Category Archives: travel

The center of the world

I am standing at the center of the world. Part land, part air. Part earth and part sea. I am standing at the top our beloved lighthouse. I stand facing the sun, her heat sending birds screeching downwards into the cool water, and making strange mirages on the horizon. Below me is our beloved city, Mayyazhi. Ahead of me is our allMother the sea. In the far, far distance, if you squint hard enough, even though your eyesight isn’t as good as mine, you can see our glorious boats making their way to the little pearls. They are ten ten thousand islands, all bless our King! Gold Island and Silver Island, Agatti and Bammatti, Raarti, Chengathi, Kalpathi and Visatti, one island with a single coconut tree – the watching sentinel and one more with the blue mangoes. Then there’s temple island and God island (where nobody goes) and Death island (yes! Ifyou go there, you will die. Surely) and Moth island, Flame island and Fantastic Island – and hundreds of thousands of others! Beyond those is the open ocean – but I’m not done yet! The Open Ocean and father ahead – more islands. They have strange names Ulookuroo and Vaadhoo, Fulikadoo and Malookuroo all ooo’s and loo’s. Our great king has sent out our best warriors and engineers there, to show them the greatness of Mayyazhi. And beyond that, there are more islands! Can you believe it? With stranger names and stranger people no doubt, no doubt. Those people have orange heads and green eyes and they eat little children and old men like you. Fukafuka and Fakaravaka, Funafuti and Farafangana, Tranana and Wanana, Wasaya and Wayasewa. And beyond that – are our own Eastern mountains, because the world is round.

Behind me is all our Kingdom too. Green, green land. Forests and fields, paddy and coconut. The inland sea, and inmost islands, Tiger islands and the Heron marsh, and ten thousand canals: the teacher’s canals, the engineer’s canals and the boat canals. Canals so large two elephants could walk side by side in them and still have the King’s boat race them. And canals so tiny, I could jump over them, pissing all the way. Then there is the KingMothers village – Kollengode and beyond that Arikkode, and Chemanthi and Nellicheri. Those villages are all stone (because only the King may use metal) and they speak funnyfunny. But our KingFather, the old king, he married the queen of Kollengode, even though they speak funnyfunny and are so fair skinned that they burn in our summer. Our river Paramba also comes from there, from somewhere beyond our lands, beyond Kollengode, beyond the new lands, beyond even the forest people’s homes, beyond the large blackfruit groves and from within the dark forests of the Eastern mountains.

Then there are the eleven roads that lead to us, the North road and South road and the five East roads. But I’m still learning! I am going to see a map next week. I must recite everything perfectly before I can do that and I could tell you all in one go, but you keep interrupting me because you’re so stupid. Once I learn our land, I will learn the old stories. I’ll learn of allFather and allMother. And the queen of Qatlat, the rakshasi who was vanquished by the Godeess of Mayyazhi. And Mayyazhi is the center of our kingdom, with the King and her Queen, the city of brick and metal (the only one! all bless our King) and the city of a hundred canals. The only city on the treacherous coast, the only city where the King may live, the only city with the old tombs and the only city with a temple to allFather. Home of the Goddess, city of Black fruit and white pearls, city of stories, city of the most delicious, juiciest halva,  city of the most intelligent women, and  city of the darkest, strongest men.

I am standing at the top of our beloved lighthouse. It was built with yakshi magic and stands strong even in the stormiest of weathers. It lies on a spit of land jutting out to sea, our allFather meeting the allMother (Don’t tell anyone I told you that). The sea is our mother because she gives us fish when we are hungry, and pearls so we may look nice. But she is also our wife because when the women go out to fish, she keeps them safe.

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Walking a city

What do you call those things on a puff? Those light flaky things that you bite into with the softest of crunches. Little crispy flakes that stay on your tongue, and melt into moistness. I’d call them eggwash, but puff droppings sounds more apt. This evening I left a trail of puff droppings across neighbourhoods, in buses and for a brief moment, on a cow. Not that I cared, mind you.

