Saturday, 29 June 2013

Travelpost: Bhubaneswar and Puri

 22 June 2013. 5:15 am. Kolkata. In front of sister’s apartment building.
“Will you come down today, at all?” I bark into the phone.
I hear sister suppress a giggle on the other side.
“Yes, 5 minutes e aaschi”, she says.
I repeat this to mother. She looks worriedly at the taxi driver.
“We will reach Howrah in time, won’t we?” she asks, seeking reassurance.
“What time is your train?”
“6. Dhouli Express”, father answers.
The driver looks into his watch, then sees our expressions. With noticeable relish, he says, “Can’t say for sure”.
I forgive him instantly. If I had been called at 4:30 in the morning and made to wait for 45 minutes subsequently, I would have said something to similar effect.

22 June 2013. 7:00 am. On board the Dhouli Express, making its way to Bhubaneswar.
“Breakfast khaben?”the Odiya train conductor asks in Bengali.
Parents opt for vegetarian fare. Sister wants an omelette. She eggs brother-in-law and me to choose chicken cutlets.
Apparently one can go wrong with chicken, we realise within the next half-hour.

22 June 2013. 6:00 pm. Bhubaneswar. In front of the Lingaraj Temple.
Sister screws up at her nose at the stench. Brother-in-law screws up his nose at the idea of visiting a temple.
She leaves him to guard our shoes outside while we make a whirlwind tour of the complex. It’s beautiful, but the floor hasn’t been maintained well. So walking bare feet is a pain, quite literally. The door of the main deity is scheduled to open shortly, but we don’t stay.

22 June 2013. 10 pm. Bhubaneswar. At the guest house.
Mother is pointing at the wall, her eyes glassy with fear.
She has just spotted a mouse in the room.
The care-taker of the guest house says unconcernedly, “kaatega nahi”.
He is lying, we realise a while later, as one of the other guests recounts stories of cable wires being destroyed and human ears being nibbled.
“There are only temples to see here in Bhubaneswar,” brother-in-law chimes in helpfully.
Our minds are made. We are going to Puri. (Famous for its Jagganath Temple, but nobody points that out).

23 June 2013. 9 am. Bhubaneswar. At the guest house.
Father is pacing the length of the room. He glances at his watch periodically, checking it with the wall clock in the room at the same time.
The car is at the gate. It’s supposed to take us to Chilka Lake first. Then drop us to a hotel in Puri.
Mother and I have finished packing.
There is no word from sister’s room yet.
Mother mutters under her breath. I think she is vowing to never plan a trip with her elder daughter again.

23 June 2013. 12:30 pm. Chilka Lake. On the steamer, on our way to a Kali Bari in the middle of the lake.
Brother-in-law is bounding about the boat, using windows to enter and exit at will. Mother watches him with a terrorised expression on her face. She glances at me sideways. I smile at her. I can see she is glad she has two daughters. Her gladness evaporates soon enough, as sister and I decide to climb up on the deck as well.
We have prawns and bhetki later for lunch. Odisha is the only place outside of Bengal, where the parents will allow this.

23 June. 8:00 pm. Puri. Hotel Dreamland.
“The name practically tells you that the hotel will be no good”, sister says while looking around the room in disgust.
It is a medium sized room, decorated in the style of a Bollywood film set from the 70s, I notice with considerable pleasure. Complete with a wall mirror facing the bed, and red velvet curtains. Plus the view of the sea is divine. The dogs and the cows on the beach, notwithstanding.

