Tuesday, November 29, 2005


"No food, no water, no government, no hierarchy, no obligation. This is not anarchy, this is blindness"—proclaims the jacket of Jose Saramago's Blindness. This is my first Saramago book and by the experience, will not be the last. There are 3 authors one has heard a lot about — Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Mario Vargas Llosa & Jose Saramago. I am yet to read MVL and have read Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude. And the richness of the fiction of this trio has been described to be breathtaking. I can vouch for atleast 2 of the 3 now. But to return to Saramago.

"A driver waiting at the traffic lights goes blind. An ophthalmologist tries to diagnose his distinctive white blindness, but is affected before he can read the textbook. It becomes a contagion, spreading thru the unnamed city. Trying to stem the epidemic, the authorities herd the blind into a mental asylum. The wards are terrorized by blind thugs. And when the fire demolishes the asylum, the inmates burst forth and the last links with the supposed civilized society are snapped. " From the back cover of The Harvill Press Edition of Saramago's Blindness

The story is set in a modern unnamed city when a sudden epidemic rips thru the city and before you know it, the entire city & then the country is blind. The way the society shapes up to this chilling reality is the canvas Saramago revels in. Philosophy is dispensed throughout by characters in situations, which arise when the entire frame of reference for human existence is changed. Then there are figures of speech & imagery, unique to Saramago. There is the dog who licks off the tears of one of the central characters, there is the ' prostitute' referred to as the girl with dark glasses throughout the story. There is the old man with one eyepatch. There is the boy with the squint. In fact all the characters are referred to by their appearances or by their profession. There is a religious tinge to the ending when the survivors of the epidemic of blindness end up in a church with all religious symbols having their eyes wrapped up in something. The imagery is wild. Saramago's talent runs amok in the novel while he alternates between descriptions of ordinary lives & at times terrifed, at times depressed, stifled existence of a blind person. And he excels at this game of seeming simplicity, since most of the novel is about blindness. So everything is 'seen' thru the eyes of a blind person. It takes great confidence to pen such a story and Saramago is game. The story could be described as A Brave New World sans the science meets The Lord of the Flies. Must Read.


Hyderabad Half Marathon

1 hr 42 min!

That is about as long as I can hold it in! Now I am the family record holder for the half marathon having dethroned bada bhai by 4 mins. (snigger, snigger,… btw, bada bhai doesn’t even know blog exists and that I am sniggering off. All the more reason to thumb my nose, I think …)

OK. Now that I have had my share of fun!

Saturday morning arrival at Ameerpet. Journey only partially better than lousy, since I did get to sleep after 5 am. Hyderabad is one of those cities that you see in the movies in the mornings where the camera pans across the horizon, etc to reveal a few landmarks, etc…

Friend lives in Kukkattapally. Friend and wife are like chocolate brownie with icecream (CBWI). Too good together! So I get driven across town several times as we come down to town to drink coffee, eat lunch, dinner, etc! How desperate can we get! Bhabhiji can’t stop cooking good food, making tea and generally being a gracious hostess. I also have relatives in Narayanguda and hence get to see some middle class Hyd. Saturday is spent eating at Fusion 9, which is a decent joint if you don’t mind spending a bit. Besides it is known more as a watering hole! Do pasta loading! Go to ISB, where baby is housed. Baby is struggling to beat the system. Baby beats pants off one half of CBWI at snooker and works off some of his frust in life, then shows us around. Meet relatives, who have some of the cutest kids in the universe. Take a look the famed IMAX. Go to the starting point to collect my bib for the half marathon only to receive one for the 10k race. Apparently we need to get there next morning before the race and exchange.

