Saturday, January 20, 2007

A post by a PhD student

Yeah, I am doing a PhD. Its been almost 5 months now. Many people do ask me what it is all about. And I give hazy fuzzy answers like it is about research, about trying to create/discover/prove something new, something never done before and blah blah :D. As about my work, I knew what area I was dabbling in, what kind of problem I was looking at and so on but didnt have much of a clue on how to go about it. Yeah, I did falter these 5 months, spent time on things which are somewhat irrelevant now, spent some more time on doing things which at that time seemed quite big and important but now appear insignificant. Most of the significant things were done in a day or two. Anyway, I can safely say that now I do know what I am trying to do and how I should go about doing it. Yeah, the path is slowly making itself visible. And yeah, it looks like I shall enjoy walking/running/stumbling/faltering on it :D. And maybe even get lost midway :). Well, thats what Phd is all about. Discover something about the world and at the same time discover something about yourself .. (shouldnt I be giving out this gyaan once I complete the phd .. and not while starting it? :D)

And yeah, I should be changing this template soon. Got kind of bored with it.
And yeah, finally I have written a normal general post after a long long time. No stories, long accounts or 'poetry'! :D
And yeah, I try to bypass the popular PS trend with this 'And yeah' phrase :D

Monday, January 15, 2007

A 'joyride' that only lasted a few months.

It was a few years ago when I first laid my eyes on her. My brother was pretty proud of her, brand new, silvery and most popular among her breed as she was. For the next couple of years, I got the chance to enjoy her pleasures only a few times, that too vicariously (with my brother enjoying her in full). I always assumed that I was not up to the task for her. I felt that she was a bit too much on the heavier side for me. But 9 months ago, she was handed down to me as a kind of sibling inheritance. I gingerly mounted her and revved her up. She squeaked meekly at first, then roared and jumped into action. She was quite docile unlike what I had expected. Powerful she was indeed, but friendly too. She bore all the errors arising out of my inexpertise patiently with just an occasional grunt. But soon, I started learning the tricks of the trade and slowly became fluent at the job.

For the next 4 months, we were almost inseparable. We always went out together. All my friends saw us together, many of them with gaping faces. They had never thought that I could handle such a being. Yeah, we did make an odd pair. But do appearances matter, when the two involved are blissfully happy?! As with every story, there is a twist. I had to leave, go far far away, while she would still remain at my home. I think she was as sad as me about the imminent parting. She even injured herself on the final day. For the next 4 months, I never saw her. I just used to enquire about her well-being from my father.

And then, I returned. So 8 months after we had first grown close to each other, I saw her again. It was re-ignition on the first meet after the break and again we were together for the whole of my stay. We had lot of fun the last 20 days. We even went to places we had never been before. Yesterday afternoon, when we were coming back after meeting a few friends, I realized that it would be our last outing ever. I was flying back the next day, i.e a few hours from now. I may not be able to lay my sights on her again. Soon, she would be sold, handed over to another person, to be used or abused. I just hope that she falls into good hands which would take good care of her and that she has a good and complete life.

Ironically, her makers had done her injustice at birth, with the tagline. She was a nice Bajaj Pulsar 150cc silver model. ‘Definitely male’ she wasn’t. :D

Thursday, January 11, 2007

My 'Voyage' to India

The Schedule:
20th December
5:30 am (GMT): Bus from Southampton
7:25 am (GMT): Bus to reach London (Heathrow Airport)
10:05 am (GMT): Air-India Flight AI124 to takeoff from Heathrow Terminal 3
11:55 pm (IST): Flight to land at Mumbai International Airport
21st December
02:05 am (IST): Flight AI824 to takeoff from Mumbai International Airport
03:30 am (IST): Flight to land at Hyderabad International Airport

If only it had happened that way!!

19th December - Southampton:

3:30pm (time in GMT unless stated otherwise): Just reached room. Need to finish off the perishables in the kitchen and do the laundry before packing.

4:30pm: Successfully finished the remaining onions, tomatoes, eggs and bread. No other perishables left. Sumptuous lunch.

5:30pm: Trying to figure out all the tasks that need to be done and also the stuff that needs to be packed.

