11 August 2015

In the line of Duty

This happened in the early 90s.

I was working in what was then so fancifully known as the EDP Department.  EDP stood for Electronic Data Processing.

An 8088 processor PC was the hot killer hardware in the market.  We worked on stand-alone PCs.  Our work was compiled by copying files on 5.1/4 floppy disks.  I do not remember if 3.5 inch ones had made an appearance or not.

Yes, it was more than 20 years ago.  Not really all that old, if you think about it. These days even 50-year-old people call themselves young.  I do.

A new module was required by my office to ensure distribution of our product.  The launch was hours away and reports were required.

It was late evening and I was busy working on a programme that would generate the reports required.  My programme was done and I was about to save it.  Simultaneously, I stretched my foot in relief. My toe hit the switch that was powering my PC.

Click.  All went dark in my eyes.

My work of the past hour went down the drain.  However, there was nothing else I could do.  I powered the PC on and started work again.  This time, keeping my feet in control.

I managed to submit the reports in time for the dispatch.

03 May 2015

Just Books, JP Nagar, Bangalore

There are some places that you fall in love with instantly.  It is all about ambience. Maybe it is what happens in a place like this.  Maybe it is a combination of everything.

I happened to be in Just Books, J.P. Nagar, Bangalore on 28th April, 2015.  I was there with a friend who was on a book tour.  She had to be there to record an interview.  While she was on her business, I took a look around the place.  Just Books is a chain of library stores across the country, Bangalore, Mumbai, Chennai, among others.  The J.P. Nagar branch is just one of many across Bangalore.

I forgot to take a picture of the place, so I will try to describe it the best I can.  It is a small shop with a glass front.  There are neat shelves filled with all sorts of books that subscribers can take out.  They have tiny stools on which people can sit as they flip through a book.

I picked a book out of the shelves, Anais Nin's Delta of Venus, and dragged the little stool near the big glass french window.  The view outside was nothing to speak of.  It looked out on a street with houses lining it.  With a book in my hand and a quiet library behind me, even this plain view looked restful.

This is the first time I dipped into a book by Anais Nin.  She writes a lyrical prose that wills you to read on and on.  Alas, I had just a few minutes to enjoy this and soon had to put the book back on the shelf and leave.

I spent half an hour beside that window; it was an oasis of peace in the otherwise hectic time I had in Bangalore, rushing here and there.

05 April 2015

My Scrapbook - Features Digest - 1

I often post articles and features that I like on Twitter and Facebook.  But these places are so overcrowded that it is sometimes difficult to extract and even remember what I posted a while back.  Hence, I have decided to create a blog post with tags that will make it easy to refer to a good article that I read.

My father read extensively and wrote extensively as well.  In his heyday he ordered a number of newspapers and periodicals.  In his bid to categorize his readings, and also for easy recall, he had built up a system of saving newspaper cuttings of the articles he read. He would then put them in file folders meticulously.

It was quite common for us to open a newspaper and find windows cut into it.  Magazines met the same fate.  There was a time when my father would cut out the advertisements from the magazines because he felt they were unnecessary.  Visitors to our house would stop short when they saw the entire house covered with books, magazines and newspapers.  The floors were laid out with newspaper cuttings that awaited being categorized and put away.

When we were young, my father sent us a scrapbook with pictures and captions.  They were clippings of pictures from various magazines that were stuck in a scrapbook.  Thinking back, I am not sure that my father made those himself.  Maybe he got help from some student of his. I remember being charmed by them.  Once of twice, I made similar picture scrapbooks and gifted them to friends.

Now, I realize the importance of those saved articles, when I rack my brains to remember something I had read but cannot recall the specifics.  With all these tools on internet available to us, it is easy to store stuff electronically.  So here goes my first digest.

Today's Literary Review by The Hindu had some good articles.  I loved the few books of Krishna Sobti that I read recently.  There was a nice article on her in this pullout. Here is a link to article, "A strong voice".  I liked this review of Geeta Hariharan's book, "Almost Home", in the same magazine.

In today's Indian Express, I came across this profile of a man who is in charge of the meteorological department of J&K, and found it quite interesting. "The Rainspotter", a day in the life of Sonum Lotus. The article was laudatory to him. When I checked him out on twitter, he was being flooded with bad press, accused of making false predictions.  It is so hard to know what is correct and what is not correct, in these days of information overload.

Finally, a humorous piece in Eye Magazine of Indian Express from my favorite author, Ranjit Lal.  It is titled "The Indian Driver's Handbook" and is accompanied by a delightful, Mario-esque illustration.