Don’t eat much dinner in anticipation of Sunday morning, which I can’t wait for. Sunday morning, the worse half of CBWI drops me off to venue and promptly disappears after having planned to run the 10 km race. See a few yuppies, who are eating energy bars. Thomas Friedman would have been proud to hear this, “ Freedom Tower eppudu complete aita undi? " And then there’s this saffron clad, bearded man who is trying to bring some order to the masses of techies getting off company sponsored cabs, buses, etc in company T Shirts and wandering all over, “ Hey Kids, the 10 K is over there! “ It happens only in India. There is even a medical check tent, where they check your pulse rates to see if we are ok. One smart alec, grips my wrist, asks me if I have ever had TB, jaundice, BP, Diabetes, heart attack, etc. When I answer in the negative, he writes my name, age and bib no down & says I can run! Finally someone with the mike announces that we are ready to start off the 1st ever Hyderabad half marathon. And while she is still saying that we have some official to inaugurate the race, we are off! And then the guest does fire the starting gun, just in case you didn’t already start running for fear of being trampled over.

I am with a band of women athletes, the leader amongst whom, maintains a pace which indicates she has trained well. I later discover that there were only 8 women amongst the total 200 or so runners in the half marathon. I complete my 1st km in 2 min 55 s! I am shocked by it and realize that I am going faster than necessary. But then slowing down is worse for my system. I just can’t slow down in my first few kms. My 2nd km takes me a little over 4 mins, still too fast. Then I get to my pace also because we are about to start off on the 1st of 3 flyovers, one of them fairly long, There are people in leather shoes, football shoes, one guy even in total costume for Juventus! There are several barefoot runners. The traffic has been stopped for the run and the citizen of Cyberabad do comply. The run is mostly thru the older sections of the city. I course thru areas I had done in a rickshaw the previous evening. And by then, the lead pack is already running back. It is about 26 min. I wonder how that is possible since I haven’t done more than 6 km yet. Then I realize that we all have to lap Hussain Sagar, which is itself some 7 km+. So we are not halfway thru.

And then we come to a turn, from which one can see the 4 minarets of the Charminar. At Charminar, we have wet sponges. Someone has even thought of oranges! But then don’t take kindly to sour oranges. There are several strewn all over the road. The sponge is of great help. This is the 1st half marathon I know of, in India which gave this to all runners. There were several water stops and the water did taste of a little chlorine in places, but a little chlorine never killed anyone except a few germs! The return leg sees me meet Vetcha boy, one of my constant boosters and I clip 10s of my next km. Then come the return legs. The 1st one is easy. The 2nd one is long and tiring. I latch onto the 5th woman runner in the race. She is constantly reminded of this fact by several coaches, officials, etc. I guess there was some prize for all top 10 finishers. When I am back on ABIDs, there are 3 people on a stretch of about a km, the runner in front, a solitary policeman and me! That is how lonely the run was. I somehow make it to Hussain Sagar. And boy, is the lake huge! There is this endless expanse of water covered with mist, which makes it even harder to estimate how much time it will take for me. I look at my watch and realize that it is just about an hr! The prospect of beating my target of 1 hr 46 min (bada bhai’s timing in Chicago) exists. When the 6 km left mark approaches, I realize that I am taking almost 6 mins to my km. Not a good sign. I need someone to pace. I find it in this in the form of an old man, who must have been an athlete in his day and is far more energetic than I am and pace him for about 1.5 km, within which I find my rhythm and I let him pass. He is too fast anyways. Next,S a pack of three, one of them a muscular runner from Mumbai(I met him later and we discussed our plans for Mumbai) and another who is just sticking close to him. And then, woman runner no 5. The 3rd km from the finish is miserable since it is almost empty, stinks of the garbage dumped into the stagnant lake and because you still can’t see the finish line. And then I have 12 mins for my last 2 km if I have to finish in about 1 hr 45 min. I decide to stick it to the race and when I see the 1 km mark, I go wild. I run like there’s no tomorrow (which is mostly how I run anyways!) and am sprinting past some of the people who are settling to a finishing pace since the useful positions are already taken, atleast among the men. I finish my last km in 4.5 mins! And when I cross, a few people shake my hands, pat me and say, “Well done!” And then someone says, half marathon guys need to go a little further! I scream, “Move” and begin running only to see some of the crowd laugh. Apparently all that was meant was that half marathon guys had a different gate to enter the arena thru!