7:30pm: Done with laundry. Need to finish the other tasks and also start packing.

10:00pm: Done with all the tasks. The shoulder bag is packed and all set for the journey. No other luggage. Computer has been shut down for the first time in months.

11:00pm: In friend's room having dinner. Collected a gift to deliver to his friend.

11:30pm: In another friend's room who has already left. Spending the night here as it is closer to the bus stop.

20th December - Southampton:

01:00am: Going to sleep. Bon nuit!

04:15am: Awake! Bon jour! Need to get ready!

04:55am: Started walking towards the bus stop. The temperature at this time according to the BBC website is -1 degree Celsius.

05:15am: Reach the bus stop. A couple of other early travelers also present. Its freezing cold

05:30am: Bus has not arrived yet. My feet are almost frozen.

05:50am: Finally the bus arrives. Boarded it, feeling very sleepy.

07:20am: Bus reached Heathrow Airport. London is even colder. Rushed into the building

08:26am: All formalities done. Waiting in the departure lounge. The Air-india officer was quite surprised at the absence of check-in luggage. Half the staff in the airport seem to be desi. Lots of desi passengers too.

09:30am: Still to be told the boarding gate. Quite bored! Looked at all the shops. They are mainly the top fashion houses ranging from Prada to YSL.

10:05am: This is the actual flight departure time. Still no boarding gate information in the display boards. Air India flight delayed as usual?

10:30am: Still no change in the display. I initiate conversation with a desi guy sitting a few empty chairs away. He too is waiting for some AI flight to Delhi. His was scheduled at 8:45am and has been delayed to 1pm apparently. I ask him if there is any Air-India desk or something nearby where we can get information about these delays, but he had no clue either.

11:30am: Bored! Sleeping intermittently. Flight status is still the same. Flights scheduled after it have even left. The desi acquaintance went with someone murmuring something about some coupons. Lots of desi people around, waiting, so I conclude that my silly fears that the display maybe faulty and that I may have missed the flight etc are umm.. silly. The most irritant was that the display still showed "Please wait" beside the flight information, instead of something like "Delayed to *time* " as it did with some other such unfortunate flights.

12:10pm: I walk around trying to locate the airline help/transfer desks. Found a lot of them at one end of the terminal. But it didnt seem to contain Air-India. Return to the sitting area. Had been calling my friends in India and talking, trying to drive away the boredom. No interesting characters around in the airport for me to keep myself occupied through observation or conversation.

12:40pm: The desi acquaintance returns. I suggest that we both go find the Air-India desk and enquire to which he agrees.

12:50pm: Finally locate the Air-India desk. It is among the airline desks that I had come across earlier. But it had no board displaying its name, so there was no way of guessing that it was Air-India's counter. Waiting in the queue. Second in line. But the group in front of me, some European nationals, seemed to be having some major issue.

1:10pm: My desi acquaintance left the queue frustrated at the wait. A desi girl who was chattering non stop on her cell phone complaining about the delayed flight finally ends her conversation and then approaches me and exclaims that we have similar model mobiles. She is the typical BBCD (British born confused Desi :D). She starts telling about the troubles that she faced while uploading music onto the phone and then looking at my expression guesses that I must be in computers. She continues and informs me that she is into teaching multimedia and that she is waiting for the other delayed AI flight. She elaborates on her ‘predicament’ which is that she needs to know when the flight would reach Mumbai (the other flight also goes to Mumbai but via Delhi) as there would be a cab waiting to take her to Pune and so on. Ends her almost monologue with a glowing face informing that she would be going to Goa. “For the new year?” I ask and receive the answer in affirmative. She then hops up and down, catches the attention of the AI official, asks him for the predicted arrival time of her flight to Mumbai and then leaves bidding me good bye.

1:20pm: There is a long queue behind me, many in a similar situation as me with connecting flights to Bangalore, Chennai etc and are in deep agitated conversation about the inefficiency and the technical backwardness of Air-India and its aircrafts which cannot land or take-off in slightly foggy conditions while other airlines are able to do so.