24 June. 2 pm. Puri. On board our mode of transportation- a battered old phatphat.
Our driver doubles up as the guide, tells us he will take us to a Gour Vihar and Mohuna.
He also informs us that the Jagganath Temple is closed for 15 days, a yearly period when the God is ‘sick’ and sees no visitors. Nobody says anything, but the glee in the atmosphere is palpable.
On the other hand, Gour Vihar, to nobody’s surprise turns out to be a temple-cum-ashram, dedicated to Shri Chaitanya Deva, a disciple of Lord Krishna. Father mumbles something about him also being an avatar of the latter. Then gets thrown off by the depiction of the two of them together, as also my persistent queries of how that was possible. I look to mother for clarification, but she quickly averts my gaze.
Father turns out to be right. It wasn’t Chaitanya Dev in the depiction.
It still seems improper to me, almost narcissistic that Chaitanya was pretending to be his own disciple.
Mother whispers to me to shut up. “Everyone understands Bangla here. You don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings”.
A very rough ride later, the phatphat stops in the middle of nowhere, and the driver points to a tree. I can see an orange coloured deity there, sitting in a tiny little shrine of its own.
“Mohuna is a temple? A tiny temple?”, brother-in-law asks, his voice straining to remain polite.
“No saab, walk up there, you will see”, the driver smiles, pointing at a slope.
We do. And remain spell-bound. If I were a better writer or simply less lazy, my fancy flowery words would let you know that it’s the most beautiful place I have seen. As the case is, you have to be satisfied with pictures, pictures that do no justice to the beauty on display.

Mohuna, the place where the Mahanadi and the Bay of Bengal converge

The entire trip is immediately deemed a success.

25 June. 10 pm. Kolkata. Grandparents’ place.
Grandmother stares at us. Her face betrays feelings of disbelief and pity at the same time.
“You couldn’t see the Jagannath temple?”, she asks aloud finally, with stress on the 'couldn’t'.
“Eeesh”, she commiserates.

Thursday, 20 June 2013

I had decided I would be more socially responsible in my blogging. Stop talking about things that happen to me and discuss things that happen to people around me. Discuss things of relevance, of importance to everyone, things in the news.
But my newspaper is filled with the news of a CM losing her marbles...
What opinion can you have about that besides agreeing (or less likely, disagreeing)...
So much for social responsibility.

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

In the News- 19 June 2013

A study finds that Harry Potter fans are less authoritarian, more tolerant of differences, and more politically active than non-fans.
The article doesn't discuss the methodology in too much detail but two points-
1) correlation does not mean causation (which the above article acknowledges)
2) Kids who read more in general (and hence have a greater likelihood of reading Harry Potter) may be less authoritarian, more tolerant of differences etc.
Moreover, it's possible that kids who relate more to the themes of equality, justice, tolerance underlying the seven-part series are more likely to recognize themselves as fans.

But, let's not nitpick too much, okay?

