The First Date: Part 1

Her eyes were ravishing by their own right. As she trained those shallow pools of hazel and white on mine accompanied by that trademark twitch of head and cocked up eyebrow, her wavy hair intermittently fell on her face. Those dimples accentuated her understated beauty as she revealed that divine smile to me, a mischievous variant, that is. In a flash, her expression morphed into an inscrutable one. Her face grew intense. I could feel her grip in my hand tighten. We desperately needed each other. I released the grip on her hand, and drew her towards me. I could already feel the warmth of her body; her lips curled in anticipation. Mine did too, almost instinctively. As her face neared mine, and as our lips were about to lock each other in what would be a passionate kiss…

*****************************************************************

The sound was so intense that for a moment, I mistook it for a siren in a nearby factory. After a nanosecond of contemplation, I rightly identified it as the R’n’ B ringtone in my Nokia 2600. I opened my eyes, part wondering where the girl with me and the cozy environs of Hotel Ritz had disappeared. The Nokia blared indignantly, ripping into shreds what would’ve been one of the best dreams I’ve ever had. Conscientiously censoring the choiciest of swear words that crept into my mouth, I put the phone to my ear, sleepily pressing the ‘answer’ button in the process.

“Hello.”
“Haaaaaaaaalllaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!!”

The scream was so intensely pitched that I had to keep the handset from ear for a second to shield my sensitive ‘elephant’ ears from the cacophony.

“Who is this?”
“Has the damned caller ID of your 100 rupee mobile fused itself, you cracked-head idiot? It’s me, Radhika!”, said the sweet female voice, which seemed to be out of match with the shrilled one that almost broke my ear apart. Radhika was an old friend of mine. She undisputedly, was my first female friend and one of my best buddies. We’ed befriended each other through a chat room some four years back. She lives in Bangalore and is doing her Law in the Christ College.

“Hey!! You just scared the shits outta me!! What a time to call?? It isn’t even 4 in the morning. By the way, you just murdered a dream!”
“Aha. Mr Romeo now has dreams… Who’s the lucky girl?”
“C’mon Radhika. Change of topic. How come you’re up so early, and it’s been a while since we last talked, right?”
“Yeah. I was a bit busy for sometime. Lots of assignments, tones of workload. Now it’s end-of-sem, and I’m free!!! YIPEE!!!”
“Wow, that’s great. So, goanna top your class this time too, eh?”
“Yeah yeah. Keep dreaming. Screwed up 3 papers bigtime. Dunno if I’ll clear all. Hey, guess what, I’m in
Trivandrum now!!”
“You IN
TRIVANDRUM!! Hey, that’s double surprise!! What for?”
“We reached yesterday evening. Wanted to call you right as we touched down, but was too tired. So decided to surprise you with a wake-up call! I’ll be in town for a couple of days. Dad was so desperate to visit his parents, so I decided to give in and jump along!”
“Hmmm, so…”
“Hey hari..”
she broke in: “You free today evening? Let’s meet up!”.
“Today evening?”

I sadly realized that the fateful day could potentially be one of the worst days of the year. Two badly written records up for submission plus a class test in Discrete Structures. To top it all, a much rescheduled client meeting in the evening.

“Sorry Rads, not today. Too tight. Won’t be free in the…”
“Dude… You know something, I just agreed to come with dad to this fucking place so that I could get to see you. Remember, we’ve known each other for four years, but haven’t met even once!! We might never get such a great opportunity to see each other. Please man!”

There’s some enshrouded charm about the plea of a ‘fair maiden’ which arouses a sudden fit of determination and drive in a guy. I realized that the girl had a point, and decided to give in. But I doubted and asked whether she knew her way to the ‘vantage points’ of the city, to which she quickly boasted of knowing the city inside out, having spent the first ten years of her life here. Her choice of the meeting place gave me the real shock of my life!

“Why don’t we meet up in the temple?”, she quipped. Knowing Radhika too well, I gathered that this ‘temple’ was some new ultra-cool hang-out place in town. These bangaloreans have this unique skill to sniff out all those hang out joints in a jiffy. “ I was planning to go temple-hopping today evening, anyway!Let’s see, I like that Shiva temple in the heart of the city. Why don’t we meet up there?”, she purred, almost sounding like a Birthday party invitation to a Café Coffee Day!!

“Erm, won’t a temple be a bit too out-of-place?”
“If you want to meet me this evening, come to that
Shiva Temple in Sreekanteshawaram. I’d be there at 5.30 sharp, wearing blue salvars. You remember my face right?”

“Yeah.” Rads had e-mailed me a few pics sometime back. “And, I’ll be wearing a green shirt, and cream-coloured chinos. Just in case, you’ve forgotten my face.”
“Now, that’s a deal! Wow.. sounds exciting! Meeting for the first time in a temple? Our relationship’s goanna last real-long! Hey, mom calling gotto go. Be there at 5.30 okay? Bye, take care. Love you!”

