10 October 2015

Board Games - Snakes and Ladders, Ludo

In the 70s, we had board games like Snakes and Ladder and Ludo. I have played Chinese Checkers too at times.  I was introduced to Monopoly much later when my kids were small.  Other games like Scrabble, a big favorite of mine later, were not much in vogue during my childhood. Chess was never my cup of tea.

It was with great amusement that I downloaded Snakes and Ladders and Ludo in a mobile game format.  In Snakes and Ladders, if I play against the computer, all I have to do is to click the dice when my turn comes.  The game progresses on its own.  The dice moves on the board, goes up the ladders if it encounters one, slides down the snake if it happens to land on the mouth.  So I am just an idle watcher and clicker.  When I win or lose, I get a notification.  I feel quite useless really.

In the actual game, we got a large board which had these games printed on them.  We also got a tacky little box of dice and buttons to use while playing.  When we got bored of playing the right way, we invented other games.  

For instance, we would play with two buttons instead of one.  It had an advantage to it.  If the turn of dice could land our button on a snake, we could move the other button and save ourselves the ignominy of sliding down the snake.  The game was slower this way, but it gave us more options.

Another invention was to play it with snakes becoming the 'good guys'.  If we reached the tail of a snake, we would climb up to its mouth.  Similarly, if we encountered the top of a ladder we would groan because the new rule was to climb down the ladder.  It was fun when played like this.

Yet another invention was to start the game from 100 and make it a win if we reached 1 first.  When we encountered the tail of the snake we would slide up.  Similarly on encountering the top of ladder we would happily climb down.  Because you see, the 'down' was the new 'up.  All these inventions relieved the tedium of playing the same few games over and over again;

The mobile game app of Ludo is pretty good.  If I play against the computer, I still get to choose which button to move, which to stall and when to kill the buttons of my opposers.  I am pretty sure there is an app for scrabble game as well.  I must try that out.

26 September 2015

Lesson in acceptance.

Jamnagar in the 1960's up to the 1980's when I left was mainly a vegetarian town.  It is a dry state, that we all know, thanks to Gandhiji.   Non-vegetarian food is not openly available.  Bread shops do not sport rows of eggs for sale.  Chicken is not available at any corner shop with a freezer.

Tandoori murgas on spits, hung out to marinade, is such a common sight in Delhi.  They amazed me when I looked at them when I started living in Delhi.

An acquaintance, a fellow Punjabi, ran a poultry farm.  Once in a while, on a Sunday, he would kill a tender goat and the meat would be distributed amongst the Punjabis in Jamnagar.  There was one restaurant, run by a Sikh, that served mutton on its menu.

I liked the mutton prepared by my aunt.  It was perfectly flavored and not too heavy with spices.  Where we lived, the aroma of cooking mutton spread and announced itself to our vegetarian neighbors.

I played with a couple of girls in our neighborhood that were close to my age.  We would get together every evening and play something, hide and seek, Stapu, play with a ball just run around.

I remember the day one of my playing companions asked me, distaste writ large over her face, "You eat meat, don't you?"  I quailed as I nodded.  The girl made noises of disgust.  At that moment, my other friend,  Malvika, said to her, "Don't do that.  It is food for her. Don't disrespect food."

That, right then, was the biggest example I got in acceptance.  I know what it is to be sidelined.  I grew up in a Hindu-majority State.  

In Jamnagar, Sikhs were mostly admired.  But there were some who felt weirded out by the turbans and long hair men sported.
There were people who hissed at me because I looked like a foreigner with my light skin and brown hair.
I know how important it is to be accepted for what you are.  I thank you Malvika for standing up to me then.  It was a lesson I have treasured all my life.

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.