Eplilogue: Need a rickshaw to get back. End up walking all the way till Somajiguda to get a rick. But I hardly noticed! Spend about 20 mins eating all that the better half of CBWI can cook and finally drop off to sleep. Dream of flyovers, Jai Chiranjeeva posters and her!

Mumbai, here I come.

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Thursday, November 24, 2005

Remembering Manju & seeking justice

I got an email from other friends of Manju from SJCE as below...
Dear Dhammo

We are friends of Manjunath from our undergrad days. We have decided to maintain a blog dedicated to him at manjunathshanmugam.blogspot.com. We intend to keep our blog up-to-date about the media coverage, latest developements etc. We are also petitioning the Prime Minister to take this case to the end.

Could you link our blog to yours? Also, please sign the petition, if you have not already done so.

Please do contribute your voice


Sunday, November 20, 2005

So long, Manju

Manjunath Shanmugam, my batchmate from IIML, gifted singer and friend, was shot dead last night by some antisocials in his business, in the district in UP, where he was a manager for IndianOil.

Manju was known to the entire batch as an awesome singer (especially for a song he used to sing with Badri aka Bhoja called Rama ho... ), with a natural feel for music and could light up your day by his presence.

I am filled with a mixture of shock, grief and anger, due to the suddenness & manner of Manju's death, but I guess the need of the present hour is something else.

He had a smile, forever on his face and invariably used to infect you with his. May god bless his soul.

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Friday, November 18, 2005

An Evening with Charlie

Charlie Mariano with Dieter Ilg and Wolfgang Haffner performed at the new Max Mueller Bhavan and yours truly was privileged to attend.

Charlie is a gifted old saxophone performer, who has evidently lost none of his sparkle despite the advancement in his years. He played some neat nos, including one of his own compositions named 'Bangalore.' The hostess regaled the audience, which was overflowing beyond the auditorium by offering a warm welcome, quite literally as she put it, since the AC was work in progress! And she is evidently good humoured - When Charlie and co wound up, she greeted them with jasmine garlands, in the Indian way and said that in India, this is how we ask for another song! The pleasant Charlie was only too happy to comply. And then he rocked totally and when he finished, our charming hostess was visibly overwhelmed and when she recovered, she said that the musicians had then earned their food and drinks! And I thought germans were grumpy ;)

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

A Moment of Silence for Santa

Amitinder Singh (affectionately called Santa), a batchmate, passed away yesterday morning in a road accident. He was a cheerful, simple man. God bless his soul.

Pune Diary - Day Four

Sunday began very early with about 3 hours of sleep behind me and previous night's pleasures still fresh in the mind. After a violent challenging of my personal bests at getting ready and making a lame attempt at looking presentable at a traditional Hindu wedding, I was off in an auto to Srikrishna temple at Nigdi which is on the outskirts of Pune.

I have had a long history of experiences with autorickshaws – some amusing, some disgusting, but all of them anecdotal nevertheless. This one was another addition to the list. The autodriver named Pramod was a spirited no-nonsense ghati (to be used as NNG in all future references) who settled the terms of the trip quickly and then we both began talking. First, he thought I was a Muslim from UP, first due to my Hindi and second due to my beard and the dress that I wore on that day, complete with jootis! Then we got discussing about Sindhis in Pune, who seemed to be a pretty unpopular lot, due to their haggling with autodrivers. This was followed by some details of do number ka dhandha that is done in places like Pimpri (what a name!) Then we discussed his family and his brother who is also a driver. The brother is apparently the favourite driver of one Christian auntie in Pune. Auntie refuses to board any other auto, even if she has to go out and buy just a drumstick! We discussed the things to buy in Pune and the ones that I had already bought. I had missed out Chivda from Laxmi Narayan… Then he regaled me with stories of the armyman who had bought 140 kg of Chivda for his brothers at the border and couldn’t find a rick to ferry him to the Cantonment. And then there was the Pakistani woman who came to meet her family after decades and what was the first thing she carried back - You guessed it ! Chivda from Laxmi Narayan. Since I hadn’t managed to get Shrewsbury cookies from Kayani, we went to the place only to find it closed on Sunday. With a heavy heart, I decided to eschew the chivda to the obvious disappointment of Pramod and proceeded to the station where I had still not managed to get a confirmed berth. And wait, I forgot about the marriage.