By now, I was fully awake and conscious. Sitting down distraught on my bed, I tried to organize my cluttered mind. After a minute of contemplation, I was back to myself. A mixture of emotions; ranging from anticipation to a tinge of euphoria were building up. The previous night was more strenuous than usual, thanks to the back-breaking record-work. Radhika’s call, coupled with the dream came as a welcome relief. I was going to meet a buddy of four years for the first time; I’d never ever imagined in the wildest of dreams that I would see her any soon, but life sometimes gives you its share of pleasant memories…


I usually don’t give a damn about dressing up to college. But today, I decided to do some grooming. I chose the dark green Excalibur shirt and chinos, just as I’d told Radhika. That morning found me spending close to thirty minutes before grooming my perennially-unkempt hair using an ill-used Brylcreem gel, clearing my face of all the facial hair that had accumulated over the past week, and on the whole: making myself presentable. On my way to college, the realization stung me. This was my first date! This was the first time I was going to ‘make-out’ with someone of the opposite sex. Before the realization could overcome my dreamy self, I made myself aware of the warm friendly relation that existed between Radhika and I. It was based on pure but intimate friendship. No romantic baggage attached. Besides, Radhika would soon be ‘moving on’ to her fifth boyfriend in a week’s time, or so she said.

The day at college turned out to be a routinely-mundane one. Thankfully, a strike by SFI citing the absurdest of reasons (some guy in some remote college burned the SFI flag, or so the GenSec said) averted the record submission and the test!. So, there was no class that day. The client-meeting too got postponed for the umpteenth time. (Damn!) Which saw me jobless (having refused an offer to a movie), and bored, roaming through PMG junction. I tried calling Rads, but her phone was switched off. With nothing to do until 5.30, I walked into the British Library and spent some five-odd hours there, during which I finished reading a Jeffrey Archer Book, Twelve Red Herrings. At about five, Radhika called to confirm my arrival. I caught an auto from Statue Junction and headed to the Shiva temple at Sreekanteshwaram, where Radhika told she’ll come.

<End of Part 1>

P.S. Was planning to write this post as an undivided, single one; short & sweet. But, as I started writing, it just began growing out of proportions. I decided to call it a day then. Series exams going on at the moment, lots to study. But, don’t worry. Part 2 will be up in a week, so keep commenting and lemme know whether you liked this or not!

Advertisements

A Survivor’s Story…

If you’re a news junkie, I bet you are so accustomed to seeing news reports about flash floods, tsunamis et al, that you discreetly say to yourself “There goes one again.” when you see one such report. You tend to accept these ravaging acts of nature with a good dose of complacency. So, when someone informs you that a nerve center of the city is paralyzed by rains, you take it in the stride, part mocking that guy by saying: “C’mon, dude… What’s so big about it? Happens all the time, right?”

Being a compulsive news junkie myself, I remember having repeated the statement (at least, syntactical and linguistic variants of it) many ‘a’ time. Never again will I do that mistake again, thanks to that traumatic experience I had with a rather crippling flood on my way to Sabarimala last Friday evening. They say: “You’ll never realize the worth of your eyes, until you lose your sight!”. I can totally relate to that statement, in the light of that grim experience. The incident, which might seem a bit trivial in a third person’s point of view (a common opinion singularly voiced by everyone who’d lent me an ear), was actually a real jolt to my psyche; perhaps my entire sense of perception. Even now, when I type this piece, I can feel my hands shudder and my mind panic…

It all began with a phone call from my uncle (mom’s brother in law), who announced that he’d be going to Sabarimala the coming Saturday (the Mahanavami day), citing reasons like a comparatively-less rush. I readily (and happily) agreed, even though, technically I wouldn’t be able to undergo mandatory the 41 day penance and the fact that I was enjoying the delicacy of an exotic variety of fish at the moment I was informed! I’m a devotee of Lord Ayyappa, so to speak, and I’ve been regularly visiting Sabarimala every year, (but for 2006) since 2000. My having missed the trip the previous year, and a rather sudden fit of spirituality I’ve been dealing with (due to reasons I would rather not mention), I decided to forfeit the lack of penance, and go for the kill.

My native place (place called Kunnikode, near Kottarakkara, Kollam district), incidentally, is quite close to Sabarimala (hardly 100 kms) and is en-route. So, we decided to drop down at Kunnikode on Friday evening and leave for Sabarimala early Saturday morning. That Friday morning, my well-informed friend Renjith warned me about news reports in the Indian Express suggesting flash floods at Sabarimala. My father, pushed aside the reports, authoritatively referring to the lack-of-rush at the ‘Sannidhanam’ (the exact location of the Ayyappa temple in Sabarimala), as authenticated by his Sub Inspector friend who was on duty there. Consequently, we left to Kunnikode that Friday evening, with me on the wheels of our Maruti 800.

I’m not a pro driver, but I’m not a bad one either. Despite Dad’s motor mouthed efforts at depicting my lack of skill to his acquaintances, most of my co-passengers would suggest that I’m passably-good at it. The journey to Sabarimala began, with me getting minimalist brickbats for issues like ‘rashly’ overtaking a Santro or that reluctant speedometer edging the 80 mark, until, of course the rain began. Almost as if on cue, there was a geometric increase in the ‘amount’ of backseat driving by Dad, with me ostentatiously missing a discrete but jolty bump. With the rain gaining intensity, I decided to let the speedometer hover between perilous 30s and 50s, with the engine whining in the third gear.