Saturday, 15 June 2013

The Chink in Agatha Christie's Armour

 In college, my Monday afternoons went towards attending meetings of the Quiz Society. At the starting of the year, we divided up into groups of two, each group responsible for conducting about one quiz every two months on a rotational basis. The rest of the society would participate.
A bad quiz to my eyes, were those coming under the broad heading of Pop Culture quizzes, concentrating almost exclusively on the Godfather films (that I hadn’t seen), and a couple of bands I had never heard (okay fine, I don’t really listen to anything besides Bollywood).
A good quiz on the other hand was universally recognized as one with questions that were workout-able. The emphasis was on how much the quizzers could figure out from the clues in the question, rather than how much they knew.
The same metric should equally be applicable to detective fiction. After all, the primary pleasure in reading these arises from solving the mystery, along with the detective.  By this standard, anything that Agatha Christie wrote would come out tops. It helped that her detectives were regular people, amateurs and even when not, they relied more on order and method than on brilliance. In contrast, if Sherlock Holmes were to occupy a guest-bedroom in Styles Court or Chimneys, the solution would be forthcoming in a matter of minutes. Thus, it’s only right that he features in fantastical settings where his intelligence is suitably challenged. And where readers have no inkling as to where things are heading.
Going back to Christie, a delightful aspect of her writing is her repertoire of heroines. As is to be expected, they are morally upright but in a very unprincipled sort of way. While they pursue noble ends-to clear the name of a fiancé, or to seek the truth in their quest for adventure, they are not shy of fibbing or outright manipulation, when these are required. Even the secondary female characters are interesting. Consider Ms. Percehouse in the Sittaford Mystery. When her nephew talks of her, she comes across as a caricature of the typical old spinster-a lonely curmudgeon. When the readers see her for the first time however, you realise that she is a curmudgeon, but only in the eyes of her nephew, who she sets to work around her home. She herself wishes that the nephew stood up to her bullying at times. He would appear more sincere if he did. Moreover, she combines this good judgement of character with a healthy curiosity, making her altogether a most real person.
The problem arises when the readers start expecting every female character to be ‘strong’. And suspecting everyone who is not.  So, when an elderly spinster is described as intelligent at the beginning, and she says “Men are deeper thinkers than women”, you can’t help but feel that she is being disingenuous, and you are already on your guard. Or when others commiserate with a character who is helpless, described as having “no money or place to go”, you wonder why she also lacks initiative. And true enough, she turns out to have that in abundance. So much so, that she turns out to be the master-mind of the entire problem.
Then again, in the Sittaford mystery, I kept suspecting the Willett mother-daughter duo have to be culpable somehow, since the daughter couldn’t just be a “pretty girl-scraggy,” who took to squealing and fainting, when something slightly sinister happened.
Yes, I could have titled the post: "Christie can do no Wrong"

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

At the Bookstore

The Shiva Trilogy by Amish Tripathi.
No but what if I don't take to the genre.

Khaled Hossieni's And the Mountains Echoed.
Not in the right mood for a certified tear jerker.

Dan Brown's Inferno.
 Too formulaic.

Vikas Swarup's Accidental Apprentice.
 I don't know if it's any good. Plus I will finish it in a day, then what?

Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead.
Classic. Everybody under the sun has read it. I haven't.
Hmmm... do I really want to read it. Will I go home and tear into it?

Satyajit Ray's Complete Feluda Stories.
This I will definitely tear into. But what if the translation isn't good enough?

So I end up buying...

Aaah, the comfort of familiar pleasures...

Everything You Really Need to Know about the Delhi School of Economics

There’s a lot to hate about the Delhi School of Economics.

Delhi School of Economics Campus
Its course content in the first year- mostly revolving around mathematics.

Teachers who appear inaccessible.

The huge class size.

The (initial) daily struggle to get good seats.

Some of the teaching assistants.

The weekends. When followed by a mid-term.

The exams themselves, especially when the professors play tricks. (Beware when the teacher announces something as ‘not important from the exam-point-of-view’. That is exactly what will be tested in the form of a question worth 35 marks).

The pressure, the lack of time to really absorb what you’re learning.

But thankfully, there’s also a lot to love.

The Good Professors- God knows that every institution, however great, has its share of mediocre faculty. This is true for D-School as well. However, the brilliance of some of them in the classroom will startle you. There are professors who can explain the most convoluted concepts with the most ridiculous examples (so imperfect capital mobility becomes akin to taking coins out of your torn pocket slowly). There are others who will revel in students questioning assumptions and explanations, will go back and think through those objections, then physically search for students in the corridors, to clarify the concepts again. A few professors will discuss things in class that appear more advanced than the (considerably difficult) texts. And then yet others who understand your life is difficult anyway, without “wasting valuable hard-disk space” memorising things.

The Very Efficient Photocopy Shop (till some kill-joys entered the fray)- Prem Bhaiya knows more than you do. Period.  Your life’s going to be much easier if you curtail the habit of arguing with him about readings. And bear with it when he incredulously asks, “Padoge kab??”, when you want to buy LADW after the math mid-sem is over. He means well.

