Monday, December 15, 2008
Thursday, December 4, 2008
Sunday, November 30, 2008
"In India, life is cheap."
Those were the words of a US citizen when asked about her reactions to the terrorist attack of 26/11. And I can't agree more. Being an Indian, I very well know that here, life has no pricetag. The events unfolding after 26/11 just go a step further in establishing this known fact. What have we lost? Nothing! What have we gained? Nothing. What remains is blood, anger and superficial bursts of patriotic euphoria... I was sceptical about writing this blog, but then I had to vent myself out. I know not many people are going to like this piece of thought. Criticize me, hate me; throw brickbats... but then this is what I feel about the entire situation...
You may think I am angry. But I am not. Am I shaken? Certainly. But the feeling that is coming out strong and clear in me today is that of being ashamed. I am ashamed of being an Indian today. By India, I mean to point out to the 'system' of which we all are a part. No, no fingers at politicians for heaven's sake. I know we Indians are very well trained and love to throw brickbats at our politicians, but something more larger is accountable than just politicians. So am I being a non-patriot? Think as you like, but thats certainly not the case. When your sibling does something that makes you hang your head in shame, does that mean you don't love him/her anymore? Then can't we digest the fact that being ashamed of one's nation is equally natural? More soever, over an incidence that exposes your incapabilities and lack of will in front of the whole world?
10 terrorists. Over 400 NSG commandos. 60+ hours of operations. 3 locations. 100s of army personnel. This equation would certainly make any crisis management team, red-faced. Around 10:45 pm on 26th November, the police had an inkling of what they were up against. With very little information about the whole scenario, the police initiated an action. The Mumbai police stepped in quickly and tried to initiate primary operations. That was very commendable and Mumbai police truly lived to their expectations. Sadly, with the loss of 3 top brass officers, the operation hit a major hurdle. Karkare, Salaskar & Kamte suffered multiple bullet injuries and died. An observation that has come up now, in one of the dailies is that the bullet-proof jackets worn by these bravehearts bore marks of bullets passing through the protective covering! Is that what we give our saviours to wear when they lead from the front without caring for their lives? When they don't think twice about sacrificing their lives for the nation, is it not our duty to protect them in any way we can? Compromising on quality of bullet-proof jackets can happen only in India, I am sure! This is also a good indicator of how our priorities on defence spending are grossly misdirected. We spend millions on producing indigenous missiles and long range nukes. But when it comes to a soldier on the ground, we cant even give him a proper state-of-the-art equipment to deal with the enemy face to face? Do our missiles deal with terrorists holed up in cities? Are we not aware of changing nature of conflicts and defence situations that we would be confronting in the future? As I said, life is cheap... jackets are costlier!
The decision to call in NSG commandos came in quickly, but the time span between decision and action seemed like light years. I was again reminded of the Indian Airlines hijacking at Kandahar. 9 hours for beginning a commando operation of highest priority is something to be ridiculed. What message do we give to the international community? Is that our face of commitment and will to fight terrorism? And when they finally came, I thought that it was now time for the terrorists to count their minutes. Minutes transformed to hours, hours to days. This wasn't looking to be quite a commando operation, considering the typical parameters of one. I wouldn't go in depth commenting on what was expected. But experts in this field would surely agree that the operation was ill-planned and lacked proper logistics. It certainly wasn't one of the commendable operations as per international experiences and standards of operations was considered. Clearly, some major shortcomings on the commando action is clearly pointed out. When NSG commandos are used to provide security to top-brass politicians, I better not comment on the quality compromise that stares us in the face. Another very disturbing piece of news that came up was that our commandos didn't have the basic floor plan of the hotels! Now thats something that is really not expected of intelligence inputs and logistics team. And don't we feel ashamed when the international media takes note of this? Was it really that difficult for this input not to reach the daredevils on ground zero? Again, I have no words. On one hand we speak of making Mumbai another Shanghai, and on the other, thats the crude system of information we have in place as of now! Making a mega city dwells much further than just building state-of-the-art highrises and flyovers. And logistics is a subject we fail repeatedly.
Even in the midst of operations, the resilience of Mumbaikars and the undying spirit of Mumbai was in newsroom discussions. Politicians too followed upon the same recurring statement which comes after every crisis Mumbai undergoes. The fact is that this has gone too far. We feel proud when someone flatters us about this 'resilience', whereas in reality this has become a popular way of dealing with people of Mumbai. Praise them, sugar-coat your words in tried and tested tastes of bravado and valiance.. and Mumbaikars feel proud and sky-high. Its high time we know how much we are taken for granted by the use of these words.Ok, forget everything. Lets apply our mind into this word 'resilience' which is used over and over again. In fact, we should realize that not being resilient is a luxury for us. We do not bounce back because we unitedly decide to, but because, we 'have to'. We can't afford staying back in our homes after any calamity. The city has an incredible appetite, and if you dont work or carry out your tasks so as to satiate this ever-growing hunger, you yourself would be eaten. That is why, even if you want to stay at home, you are 'forced' to come out and start your day's work. The bottomline is: "You don't have a choice".
If that is what we call resilience, we are grossly mistaken. And the 'spirit of Mumbai' that is talked about is nothing but smilingly accepting this mistaken phenomenon. And that makes Mumbai special, because the city doesn't allow you to sit down and think!
As always, politicians are quick to respond to any situation; apart from the fact that the response is misdirected and rarely of any valuable help. And politicians certainly lived up to their 'expectations'. Our honourable PM and Sonia Gandhi made a quick dash to Mumbai a day after the operations started. And it was anyone's guess what a great deal of support they were going to provide. In fact the situation in the city was that policemen had already been deployed in large numbers since the whole city was a war zone. Now, a VIP coming to the city requires another large deployment for the security arrangements to cater to him. That certainly put an additional pressure on the police presence in the city. But then who cares? What difference does it make to us when politicians come to the city? Nothing! But then, do they spend a small thought for the policemen who bear the brunt of this indifference?Narendra Modi made his presence felt. Supposedly he came to stand up and be one with the people of Mumbai in this hour of crisis. But what he did was nothing but to criticize the PM's speech and immaturely announce 1 crore to the families of the martyrs. Only he can talk business when the city is grappling with bullets.