Mallu marriages are notoriously simple and brisk affairs. If you went to have some coffee etc, you could have missed the muhurat – That brisk! My friend and her fiancé were married off in a cute ceremony before which we had upma and what else, but a banana – You wouldn’t want cries of sacrilege at a wedding, would you?!

But the best part of the day was yet to come. While I kept hovering around the TCO's office for a confirmed berth (which incidentally I never got) I met this guy from Bangalore who had lost his bag and luggage with his credit card, ATM card, etc on his way to Bangalore and had been offloaded from the Mumbai train to Coimbatore the previous night! He took care of my luggage while I went around the station.

While I was on my 3rd or 4th such trip to the TCO's office, someone suddenly grabbed my cellphone, said CRIME BRANCH and shoved an ID in my face. Two moustachioed guys – one trim and the other fat, the fat one checked my phone, while I was still recovering from the shock. Both kept glaring at me, the trim guy doing most of the glaring, while the fat one browsed through my messages. I wanted to tell him that you can’t find pics in text messages, but then thought better. Then he looked through sound files while adding that people hide such stuff in vague folders, deny the existence of anything on their phones and squirm when eventually something is found. Then they asked where I had come from, where I had stayed, where I was going.

CB: Aapke phone me kuch hai?! (Is there anything on your phone?!)
Me: Kuch kya ?! (Anything what?!)
CB: Kuch sex, etc.. (Sex etc)
Me: hehehe. NO!
CB: Let us see…

Me: (much later) I am not the kind of guy who keeps such stuff.
CB: We will see about that
CB: 5 years in prison. You know that
Me: That is when I get caught. (Actually that is when I get proven guilty. Anyways, I was not going to spend my time arguing legalities…)

CB: (much much later, after finding nothing) Thanks
Me: You know this is quite interesting. Had only seen and heard of you guys in the movies. Now it is happening to me! (Shake hands and we part)

I know that some of this could have been avoided if I had asked whether they had a warrant to search, but I thought better than to risk anything else than what might have been a routine search. And one of the two guys had mumbled something sound like "Can we search?" after one of them had begun browsing through the phone. And I had replied in the affirmative. Also while they were certainly not courteous, they were not vulgar or ill mannered unlike a corrupt policeman I met while in Noida. They did their job and left with a smile. I would rather be a gruff, efficient policeman than a smiling, corrupt one. And there was never a hint of any underhandedness to the entire episode. Just some uneasiness on my part, due to the suddenness.

And I had thought all my excitement in Pune was over!

Pune Diary - Day Three

I had earlier reserved my day three for an early morning cycling trip to Sinhagad. But when we discovered that it was located near NDA or thereabouts, I lost half my motivation, considering that we had managed only to see the gates of NDA, the previous time. We did find out that civilians are let in on Sundays, but by then, our enthusiasm had waned.

I started my Saturday with a rendezvous with my newly found (LLB) long lost brother (in Kumbh Mela he claims!) and his wife, alongwith Sabnis at a restaurant on FC Road named Shabari. We ordered the thali - partly out of the habit of not wanting to spend time when meeting people and partly wanting to see what a Maharashtrian thali is like. Big Mistake! First the dishes were insipid (hopefully an exception at the restaurant which was recommended by friends). I am sure that the typical Maharashtrian thali is more delightful. The koshambir was soggy and was like something I had tasted long ago at a YHA camp in Himachal Pradesh. Yecch! The waiter we got was having his tubelight day of the decade. First he didn’t hear what I said or pretended not to have heard, when I told him that the note he gave me in change, was cut and hence I wanted a better one. He nodded and never returned. After about 15 mins, when I went crazy at what took so much time, the manager sent the waiter who it turns out had pocketed the change as tips, mistaking my displeasure for delight! Man, I need to brush up my reactions!