It was a shock of sorts to see the array of vehicles crowded right in the middle of the State Highway 1 (at a place called Nilamel). Instinct said it could probably be an accident. Deciding not to overtake despite a gap, I obediently stopped the car behind a hulky Mahindra Scorpio. The traffic was inching forward at a snail-like pace of say 2 metres a minute. Harried, I inquired a rather drenched passer-by, the reason for the block. He cryptically replied: “Roadil vellam kayari!”(the road’s waterlogged) and left. My first reaction, surprisingly was pleasant surprise. So, there’s a true-blue flood. How’s it goanna be? The sensation faced an imminent disruption with my mom spotting an ill-painted “Danger” signboard in the roadside. The upcoming events might look good in a timeline. I entered the block at 6:10 PM. The figures in brackets indicate the distance my car moved after the ‘block’.
6.11: Man warns about the road being waterlogged.(+2m)
6.13: Mom sees the warning sign. (+3m)

6.16: Traffic moves forward, my engine whining. I notice the water level rising (+10m)

6.20: Moved a significant distance forward, engine still whining. Notice a volley of cars parked (or rather rescued by the side of the road). (+15m)
6.25: Hardly moved a meter. Notice a Zen Estillo in front getting stopped. It can’t start itself. The first pangs of fear in me??(+17m)
6.28: Water level outside reaches knee-level. Mom complains about water seeping into the car. Suggest pouring it out, only to remain silent thanks to Dad’s choiciest expletives.(+18m) 6.30: The scorpio in front of me moves some 10 metres ahead in no time. I’m in panic. My car doesn’t respond to the accelerator. After 10 seconds of pedaling the clutch and accelerator, the car moves forward at a slow & steady pace. (+19m)
6:32: Dad warns about making sure the engine does not stop. Water enters through the driver door. Almost reaches the seat level. My hands are shivering. I can feel sweat pouring through my face despite the chilling cold and ravaging rain. Beside me, three bikes stop. I counted.14 cars hauled from the floods, unable to move were resting beside the waterlogged road. I get reminded about all the English disaster movies I’ve seen (especially Day after tomorrow). What if water seeps inside the car?? I forget the laws of physics, and see a flash-dream about the car being flooded with water. My mind is blank. (+24m)

6:34: Dad notices my panic & smilingly assures me that nothing will happen. I put the gear in neutral and move over from the steering wheel, giving control to dad. During the process of shifting seats, my mobile falls from my pocket down to the slushy water in the floor, unnoticed by me. (+28m)
6:42: Thanks to Dad’s superior driving skills, we escaped unhurt and save ourselves from being marooned in the floods, like some 50-odd ill-fated vehicles (+46m)

That marked an end to one of the most disastrous experiences of my life. I kept mumbling nonsensical things for the past two hours. Despite the best efforts of my mother, I kept muttering again and again that I won’t go to Sabarimala. Open mouthed, I stared out of the window, as my Dad gingerly drove through the ravaging rain despite the lack-of-breaks (thanks to the floods), and safely helped us reach my mom’s native place at kunnikkode.

I’ve had about 2 fatal accidents till date. Even when I was twice hit by bikes, I didn’t feel half the amount of panic. I know the incident is too insignificant and minute by today’s standards, and not even worth a second thought. However, I was definitely moved. The realization, the fear that the lives of three peoples could be in mortal peril due to a slightest mistake from my part; that was far beyond my feeble sense of perception. The jolt moreover, awoke the muse in me – awakening myself to the harsh realities of life; how a small flood, the root cause of which lay in an inefficient drainage system & the reclamation of paddy fields, could put several human lives in peril… How a slight blow by mother nature could change one’s life forever…

By the time I woke up the next morning at about 4, I was more or less, back to myself. After a quick ‘getting-ready’ session, with Lord Ayyappa in mind, mouthing “Swamiyeeee Sharanamayyappa!!”, along with 2 of my cousins and uncles, we drove to Sabarimala in my uncle’s car. The journey was quite uneventful. Being a regular visitor to the abode of God, I found the journey rather fascinating and refreshing, despite the rains. There was a little rush at the sannidhanam, so we could pray well, and catch many ‘a’ glimpse of the deity of Lord Ayyappa. By the time I reached home, the hangover of the flood experience almost subsided, the blessings of Ayyappa perhaps!

The only material damage I had to suffer in the whole fiasco, was to my mobile- a Nokia 2600 which incidentally fell from my pocket and got drenched in the water that had seeped into the car. After drying it non-stop for a couple of days, I switched it on, only to see it back in top form, as good as before, but for a few problems with the keypad: (the ‘2’, ‘5’, and ‘7’ keys which sometimes do not respond to key presses.) The insides of my car emanate a rather unpleasant smell, thanks to the drenched floormat. There are few problems with the brakes. Dad says a routine service will make that okay.

Read this report in The Hindu to realize how ravaging the flood was!

The Cellular Deception

Express Yourself!!


Be Inspired!!

If you’ve been living in the country of India for a couple of years the least, and you are that kind of person without much vision problems, notwithstanding acceptable doses of long/short sight, these punch lines might seem rather familiar. Behind these extensively-researched, smartly-thought-about promotional tag lines (an underpaid, part-time Rediffusion copywriter’s contribution, perhaps) lies the lurking persona of a corporate behemoth: Bharti Telecom, the singular entity that runs AirTel – the self-proclaimed “India’s no 1 network”. One tends to ponder upon the authenticity of such punch lines, for, often you reciprocate a mixture of emotions which are far from ‘inspiring’, when you ‘Express yourself’ with your mobile phone, thanks to the eye-popping call charges incurred by you despite the rock bottom rates advertised. Indeed, another comic-caper which makes our rustic-railway minister’s light hearted moments seem disgusting!!