ANGER & FRUSTRATION
Anger! Thats an integral part of us all. In this situation, we too were angry and frustrated. Our blood was boiling. We don't know what we were angry for.. Do we ever think about that? People get killed, so you are angry! They bomb our city so you are angry! They killed our soldiers, so you are angry! Ok, so be it. Our helplessness manifested into anger and frustration. But then what do we do when we are angry? NOTHING. We just wait till the anger cools down! Meanwhile, we can do what we do best when we are angry - lash out against Pakistan. Its a classic example of misdirected anger. We need to realize that Pakistan is equally helpless when it comes to crushing terrorism. As a state, Pakistan is in a bad shape today, almost on the verge of going bankrupt. Both Pakistan and India are victims of terrorism - and they have failed badly tackling it. Not that India has been very successful, but then the blame game is easy and rides on the rival sentiments of the people. And when we vent out anger against Pakistan, we are quite off the track. Even if its quite popular in India, that doesn't justify it in any way. One of my friends had put his display quote on Orkut: Kill all Pakis. That grossly demonstrates the traditional anger target. As Premshankar Jha pointed out in a TV discussion, "Anger in a civilized society is a luxury, unless channelized properly".There could be another reason for anger. This reason could be a subconscious one and you may or may not accept it. Is it so that we are angry because somewhere in us we know that the terrorists achieved their objective - terrorizing people? We killed the terrorists, but we didn't defeat terrorism. We won the fight, but lost the battle. Today I am shaken. I am scared. Scared that me and my family are not safe anymore in this country. Whether indoors or outdoors, the fear factor prevails and thats what the objective of terrorists was. And I believe they successfully completed the mission.
Another thing I would like to point out. Do not take it in a wrong sense. But I need to appreciate what is well done. I sincerely believe that the terrorists should be appreciated because they finished the task at hand with determination and with professional skills. 10 terrorists fighting against 400+ NSG commandos, the most elite of India's military force; for 3 days is a praiseworthy achievement. I hope we take a lesson from them that dedication to one's task should not be compromised.
Finally after 3 days of gunfire, its the time for counting. The brave sons of India who died fighting, got a tearful goodbye, with a promise that we will remember you always. A promise that is never kept. The euphoria and the mass reaction certainly are encouraging, but it dies out soon. In no more than 6 months, Karkare, Kamte, Salaskar, Sandeep Unnikrishnan, Gajendra Singh would be forgotten. And I am not saying this; our history stands as a testimonial. The valour of our martyrs soak in the wetness of our euphoric patriotism and dries out soon as the sun of getting back to life shines brightly and warmly. How many of us truly will remember them? You think you will? Ok, take this simple test..Tell me, who won the 'Indian Idol 1' competition? The name 'Abhijeet Sawant' would come to your mind instantly. If not instantly, after racking your memory for a minute or two you would get the answer. In the worst case scenario, even if you don't know, ask your family members or the neighbours and you will certainly get this answer.
Now answer this: Who was the 1st martyr of the Kargil War? I know it wouldn't come to you instantly. Rack your brains, take an hour or two.. still no answer, right? Ask your family members or neighbours. Google '1st martyr of Kargil war', still you wouldn't get the answer. Thats because 'Lt. Saurabh Kalia' is a page lost in the history, almost a decade ago...We remember 'Abhijeet Sawant' but not 'Lt. Saurabh Kalia'. Some of you may argue that its not his name but the sacrifice he made for the country that we remember. Fair enough. Now be honest to yourself and see whether you take Lt. Kalia's name in the same state of emotions and euphoria as you take Maj. Unnikrishnan's name... Certainly that wont be the case. Soon Maj. Unnikrishnan would be Lt. Kalia and the process will continue...
WHAT REMAINSWhat remains is a shaken nation that would soon stabilize, even in the face of inaction. Lessons won't be learnt just as they have never been in the past because questions will go unanswered. A few measures here and there would be initiated and with no one to follow up and due to lack of political will and determination, it would go down the drain or some middle-man would reap its monetary benefits. Strong condemning would follow, eminent people would be showcased on newsroom talkshows, security would be momentarily tightened up, people would be vigilant till 26/11 is forgotten... What it takes to stir up the nation is only an attack of this magnitude, and till lessons are not learnt, we are going to face these attacks more frequently. Taking note of 9/11 for the US, there hasn't been a single terrorist incident after that, whereas in India, a bombing here and there is a routine practice. If a country like US, a country so vast in geography can keep a check on these activities, why can't we?
The bottomline is that your nation is not going to provide for your safety. A day may come when we have to burn candles every week; worse every day. Its every man for himself and that leaves us divided in the end. And still we will say, "I am proud to be an Indian".
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
If there's anything that Indians should be most ashamed of, then I feel it should be the Indian news channels. I have never seen anyone so hypocritical and spineless as these news channels. If Raj Thackeray is to be blamed for being an extremist when it comes to the issue of anti-Bihari propaganda, news channels are lending a helping hand by instigating one state against another. And today, the Mumbai Police was made the scape goat by this irresponsible media.
This goes to all the media persons out there.
Do you think the Mumbai police is an irresponsible organization that is made up of people like you who can't even write proper subtitles for news. The police doesn't gun down people like Rahul Raj to gain a whole-day footage. They don't like to pull the trigger because they are trigger-happy, but because they are forced to. And you mud-slingers don't think even for a second to comment on a force because of whom you can comfortably sit in your offices and 'report' (pun intended!) national happenings. And you are no one to tell police how the situation needed to be handled. I don't think anyone of you cowards would be in a position to speak out a word on your cameras with someone threatening you with a gun. You better not tell the police when to pull the trigger. Bihar's CM Nitish Kumar talked 'expertise' when he said that the police could have shot Rahul in the leg. I sincerely believe that the police are rational enough to evaluate choices while facing a deranged youth with a threatening gun in his hand, having injured one of the passengers with a shot. Media persons highlighted the fact that this youth was saying that he had no enmity towards any passengers and that he didn't mean to hurt them. He was simply angry against Raj Thackeray. Imagine yourself in that scenario. Would you react to his actions or listen and evaluate options based on his statements? What if all your media houses' head honchos were in that bus and this youth would have threatened them? Would they have asked the police to exercise restraint and not to pull the trigger and instead engage in a conversation with him? When your life is endangered, the natural choice is to eliminate the threat.