A city must be explored and experienced only by foot. Not by autos, or worse cars, but by buses and trains and all kinds of walks. Slow leisurely ones, fast snappy walks, walks dictated by traffic signals, weary walks at the end of a long day, distracted walks at other times. Whenever I explore a city, I walk. This puts a limitation on the amount of sightseeing I can do, but then travel is one of those pleasures that does unfold slowly. The destination is the journey, travel unravels it. The enjoyment of travel is in merely roaming about taking in the sights of a place, taking it all in until the sights click, whir and fall neatly into a collage of experiences. In the end it is these images that talk of the city, the not so oft seen images of people and places. Roads beckon and buses and trains reach out to far corners, pulling the traveler deeper into an inexplicable maze. Except that this maze never ends; there is no escape. Nor do I seek one.

Walking around Bangalore these past few months; I have finally reached the stage where I must write it all out, for I fear memory will not prove enough to hold everything with accuracy. I have taken crowded buses across the city, walked under the metro lines, walked along bus routes, stood at bus depots observing all the buses come and go. I have walked for miles only to come back to the same place, I have walked mindlessly, getting lost. At times I have walked with the evening sun casting its mellow rays through trees, with the slightest of Bangalore breezes coolly wafting. At other times, I have walked with the moon just within sight, like a low-hanging fruit. And still at other times, I have walked with the certain knowledge, reaching just the road I expected, the locality I wanted to. It is a very different pleasure, this finding of the apt place knowingly, yet unknowingly.

Coming back to those mystery puffs, they were a well deserved treat. Today evening I literally walked into the sunset. Westward bound from my office onto small streets lined with trees and houses. Some houses old, square with trees in the courtyard, old wooden swings lightly creaking in the wind. Some modern ones, with strange angles and frosted glass windows; some monstrosities, pink and orange with several floors, taking up every inch of their allocated plot. This theme seemed to continue almost endlessly only broken occasionally by large roads, where traffic vroomed angrily. Up, up above, the concrete line of the metro kept snaking its way across. I passed small parks, full of screaming children inside. I passed larger parks with weary drivers waiting outside. The new Bangalore must keep up appearances now and this it does by having almost every other road dug up. Underpasses, flyovers and other very modern contraptions clutter the city. Roads rise up and curve gracefully, other roads pass under the leftover space, still others move sedately underneath the chaos. City buses thundered across mindless to my quest, unknown bus numbers honking gloriously, trying to beat rush hour traffic.

Meanwhile I had left behind the stately houses and moved on to smaller plots, narrower streets. The trees miraculously still stood around. But the show stealers were still the houses. From another era. I would bet anything they had red oxide floors and wide, huge bathrooms with lizards scurrying about in them. The whole street seemed to be stolen from some elaborate movie set. The sun shone exactly through the trees onto the front yards, it shone through the gaps in the grilles on the houses, forming patterns on the street. Large groups of old people busied about the streets, kids ran helter-skelter and the only automobiles in view were parked ones. Some more leisurely ambling and I found myself outside “Brahmin Bakery”. It was a typical Indian shop, small and crammed with baked goodies. And it was crowded, probably the best measure of its popularity. Inside, small boys busied about arranging tins of sweet breads, cakes, rusks and pastries. An ancient oven heated ‘today’s special’; “capsicum puff”. Which is how I found myself with two of those capsicum beauties. I also packed a pastry and went off, eating all the while. I walked a lot more but I don’t remember much. I was busy stuffing myself, licking my fingers, licking my lips, brushing off pastry icing and puff dust. I walked right into the midst of a traffic jam caused by a peeing cow, and walked across a park full of old ladies laughing strenuously. Just as darkness was beginning to fall, I finished my treats and my bus came up there billowing smoke, the conductor exhorting people to move quickly. On some days, everything falls into place. On some other days things go notoriously wrong, but the pleasure of travel still lingers in the air. Calling out softly.