1:30pm: We are informed that AI124, the flight that I am waiting for is currently in Paris having been diverted there due to fog in Heathrow. Passengers on my flight have their boarding passes attested with free lunch in the airport restaurant while the other Air-India flight finally lands.

1:45pm: I am led to a table in the posh sounding French restaurant after having to stand in a queue to enter it. I study the menu and those exotic sounding French dishes whose explanation whizzes over my head, the only words that I am able to register are ‘chicken’, ‘vegetarian’, ‘salmon’, ‘lamb’ and ‘ham’.

2:15pm: The waiter finally comes to my table and takes the order. The couple on the next table had been advising me to wave my arms full-stretched to beckon him. Thankfully that wasn’t required.

2:30pm: My meal arrives and looking at it my hunger disappears. I had ordered some ‘Smoked salmon on toast’ hoping to get some roasted stuff. However I guess the cook forgot to even smoke the salmon.

2:40pm: Manage to make the meal appear finished having hidden large tracts of salmon among the generous dosage of spinach at the centre of the plate.

3:30pm: I am still at the restaurant, resting on the comfortable couch. The waiter had not presented me with the bill yet.

3:45pm: My every 5 minute glance at the flight information display pays dividends finally. My flight has arrived and its boarding gate has been announced. Now I frantically look for the waiter to pay the bill (which would basically mean display my boarding pass as it is AI sponsored meal)

4:00pm: Finally, I leave the restaurant, go in search of the boarding gate and realize am the last one in the queue. A very, very long queue. So I sit on a bench slightly farther away. No point in standing in a queue if you are the last one anyway :D.

4:30pm: Waiting at the departure gates.

4:45pm: Enter the plane. I discover that once again, I have the middle seat. Even on my flight to London four months ago, I was in the middle seat. Then, the window seat was occupied by a very old Gujarati lady who knew only Gujarati, no Hindi, no English. The aisle seat was occupied by a Bangalorean dressed in a suit who also didn’t know Hindi. I thought he was some executive only to realize later that he was also a student going to UK to pursue some MS degree! To top it off, the lady was interfering in the matters of the Bangalore guy and with them not having any common language, I had to act as the interpreter of Gujarati to English and vice versa!

4:55pm: I meet my neighbours for this flight. A gujarati old man in the aisle seat and a gujarati middle aged aggressive man in the window seat. I wonder why Air-India disliked me so much!?

5:45pm: The aggressive man had already started complaining about the ‘poor Air-India service’ even before the crew had a chance to start the service. Then the crew started distributing some namkeen packets. The guy immediately requests the air hostess to hand him his jacket from the storage above.

5:48pm: The air hostess comes around handing out juices this time. She hands out to the old man and me. She then extends her hand with the drink for the aggressive guy, but he doesn’t seem to respond. I turn to look at what he is doing and find that he is filming the namkeen packet with his digicam. At my wits end, I try to figure out why he was doing such a weird thing. Then, he looks up at the air hostess with a smirk and mockingly asks her what the date on the packet was. I look and find it to be 19th December. But it was the manufacturing date. And clearly below it was written that the item was “best before 4 months from date of manufacture”. The air hostess says the same thing and goes with a huff. The guy is perplexed and asks me what before meant in this context! The guy’s hopes of a grand expose of Air-Indian substandard quality have been vanquished.

21st December – near Mumbai

1:15am GMT or 6:45am IST: I finally wake up after having been asleep almost all through the flight (even ate the meals with half closed eyes). The old man sweetly remarks how I could have slept so comfortably for so long. I inform him of my early rise the previous day. The other guy hadn’t stopped grumbling yet. The air hostess finally hands him the departure card that he had requested and that shuts him up for a while. That’s when he brings out his passport which is Red in colour. On closer inspection, I realize that he is a British citizen!! The old man expresses his inability to read and write. So the British guy fills a card for him also. I don’t fill any since Mumbai wasn’t my final destination.

21st December – Mumbai

7:15am IST (all times from now on are in IST) – Mumbai: Finally landed in India J. 7 hours late.