And thats precisely the role the police was meant to play in that scenario and avoid further escalation of this situation. And you spineless jellyfish of Indian media blame the police anyways. You are blaming it now, and you would have blamed it later if it had exercised restraint. And meanwhile if Rahul Raj would have killed or injured any passenger, the driver or the conductor; you wouldn't search for 'carefully selected' words to spare the police. It would have still come naturally for you.
The bottomline is that you are forgetting your true role in the national context. You have been given freedom of speech and you don't think twice about using it even on those guardians of freedom. At the end of it, you have absolutely no right to point fingers, since you yourselves are directionless. If you can't be a part of the solution, we won't tolerate you being a part of the problem...
Sunday, August 24, 2008
Wrinkled, lifelessly she stands,
holding a wailing child in her arms,
Bearing the brunt of sun & rain,
Unflagged, selling the paper flags.
The woman stares at me with lifeless eyes
An abyss of India's growth story,
Holding a bundle of Tricolours;
The Indian flag made in China.
I wonder if those three colours mean
Anything to the colourless woman.
As India soars high to touch the sky,
Her feeble child welters in her soiled clothes.
As India celebrates the Independence day,
Achieving milestones of glory & pride,
The bed of stones awaits this flagseller
Retreating to a slumber of dreamless future.
Thursday, June 26, 2008
The fact is, I can't relate 'love' to a 'commercial activity'. Love is something very pure & heartfelt. In my weirdest dreams I can't imagine love being related to 'college' - something which is a symbol of nothing but commercialization of education. I don't mean to say commercialization of any activity is bad; even education. But once the money factor comes into play, its just another buyer-seller relation. Introducing a factor so close to the heart as 'love' is just unthinkable on my part. Education is sold & we buy it as consumers. When you say "I love my college", are you really referring to the institutional aspect of college? You like your faculty, you like the infrastructure, your colleagues & friends - and that's what sums up into the word - 'college'. But for me, each of these things is a different entity altogether. I wouldn't equate faculty with college, because that's just not the fact. Faculty includes teachers who are individuals in themselves. That's not what a college is. A college is not even the structure of bricks and cement. A college is, plainly speaking, an institution managed by the administration. It includes policy, working for student welfare, cultivating a bond between the student & the institution. And if you are among those who love their college with this definition at hand, you are one of the very lucky people!!
I wasn't that lucky. Graduating has been a great experience for me. I loved every aspect of it, just leave the isolated word 'college' aside...
Wednesday, May 28, 2008
Suddenly I scrolled to a name & I felt uneasy. It was the contact number of the brother of my very good friend. Her brother had died in a motorcycle accident early this February. I hadn't met him personally, although I happened to speak with him a couple of times over the phone. Later, I had also taken his mobile number from my friend so that I could keep in touch with him. I don't remember I called him on his mobile phone more than once after that.
And today, my finger hesitated for a second before pressing the delete option in front of his name!
Saturday, May 24, 2008
Yup, so back to where it started. Not very long ago, when we were children, we were taught & we observed that honking was meant to alert other drivers on the street or the pedestrians apart from 'other' applications like honking to call someone from their homes. A couple of honks here and there meant casual calling - take your own time. A continuous stream of audio signals from the steering wheel meant a real urgent call, without any luxury of extra time. We grew up with these horns, until we got fed up with them and resorted to a loud, silent cursing on those audio-maniac people at the wheel. Little did we imagine that the show was just getting started!!!
Change has been a constant for everyone & has always been the 'in' thing & no wonder "horns" was one huge domain left to be explored. The fundamentals, the basics of honking soon were to be changed. And while I thank God that a majority are still sane about their "high decibel sound equipment", many of the mavericks have their own say (read 'shout').
HORN TYPE: Scaring the Shit!!!
DESCRIPTION: This type of horn, is not meant to alert or signal, but is meant to scare you in such a way as to give your steadfast heart a little run for its own beats.
CHARACTERISTICS: Short, terse & never fails to scare!
HORN TYPE: Rookie DJs
DESCRIPTION: Here's the one which will give you maximum returns on your ears' hearing investment. All you Metallica, Iron Maiden lovers - this one's a 'treat' right from the amplifier. And for all the budding rockers, rappers and DJs.... ride that sound wave!!
CHARACTERISTICS: Upbeat rhythm, high decibel music stream.
HORN TYPE: Ring tone freaks
DESCRIPTION: Specially introduced for those who are so attached to their mobile phone's ring tones, that its now music to their ears. They just want it all the time, even on the road. These horns specially are a hit with the bikers. For them in a list of biking 'must haves', these horns are on #1 spot. And these horns change faster than fashion.
CHARACTERISTICS: Could be confused with a reverse horn.
HORN TYPE: The Classics
DESCRIPTION: These are the ones which are labelled 'conventional'. They are staunch followers of the purpose for which they are meant to exist. Yes, noise levels are still a downside with these, but they still tread along their ancestral lineage.
CHARACTERISTICS: Predicted to be on the 'endangered' list in the coming decade. The prestigious 'Horn OK Please' title has been conferred on them by GAFT-India (Graffiti Artists For Trucks).
P.S.: Do let me know you own horn types with their description and characteristics. Lets 'hear' it for the horns!!!
Tuesday, May 6, 2008
Farmers in Maharashtra (also read Vidarbha) are already crippling under the heavy financial debt. The 2008 budget promised to turn a new page on the farmers' plight by its announcements of loan waiver. And like all good consumer goodies, this too came with a 'conditions apply' tag tied to its tail. Land reforms which haven't taken place for quite some years now pose a major problem for the much-debated waiver. And for those farmers for whom the package was designed... I doubt (doubt is still an optimistic-sounding word) how much of the total waiver benefited them! The suicide numbers of farmers do not depend on the number of media coverages & there has been no substantial reduction on the suicide front.
So, coming back to this piece of news. Mobile phones cheaper for farmers. Wow! Get a nice handset at lower price, show them lucrative offers like a wolf wrapped in a sheep's cover. Hide the 'conditions apply' tag; after all the farmers can't figure it out themselves! Then, a new phenomena will hit the TV screens in a few months - farmers committing more suicides due to mobile phone bills than financial debt!