It all began in a rather romanticized fashion. The year 1995 brought Mobile phones to India. There was countrywide rhetoric about India ushering in a revolution in communication. The first half-a-decade saw the birth of countless operators – 75 percent of which either went bust or merged with someone else. From a jaw-dropping seventy or so during the 2000, there are hardly eight national level operators in the country. If you exclude BSNL – the PSU telecom service, the only operator that remained independent all along is AirTel. Sunil Bharti Mittal, chairman of Bharti, somehow had sufficient capital to keep his company running despite back-breaking losses. It was only recently (two years back), did AirTel report a total turn-around. And how? Today, Bharti has revenues to the order of thousands of crores of rupees. True to its tag-line, AirTel today is miles ahead of its fellow countrywide operators in terms of number of subscribers. Ever thought how the once-upon-a-time underdog emerged a hands-down winner? Simple! A suave & smart marketing stratergy involving bigtime deception of the subscriber. Allow me to throw some light.

To make things simple, let’s consider the Kerala Telecom circle. AirTel launched its operations in Kerala in mid-2002. By early 2003, when TRAI (Telecom Regulatory Authority of India) decided to promote the ‘calling party pays’ regime, making incoming calls free, AirTel barely managed to cross the 100000 mark in terms of subscribers, while its counterparts were fully utilizing the sunshine to make hay. This is the juncture that needs specific introspection. Mr Mittal came up with this idea to lure upcoming subscribers. Soon all national dailies saw full-page ads proclaiming free AirTel to AirTel calls & free sms. The spurt in new connections was so high that, AirTel found it difficult to handle the traffic. Within a month, these ‘new’ subscribers were dumbfounded by the obnoxious call rates they were being charged despite calls being ‘free’. Yes! AirTel, discreetly withdrew the offer. The customer service executive’s semi-raunchy voice replied: “Sorry sir! Didn’t you read the terms and conditions?” To their dismay, their mobile was more like a fixed line. AirTel’s signal was too weak for calls in many areas. The only saving grace was an infinitesimal ‘extra’ talk-clarity. (That-is if your ears are sharp!)

Since then, it was almost raining offers!! There would be an offer almost every month. AirTel would beat the drums about it, many people would fall in, only to be deceived at a later stage. The latest of such is the Rs 65/- offer which was at once the lifeblood of half the country: offering smses at 2p & calls (A2A) at 20p. Today, that offer has morphed into an unappealing one. AirTel is now the fastest growing mobile network in Kerala. Go to any college or educational institution. You’ll find that 90% of students have AirTel connections. Though, it’s lagging behind Idea & BSNL which have over 1.5 million subscribers each in the region, AirTel is soon poised to overtake both with its ever-expanding network & that kitty of never-ending ‘offers’! Besides, AirTel guys have the unique knack of smelling out any change in TRAI policies beforehand. Consequently, before other operators resonated policy changes with lowered tariffs, AirTel ostensibly took the first step, proclaiming to be the ‘first’ to do so!!

Mouthing all these might make me look prophetic, but alas! I’m also a victim of the AirTel deception, or, to put it in the hottest slang word in the block, ‘theappu’. I was rather satisified with my BSNL connection, the only cons of which were high call rates to non-bsnl phones & monthly-recharge options. With peer pressure mounting (not a SINGLE person I knew, other than relatives of course, had BSNL!!), and new AirTel towers springing up near my place, I decided to give in. Thanks to a family-friend of a dealer, I got a 99 prepaid for free. Rs 100 talktime and 1 month validity. I enjoyed the first month. Thanks to the Rs 35/- scheme which lowered my a2a call rates to 20p, my frugal Nokia 2600 had made friends with from my ear. The euphoria lasted hardly a month. And, the first shock came when I recharged for 1 year validity, Rs 498/-. There was this offer providing 498 minutes of a2a talktime. Considering my talk-habits, I desperately needed that. I recharged on the 30th of August, but got the talktime credited only two days later. Strangely, I didn’t get the 498 minutes. The customer care official was reassuring enough. She gave a 48 hour deadline. 72 hours gone, still no talktime!! Harried, I tried customer care again, only to get the shock of my life!! The offer was closed on the 31st of August, said the officer. I protested. I’d paid the money on the 30th, the officer wouldn’t relent. He banged the phone down on me.

That was the beginning of a saga. I realized how the cycle went. Reluctantly, I went for the 35 again, only to see the a2a call charge has risen to 30ps. The second shock came, when I discovered that they’d removed the a2m 50p from the 35 offer (10 minutes to a hutch phone of a friend & 10 rupees gone with the wind!)

There’s nothing we can do about this. All we can do is mutely watch all these cellphone companies cheat us and make money. Now you know why Bharti & Idea stocks are rising like hell! Now you know why Vodafone paid a fortune to get the controlling stake in the highly-overvalued Hutch stock! India, essentially, is the mobile operators’ paradise. With roughly 5 million Indians going mobile every month, and with Nokia 1110s selling at rock-bottom Rs 1399s, the operators are doing their best to capture the subscribers. But, do their networks relent? Only a small fraction of operators’ revenues are spent on network-expansion. And, by network expansion, all they do is adding more towers. Soon, the market will reach its saturation, and the situation will only get worse. Expect sharp rises in call & sms rates in a couple of years’ time. Brace yourself!!

By the way, there is a solution to this problem. Religiously take your mobile & shatter it onto a solid hard surface. Man!! I’m not joking. You’ll attain nirvana!! Peace of mind assured, until you move on to your next handset!

Writer’s Block!