After this rollicking start to my day, we set out for the Boat Club at COEP, where my first quiz for the day an informal event where everyone attending, brought ten questions or more. I took 5, taking 50% discount for being a tourist! This was a cool affair with the backdrop of the boatclub, quite literally (I had my back to a large set of rowing boats, all neatly placed, a set of boards with the list of functionaries over the years, etc. ) Sadly, the river, right besides COEP, also serves as the dumping ground for sewage and hence no longer the aquatic splendor it must have been once. Anyways, the questions were glorious, asked by avid youngsters in various years of engineering, mostly and were on sports, especially motor sports. This is what I did in my early days, when we would set questions to generally jolt people out of their reveries in Balls by Picasso days. I had teamed up with the earlier named LLB and his wife! We did reasonably well. Next came the formal quiz at Persistent Systems Auditorium. The company lets the quizzers use their audi once in a little while to conduct quizzes. It is a lovely place. But before that, I must mention Meghshyam, Sudarshan (who ferried me around on his Royal Enfield) Major Shankar, and other enthu junta from Pune who kept me company, for almost an entire evening. We did well in the prelims and qualified for the finals as the 2nd highest scorers. The finals were miserable, as we came 4th (or was it 5th ?) while attempting to come atleast 3rd, the winners being Kunal & Shamanth by scoring almost a little more than twice that of the 2nd team. Terrible dressing down, but these days I am hardly wearing anything, with a string of miserable performances, behind me. The quiz was conducted by a 2nd year engg grad and 2 other people and was very good, save for a few sitters. Augurs well for Pune, considering the folks at BCQC have been rocking like this for a few decades now…

The evening was spent in the company of a doctor from AFMC at a decent place called Charcoal Pit on the terrace of Regence around MG Road. We exchanged legends of mostly other quizzers all over India, we had known and had heard off, over dinner and beer. And the chance meeting between us, happened as I needed a lift to Kayani bakery to get some cookies. Kayani was closed as I got there beyond 8 pm.

The night and some part of the early day was spent having more fun, adding to my increasing body weight at the place of a friend's family. They were delightful hosts, slightly pained that I had not met them earlier. God bless bandhus;)

p.s. the pic is from the boat club at COEP. unusual notice i thought!

Friday, November 04, 2005

Pune Diary - Day Two

LIFO: Last In First Out (for the non geeks)
The world's most value for money parathas are made in Pune's Chaitanya on FC Road (Ferguson College Road). They make such enornmous parathas, that normal human beings can eat just one. If you make the mistake of ordering two after well meaning friends have warned against one, you will have your cake and eat it two/too for two days! Sorry, but I have been trying to get my mind off this thing since afternoon, but can't as must be evident.

As for yesterday, I forgot to talk about Maan's Dairy farm (lest you think of vast lines of cute bovines, this is just a one door stall)in Aundh (no you don't get new year diaries here!). Paaji & his son dish out lassi that needs to be eaten, not drunk. Will make any punju proud.

Yesterday evening, went out to NDA (no, make that NDA gate :( as they didn't let us in and said we needed defence connections to get in. A friend tells me that civilians can get in on Sundays!) We missed the turn to the lake which could have apparently taken us to Sinhagad as well. Looks like we will have to give that a miss this time.

Went to Lonavla today. Took the expressway in a Volvo bus and had to bear "Ishq de galivich no entry," the rather unpretty Bipasha and the steroid pumped-looking, bald khan dancing funny for a little less than an hour on the bus! got off the bus in a spot that looks like the starting point of the movie U turn until an auto guy inched towards us. He gave us a crash course of the places to see - some dam, some shooting spot, etc. We told him that we were out to settle down in the grass, read a book & chill out. After giving us weird looks, he settled on a deal to drop us to the station after a trip to Khandala & back. Anyways, went to a park in Khandala and I sat there for sometime trying to wade thru Seth's dumbbell of a book. Was inspired to compose the following by some really spaced out simians

Maganlal ke chikki, Aloo Tikki
No rains in Lonavla, Ghati doohickey!