Mr. Chidambaram, did I hear you say a bill waiver?
Thursday, April 3, 2008
Naked tears fall to the ground,
The cry unheard, not responded & growing frail
The red soil with corpses around.
They were here, the brutal murderers,
Of the war-torn country in the Dark Continent,
They know only guns, blood & diamonds
Making sure the bloody tears remain persistent.
Amputated men, raped women, maimed children
The axed limbs and the scarred mind
The conflict turning households into ghastly abaddon,
Its the diamonds the enslaved hands would find.
The nascent teenagers brandishing Kalashnikovs,
Homicides being their indoctrinated play
Mining the 'roughs' in the bloody river basins
The black-veined hands under the trigger lay.
Sierra Leone, Angola, Liberia, Ivory Coast, Congo
Nebulae of man's unquenchable thirst for 'the stone'
Uncut they occur but through the country's fabric they cut,
The helpless child's tears harden into love's material epitome...
(In memory of the thousands of innocent people massacred & crippled by the civil wars in Africa during 1990s which gave rise to the infamous trade of 'Blood Diamonds')
Wednesday, April 2, 2008
Sunday, March 23, 2008
When Red reminds me of the genocides & the Naxalites?
When Green reminds me of the fundamentalists & the vanishing greens?
When Blue reminds me of the cruel porn industry & Dalit politics?
When Orange reminds me of the flames of power & the saffron mask?
When Yellow reminds me of the Taj Mahal & the endangered tiger?
When Black reminds me of 100 $ a barrel & the dry gunpowder?
How can I not play with colours,
When Red reminds me of unadulterated love?
When Green reminds me of hope & life?
When Blue reminds me of the boundless sky?
When Orange reminds me of the rising sun?
When Yellow reminds me of brightness & energy?
When Black reminds me of the carbon that transforms into a diamond?
How can I, how can I not?
Tuesday, March 18, 2008
Friday, March 14, 2008
The sign is all-encompassing; the crux of every equation. And till both sides of this sign are balanced, we keep trying; solving... sometimes in few seconds. Sometimes with many minutes, hours put together before arriving at the answer. And then? What do we do when we finally get that final answer? Just look at the solution key and tally your answer... and rejoice or introspect where you went wrong. Thats what we do with all maths equations, isn't it?
Now lets divert a little away from the world of numbers & get to the world where we live in. Although it has very little to do with numbers, the fact remains that nevertheless, we still deal with equations. The equations of situations, equations of people around you, of feelings, of decisions. Most of the times, life's equations don't appear as do their mathematical counterparts. You really have to ponder much just to get the equation in front of you. And even if it does, most of the times the 'equality' sign is blurred. It hardly appears & the inequality sign takes away all its glory. On what side of the expression that 'inequality' points to, determines a lot in your life's equations. The challenge before us is to convert that inequality sign to that of equality so that both sides balance. That challenge is daunting & how you tackle the challenge decides what you give to your life & what life gives to you. Success & happiness inevitably comes to those who understand the mathematical subtleties of life. These two abstract nouns eventually become the reference solutions for you to tally whether you got the right answer or not. The beauty of life is about getting 'qualitatively' measured solutions... not 'quantitatively' solved!
Tuesday, March 11, 2008
You planted a sapling
Tender & Nascent
All set to gain roots
And eager to send out shoots
You thought it was
A task all complete
And waited for flowers to bloom
Alas! You didn't give it much room
To grip the soil
To anchor the roots
Being the soil, I always tried
To save the plant everytime it sighed
But I couldn't water it myself
For that I needed you
You hardly gave it a thought
And now the green fades away in drought
Save the little green
While some of it remains
Coz if you still can't find water
Maybe the soil won't be there later
Friday, March 7, 2008
Tuesday, February 12, 2008
In a friendship-filled weather
A stroke of Narcissism in the white bloom
The very sight takes over my gloom
The wooden brown frame bound
Against a canvas of white abound
The two flowers.. two friends
On life's canvas they beautifully blend
The allegory painted in delicate hue
Of the friendship like an everlasting dew
The painting, of all the life's treasures
A symbol of love & bonding beyond any yardstick's measure!
The artwork beautifies my bedroom wall
A sight so pleasing before I fall
On the bed only to wake up to the sunrise
The Narcissi smiling at me bring me to life...
(A thank-you expression for you, my best friend... for your wonderful gift. I couldn't think of a better way to say it.)
Friday, February 8, 2008
But in 2008, things weren't meant to be the 'history-repeating-itself-once-again' type for dear old Winter. And now, he's back... with a whoosh! He's gonna 'chill out' for some time now & let others take the 'chill-pill' too. Winter met me the other day & told me that he was very influenced by Chetan Bhagat's '5.someone' & hoped in coming days he would release his own book titled '9.something'. Before I could ask him what the title meant, Winter dissapeared into the morning mist & I continued my walk to college with hands tucked inside my pockets with Madonna's 'Frozen' playing in my ears...
It didn't take me many days to decipher that title. Mumbai recorded the lowest temperature in 46 years with mercury dipping below the 2-digit mark, before settling at '9.something'. This dip pleasantly surprised everybody. The woolens that were for many years, kept deep inside the wardrobes suddenly came to 'life' with the chilling winter air, cold as 'death'. Mufflers, sweaters, jackets saw action, braving the fogs (or smogs!) & getting a million hugs from their wearers.
Small, mundane activities suddenly became conspicuous - washing your face in the icy cold waters early in the morning, sipping on a hot cup of tea in the frigid weather & even a warm, mushy hug from your near & dear ones!! Winter for me had never been so pleasant. Hope Winter leaves me with more surprises; perhaps the sequel of his book! May I suggest '8.something'?
Saturday, January 26, 2008
Friday, January 25, 2008
Yeorat was a busy market today primarily because the Chinese New Year is just about to commence (February 7). The place was all covered in red wherever I saw. Red chinese lanterns, clothes, auspicious accessories, wind chimes, bamboo shoots and red festoons. If you ever heard the phrase 'painting the town red', this sight was befitting those words! Even the jewelry shops we went into had lots of pendants featuring snakes, frogs, pigs, etc.. depictions of the Chinese zodiac. The dragon was smiling all over the place, in happy spirits to welcome the new year!