 

PS: This is a true account of a walk, from Jayanagar to Basavanagudi to Gandhi bazaar. The unmentioned parts of the walk are so because I was busy stuffing my face.

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Northern dreams

P.P.S. Sambamoorthy (Moorthy to his friends) boarded the flight with a mix of part trepidation and part excitement. The Gujrati was offering him large sums of money to take a look at something, and his Moorthy fell to his insistent charms and regular offerings of cash. It was supposed to be an easy assignment, a quick way to make some money on the side. Nothing illegal he was assured, and definitely nothing dangerous. Prodded by who he called ‘his better half’ – Janaki, he had reluctantly agreed and now as he was boarding the flight this Ketan Vora was babbling of spirits and Reindeer and whatnot.

It was a clear summer’s day eight months ago when Ketan Vora had arrived at his doorstep. Janaki and Moorthy had received him in their Spartan living room, Janaki having shooed off their daughter Lata with an exceptionally difficult problem involving among other things, integrating the cube of sine x (which janaki had calculated, as a mere chit of a girl long ago on a hot summer’s day ) . Ketan Vora was a rich businessman and he specifically oozed money and confidence at this visit hoping to appeal to the monetary selves of the Moorthy’s. He was a gifted speaker, he spoke sometimes glibly, sometimes smartly and had a way of easy assurance about him that had won the Moorthy’s over. He praised the coffee and stayed for dinner drinking copious amounts of rasam and by the night an understanding had been reached.

Twice in the ensuing months Moorthy had placed orders for rare books, unavailable in book starved Bombay and Ketan had arranged for their prompt delivery. These arrived in neat cardboard boxes from New York city and Moorthy got to work. Since that day, Moorthy had spent a lot of his free time researching and learning. He was undoubtedly the best in the field, but his knowledge however was purely theoretical and he wished to be up to date with the matter. Poring through books was never a problem for the pedantic Moorthy, it was getting into the nitty gtittiy practicalities that bothered him. Imagining hypothetical situations he would encounter in the field, drawing out possible responses and building from there on, Moorthy could not do. But Ketan Vora had assured him that he was one of the very few in the world who had specialized in this esoteric branch and Moorthy was filled with a sense of pride that somehow impetused him into preparing better for the event.

The Moorthy’s were invited for a New Year’s bash by Ketan Vora at his plush South Bombay apartment. Janaki retrieved her gold necklaces form the bank locker, Moorthy dressed in his only faded suit and Lata pasted copious amounts of powder on her acne ridden face. The family made a perfect picture of gauche nervousness as they made their way up to the 40th floor in a rickety elevator that had clearly seen better, well oiled days. Contrary to Janaki’s expectations of a corpulent, insular Falguniben Vora they were greeted by an urbane woman in a Prada dress. Moorthy rightly guessed her to be the brains behind the operation. Falguniben maintained a cold silence of her husband’s ventures and was very stressfully making last minute arrangements with the china on the dinner table. Moorthy was introduced to all in the party as the ‘hero’ of the new venture and even Janaki had the grace to blush as she privately imagined how her own cache of diamonds would look like if Moorthy was successful.

Eight days after that party Moorthy and Ketan boarded the flight to Paris. They would then stay at one of Ketan’s obscure relatives’ home in Paris and ride a train across the newly unified Germany to Copenhagen, fly again across the frozen wastes of the Baltic to make their way to their fate, fame, fortune and Helsinki.

Four days ago, Moorthy had watched open mouthed as Ketan whipped out a cellular phone the shape and weight of a brick and proceeded to hand it over to Moorthy to make calls across Europe. This was his moment. Moorthy’s hands shook as he mumbled some French to book the train tickets. He was faintly surprised when the operator replied to his query and Moorthy gained the confidence. Further calls in German, Swedish, Estonian and Finnish proved to be cakewalk. Ketan was smiling inwardly. The South Indian was proving to be a good investment.