7:35am: Out of the plane. At the transit counter, a couple of Air India people are standing at a desk bang in the middle of the path and stopping passengers from going further. Looking at the connecting flights, they are informing them whether their flight had left or not. Two queues have formed on either side of that desk.

7:40am: They inform the person in front of me that his flight had left, so he would have to go down, collect his checked-in luggage and go to the domestic terminal where a Jet airways flight would take him in and fly him to his destination. Then, they look at my boarding pass and that of two girls (sisters apparently) at the front of the other queue and repeat the instructions to us also. Upon enquiring, they also reassure us that no other document is required and this invalidated boarding pass would be sufficient to get us a ticket on the Jet Airways flights. He also mentions that the flight is scheduled somewhere around 10am.

7:50am: We (the two girls and me) walk down to the arrivals area. In conversation I learn that the elder one (who was strikingly attractive, by the way) had finished her graduation in UK and is going to Delhi. So yeah, they will be on a different flight. Alas.

8:15am: Fill up the arrival forms, go through the immigration and reach the check-in luggage area. Since I had no checked-in luggage I move ahead to the customs while the sisters wait there with the rest of the crowd for their luggage.

8:20am: I go beyond the customs without any one scanning my bag. No one is there at the counter! I just walk through. The customs officials must had presumed it would take some time for people to collect their checked-in luggage and come to the customs area. So they must have been taking their time having tea perhaps. Little did they expect some weird passenger like me with just a cabin bag.

8:30am: I follow the arrows for “free coach for transit passengers to domestic terminal” and end up going outside the building, where a policeman beckons me. He asks me in his typical Mumbaiyya Hindi to go back in and wait in some waiting area for the coach. My first taste of Mumbai :D.

8:40am: No coach yet. Me and another person are the only people in the waiting area. He too didn’t have any checked-in luggage. I look around to make a phone call to home. There are two options: a local phone and a credit card based ISD phone. No STD phone. So weird!

9:00am: A few more people also join us in the waiting room. They also had missed their connecting flights to Bangalore, Chennai, Hyderabad etc. All had been told the same thing as me. No coach yet though. The policeman comes in and asks me to call some internal number and request them to send the coach. I do that and convince the person on the other side of the phone that unless he sends the coach immediately, we would all miss our flights.

9:05am: The policeman comes again and informs that the coach had arrived. We, the few people in the waiting room, all move out and board it. I hope that those two girls also board this bus but they don’t. I guess they were still at the luggage and customs area.

9:10am: The bus after going through some internal airport route (my hopes of seeing Mumbai dashed) halts in front of some terminal. Non Indian-Airlines passengers are asked to get down there. And so we do. I had been discussing our plight with a couple who had been on the same flight and are headed for Bangalore. We enter the terminal and head towards the Jet Airways desks.

9:15am: The male of the Bangalore couple and me approach the Jet Airways officials, show them our boarding passes and give them the other details. Apparently, we were the first ones from our flight to have approached them. They reply saying that we need to have a request document from the Air-India people stating blah blah. We tell them that the Air-Indian officials had assured us that the boarding pass would suffice and so on. But, they express their inability to do anything without the required document and suggest that we go to the Air-India office nearby and request for that document.

9:25am: The guy and me finally reach that famed Air-India sales office. It was a 5 minute walk as we had been told. But the office was in a dilapidated building, with a very small board, behind a vast wasteland, almost invisible from the road. Yeah, finally I did walk on Mumbai roads, dodging the autos and taxis and the innumerable pedestrians. We explain our situation to whoever we found in that office and he informed us that the officials who could help us would arrive at 9:45. So we stand outside and wait.

9:40am: Many employees had come in, got their cards punched, some went into the offices upstairs, some went back outside. None went into the office that we were waiting for. Finally a person comes out of that office and enquires about our problem. He was a friendly man, took us into his office and started making phone calls to get to the person responsible for the transit of our flight.

9:45am: He is not totally successful, but he is informed that an Air-India person by the name ‘Lokhande’ is at the Jet Airways counter and helping people of our flight get their new boarding passes. So we head back to the terminal. Run back actually, as we had been told that the flight was around 10.