Thursday, January 24, 2008
Wednesday, January 23, 2008
In the evening, we were visited by two Thai ladies, Yooi and Nok, who were mama's colleagues and Pom, mama's secretary. Soon after they made themselves comfortable at home, soda bottles fizzed out and these ladies sat back and started enjoying whiskey. Oh! I forgot to mention; Thai ladies and for that matter men too, start drinking as early as 13-14 years of age. Hardly you will come across any Thai girl who is a non-drinker. Its as common as a green leaf! But even if they drink, they drink responsibly and wont ever get drunk and behave as drunkards. Same applies to Thai men; you hardly come across any drunkard on the streets.
These ladies were surprised after they came to know that I was 22 and I don't drink. Obviously, according to Thai lifestyle, I didn't fit in the drinking scheme of things. After a couple of glasses were drained, we decided to go to a nearby Karaoke Seafood Restaurant. I was about to experience a dinner with Thai people for the first time. And what an experience it was!
The Thai Dinner Experience
Soon after we selected a place at the restaurant, an open air one along the bank of the Chaophraya river, the ladies continued with their whiskey party handing over the bottle they had opened to the waitress. Here I would like to tell something interesting fact about Thai restaurants and joints. They allow you to bring your food if any, other than ordering food there. We had experienced this a couple of times. Also its a common practice here to ask waiters to pack the leftover food after a meal, so that food is not wasted and they could finish it at a later time.
The ladies then placed the order for all of us. One of them was a good singer and she sang many times later that evening, since it was a karaoke restaurant. I took many videos of her singing Thai songs. Soon food was at the table. The menu for the evening consisted of pla kaphong thot (fried kaphong fish in sauce), hoy naang rom sod (raw fresh oysters on ice bed with condiments), kung phat hed (stir fried shrimps with button mushrooms), pla meuk yang (grilled squid with dip), khao paat poo (fried rice with crab meat), tom yam kung (tom yam soup with shrimp), nom mai farang (blanched asparagus in sweet sauce), tofu song kreung (bean curd in Thai spices), salad phonlamai (fruit salad with salad sauce). That was the pool of delicacies we had on the dining table.
Another fact, here seafood and fish is different, as I discovered this evening. Seafood for them consists of squids, lobsters, crabs, prawns, oysters, octopus, etc. Basically the marine food which is not a fish is considered as 'seafood' here and in most parts of south-east Asia. The rest of the evening was spent dining, drinking and singing. It was a good experience for me. In Thai culture, dinner is not just a meal. Dining out for Thai people is no less than an 'event'. Its not just food and people at dining table... it has accompaniments of songs, dance, long talks with it! Our dinner lasted for more than 4 hours (yes...FOUR hours)!!!! Thats quite a time-consuming ordeal compared to Indian standards. But I thoroughly enjoyed every part of the dinner. Here, restaurants don't give a serving spoon with every dish you order, unless you ask for it. Thats because, Thai people use the same spoons, forks and chopsticks with which they eat for serving food from the main dish to their plates. Unlike Indian dinner where we normally don't get up from the table until we finish our course, Thai dining ettiquettes don't include any such customary behaviour. Everyone enjoys dinner in their own way and they don't treat it as something that has to be just finished off and leave. Even the waiters don't disturb you every now and then and even if you just spend time at table, no one looks at you with expecting eyes that have the 'when-will-they-leave' look. I really liked the whole approach of 'enjoying' the dinner in literal sense here.
Tuesday, January 22, 2008
Nong Nooch Tropical Garden & Resort
This was our first destination in Pattaya. Its a huge garden located in the midst of hills on all four sides with acres and acres of plants, flowers, trees, gardens & a variety of vegetation. The greenery around coupled with colourful flowers, birds and buterflies makes it a truly mesmerising experience. The trees are maintained and grown intricately, with careful considerations of their shape, size and expanse. With a mellow breeze for our company, we took a 'skywalk', an elavated walk around the place... enjoying the view from the observation points, a vantage point for shutter-bugs like me!! We enjoyed places there like the Orchid Garden, Palm Garden, the Cactus Garden, etc.
The place also had other attractions for tourists like elephant treks and a Thai Cultural show depicting dances and other cultural performances of Thailand. But the best of them was The Elephant Show!! The show with a variety of performances by the elephants, with all types of tricks up their sleaves...er...trunks! Here you can expect all kinds of performances by the elephants... riding tricycles, playing darts, football, basketball, bowling, dancing and even painting. The show also had performances where volunteers from the audience were called. In one such performance, I jumped in to be the part of the act. The act consisted of people lying in the path of an elephant at certain distances from each other. The elephant then walked over the people, teasing them while he crossed over them. While coming across one such lady lying in the path, the elephant raised his trunk and started thumping it on her chest quite a good number of times! The audience was laughing and clapping. Lying there at the last end with my head turned sideways, I was seeing this act of the elephant & was laughing while awaiting my turn. Laughing because it almost looked like an A-rated movie with hordes of people young and old watching it as a funny act!
Finally it was my turn. The elephant came to me, and raising its trunk, brought it down on my pelvic area and started tapping it (yeah yeah...not thumping it ;-)) After doing a little tapping till it was 'satisfied' with the apparent 'check' there, it raised its front right leg and teasingly brought it over me as if it was going to bring it on me, then circled the leg a few times in the air, with its trunk following the same motion and then crossed me. I dunno whether this was in appreciation or that the elephant was doing this action so that it would ward off evil eyes (in India we have a practice of warding off evil by doing a similar action, called 'nazar utaarna'). Mama, mami and mom were laughing out loud. Mama quipped in saying that I had been thoroughly checked and certified by the elephant and that she made sure to ward of evil eyes from me. I then wondered if the elephant was 'he' or 'she'! I told mama that I didn't notice that aspect, to which he replied that if it was a 'he', he would have tapped you and then put his foot on your pelvic area! Males hate competition, he added! ;-)
Mom shot this whole series of action I just described above, but I can't put the video here for 'obvious' reasons. I will share the video with my friends in person and then again laugh out on the elephant's 'seductive' prank!!! he he he...