Writer’s block is a phenomenon involving temporary loss of ability to begin or continue writing, usually due to lack of inspiration or creativity.says Wikipedia. Considering the fact that I trust it more than my good old Dad, I can rightly say I’m afflicted with the ‘disease’. Wikipedia goes on to say: “Writer’s block can be closely related to depression and anxiety, two mood disorders that reflect environmentally caused or spontaneous changes in the brain’s frontal lobe. This is in contrast to hypergraphia, more closely linked to mania, in which the changes occur primarily in the temporal lobe.” Yeah. That, precisely is the reason behind the scanty amount of posts in my blog.

Ah. Does that mean I’m depressed?? At the moment I’m not, but broadly speaking… Yeah, I am. Have intense problems at home. Fights with parents are so common that it’s almost part of the routine to have one on a daily basis. My dad, being the quintessential, hot-tempered professional ‘relieves’ all his office-tension on to me. Which means, my vocabulary of the choiciest swear words (in English & Malayalam alike. My dad is a learned man!) has quadrapled! Being an absent-minded person of sorts, I’m an easy prey to my perfectionist-dad’s abuses, who feels it’s sacrilege if the TV remote isn’t placed ‘on its place’ after usage among other things!! I found this rather weird passion for perfectionism baffling, considering the fact that his own room is the messiest I’ve ever seen. (And I regularly get scolded for not keeping my room ‘arranged’!)

My mom’s not bad either. Thankfully, she’s not as perfectionist as my Dad. However she’s pretty anxious about my academics. Can’t blame her. The University Engineering Rank holder she is, she expects me to tow along the same lines. So, the only word I hear from my mom when I reach home is “study!”. Nothing else. She apparently feels that my creative pursuits hinder academics, and asks me to cut down on my ‘extra-curricular reading’. Her objection on me taking a British Library membership was so vociferous that I had to consult a good-hearted cousin of mine, who lovably doled out the money to help me in my endavour. (Love you sis!!)

What I’ve just mentioned is merely the tip of the iceberg. I’ve got literally zillions and zillions of problems plaguing me. But these days, I choose not to think of them. For, ignorance is bliss. The more I think, the more I tend to go nuts. These days, I can hardly read anything. I can’t stay focussed. I can’t just sit down, close my eyes & meditate. Even the Yoga lessons that my grandfather had painstakingly taught me years back seem to have failed me. I’m helpless…

Pessimism, I know is no plausible option for me. Hence I choose not to think of my problems. I try to look ahead & move forward. Like the phoenix that rose from its ashes, someday, I’ll have my day of redemption. I’m waiting for it to come.

Oops! The guy @ British Library just gave me a pat on the back telling: “Basically, we don’t permit blogging, emailing & stuff. So please clear out!!”

Aaaaaargh! Where else am I supposed to go when I don’t even have a solid ten-rupee note to browse for half-an-hour in an internet cafe’ and I have STRICT PC usage restrictions at home??

Signing off for the moment. Will be back soon. Adios!!

An Onam well-spent…

Ever since I’d started a blog, I’ve been toying with this idea of doing a photojournal on something. Even though I was a Photography-freak, I didn’t have a camera of my own! Besides studies kept me busy. Now that I’ve got plenty of time at disposal, and a Kodak EasyShare z650 Digital Camera for myself, I decided to put up a few shots I had taken couple of months back, during Onam. I know it’s too late to post an Onam photojournal now. But I’ve been postponing the task for a long time. Better late than never!

This Onam was very special to me, since it was a reunion of my maternal family. All my uncles, cousins, & second cousins settled around the globe, in places ranging from Bangalore to Toronto dutifully took leave from their high-flying jobs and hopped onto 707s to reach my native place (place called Kunnikkode, between Kottarakkara in Punalur in Kollam District) just in time. All of them tired of the sky-high aspirations of city-life ere ready for a welcome warmth of the countryside. And they did enjoy it to the fullest!

Contrary to my routine, I woke up early in the morn, on the Thiruvonam day. After a quick bath, I donned my Onakkodi: A Park Avenue Shirt and A mundu. Half-appreciating myself for adapting to the mundu so fast, I went down, only to see my Cousin sisters crouching on the mosaic floor in the verandah of the house, making a Pookkalam! It was pretty impressive, considering the fact that its Chief designer was actually born & brought up at Canada!(She speaks kick-ass thara malayalam with a slight Trivandrum accent, btw). Though It was I who put forth the pookalam idea a few days back, I’d never expected them to be so excited about it. It was one of the best pookalams I’d ever seen…

For starters, we decided to avoid TV for the day. Since all the ‘adults’ didn’t do anything special for onam, we decided to freak out a bit. After an hour of tree-climbing we managed to put up an amateurish oonjaal. But no one would dare swing on it! (As a matter of fact, none in our horde weighed less than 60 kilos!) By now, the inspired-enthusiasm of the morning had worn out. Many of us realized lately that, It was exactly the time for a nice movie. And, everyone cozily settled down before the Home Theatre watching the DVD of Rang De Basanti my Bangalore-waali cousin had shopped on a bargain from Music World. I was left tired, by the tree-climbing experience & terribly depressed. Onam meant nothing but 3 holidays when a mallu is supposed to eat packaged junk food renamed sadya!

I had to rethink when it was time for the Sadya. The assembled 40-odd guests sat cross-legged, ceremonially around the wide dining room with vazha ila’s placed in front. The sadya was the most eventful part of this year’s onam. It was a welcome relief. Everything was spic ‘n’ span, thanks to my Grandma, who also doubles as one of the best cooks in the world! Everything from parippu & Pappadam to sambhar were awesome. The vermicelly payasam was icing on the cake.