As Ketan spent the next few days wrapped in business meetings across open conferences and hushed dinners, Moorthy explored Helsinki like a small child, with infectious enthusiasm and for the thousandth time Moorthy wondered if he was merely an interpreter, but interpreters were available dime a dozen. What made him special?

To be continued..

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Lustre

The worst sort of travelling occurs when once can’t prove it. In this facebook obsessed age of sharing everything, it is next to sacrilege to visit a beautiful place and not post pictures of it. These pictures scream many things, from “I was here, Look at all the awesome places I get to see” to “salivate at my awesome life, all ye miserable masses of protoplasm”. Even in simpler times there were albums which would be ready months later, treasured in chests shown off proudly to relatives with anecdotes scribbled behind photographs. An exhibitionistic tinge to travel displayed across showcases and in clothes, perfumes and the ubiquitous chocolate.

Nowadays when I travel my main worry is not planning excursions around the destinations but executing the perfect camera shot for sharing. Hair smoothed, smile in place and of course the monument in question somewhere in the background but not all travels are planned and proving the deliciousness of irony, the best travels are unphotographed. Now that I have this off my chest, here goes…

Often I find myself wandering across bizarre sights or incredibly beautiful vistas and I neatly file it away in my mind, every little visual and aural detail to be recollected later(you see I too am showing off my travels). And now and then I am left with nothing else more than an inexplicable sense of awe. Last weekend, driving along the pacific coast I planned several adjectives to decorate the sea with, several more for the cliffs that plunged gracelessly into the azure waters. I had decided on verbs to dress the waves and on some obscure words not only to share the amazing beauty of it all but also show off my linguistic prowess in a matter of fact-ly way. But all I can recollect now is a faint sense of wonder that I had then, at grasping those vistas. Surely there was beauty, lots of it. There was the melancholy exuberance that seas paint and there was the stoicism of the mountains, there was sunlight to fill everything with just the right shade of colour, and the sky was a peerless plain blue. That sky went on for miles suddenly rushing at the sea to meet it completely ignoring the presence or need of a decent horizon. So it was essentially a blue expanse that crashed onto rocky crags at one end and disappeared among gentle mountaintops at the other.

Maybe if the weather was rainy the road that hung to the cliffs might have portrayed a character of lost desolation and hopelessness, but the sun prevailed robbing it of any dramatic hang ups, enlightening every convex bend sharply, obscuring the concavities in deep shadows. The loneliness did manage to sneak in when a view of the city far far away was afforded, a view that made it look nothing more than lego blocks stacked a trifle carelessly. The whole scene continued to drift in and out of surreality until the Golden gate bridge made an appearance with that perennial urban detritus; traffic.

Waves rise with fragility, sheets of azure and then stupidly crash onto land purity defiled in a puffy spray lingering onto sand. Every western coast calls for new frontiers, untouched lands and leaves an aura of mystery. Eternal temptresses beckon to the unknown, explorers chase the sun and time itself, the setting sun adding an unrequited desire to the unrealness of it all.

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Bengalooru


Associations inevitably come into being aided by memories. And years later when the memories have no co-relation to the present the association still sticks, perhaps this is what constitutes nostalgia. Like or dislike for a place can stem in various ways. Some places have a romantic air about them that lend them a quality of Shangri-La. Some have an oppressive and foul name attached to them, like a malignant canker. The former and latter are talked often talked about leading us to attach epithets to those places. Some places are famous because of some natural attraction, or political importance. And there are some places that exist only on maps nestled along treacherous contours or nested unluckily in between page folds or margins; places that are just meaningless dots on a railroad.