After moving out from the Nong Nooch Garden, we came to Jomtien beach, a little away from the main Pattaya beach. The Pattaya beach is a crowded one with tourists flocking it, so mama made a decision to bring us to this beach. We had our lunch at a joint on the opposite side of the beach road & then came to the beach. We booked beach chairs for us and left our belongings with mom and mami. It was time for mama and me to hit the water. It was such a good feeling for me... being in the sea water after so many years. Even though Mumbai has a long stretch of coastline, I never feel like even putting my feet into those waters. Bombayites would know the reason why! We enjoyed an hour's dip in the blues and while we were about to come out, mama felt something under him. Reflexively, he put his hand out there and the next moment his palm surfaced with a starfish on it! We both were thrilled and decided to take it to the beach to show it to mom and mami. Mom took photos of us and the starfish (see picture above) & it was quite an experience for us. We again went back and left it where we found it and returned to take a shower & change for the rest of the evening.
The Pattaya Nightlife
Mama then took us around the Pattaya beach road to show us the town's night life. Pattaya is world famous for sex tourism and the town thrives on it. Here you can find all types of 'entertainment' for yourself. He showed me the street-side pubs and beer joints, acquanting me with what goes around at such places. Girls deck up the chairs at such pubs which are covered in pink light, which would give anyone a spooky feeling. If you go into one such place and order a drink, and happen to talk with the girl next to you, it goes without saying that her drink is on you. And then I need not specify the 'services' you can have from her. Such 'pick-up' places are all over Pattaya's beach road. There are regular sex parties, foam parties and all kind of sexually explicit entertainment. Sex tourism is rampant and even for the blind to see. The food joints here also have names in accordance with the theme of Pattaya's night life. For instance I came across a restaurant named "Cabbages & Condoms"! I later came to know that its one of the best places for food in Pattaya...whew!!
Monday, January 21, 2008
But street food is rampant in this flea market. You can try all types of Thai street food here and also some varieties of street icecreams. People also perform on the streets, many play some or the other instrument, some show magic tricks... but they do not beg like beggars back in India. They are just engrossed playing their instruments, but not a voice asking for money at all. People give them money voluntarily, especially the foreigners. It was straining for us covering the market as much as we could.
In the evening, we came to Pantip Plaza from Chatuchak. Pantip Plaza is a huge computer market, with many computer companies selling their PCs, Laptops, accessories, hardware, software solutions and everything in the computer domain. The Plaza also has mobile sections where you could buy mobile accessories. But still, a major portion of the plaza is a heaven for computer geeks.
The front porch of Pantip Plaza had a surprise in store for me. In 1993 when I was in Bangkok, I had seen ice-cream sellers putting ice-creams in bread and selling them. That time I was not at all ready to taste such an odd combination, as I felt it to be. But this time, I wanted to taste this combination for the sake of curiosity of my taste-buds. Ever since the start of this trip, I was on the lookout for these ice-cream sellers (since not all ice-cream sellers offer such a combo). And I found one here, at Pantip Plaza. The ice-cream is sandwiched in the slit of a long bread, a little sweeter than the normal ones. In all, 8 small scoops were put inside it before garnishing it with roasted groundnuts & soaked and roasted moong dal. And it was done! I clicked a photo of this wierd ice-cream combination (see photo above), as we Indians would call it, and eagerly took a bite. The taste was not as wierd as I had expected it to be. It tastes a little like how ice-cream would go with a cream-less cake. For me, it was an okay taste, not too good, not too bad. But at the end of it I had the satisfaction of finally letting my taste-buds have a go at it!
Sunday, January 20, 2008
Now most of the families have shifted, some have returned to India. One of the families still lives there and we visited them today. Driving through those much aquainted lanes to arrive at their house was itself a nostalgic feeling for me. I could, even after 15 years visualize how we used to play in those lanes, go cycling on the main street with a small river flowing down on one side, the bridges linking the streets at the 'still familiar' locations and the electricity wires overhead still continuing their typical buzzing noise!! Not much has changed there since I had last waved the place a goodbye!
We revived those memories & had a sumptuous north-Indian lunch with them. After lunch, mom & I had planned to go to the "Ancient City", a place almost a few kilometres away from their house. The Ancient city is a huge sprawling area where traditional Thai culture, lifestyle, houses, places of worship and works from the mythological traditions is depicted. We traversed much of the campus on bicycles & I freaked out on photos. Capturing the traditional Thai architecture, their temples (temples are called wats in Thai), art forms like wall-paintings, sculptures through my lens was a marvelous experience. Since Thai mythology has much of the borrowings from Indian mythology, Ramayana, Shiva, Brahma, Vishnu and many gods and goddesses were sculpted or made into statues. Even the names of gods & goddesses bear a great deal of resemblance to their original Hindu names. For example, Saraswati is called Surasawadi in Thai mythology. Many such resemblances can be found. This place is a must visit for all those interested in Thai culture & its manifestations.
Saturday, January 19, 2008
We entered MBK through one such walkway & soon we found ourselves amidst a sea of shoppers. We entered a shop selling purses & it reminded me of good old India! And not for a good reason mind you... there were Indian shoppers around & they were shopping more with their mouths than their eyes & hands. All other shoppers were quietly shopping with toned down voices if at all they had to speak or ask, but not Indians! Indian shoppers are a class apart! They make their presence felt with their loud-mouthed shopping. I mean I was feeling so ashamed observing the salesgirls' faces while they were attending to Indians. I think we seriously need to rectify this bad habit of ours.
Walking around that floor of the mall, we spent around 3 hours on that single floor... shopping. And checking out the trends & varieties of clothes, shoes & accessories. Here there is scope for bargaining, but if the price we quote is unacceptable to the sellers, they don't call the customer back unlike that in India. In Bangkok, you would find salesgirls (salesgirls because in most of the shops you will find salesgirls... and yes the trans-sexuals) doing only 2 things apart from attending to customers with a wide smile & a sugar-sweet HELLO; that is eating & doing make-up. Yes! we have literally seen these petite girls putting their lotions & cosmetics quietly at a corner of their shops. They maintain themselves very well & will always keep themselves spic & span.
