Monday, May 31, 2010

when you can't sleep tonight ...

Some days are meant to have a post written. The feeling does not leave you. The occasional restlessness, the frequent fidgeting, the rampant attention deficiency are all omens of such days. But because of the attention deficiency, you tend to not focus on it and try ignoring it for the whole day. And then you go to bed, an hour passes, and you realise you haven't fallen asleep yet. So you wake up and complete the movie that you had left midway because it wasn't good enough to deprive you of sleep, ironically. After staring blankly at the end credits, you try to go to sleep, again. This time it just takes a few minutes for you to realise that you are wide awake and staring at the tiny little green LED of the smoke detector attached to the roof. Wonder why it is green, shouldn't it be red instead? Anyway, this time you get up and switch on the laptop and not the TV like the previous time. Climb back into bed with it and start typing whatever comes to mind-- end up with this paragraph and whatever comes next!

Clear first drops fell
onto the cracked
mud; parched hell
of summer conquered |

Yellowing fruits snatched
and sold in bunches
at markets; devoured
at homes in lunches ||

While elsewhere,

Orange rays lingering
well past dinner to
constrict nights; limiting
sleep hours to very few |

Grey dark clouds gather
auguring drizzles that
bring back cold; rather
than those few days of warmth ||

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Singles needn't starve on Valentine's!

Another story on the same lines as this and this, but with different protagonists. Perhaps better, perhaps worse, but definitely the last of this kind :P ...

All of a sudden, he found himself alone with her. Their mutual friend had deserted them somewhat abruptly. She, that is, the mutual friend, had looked at the time and was alarmed that she might be late for her dinner-date. It was 14th of February after all and she was quite a popular person. Unlike him. With these thoughts running through his head, he turned to her-- the one who was still there. They weren't exactly strangers, but hadn't known each other for the time needed to be called friends either. He looked at her, half expecting her to disappear in an instant as well. On the contrary, she smiled at him and asked, "I'm hungry, want to get something to eat?"

Though she had moved to this city a few weeks ago, she still wasn't completely at ease. Change is a complex thing. The transition from new to routine happens suddenly but imperceptibly. Anyway, right then, she was also being assailed by the hunger pangs. As she asked him the question, she looked around. They were in some unfamiliar part of the city-centre, unfamiliar to her at least. "Err, yeah okay," he stammered. They resumed walking. She assumed he knew where they were going. She considered specifying what kind of food she preferred and ask his choice as well. But she didn't have to.

"You don't eat at those kinds of places, do you?" he asked, pointing out the Burger King up ahead. They had just turned into a main street. Being February, it was a cold and dark evening, shops were closing and many people were scurrying home, or elsewhere. The apparent melancholy had no effect on him. Instead, walking along with her, he was slipping into a buoyant mood. "I try not to, too greasy, you want to?" she asked. "No, no! Just kidding, though I do eat at such places sometimes," he admitted. "Yeah, you don't have to worry about the fat," she reminded him. "And you would rather prefer some rice with lemon instead?" he attempted to tease her. "Definitely," she declared with a grin. He beamed, wanted to continue the talk, but nothing worth-while occurred to him. Suddenly, it did. "What about some Chinese?"

Is it a random suggestion or did he actually remember, she wondered. The answer was obvious when she looked at him. She replied in the affirmative, just to confirm. With that resolved, she expected them to change direction, or walk somewhere decidedly. But they seemed to continue rambling along. "It might be hard to find a decent place anywhere today," he remarked. "Uh oh," she mumbled though she thought of saying, Well, we can at least try!

She didn't seem pleased with his forecast, so he hoped they find a restaurant soon. He was the local among the two. He was supposed to know where to take her, but he wasn't sure. He recollected only that there were a few restaurants up ahead. And soon enough, they chanced upon one. "What about this," she asked. "Have never been here, haven't heard either," was all that he could say. They went in, only to be faced with a long flight of stairs and a longer queue of people waiting. With not even a pretence of hope there, they left immediately. He stepped outside and turned around, just in time to see her walking out of the door as well. The light might have played a part, or maybe the mood created by the ambience inside, he was struck by her looks. Of course he had considered her pretty and even hot, ever since he first saw her, but this time it was something more. That angular face with the heart-warming smile was enhanced by the playful curly hair; some of those dark brown curls were flirting with the forehead. He stood there, rooted for a few seconds, just staring at her. Or was it minutes?