17 December 2014

#FixOurRoads: Opp. Comfort Banquet, Zirakpur

The Old Kalka-Ambala Road, that led from Zirakpur to Ambala used to be an abandoned road for a long time.  It had agricultural land on both sides and lay green but forlorn. Now the place is humming with activity.  All thanks to the various housing societies that have sprung up adjacent to this road. An overbridge that leads to Kalka from Zirakpur light point cuts free access to this road from the Chandigarh end.  People commuting to Dhakoli or Peer Muchhala from Panchkula have to take this road.  Their numbers grow day by day.  Comfort Banquet is a well known landmark right at the Panchkula end of the road.  It is a busy hub.  You see, there are two daaru ka thekha (alcohol shops) here. There are some small joints selling food here, a few shops and a shanty market selling vegetables.

I have to commute along this road everyday as I live in Dhakoli and work in Panchkula.  I drive a scooter and leave office by 6 PM in the evening. It is dark and bitterly cold by that time.  The drinking population rejoices at the early darkness as it means they can ‘party’ early.  The atmosphere is of happiness for a few and fears for some.  If everything was good, one could pass by this little stretch of barely 5 or 10 meters in the matter of a second or two.  But things are not good here.

The bit of road in front of Comfort Banquet always sags.  It has been filled with pebbles and built over at times, but within a few weeks it is back to its pockmarked self.  There are huge cavern sized pot holes on the road.  Two wheeler drivers have to slow down and find a good patch to drive on that will not upset the scooter.  On dry days it is still possible, as the cavern is visible and one can slowly pass it by.  But on rainy days everything gets waterlogged and it is harder to spot a good bit of road to use.  By the way, whatever light we have in this spot is thanks to the shops and the Banquet.  Move up the road and you are left in total darkness.

I have no idea who I should contact for this.  But I am putting these pictures here and in social media, hoping that someone wakes up to the difficulty the population of Dhakoli face on a daily basis.

26 June 2014

Two faces of Mumbai

I passed through Mumbai twice in my young life. I had a different experience each time. It had something to do with how I stepped into Mumbai. I am pretty sure about that.

The first time I stepped down at Mumbai, I was a 13 year old girl, accompanied by my 15 year old brother. This was May 1973. We were traveling from Jamnagar to Bangalore (where we lived) by train. We had to switch trains in Mumbai. Our connecting train was to arrive late in the night. My father had written down the address of a friend of his where we could spend the time.

It was the 70s and telephones were a rare thing. Our only option was to just get to the place where the friend lived. We went outside the railway station, and my brother tried to get directions to the place we were to go to, by asking some people passing by. They kept walking on, throwing a cursory glance at the paper where the address was written, and not saying a thing. We got no help at all.

He tried to talk to a taxi driver about getting to the place. The taxi driver quoted a big sum. My brother backed off, thinking it better not to visit the friend after all. The taxi driver raised a hue and cry about being looted of his fare, though my brother had just asked about the fare. A lot of people jumped in, siding with the taxi driver, and my brother had to shell out some money to appease him.

We opted to spend the time on the platform. We visited the bathroom in turns, one person remaining behind to guard the luggage. I had just been gifted a big white go-go bag (that is what large bags were called in 70s) by my cousin. I had stuffed it full of some treasures - photographs, some certificates and a little empty scent bottle that had once belonged to my mother. No money. I left the bag on top of the suitcases and went to the loo. When I returned, my brother was loitering rather far from the luggage, and there was no sign of the bag. I had lost my treasure.

Later in the night, we were lounging near our luggage, when a policeman came and asked us to go outside the Railway Station and wait there. That scared my brother. We were looking around for help and saw a group of Army men waiting to travel by the same train. A kindly officer of the group asked us to sit close to them and said the policemen would not harass us if we were with them. We were able to wait unmolested and carried on with our journey without a hitch. I really don't know what would have happened if we had been forced to wait outside the Railway Station.

By August 1973, our family moved north for good. My older brother was already in Jamnagar. I was set to travel with my parents up to Mumbai by air. From there, I was take a flight to Jamnagar and my parents were to take a flight to Delhi. Again, we were to reach Mumbai by late evening and stay overnight in a hotel on the airport and take our separate flights the next morning. We reached Mumbai and wanted most of all to get to our room and rest.

We went to check in at the hotel where we were booked. The clerk asked us to wait in the lounge. From the waiting lounge I could see how everything was lit up, clean and shiny everywhere. What a lovely place Mumbai is from this angle, I thought. It had been grimy and dirty and insolent when I had been there from the Railway Station. This is how the rich feel, all sanitized and glittery. They get used to people kowtowing to them. For us, taking a flight was necessitated by the fact that I was to travel alone from Mumbai to Jamnagar, and also that my younger brother was a babe-in-arms.