The Ratan Tata Library-is certainly well stocked. But as with everything in DSE, it’s the people who make it as good as it is. There are catalogues of course, but don’t bother with those if you want a text-book. The two elderly gentle men at the desk have an encyclopaedic memory of every book that has passed their hands. And they will take it as a personal insult if you can’t locate a book that is less-asked for (as every non-text-book is likely to be). On the flip side, they issue books for a very short time. If you are a regular though, you only get gently chided for being late.

The Infrastructure- the Lecture Theatre is fantastic. The loos have been recently beautified (and get users from as far as Ramjas). The air-conditioning in the CDE will put an end to your constant whining about how hot/ cold it is in Delhi. The speed of the computers could be better. But the staff certainly couldn’t be (especially now that I have realised their shared dislike of a certain faculty member).

The D-school canteen- According to some students the quality of the food is unsatisfactory. Ignore them, they are stupid. The food’s fine (though unholy rumours abound about the source of the meat in the mutton dosas). The ambience is better. The service, if nothing else, is entertaining.
Ask Baba how much you need to pay. He confidently says, “Pachasi (eighty five)”
Kaise, Baba? (How come)”, you ask.
Arre, pachas hi (fifty only).”

JP Tea Stall and its Iced Tea- I have already waxed eloquent about it before. And I have nothing new to add. Unless you want to know I choked up just a little, while having my last glass there.

The peer group- there are 180 students in a batch. It’s very unlikely you won’t find friends here.
Though very lucky to find the friends I did-
·         A Bong who shares my enthusiasm for films and music (though her tastes are more evolved than mine will ever be). Also an authority on photography (in our group, anyway).
·         A Bong enthusiast who thinks she speaks better Bangla that I do (she most certainly does not) and whose studious look belies her chatterbox self, as well as her appreciation of Prakash Raj
·         A smartass with an enviable collection of ‘videos’ and a brain that can solve problem sets from courses she did not have
·         A freakishly quick reader, who frequently uses words like ‘syapa’ (though in her defence, D school provides for many occasions for such words to be used). Also thinks that the world is divided into good people and rapists.
·         An introvert who can be incredibly fun to be with when she opens up. Also, what notes‼
·         An eternal optimist, who maintains ‘sab ho jayega’, when I assail her with my whining. Likes JP iced tea, so didn’t take long for me to really like her.
Besides the 180 are going to include people from your college, most of whom share a similar work ethic and a passion for discussing Singham. Their reassurances of also not knowing any linear algebra, helps as well. As do other people you find (even if it’s a little late in the course to know them very well) to talk to due to courses you have in common, during lunch hours or when you are killing time at JP.

Overall, even though it's not something you ever believe yourself to be capable of feeling during the two years at DSE, you are going to miss the place only a few days into your hard-earned holidays.