For someone who is in the lesser twenties, talking about any earlier era seems redundant, even if the ensuing decades are littered with major changes. Even if I am a child of the new age, googling away to glory and crippled without wikipedia I cannot but look at the nineties with a simple longing. And my memories of the India I saw and experienced then threaten to go away to that wispy place where all memories eventually go to. The more I remember, the more I hazy it seems until the past and present merge into a continuum. So cutting a long thread short, my associations with places date mainly from the nineties. Chennai was the sunrise, temples and strains of MSS’s suprabhatam. Kolkata was a thirty six hour train ride on the Geetanjali and the fervent bleats of a goat before it splotched in blood, Mumbai was Bollywood and gangsters and Bangalore was for retired people.
Today’s Bangalore contrasts with my minds Bangalore with a violent clash amidst honks of incessant traffic. For a wide eyed kid taking in notes furiously ( yes yours truly scribbled in notebooks while travelling, made lists of stations encountered and described landscapes ), Bangalore was confusing even then. Was it a small city? Was it a large town? How could it be a city if it had such gorgeous weather ? I remember standing with my mouth wide open at the Visveswaraiyya technological museum, especially at a display showing a continuum machine with balls running though it. My mouth remained open as I awed at Kids Kemp, and stubbornly refused to close strolling along M G road with its book shops and old fashioned coffee houses and a tree lined pavement, Brigade road with all its ‘modern’ shopping and Ulsoor which suddenly seemed like a suburb of Chennai (I know I’m ruffling feathers here 😛 ). When the train pulled out of Cantt station, I silently prayed we got transferred and could live there. A recent trip to the city also had me agape, at the airport first, then at MG road where trees were furiously being hacked, but as India moves so must old sensibilities.
I wish this wizened twenty something could visit the Bangalore of the nineties again, but don’t we all want to relive the past?
PS: Happy birthday, to a pesky Banglorean.

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Filed under bangalore, city, geography, india, nostalgia, train, travel

Home

For me Bombay has always been home. If anyone asks me “favourate city” I say Bombay in a heartbeat. There are several reasons I am attached to the city, apart from the fact that it always spells out home. So recently I was myself stumped (discombobulated, googly-ed, startled senseless out of my wits) when someone asked my what’s my favourate city and I said “Chennai”.

There was silence, the kind associated with a patriarch revealing incestuous facts of a family. Friends opened mouths and forgot to close them, others looked at me and wondered if the flu hit my brain and as for myself I sat in a quiet daze of shock still ruffled at the alacrity and the gall of my response. Later that night I took in a deep breath and came out of the proverbial closet. To myself first, then to family and friends. It was true I liked Chennai, ok loved. Yes I had always had these aberrant desires. No it wasn’t my parent’s fault I assured them. It must be the trauma of a scarring childhood experience my wise counselors sighed and concluded. Maybe it is.

Vacation for me always meant gallivanting off to the south by whatever means of transport available. And vacations were never complete without Chennai. The city played host to me several time a year, lulled me to sleep on lazy summer days, fed my appetites on breezy evenings and watched me grow with a matronly eye. As a kid, and a Bombayite I hated Chennai. I wanted to Gestapo the auto-karans, outlaw Saravana Bhavan and revamp the Marina into a mega-mall. No one travelled by trains, buses ahd alphabets and no one spoke indhi. And yet I unfailingly visited the city, my visits held together by a gaggle of endearing relatives and affectionate grandparents.

Very much like the prodigal son coming home, slow realization dawned on me. Like the first soft rays of dawn that broke over the Bay of Bengal, like the subtle aroma of coffee assaulting nostrils, like the gentle whiff of malli on a hot summer’s day. Every time I visited the city I was hit by a wave of nostalgia and a realization of returning to something inherently comfortable. Chennai did not have Bombay’s sense of acceptance or Bombay’s kill to get to the top attitude, but Chennai felt different, felt like home.