An hour passed and the hotel clerk showed no signs of showing us to our room. My father went to the hotel desk to inquire why there was a delay. The room we were to be shown into, had no soap, the clerk told us. He had sent an attendant to get a bar of soap for us. This was the reason for the delay. My father said, we have soap and wanted the room right away. It seemed so different from the reception I got when I visited Mumbai first. Then people would not attend to us or tried to browbeat us because they thought we were not rich. Now, a room was not supposed to be good enough for us because it had no soap!

I do not wish to blame only Mumbai for this attitude. It is just that being from a laid back place like Bangalore, or being raised in a small town like Jamnagar, I was not used to the hustling ways of big city. Now that I have lived a bit, I know all cities have these two faces. One is a smooth shiny, courteous one it shows to the moneybags. The other face gets stonier and ruder and angrier, the lower you are on the poverty scales.

29 April 2014

A visit to NASA - 2013

My memory of our world's forays into Outer Space date back to July 1969.  We were given a day off in school at midday when it was announced that Man had landed on the Moon.  I thought of this as a some far-fetched notion that older people were always trotting out to children.  Later, my father sent me and my brother couple of beautifully illustrated books about the space mission and the Moon.  He was in the USA at that time. My brother also got a toy model of the spacecraft that had to be assembled. We were not able to get it together because a special kind of glue was required which was not available in India.

Much later I kept hearing about Houston as the place where all space missions were controlled.  "Houston, we've had a problem here" is a famous quote.

Even before I was to visit Houston, I looked up some places I could visit locally and found the NASA tour as a tourist attraction. I just had to visit the place.

From where we were living, Johnson Space Center was barely a 10-minute drive away.  On a clear sunny day, plentiful in Houston, we made our way to NASA. 

For the visitors, NASA has rides and games for little children.  A trip through a scaled down model of the spacecraft.  A film about the first landing, a museum of space artefacts (spacesuits, moon rock, pictures, the actual vehicle used on moon for scouting, etc), and a tour around the NASA campus.  The area is highly classified and no one may wander except on the tour bus.

We saw the film, went around the museum, checked out the spacecraft model, went on the campus tour.  The campus tour is mostly just pointing out to various buildings where no one is admitted.  We did get to peek into one building where brainstorming takes place.  It was littered with desktop computers and was empty as it was a Saturday.  We got ourselves photographed against parts of Apollo 13 rocket that are housed in a large warehouse.  We even visited the souvenir shop and bought some fridge magnets and tiny stuff like that.

Just before we embarked on the campus tour, we were photographed against a blue screen.  We thought these were security measures.  I was amused when we were handed some pictures of us against various backdrops, a rocket etc, and given an option of buying them.  These were photoshopped versions of our picture taken earlier.  It was almost like we were back in Jaipur, being urged to buy prints of our pictures photoshopped against various monuments.  The price was steep, so we refused the prints. 

Later, my daughter was able to download a stamped version of that picture from the NASA site.  

That evening we were to go and see "Gravity" in the local IMAX.  Watching simulated Space in 3D for the second time in the day was quite eerie.  The children were not very kicked about the film, as little happens during it.  But I liked it, even if it was rather claustrophobia-inducing to see poor Sandra Bullock trapped in space.

22 April 2014

An encounter with a would-be thief

I had gone to the GPO in Sector 17, Chandigarh on Saturday to mail a letter by registered post.

By the way, this involves a long process if your mail is overseas.  The person at the counter will view the envelope/parcel suspiciously, knock it from all angles to make sure it is properly sealed. Then, they make you sign a form where you have to list its contents, value, name and address of the sender and receiver. Whew!

It makes sense if you are sending a large parcel, but you have to do this even for a simple letter and a photograph.

Anyway, I was in Sector 17 GPO and queued up dutifully behind a couple of people.  There was a young girl right before me.  She was a lawyer by the looks of her, white salwar kameez with a black coat.  She was carrying a stack of letters that she had to send by registered post and was chattering amiably with the person before her. A friendly sort,  I thought.

After she was done, she took a seat to sort out the papers she had in hand.  I took my place at the head of the counter and was promptly directed to get the declaration form from another counter.  I collected the form and sat down beside the lawyer girl and started riffling through my bag, looking for a pen.  As usual, when you really need these things, they are seldom there.  The lawyer girl got up to go. I decided to go out of the GPO and buy a pen.