Monday, 10 June 2013

Travelpost: 10 Things about Kolkata, from an Outsider's Perspective

Wikipedia enumerates the following steps to be followed in the process of doing research
·         Identification of research problem
·         Literature review
·         Specifying the purpose of research
·         Determine specific research questions or hypotheses
·         Data collection
·         Analyzing and interpreting the data
·         Reporting and evaluating research
Since I don't think I have the right orientation for this kind of work anyway (I am after all quoting Wikipedia), I will dispense with any pretence at a scientific enquiry. The following are my (sometimes biased) observations about Kolkata, formed through a lifetime of summer holidays I have spent here.
v  Kolkata is only a different type of hot. While Delhi’s heat will announce itself to you, with its nasty sun and the infamous loo, Kolkata’s will sneak up from behind and take you by surprise. The sweet wind that appears to be blowing outside, when you are at home will conspire to stand still as soon as you step out, and reduce you to a sweaty mess, in the first ten steps you take.
v  Getting work done here, especially in the first attempt, is a near impossibility. This would normally be fine, except when you are working according to Delhi deadlines.
v  One of the reasons for the above is the interminable lunch hour(s) that shops here follow. Long enough, to ensure that the worst administration departments of the best Delhi University colleges are a distant second.
           Last week I needed to use the cyber cafe here for a few printouts. Admittedly, I reached the market at 3:30, and was justly informed that I would have to wait for the shop to open. At 4, I spied the owner entering the market, a man I had known since I was 10 (having overheard him planning a ganja party over the phone, but I digress). When I limped after him to ask when he would open, he waved me away, saying ‘later’.
 I went again to the cafe at 4:25, thinking it was sufficiently ‘later’. He had the shop open and most of the computers on too. I smiled. He grunted and said ‘Come at 4:30’.
I showed him my watch, pleading there were only 5 minutes for that.
He turned around now facing me properly for the first time. He seemed to hesitate first, then something in my eager, pleading face helped him make up his mind. Taking a deep breath, he leaned forward and said, “4:30 means 5.”
An important life lesson learnt.
v  People are unnaturally chatty here. Especially in comparison to Delhi, where even the Metro keeps reminding you to not befriend any strangers (lest you get drugged and raped/ drugged and looted/ not drugged but still sweet-talked into parting with all your money etc.).
The chattiness can sometimes be nice, when you receive a nugget of absolutely irrelevant information. When it takes the form of unsolicited advice, then it can be a little infuriating.
v  Kolkata is second to known, when it comes to political awareness among its citizens. Domestic help/ guardsmen/ vendors etc. take en-masse leave during election season to go back to their native villages to cast their vote. A few years back, my three year old cousin examined my fingernails and disappointedly surmised that I hadn’t voted.
v  Children are very precocious here. Okay no, children are precocious everywhere.
v  Kolkata kids (students) are very hard working. At the tender age of nine when their Delhi counterparts don’t know what an essay is, these kids are mugging up dozens of them every week. When a Delhi kid has difficulty pronouncing participle , the Kolkata kid is far past the stage where he/she wrote the participles of 10 verbs every day. The Kolkata kid, as soon as he/ she enters class eight, is reminded of the impending Board examinations. Life outside school ceases in class 9. That’s when they start going for two tuitions for every subject. And if you have a cousin in Kolkata who is in tenth standard, the same year as you, then besides all the studying/mugging/ tuition-taking, he/she will also make life very miserable for you.
v  People (adults) have a lot of time on their hands. Markets, have dedicated spaces here, where people congregate to chat, have tea, while away their afternoons/ evenings. In fact no time is sacrosanct.
Today, at 12:15 pm, I saw two youngish-men, dressed in formals, at the neighbourhood park, SWINGING. Yes, on those contraptions designed for kids-which they no longer need, given how busy they are, studying or just being precocious.
Mind you, these were bhodrolok, not the unemployed youth who loll about in Delhi’s Central Park.
v  Scatological humour is big here. This is tied in to the general pre-occupation about one’s digestive systems and food.
v  Food’s everywhere here. And relatively cheap.

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

5 June 2013

It was the beginning of my second week into D school. My only friend from college there, had decided she wanted to go to JNU. I hadn't bothered making any new ones, too busy realising I wasn't really cut out for the place, that I did not have the self assurance to leave. You get the idea...I was miserable, and alone on my way back home in the metro. Desperately in need of a friend.

Nearing Rajiv Chowk, I messaged you asking where you were. You were already there, on your way home and in the company of another friend. I wanted you to wait for me, hear me whine. But I knew you did not get to meet him that often. It wouldn't be fair on you to tell you to wait. So I didn't. You messaged back saying you were carrying on.

I think that's the problem with us introverts. It's legitimate that we don't have a very large network. It's perfectly fine if we don't want to always talk. Not even with our closest friends. It's okay to be happy alone. But being unhappy and alone-not such a great idea.

Anyway, I got off at the station and made my way to the platform above. Walking slowly towards the ladies coach. Glad that the bad day over was over. But equally aware that the week was only starting.
And then from nowhere, you appeared, smiling and cheerful. Telling me you had stayed.

It's okay to be an introvert, if they have a friend like you.
Thank you.
Happy Birthday.