Childhood remembrances are important clues to personality traits my psychiatric friend says. If ever mine was analyzed there would be an entire kaleidoscope of images. Of Mylapore in the mornings, T. Nagar in the evenings. Of going up and down the 1A with cousins, running on the endless expanse of sand on Marina and a thousand other inconspicuous, innocuous memories all of which climax into a giant snowball of emotions leading to lumpy throats and misted visions.

So there. I’m coming out on my blog now. I love Chennai, I think it rocks and I’m proud of it.

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Country roads take me home

There is a virile excitement to be found in driving fast. Zipping across landscapes in a rush, driving in raucous speeds gives one a thrill otherwise unattainable. And this is not a pleasure extended to those who occupy other seats n the vehicle. The slow increase of numbers, ascending to the forbidden and mentally marking off milestones as the road markers seem to merge, until time itself begins to fly. Wind in the hair, spirits loose and caution (or the lack of it) hovering like a concerned parent behind.

There is another joy in driving slowly, the slowness brought upon by choice or force; with a low speed limit and a near empty road, the lack of acceleration not robbing the essence of movement. With speeds like 30 mph, there is time to note every lark that perches upon telegraph lines, time to feel every bend in the road, time to whoosh past trees and time to feel gravity working on you, as you hurtle down hills.

Driving in Massachusetts can be exasperating because the roads there have potholes. Lanes dizzyingly and exasperatingly merge or diverge, befuddling the novice. Driving in Massachusetts can be rewarding because the road suddenly will cut across a lake, pierce through a dense forest or dally around rounded hills; or even more suddenly deposit you in a city amidst skyscrapers and the sea.

It takes two to tango. And providing a much needed background score to this vista was a well furnished ipod that would play notes befitting the landscape and friends in tow, replete with lazy witty repartees. I spent most of the fall and winter of 2008 on trips that were more lessons on nature appreciation and less trips.

Much has been said of the American freeways and how they are a pleasure to drive on and also extremely purposeful and useful. This post is a tribute to the unsung heroes in Massachusetts, the state routes. Unseen, unknown like dark ribbons on the landscape.

Route 9: Is a major artery for Boston and its suburbs. About 10 miles form the city centre, it decides it has had enough and then exclusively zips past lakes. Peppered with grocery stores, malls and humdrum commercial establishments that suburbia thrives on.

Route 20: Is actually US route 20 stretching form Boston proper, traversing the length of the continent ending somewhere non-descript in Oregon. Parallels I-90 for most of its length often ducking under it and in one case going over it. In the city it has a most innocuous beginning in a leafy square, hardly expected of a road going all the way to the Pacific. Becomes a surprisingly crowded road, linking areas. Is densely forested, and in my opinion has some of the most lip smacking restaurants this side of the Atlantic.

Route 85: This one is hardly important but a personal favourate, simply because it was close to home and I had a treat driving on it one cold snowy afternoon with kathanakuthoohalam for company.

Route 135: One does not expect waterfalls on an urban road. And it is not inappropriate to lose ones head if the first time one sees a waterfall on a road, it is frozen and the ice threatens in looming shapes, to engulf small cars.

There are many more but I realize that I can hardly say different things about any of them. All of them were the same, traversing lands of great beauty and picturesque. Route 140 where a friend (who cooked well) lived. Route 111 where we got lost at 1 am in the morning, route 62 that we were always confused about, route 117 that took us to a great big Wal-mart. Routes 2 and 3 that were less state routes and more freeway, route 110 that had the huge houses, route 30 which most illogically loops around everywhere, route 28 where I ran over a duck, route 1 with all the seaside villages, route 128 winding along cold forlorn marshes, I could go on and on.

What I’ll do instead is hope I haven’t bored you with this long post, and hope you can see all of what I have said without calling me a clichéd sentimental old fool.

This post is also a birthday present to K, who was privy to all the aforementioned incidents and travels. Music connoisseur, in charge of general maturity and a close friend.

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Filed under boston, driving, friends, geography, maps, massachusetts state routes, travel, vehicle