It was also after 8 days I saw Thai people wearing colourful clothes. Ever since we had arrived here, the nation was in mourning since the Queen Mother had just passed away in 1st week of January. So Thai men & women were wearing blacks or whites during the mourning period. Everywhere you could see a crowd of blacks & whites, especially while using public transport. But I really did appreciate their love for the Royal family. Imagine almost over 95% of population wearing mourning colours for so many days. Even the manequines at malls adorned various new arrivals in black & white. I can never imagine Indians putting on a specific dress code, rather a colour even for a day if a national mourning is declared. Even if they were to, they would put them on unwillingly for sure. But here, people willfully put their mourning clothes for almost 2 weeks. That really makes me appreciate them.
Friday, January 18, 2008
If you are contented with the huge malls springing up everywhere in metros like Mumbai, you have too small an appetite. Thats because the malls in Bangkok are far more sprawling, spacious & offering almost all the lifestyle options for your needs. If you think thats comparable to what our urban malls offer, eat your words NOW! Indian malls may be far too nascent when it comes to boasting. My eyes popped out when I saw the Siam Paragon showcasing dream cars like Lambhorgini, Ferrari, BMW, Lotus, etc. Now if the best Indian mall could speak, it would have screamed, "Show off!!" (he he he)
And if thats not enough, how about an entire floor (and a floor means acres of space) filled with elite brands like Versace, Calvin Klein, Dolce & Gabbana, Donna Karan, Playboy and hordes of others. In another of the malls I had been to, the entire floor was filled with nothing but only women's lingerie! From push-ups to thongs, you could find all types & brands of lingerie there. It was lingerie everywhere... every type, every colour, every shape... the ones that would give even Mallika Sherawat an inferiority complex!!
And its not just the goods on sale that make up an unforgettable shopping experience. Its got a lot to do with the ambience, the decor, the lightings on the floor which are an essential ingredient of a mall. And Bangkok's mall have it all.
One more thing about the goods is that you get value for money in these malls. The typical frustration of an Indian shopper is not getting satisfactory item for the cost he has to pay. The quality of item is not in accordance with its price tag. Here, the item is worth the bucks you shell out for it. That is the most important thing for a shopper.
The gist of it is that Bangkok truly stands tall to its name of 'Shopper's Paradise'. Its a fantabulous shopping experience like no other. A word of advice: check out the floorplan of the mall before you start. You will get confused in the maze of escalators & corridors!
Thursday, January 17, 2008
It wouldn't be effective if I had to tell the story here, coz words would take away the sensitivity & intricate treatment given to each part of the movie. Will Smith reaffirms why he is a great actor, given the kind of role he has played. The movie aptly portrays a myriad of human emotions & situations; situations which sometimes we have experienced. Situations which make us think about the extent of human resolve. Situations in which we can 'try' to imagine what it would be to support yourself & your child with only 21 dollars in your wallet!
Though Will Smith is at the centre-stage in the whole movie, his son Christopher played by Jaden Smith equally makes his mark in the movie with his befitting piece of acting.
The bottomline of the movie is that happiness doesn't come to you in life just like that. Happiness is always preceded by a long pursuit that brings out the best in man. And those trials & tribulations alone can bring out the true essence of happiness!
Wednesday, January 16, 2008
Since there is nothing to blog about today, coz there was no going out, let me just write about the traffic discipline in Thailand. Venture out on the busiest road here & don't be surprised if no one honks inspite of a snail-pace traffic. They honk only if it is absolutely necessary. So noise pollution on roads is substantially reduced, except for the vehicular noise. Secondly, lane discipline is strictly followed & hardly any car cuts the lane. They will wait for the vehicle at the front to move rather than cut the lane & move ahead. Thirdly, no one parks their vehicles on the sides of a main road. So congestion of lanes is reduced.
When it comes to pedestrians, they will always use the footpath to walk & when it comes to crossing the roads, they will cross at the crossing or use overhead bridge wherever possible. That saves motorists the trouble to watch out for jay-walkers. I wish we Indians could learn something from this!
Tuesday, January 15, 2008
The Floating Market
Reaching the floating market, we booked a boat. Tourists are taken around the market in small wooden boats in narrow water lanes, fillled with vendors selling fruits, street food, souveniers, hats, drinks, wooden crafts, etc. The vendors are of 2 types: those who sell moving about in their boats & others who have shops on stilts on both sides of the lanes. Normally, food-items are sold on boats & others in shops. Buyers (ie. tourists) have to go about in boats to buy their items. It was a market I had never seen before anywhere. But, the water lanes reminded me of Kerala's backwaters where I had enjoyed in a 'vallam' (the wooden boat with oars is called vallam in Kerala). We started off & soon there were boats everywhere around us. Here, most of the vegetable sellers are women, unlike our 'bhaiyyas'. We bought a few fruits there after mama did a 'taklong' (taklong=deal, in this case bargain) with the seller. I shot the entire video of the water lanes & the market. It would now always remain in my 'memory'.
Don Wai Talat
For afternoon lunch, we came to Don Wai Talat, another 'sight & smell' market (talat=market). But here, there were no non-vegetarian items on sale. Different types of fruits, flowers & vegetables adorned the stalls & there was quite a crowd in the market. Vendors were calling out to sell their eatables. But surprisingly, there was no shouting out aloud & no chaos. The women didn't shout & not one of them had a harsh voice. The entire decorum of the market was full of discipline. Even the buyers didn't push the person in front & patiently waited for that person to move in the crowd. I need not elaborate how the scenario is in India!
Another quality of Thai people apart from discipline & cultured behaviour, that you can't help notice is their hard-working attitude. An example of this was when I asked a florist for a photo of the flowers in her tray. She was having her food & she nodded in affirmative. I was about to click when she kept aside her food & arranged the flower bunches in the tray so that I could have a good photo. I hadn't expected this at all & thanked her for that. She smiled & resumed with her chopsticks. Taking the photo I thought, "could I have expected this in my own country?". The quality of hard-work is inherent in every Thai citizen. They never shirk work & they believe in 'work is worship' in true sense of the term.
Human Imagery Museum
In the afternoon, we headed to the 'Human Imagery Museum' where wax structures of real-life people are exhibited (like Madamme Tussad's museum). The exhibits included people from all walks of Thai culture & life; the monks, king, poets, musicians, children, fairy tale characters, villagers, farmers, etc. It also housed world's eminent personalities like Mahatma Gandhi, Winston Churchill, Abraham Lincoln. The statues are intricately made with detailed attention to even the most negligible attribute. The museum is simply marvelous & is one of 'must-sees' in Thailand.