Finally it was time for the Photo-session! Armed with 5 cameras (of every model from Kodak to Nikon), we took snaps of everyone present. Countless 640×480 videos were shot until our memory cards & batteries were famished. I alone took a mammoth 423 photos & 3 videos in my 256 card & a borrowed 512 card. My favourite was the Group photo, which has just arrived from the printer’s elegant & beautifully framed. After a long time, since our 11th standard excursion, I enjoyed down to my heart!

Deprived of all energy we finally settled for the telly & caught the final scenes from the Onam flicks on TV(despite our resolution against that) and had a sound sleep reliving every moment of one of the most eventful days we’ve ever had…

How BROAD is your broadband??

“The buzzword for the 21st century India must be Roti, Kapda, Makaan, aur Bandwidth.”

When the late NASSCOM chief Devang Mehta: one of the pioneers and soothsayers of the IT revolution in India made this statement; little took him seriously. The IT bubble which had grown to a burgeoning level had just bust, bringing down the stock markets and countless ‘dot-com’s with it. People were being ‘laid off’ by the thousands. Many an NRI returned seeking greener pastures at home sans globetrotting jobs. Analysts were foretelling doom almost on a daily basis. The crash had such vast repercussions that even free email services like Yahoo were either reducing mailbox sizes or going pay!

Seven years later, things couldn’t have been better. Today, the industry is almost at the pinnacle of success. The new wave of hope was brought about by a mammoth called Google, which with its repertoire of ‘free’ services, especially GMail & YouTube, literally conquered the World Wide Web! The web, finally had lost its elitist appeal, and became as ubiquitous as the erstwhile Ford Model-T!! The ubiquity of the web had a direct consequence: skyrocketing internet connections. Today, at least two-thirds of the US populace has direct access to the WWW. Of these, at least 54 % have a solid broadband connection, while a mind boggling 80 % of the office users have at least a T1 line to hit the web. The corresponding figures for our country, if publicized, could bring a drastic end to the current outsourcing wave. A measly 0.02 %( of the entire population), that is, if the DoT guys have got their stats right!!

Broadband in India is rather a joke that has been regularly doing its rounds all over the country. The raucous part of the joke is that, there are a plethora of Broadband Company ads, which beat the drums boasting about ‘speeds’ with rock-bottom rates ‘starting at Rs 50’. A minute-long talk with the smooth-talking customer-service executive would reveal that the bandwidth is 128kbps, and the user has 50 MB of free download every month! And, even 128 kbps is something of a mirage. Often the user gets speeds at around 64 kbps… (Wow!! Broadband speeds at par with dialup!!) And, mind you: kbps means Kilobits per second, so you get download speeds of 8 Kilo Bytes per second… Now you wonder why all the US companies outsource all their work to a country where there aren’t even reliable broadband connections!

A major factor behind the staggering lack-of-growth of broadband connections is the lack of awareness about broadband. In a country where not even half of the population is literate, let alone computer literate, the eye-popping figures of the U.S. seem out of reach. The penetration of internet has been inexorably slow over the years. People with dialup were too complacent to shift over to a reliable broadband connection in the beginning. Since the advent of broadband in India in the late nineties, it took some time for ‘broadband’ tariffs to come down to realistic levels. Interestingly, cyber pornography played a subtle, but significant role in fuelling broadband connections! It came as a welcome relief for the average Indian voyeur, who was all-the-more harried, spending those feisty hours before the CRT monitor waiting for his 3-minute Paris Hilton video to download!! Free (& obviously fast) downloads of Bollywood music & movies through countless online portals were just the icing to the Broadband cake.

Broadband is definitely not a luxury. It is the fuel for growth. It offers immense possibilities for telemedicine, cheaper phone calls, video conferencing, and what not! The US figures did not shower down from heaven just like that. It took a spirited private sector & a non-interfering government to attain the midas-touch. Ironically, we needed a wholly-government owned BSNL to drastically revive the broadband sector. When BSNL launched DataOne, its pioneer broadband service using ADSL2+ technology, many ‘a’ heart was thrilled! With speeds starting from 256kbps, it was, so-to-speak, the first true-blue broadband connection with rates starting from Rs 250 p.m. & luxurious download limits. Again, it took another spirited decision from BSNL to increase the base capacity of all connections to 2 Mbps, to give the private broadband service providers a run for their money. Post that change on the 1st of January, 2007, almost every private sector broadband service provider today has at least a couple of plans offering 2 Mbps bandwidth.

Not all is well with DataOne either! Often, the user has to wait harrowingly for about 2 months or so after booking to get his connection ‘delivered’. Travails of being a PSU, perhaps… This scenario reminds one of the earlier ‘wait’ for a lone landline connection, which could even run unto years! The only solution to the broadband problem essentially is the freeing of more bandwidth. True that BSNL did usher in the true broadband revolution. However, the downplaying of Private operators can solely be attributed to superannuated government policies. As a first step, the government must stop laying its leg in the way of adding more bandwidth by reviewing its policies. A significant sum must also be invested in infrastructure, countering rapid technology-obsolescence. Only then can roti, makaan, & kapda stay hand-in-hand with bandwidth!

FAREWELL

(The content in this post is heavily borrowed from my diary-entry on the 18th of January, ’06: the day we bid farewell to Loyola School. Yeah, I know it’s not actually hip to write about an old ‘farewell’, but still… felt this diary entry was too ‘good’ not to be published! There’s another reason, but I think I’d reserve it for the ‘Post Script’.)