Then, we went to someplace called The Shooting Point which is flat table top overlooking the Khandala valley.

Lonavla is a bad idea if there are no rains. There are just flat topped mountains and undernourished cascades to look at. You would do well to spend time at the Barista on FC Road or at Book World (also on FC Road or the branch of the same guy called Jai Jalram... also on FC Road) if you are a bibliophile. Also, the local buses back to Pune are all crowded. There are no trains after 11:50 am till 2 pm. So we spent time waiting at the station, since the taxi costs are prohibitive. And both me and pal wanted to read and not drive.

The percentage of people observing traffic rules in Pune is higher than in Bangalore. The sobering thought: Y'day a bearded auto driver jumped onto our running auto, stopped the auto, hurt himself, abused our driver, finally forcing him to abandon us and then we got onto the radical's auto! All because our auto driver violated the queue and grey bearded radical was first in line!

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Pune Diary - Day One

Get off at Pune. Take the prepaid auto queue like a compliant tourist and just before we are out of the station, the auto guy who readily responds to my hindi (reminiscent of the Mumbaiya no-nonsense behaviour (or did the Mumbaiya learn this from the Puneite?)), says that I need to pay extra for my bags! I decide to get off, but he says that I shouldn't get upset in the morning and should pay whatever I feel like. When we reach the area I had paid for, he promptly starts the meter and I pay 8 bucks for half a kilometer, since he says that we are beyond what I paid. Bloody hell to not getting upset!

Vada pao for breakfast and my pal and me are off. We go to E Square - a hip babyplex, if I may call it so, shopping mall, theatre complex, etc.

Friend wanted to see The legend of Zorro, but since Cathy chose Mike, I decide to choose Johny and the kid movie - Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Good Choice. Its a visual treat. Amazingly rich colors. For someone who wants to explain what the difference is between 32 bit colors, 256 colors, etc, use this movie! And for those of you who have their heart wrapped for Depp, the man is getting older, but he retains his edginess or should I be saying "edge!" Deep Roy as the oompaloompa could have used Govinda's designer to get wackier dresses. The sets are imaginative as are the songs, which are directly from the book by Dahl. For us Indians, used to song and dance routines, there are enough in the movie and not for a moment are they boring as they are blessed with Dahl's wit. I liked Grandpa Joe who is cute as is Grandma Georgina who is perhaps deaf and lives in a world of her own. I liked grumpy Grandpa George even more for his one liners on cabbages & money and what not! When I exited the theatre, an old man as asked me, "Picture Sukhatla hai?" which perhaps means, "Is the movie good?" I answered,"Bahut accha hai, aapka saath koi baccha hai?
" No, that was not meant to be a cheap rhyme, but you can derive maximum pleasure, if you have a kid along with you, unless you are a Dahl buff. Ask my friend, he had fun!

Lunch at "not just jazz by the bay" and nice buffet, they have for lunch, even for vegetarians. And my dear Absolut ...

Have a cycling trip planned in the evening and another tomorrow.

More in the next couple of days, including a visit to the BCQC and rubbing shoulders with the who's who of Pune Quizzing ;)

Train to Pune

One 63 yr old Tam Brahm patti!
3 typical marathi women who can't stop talking.
The Mother to 2 of the marathi women and the aunt for one of them

That is the passenger list for seat nos 9-14 on Lokmanya TT, which has been renamed to confuse my limited brain, since the ticket says, Lokmanya TT, the railway station announcer says, Kurla Exp...
But that's another story and not half as interesting.

The patti won't eat a thing on the journey. The women have some splendid cookies which they offer and I gratefully accept.

I have Vikram Seth's A Suitable Boy for company. The marathi women have 3 magazines, which have articles such as "Jeevan Jyothi" etc. The patti just stares into the vast countryside, blankly.

The best part of the journey, me with my Seth, the 3 women with the mags,their mother on the top berth and the patti sleeping !

It was like we had an exam when we got to Pune. We were all reading with seriousness until the flies began coming in. Got thru abt 300 pages till the flies insisted on sharing the book!