blocked. (Hence, no messengers too). After whiling away many days on one of the networking sites, I grew bored of it. I needed something more inspirational. Something, which could hold my attention span, which was reducing, just as days were getting shorter as winters approached.

I believe, my right-brain was always more active than my left-brain. I loved music, art, creating and telling stories. I used to write sometimes too. I had good imagery. So, I decided to start jotting down what came to my mind in a more articulate manner. With the first few of my writings, I was actually impressed by myself. I received positive responses from my initial readers too. People said I have ‘the talent’. Starting with simple happenings from my past, with a twist of humor, I graduated to writing fiction. And I was certainly getting better. But my strength was short writings. However, with a little more patronage, applause and (un)wanted suggestions, there came a time when I actually started imagining writing a book. I mean, if a fresh pass out from IIT can get his novel published and become a best seller, why can’t I? But how much ever I tried I could not go beyond a page on any topic. It was not as if I had no imagery left. But I was restricted by words. And I still had a short attention span, I guess.

The longest documents I had ever written in my life (except exam papers, which needed to be filled) were the one and a half pages weekly letters to my parents when in hostel. I did not detest writing letters. I hated writing. I had a miserable handwriting, goes without saying. In my last year in school, the first computer was installed. Arrow(s) and the space bar were the only keys we could operate. We only knew to play games on a computer. To keep the burner alive in the kitchen you got to use your fingers in more ways than one. I can now boast of being able to use almost the whole suite of MS Office, the maximum being the MS Word. After a lot of trials and mental tribulations, I was convinced of my strengths. (or was it my weaknesses?)

Everyone reaches his or her level of incompetence, one day. Make the journey as slow as possible. May be some day I do write a novel. I shall take it slow for now.

Make life a marathon, not a race. You never win, anyways.

Early Birds

The moment I told my friends my wife will be out of town by virtue of her profession, there were some real mixed reactions. Some commented, “Lucky guy!! Now you can do whatever you want.” Some said, “Amazing. It is so relieving, getting some space.” There were some counter to these, mostly from relatives, like “So, who will cook for you now?” “How will you manage your laundry?” Frankly, I was confused. I did not know how to react? I mean, ofcourse, I was depressed that even before a year of our wedding, there came a small, but substantial time period when we would not be together. Knowing my wife for 5 years before finally getting married, she was a habit to me by now. Bu there was a secretive joy too. I don’t know why.

Also, she was the one who was the early riser in the house. The maid comes at 0630 hours sharp and I would probably go and open the door only to slump back under the quilt, once a month. I would pull my quilt, push my wife and kick the mattress to do that. Now, she not being there, I would have to pull all my strength, push away the quilt and kick myself to get out of bed and open the door for the princess!

The first day was not so bad. Or that’s what I thought. We had to get up by 0430 hours for my wife to get ready and for me to drop her to the airport. I came back, made some tea for myself and waited, as it was almost time for the maid to arrive. After a long time I was up by this time. I was missing my wife too. What would I do without her for the number of days she isn’t around? I started recounting activities and routine jobs around the house, which we did together that appeared special now. The ‘Miss You’ list of things started getting bigger and longer. There is a Motel across the street. As I walked out to the balcony I saw the room service boys running around, the cleaners almost done with the outside cleaning of the premises, the cabbies cleaning their cabs. And it was still dark. I was wondering, my day had not begun yet, theirs was half way through. I was drowsy; they were as active as athletes. Thinking of athletes, my mind started asking; who will win the race to my home, the maid or the newspaper boy? Well, ofcourse, it was the maid. She rang the bell thinking we are fast asleep and kept ringing so that we wake up. The bell noise was deafening. On most mornings, I don’t even hear this noise! I ran to open the door. While entering, the look on her face confirmed the fact that she was not only surprised to see me awake but with a cup of tea in my hand. I told her that my wife would not be there for some days. Before I could even think, she herself suggested that she will come a little late from tomorrow. I was impressed by her intelligence for a moment. Then it daunted on me, she was actually ridiculing me. She was hinting that I could not get up early and open the door for her! The boys out there in the Motel had not finished pulling my esteem that this lady had lofted my character out of the balcony. I did not know how to react? I could not reply in positive, as I did not agree to her. I could not respond in negative, as what she said was after watching me for so many months. She was right in all ways possible. I did miss my wife. But this item was not on the ‘Miss You’ list!

Our forefathers were real experienced and evolved beings. One of them said, “Early to bed, early to rise, makes one healthy, wealthy and wise”. I became wise that morning, for sure. The other two, we shall tackle in another story.