Having been rudely woken up by the ‘ultrasonic’ (for want of a better word!) wake-up alarm in my Nokia 3310 at 4.45 in the morn, my mind didn’t register for a few minutes that it was the farewell-day. When it finally struck me some 5 minutes later, my initial reaction, quite surprisingly, was joy, even exhilaration; let alone sadness!!

My enduring mom had already woken up and was preparing my lunch. I quickly dressed up, and carefully packed my ‘farewell outfit’ among other things. I had tuition at K.K. sir’s place that day. Since Dad was on an official tour to Delhi, I made it to his place with my friend & classmate Deepak, well, ostentatiously late! (My friend is quite ‘famous’ for his punctuality!) Sir had instructed us to do a worksheet of sorts with questions from Quadratic Equations. My mind was so full of farewell that I could hardly do twenty problems in those two harried hours, depressingly-slower than my usual ‘rate’. After class, I caught a packed city bus to Sreekariyam with Deepak. No sooner did I reach Sreekariyam, I literally ran to ‘Hotel Anand’, bidding a quick good-bye to Deepak, who was off home to change. The sumptuous Ghee-roast at ‘Anand’ literally opened my eyes. Enthralled at the prospect of the farewell, (and FORCED by the lone 10 rupee note in my purse) I chose to traverse the kilometer-long path to school by foot.

Sidharth & Speedu (Deepu S.) had already checked in with their mundus firmly (well, at least, so they felt!) in place. Donned in my farewell-attire (A Dark blue Park Avenue Shirt & a mundu with green kasavu) after a quick, behind-locked-doors rendezvous with my class, I felt like my screen-idol Mohanlal! (A visibly-thinner version of the star, that is…) Soon fellow mundans (or rather, soon-to-be once-upon-a-time-classmates) trickled in. By nine-o’ clock each and every one (excluding one rather er… elusive guy) had assembled by the sides of the school-day auditorium in the school-quadrangle.

It was a rather funny sight to see the 100-odd plus two students in mundu(for non-mallus: mundu is Malayalam for ‘dhothi’). Some people looked jaw-droppingly handsome, clad in the traditional mallu attire. Others, due to their visible lack-of-experience with the mundu, were rather embarrassed, gingerly lending a hand to the ill-protected clothing so as not to make fools of themselves. As usual, Lakshya was the laughing stock of all, with that crazy way he’d wound himself in that cotton fabric, which he called ‘mundu’. He’d even brought a ‘fun-camera’ along. It was quite a sight to see him clicking away clad in that piece of clothing! Arun ‘Akri’ Kumar had the brains to trade his ill-fitting mundu for a pair of jeans. Meanwhile a few of us (i.e. the singers amongst us) were practicing the customary farewell song. This time it was ‘Pal – The Indian Idol edition’. We’d sung the same song for Chris Gala and had secured the first place. The song was touted to be a sure hit, at it did become a phenomenal attraction. (After all, I was among the lead singers!!)

The ‘Farewell assembly’ began at around 9.30. We were to walk into the quadrangle from the left & right sides (ISC guys from the right & HSE students from the left) of the school-day auditorium and seat ourselves in the steps in front of the basketball court, under the very eyes of 1200-odd schoolmates & teachers. (If you didn’t quite get that, I guess, the accompanying video-grab should explain). The rest of the day was typical farewell-stuff: speeches by Pindi,oops… our ‘rather’* revered Principal Father Varghese Anikuzhy, Rakesh (School Leader), Anand ‘Ambi’ A, Albenia Madam & our Juniors. Raku’s acknowledgement of the invaluable contributions made by different people in our lives” was good, albeit a tad not as spellbound as those tear some, mind-blowing speeches by his predecessors Vishnu Dattan & Arun Andrews. Albenia Ma’am’s speech that followed actually made the whole audience a bit dreary. Ambi’s pointed speech bordered on his attachment to the school, subtly training his guns on Pindi (for ruining Loyola! Why else?) In-between, our ‘Indian Idol’ rendition took place. Our juniors also did their best to put up a good group song dedicated to us. On the whole, our ‘in-the-open’ farewell assembly wasn’t quite up to the mark, but we’d expected that. The ill-fortune of our batch had, after all, extended unto the farewell!

Post assembly, it was time for an array of photo-sessions. There was the quintessential farewell-pic with everyone gathered around pindi – one of the most memorable group photos ever… The pic remains a personal favourite (despite that man’s ghastly presence!) Countless flashbulbs burned & many a CCD recorded some of those unforgettable Kodak moments…

Dreary-eyed, having been subjected to those blinding flashbulbs, we’d decided to rest ourselves awhile putting off an action-packed football match. It was then that Ambi instructed everyone to proceed to the IT lab. Everyone happily obliged, but he wouldn’t drop a word about what was to happen. It was the ultimate mouth-opener at the I.T. lab. Ambi had made a recording of sorts, dedicating a song to each and every person. It was the pinnacle of hilarity!! Though lack of time allowed him to allot songs for the first 30 roll numbers, the whole idea was quite refreshing and fun-filled. The most memorable dedications were ‘Omanapuzha’ to Alan & ‘Chentamara’ to me. After an hour of Ambi’s ‘recording’, we were left teary-eyed, thanks to a fit of non-stop laughter!!

It was then our juniors’ turn to treat us. The indoor games stadium was the make-shift venue for the treat. Probably the only person in town allergic to ‘biriyanis’, I politely refused the biriyani, only to gobble up meaty (pun intended!) portions of other items in the menu!! If my classmates are to be believed, the food was one of the best they’d had in recent times. Well, from my point of view, whatever I ate satisfied my slightly-oversized tummy!!