There are a lot of helpful people who sell wrapping paper, gum, pens and sticking tapes right outside the door of GPO.  I stopped by the first one and asked for a pen.  As I looked in my bag for the wallet, I realized with a thudding heart that I had left my wallet on the bench when I was riffling through my bag.

I ran back inside the GPO and found the lawyer girl practically sitting on my wallet and talking to someone. I picked up my wallet from under her and went back to get the pen.  The lawyer girl stood up immediately and left.

I returned with my pen and started filling up the form.  A young man who was sitting on an adjoining bench came up to me and said that the lawyer girl had returned as soon as I left and sat on the wallet.  He said if I had returned a moment later, the wallet would have been in her bag. He had been watching her avidly.

The girl was probably not a habitual thief, I do not like to think so.  But an honest person would surely have tried to return the wallet to me, tried to run after me.  Now that I think back upon the incident, it was rather strange the way she was chattering away with all and sundry.  She had chattered and smiled at me when I sat down beside her as well.

The girl's face keeps swimming before my eyes.  And I shake my head every time I think about this incident.

14 November 2013

USA visit - October 2013

I returned from a month long USA visit 15 days back.

This was my first international travel ever.  Hence everything, the long journey, the overseas travel, the new country, was all a first experience for me.

Initially I was anxious that my luggage weighed too much.  I was anxious about my travel to Delhi to catch my flight in the wee hours. I was anxious about being able to follow the directions that were being given to me.  It helped that I was accompanied by my grown son.  It was good to have company while traveling, to have someone to talk to and to hold your purse while I went to the loo.

The journey was so long, I felt it would never end.  After a while the choices on the in-flight TV seemed rather limited.  I looked at the places we were going over on the monitor on the plane.  We traveled over Asia, Europe, London, over the Atlantic, New York, down the West Coast. Soon sleep took over and all I wanted to do was sleep, which was fitful and not very restful.  When the landing was announced and the 'plane hovered over Houston waiting for clearance to land, I looked out of the window, trying to get a look at the place I was visiting.  I could see a lot of green coverage, and very few buildings.

We walked through long corridors towards the immigration.  My first impression was that there were very few people there.  Sure there were lines in the immigration, people were being quizzed and cleared, but it was nothing like India, which ALWAYS teems with people.

My daughter was right at the gate of our exit.  There was a blur of greetings and hugs.  In my first act of disorientation, I opened the left door of the car to sit and looked amazed at the steering wheel there.  I did this a number of other times as well.  The right hand drive needed getting used to, even for a back-seat driver.

The roads seems very bare.  Only a few cars zipped alongside us, darkened window wound up tightly.  There was no eclectic traffic on the roads like in India where cycles, scooters and three-wheelers drive along co-exist happily on roads with cars and trucks.  Apart from that the topography seemed quite India-like to me.  It was still planet earth!

As soon as we got to my daughter's lovely little apartment, we chose to bathe before going out for dinner.  I was dying to sleep, but wanted to eat before sacking out.  We went to a little Thai place close by.  We were served water infused with chunks of fruit.  Straight off a long flight, my son and I were parched and drank the tasty water gratefully.  We were pleased with one noodle dish, but not so with a red curry which was too sweetish for our taste.

The lady at the restaurant asked us if we wanted anything more.  Still in my India haze, I said 'Bas, thanks!'
My kids burst into laughter at that.

Thus ended a very eventful day.  Even if I find myself globe trotting a lot in future and get very jaded by it, I doubt if I will forget my first day in USA.

11 July 2013

Write Tribe contest # 1

I peeked into my son’s room to let him know he had received a postcard from his friend.  I saw him lying on the bed, idly watching television and flipping a coin.

“My my, aren’t we tidy!”  I said sarcastically.

His room looked like wild horses had galloped through it.

“Maa!” my darling son bleated, “instead of being so sarcastic, you could help, you know”

I walked into the room and straightened a calendar that was lying face down.

“No dear! Your room is your responsibility.  You must learn how to keep it clean:  Now pick up the stuff, change your sheets and PLEASE dust everything.  If you want your weekly allowance on Monday as usual, that is.”

I marched out of the room mindful of his indignant looks, but not caring.  I leaned against the door and heard him scurrying around the room, tidying up.

“Yessssss” I said to myself, triumphantly.

Write Tribe

This post is written as a part of  write tribe initiative.

The rules are:

1. Write a piece/a story/ a poem incorporating the following  7 words in random order :
  •   postcard
  •   coin
  •   tidy
  •  wild
  •  help
  •  calendar
  •  responsibility