9:50am: We reach the Jet Airways counter, his wife who had been waiting for us tells us that she had seen no Air-India personnel anywhere. Even we don’t find that ‘Lokhande’ anywhere. We enquire with the Jet Airways people again. We also meet another person who had been on our flight and missed his connecting flight to Hyderabad. The Jet Airways people now recognize the legitimacy of our boarding pass and inform us that the flights are scheduled at 2pm for Bangalore and 3:30pm for Hyderabad!! Wasn’t I supposed to have been in Hyderabad by 3:30am!!

9:55am: The Hyderabad-headed guy tells me that there is an Air-Sahara flight to Hyderabad at 10:55am and suggests that we should get our flight transferred to that one.

10:00am: He and I approach the Air Sahara desk. The person at the counter is eager to get us on his flight. However, he too states that a document which is a kind of form is required from the Air-India people with our details. He also enlightens us that there is an Air-India office on the first floor of Terminal 1-A (we were in 1-B) where we could get this done. Before rushing off, I confirm with him that there still are vacant seats in that flight.

10:07am: We reach the required terminal. The guy with me had a lot of luggage. Two huge suitcases and two bags. So he was actually pushing the trolley on the roads of Mumbai. It was quite a funny scene. But he was quite good at it. He would give it a shove and then step on it and be carried along. It was almost like he was skateboarding. We find an Air-India counter, but it is not manned by anyone. Also it stated that it only entertained enquiries and not bookings.

10:10am: After asking around a bit, we remember that we had been told that it was on the first floor. So I leave my new found compatriot-in-trouble (brother-in-arms?) and climb the steps to the first floor. It didn’t have any Air-India counter, but there was an Indian-Airlines counter. I explain the situation to them, hoping somehow that they would be of help! (after all, they also belong to the govt right?). But ofcourse, they had nothing to do with our situation.

10:20am: I go back to where my friend is waiting, and we wait beside the Air-India counter hoping someone would come by soon. We start chatting and he tells me that he had been living in the US since the past 7 years, working there. His journey had started on 19th itself. Poor guy, he had boarded that doomed flight at Chicago and was waiting in the flight and at Paris airport while I was waiting at Heathrow.

10:30am: Someone had come to the counter. A few other hopefuls like us headed for Bangalore have also come. Anyway, we are the first ones and my friend explains the situation, while I guard the luggage.

10:35am: The person asks for our boarding passes, flight tickets etc.

10:40am: He starts writing out that document and hands it over to us. It is our ticket, is what he says.

10:45am: We are on the road, rushing back to the other terminal. My friend with his trolley is actually going faster than me. He is practically skating on the road!!

10:50am: We present the document to that Air-Sahara official, get the luggage security-checked. The flight is scheduled at 10:55am.

10:55am: We are rushed through the security check and enter the departure gate area. Finally, I get time to make a phone call to home and inform them of my position and the time I would be reaching Hyderabad.

11:15am: Finally, they ask us to get into the buses which take us to the plane. This flight too delayed? I wonder.

11:25am: My friend and me are the last ones to board the flight. Just as we are about to get on the steps, my friend realizes that he didn’t have his passport bag with him! Flabbergasted, he runs back to the main counter to check whether he had left it somewhere there. What more in store today! I wonder.

11:30am: I enter the flight. I check the boarding pass to see that my seat was 3J. I look at the first seat which was evidently first-class and there were 3 rows of first-class seats.

11:32am: Yeah, I had been given a first-class seat. Was some higher being making up for all the trouble that I had undergone until then? Well, sitting on those sofa type seats dispelled all my exhaustion.

11:40am: My friend enters the flight. Luckily, he found his passport bag at the place where the luggage is security-checked. Apparently, he had forgotten it in the trolley. But the people manning the xray machine put it aside, expecting him to return. Thankfully.

12:05pm: All set, we finally take off for Hyderabad.

01:40pm: Yayy! I land at Hyderabad airport. Flying first-class was awesome. The airhostess was pretty eager to serve us :D.

PS: I should have written this when I arrived in Hyderabad, not now .. when I am about to leave. Hopefully my return flight wont be as eventful enough that I would need to blog about it.