Gleefully thanking our kind-hearted juniors for the hors d’ oeuvres, some of us settled down, talking about whatever that came to our mind. The topics ranged from impending board & entrance exams to old-time crushes!! XEVFUAN** was indeed a topic of widely-publicized discussion. It was around that time that the cat had got out of the bag! Others, energized by the sumptuous feast decided to sweat it in the football ground for some time.

After an hour of whiling time away, we were summoned to the Sutter Hall for the final leg of the farewell ceremony. The ‘assembly’ in the morning was actually the informal one. The best was always reserved for the last. This final ceremony was deadpan-serious and was actually quite a discreet one, comprising of the outgoing plus two batches and all the teachers. I had the opportunity to catch a glimpse of this assembly the previous year, when John Mathew, Roshin & I were assigned the task of ‘volunteering’. From an outsider’s point of view, I gathered that it was a bit tedious. But, when it was time for our farewell, I realized how starkly wrong I was!! On a more honest note, it was one of the MOST moving ceremonies I’d ever attended…

By about 2.30, everyone made it to the Sutter Hall (the school-auditorium that regularly is the venue for LA Fests). DP briefed us, instructing us about the ‘Lighting the Lamp’ ceremony & all. It all began in the usual solemn manner, with pre-written speeches by teachers. On a regular assembly, such speeches would have attracted nothing but brickbats from a harried audience, but today, there was pin-drop silence! For the first time, we collectively listened to speeches, pensively analyzing and reflecting upon every single word mentioned. The teachers’ group songs that followed were seraphic, to say the least. Especially, the ‘Jab deep jale aana…’ number crooned by none other than our own Jerry sir (The music teacher at Loyola), whose voice then seemed to have a remote resemblance to that of Yesudas. This rendition was later followed by a soulful ‘Kanner poovinte’ by Mahesh & John, which on completion found everyone staring at each other, tears in their eyes!

Maithri Madam’s touching speech at the farewell will remain firmly etched in the minds of all who’d assembled there. It brought back a plethora of memories of her fourth standard Hindi classes! Thomaskutty Sir, DP, & Prabhu Sir (discreetly veiling his displeasure with our batch) wished us all the best in life. Thomaskutty sir even sung a self-translated English version of a popular Malayalam song. Then it was the turn for the students to recall the memories associated with their lives as Loyolites. Roshin & KC spoke of how they related to the school many degrees higher than their previous schools. People like Ashish also tried their hand at a final parting speech. Gokul SG was literally driven to tears before the completion of his speech while a suddenly-perked-up Siddharth gracefully assured Maithri Ma’am that he wouldn’t opt for a trodden career in Medicine or Engineering and that he’d do his level best to cross the gates of NIFT (and yes he did!).

The candle lighting ceremony was arguably the most solemn ceremony any of us had ever been to or seen. As we approached the teachers with lighted candles in hand, and as they wished us all the best in life, the ominous realization of parting with the school stung us! Many of us (myself included) were on the verge of tears. Unable to hold back, we cried openly (like we did when we first entered the portals of the institution), tears streaming from our eyes, sobbing uncontrollably, hugging each-other. It was so painful, the pangs of leaving one’s alma-mater to face the cons of the big-bad world! We finally realized, albeit a li’l late, what comfy lives we lived… It was all over! We weren’t children! We’d come of age!! We were grown-up fully-blown MEN! We had to leave school…

Though the hours-long football match at the school grounds that followed was filled with fun & frolic, the realization that it was all over couldn’t be dispensed with. Walking back home clad in shirt & mundu, holding the Loyola crest & the candle, that famous Malayalam verse by O.N.V. Kurup, which our teachers had sung for us came to my mind:
“Verutheyee mohangal ennariyumbozhum, veruthe mohikkuvaan moham…”
[‘Tis true that there’s no point reminiscing, still (I) feel like doing so…]


Footnotes:

*rather – Well, Reverend Father Varghese Anikuzhy S.J. is SO fond of the word that he makes sure there’s a ‘rather’ in every sentence of his! ‘Rather’ occasionally doubles as a nick-name, btw. (Hey smart-alecks, it’s just a coincidence that ‘rather’ rhymes with ‘father’!!) It’s not that he’s poorly trained in English or something… It’s sort-of a trait, actually!! Sample these ‘statements’ of his:
“Aye you, I’d RATHER tell you to come here…”
“I would RATHER tell you to shut your mouth…”
“It would be good if I RATHER say that LA Fest 2005 was an unqualified success!!”

**XEVFUAN – An old, long-time crush. Blew my heart away in a Maths Tuition class during my 11th standard days… For details, refer ‘Crushed’ in this blog.

POST SCRIPT:
With this post, I positively & imperatively intend to bid a ‘farewell’ (Rings a bell, doesn’t it?) to Loyola School in this blog. Okay, there’ll be references, still no more full-blown posts dedicated entirely to ‘Loyolish’ content like this one. I’m sure the long succession of ‘Loyolite’ blogs seem obnoxiously boring, with every other Loyolite starting a blog proclaiming ‘Loyola School is great!’ Well folks, if you didn’t feel the pinch yet, you will soon. ‘coz I hear at-least a dozen of such blogs are in the pipeline!

Which simply means: Brace Yourself!! The best is yet to come…

Do keep visiting & Adios Amigos!!