We returned home by late afternoon & made a dash for the swimming pool in the evening. The pool situated on the 6th floor of mama's building, offers a good view of the Chaophraya river. The pool has sections where some could laze out in bubbling water, others could swim or just enjoy a view of the river! It made my evening & it was after many years that I swam. It felt refreshingly good & was all ready for a pizza waiting for me back home.
Monday, January 14, 2008
If I ever lived the phrase "shop till you drop", it was today. The venue was Bangkok's famous shopping centre - Baiyoke. This is the highest building in Bangkok & houses a huge shopping arcade. Tourists visiting Bangkok swarm this place only to return with dozens of shopping bags with them. And we religiously stuck to this 'tradition' today. 7 hours of shopping was all it required to experience the 'shopaholic syndrome' peculiar to tourists here. We bought many clothes & apparels at prices very much less than what would it would have cost us in India. We came across all kinds of fashion while wandering in the arcade... from local Thai to fancy western t-shirts & denims; Baiyoke had it all!
By the time we came out of the arcade back into our car, everyone was ready to drop off to sleep after a hard day of shopping. Now thats what they mean by 'shop till you drop'. Enough written! I may drop off to sleep anytime on this soothing bed! Yaaaaawwwnnn...
Sunday, January 13, 2008
One thing that struck me was that inspite of the crowding in the lane, neither anyone was pushing the other person, nor was anyone shouting irately. Discipline & utmost respect for the other person are inherent in Thai culture, and it shows!
We returned from the flea market in the evening with our shopping bags. By that time mama had returned from office & he took us to a nearby joint so that we could enjoy some street food. He told me that the best way to taste Thai food was to opt for street food. You find many varieties in street food & thats how you get introduced to a plethora of cuisine. Mama ordered hoithot (shells in omlet), sea-food yakisoba (japanese preparation of sea-food in noodles), phad thai (noodles with sprouts & prawns) & auy suan (oysters in egg base). We tasted each if these turn by turn & liked all of them. It was very 'aroy' (aroy=delicious). We returned home & topped the delicacy treat with a bowlful of 'rum & raisin' ice-cream!
Saturday, January 12, 2008
Hitting the gym
In the morning, I was wished a happy birthday by mama & mami. Mom, as per her traditional practice for so many years, wished me at 08:09 hrs IST; my birth time. After a breakfast of Tuna sandwich, I blogged about my Day 1 experiences. Having finished with that, I decided to hit the gym which mama had shown me the earlier day. Since it was a working day, there was no one at the gym at 11 in the morning. I turned on the music on my Palmtop & started with my workout. I pumped iron for about an hour & returned home with inflated veins. Thats a pleasing sight to my eyes! Yeah...
Sky train & shopping centre
At about 3 pm, we left home for some sight seeing & shopping. For crossing over to the opposite side of the Chaophraya river, we had to board a ferry. Soon, we were at the other side & bought tickets (self-service through ticket vending machine) to a station called 'National Stadium'. Alighting at the platform, we straight made our way into the 'Tokyu' shopping centre which is connected directly to the platform. Now thats what I call convenience! This multi-storeyed shopping centre had a lot to offer on the shelves & we didn't have much time to explore each corner. We mostly did window-shopping there, while checking out some local stuff.
Mom got particularly interested in some dress which she wanted to try out. The salesgirl, a petite Thai cutie was helping her with the size & other things, in her sweet-spoken crude english. For a guy like me, coming across a variety of Indian girls all these years, almost all the Thai girls look the same: petite, fair, chinky eyes, slim & yeah... very beautiful! I jokingly told myself that if I ever were to marry a Thai gal, very soon I would be charged with infidelity! (he he he...) Because they all look very much the same! Now coming back to this cute salesgirl... she took mom to show her the trial room. Mami & me accompanied & when we were waiting outside for mom to change, mami told me, "you know what mihir, this salesgirl is a trans-sexual"(I later learnt that they are called 'kathay' in Thailand). I gulped in disbelief! I mean she... er... he... was actually a male! And quite a beautiful male I must admit! God!!... Thai boys would be facing a tough time! Mami also added that there have been some cases where guys found out after marriage that their 'wives' were... well... guys! Now whoever said "Ignorance is bliss" was 100% not a Thai lad!!
In the evening when we returned, mama's secretary had come home to see me & mom. She was eager to meet the guests from India. She had brought a cake with her since she came to know from mama that it was my birthday today. I cut the cake, with everyone singing "happy birthday to you". Pom (mama's secretary) also joined in the jingle with her elementary english. (imagine english given a thai accent). Pom then gifted me a set of lovely red chopsticks with a golden design on it. I thanked her & said, "Khun Pom, ani suaay". (Pom, this is beautiful). I was very delighted by this gesture of my new Thai friend to arrange for a cake & gift me chopsticks. Pom then asked for a photograph with me. Now my mama was pulling my leg, saying that I was lucky... a Thai girl arranging a cake for me & wanting a photograph with me. He quipped teasingly, "I wasn't so lucky at 22... celebrating birthday with a foreigner gal". Pom then had Indian dinner with us. While leaving she said she enjoyed meeting me & mom. We also thoroughly enjoyed having her for the evening. It was indeed a memorable birthday for me and also for my mama & mami... their nephew celebrating his birthday in their house!
Friday, January 11, 2008
Soon mom & I arrived at Mama's place...& what a place! The 25th floor apartment overlooking the Chaophraya river offered a magnificient view of the city, the riverside & the speeding highways! And not to mention, the building has its own gym & swimming pool apart from other places of interest. This is going to be my home for the rest of my stay here.
We came home & had Tom Kloang (tom=soup) which is a Thai soup, Yam (yam=salad) & Laab paduk (Laab=mince & paduk=type of fish) with rice for supper. Tom Kloang had pieces of octopus in it and tasting octopus for the 1st time, I enjoyed it! The night-view of the Chaophraya river is all the more beautiful, with colourfully illluminated boats ferrying up & down the river. I end my day watching the bedecked boats & bridge and enjoying a dollop of tender coconut icecream!