That restaurant did look nice and well decked up, thinking so, she strode ahead with renewed purpose, wanting to find another one. But where was he? Not finding him next to her, she turned around, only to catch him hurrying up to her. She almost asked what had held him up. But the sparkle in his eye distracted her, or was it his glasses? She couldn't say. "There will be a few more ahead," he said reassuringly. But soon, his eyes were looking at something beyond her. Wondering what was so attractive there, she turned around and found an Italian restaurant with no visible waiting customers. With tacit consent, they entered. It looked quite romantic, all the tables were set up for two, with soft lit candles on them, populated by gently conversing couples. The crystal was glittering too. However, the somewhat Italian looking waiter who approached them, turned them away as soon as he learnt they didn't have any reservation. Perhaps it was time to reconcile to the fact that they won't be able to eat at any decent restaurant, she wondered. "These Valentine's day specials! Crazy eh? Every place seemed fully booked," he said, interrupting her thoughts. "Yeah and no one cares about poor single people like us," she complained too. Encouraged, he went on, "And they also pay such exorbitant prices for the same kind of food as any other day, this day is such a fad!" "Hmm," was all that she said in response. She didn't find Valentine's day annoying, at least not as annoying he was making it out to be.

Walking ahead, they came across a vendor selling flowers on the side. They both were observing him and also looking at the flowers as they moved closer to the shack like stall. He latched onto another conversation starter, “Flowers are also a big business on this day, right?” “Yeah and I think I will end up eating some of them if we don’t find any food soon!” she replied. They halted right in front of the stall and gazed at the colourful scented display. She started off soon enough and he tried to keep up. But his looks lingered on the stall. His thoughts were racing, Damn! I should have bought some flowers for her! What was I thinking? In fact, why wasn't I thinking! He contemplated turning around and getting some. But then he feared it would be too deliberate. Perhaps even awkward? Send unintentionally strong signals? It would certainly be incongruous with his on going projection of being a guy who is not the ‘mushy-romantic’ types. While the debate raged on, they were moving farther and farther away from the stall. He wished that time would stand still for a moment and permit him the leisure to decide. Alas, he felt they were too far away now and he could only rue the missed opportunity. He vehemently and silently cursed his absence of mind. It’s no easy task to be all normal and attentive with the girl and, at the same time, come up with ideas and make these instantaneous decisions, he complained in his thoughts, justifying his inaction.

They tried a few more restaurants, mostly Chinese, as they went along. From every one of them, they were quickly thrown out, not literally of course, politely rather, intermingled with some pity sometimes. Finally they found one which seemed to have vacant tables. As they entered, they were greeted by a gust of perfume. The restaurant was going for some kind of a pink decor, everything was pink, various hues of pink. She was sure she even noticed a few pink heart-shaped balloons floating around! An overly grinning waitress came up to them and offered to show them to a table. He looked hesitant. Detecting some uneasiness in him, she asked, "Do you want to eat here?" "Err, can we go somewhere else?" he asked, in almost a pleading tone. She wasn't sure why but they left the restaurant anyway. Once outside, he took a deep breath and explained, "The scents were just too strong in there, almost suffocating!" She laughed and approved the observation, "It was a bit too tacky." "There should be some more on the street ahead," he told her. They continued their search. Meanwhile, she mentally replayed the incident, particularly his discomfort in there. It was amusing. But it also made him more real, and endearing. She barely knew anything about him, apart from what her friend had told her. From her, she had gathered that he was the nice guy types, but would he make interesting company? She hadn't managed to learn much about him on the few occasions they met previously either. Today might be different, she felt.

They were now onto a busy road with a few cars and even a couple of buses passing by. There were a lot more people on the street as well-- mostly couples. He wondered whether they did the right thing by leaving the previous restaurant. This quest for food was just taking too long. He glanced at her, maybe for the millionth time that evening. The cold had made the tip of her nose reddish, reminding him of Christmas and making her look cute at the same time. He tried to remember if he was ever out with anyone prettier than her in vain. They were walking along silently. He had to say something. He always found sustained periods of silence, absence of a continuing conversation, awkward, especially when with a girl. To remedy the situation, he began, "So, did you do anything special on previous few Valentine's?" She paused to think. He was surprised at himself, pleased too, for having veered the conversation towards her and her life rather than general inanity. "I don't know, nothing special last year, before that also, mostly at home," she answered before adding, "And you?" "Nothing spectacular with me either, generally stayed at home like a good sulking single," he answered with a sheepish grin. She smiled and continued, "Yeah, it's not a good day if one is single, like us." He agreed, "All these couply people make us singles feel awkward!" After a few paces, he resumed, "In fact, this might be the first occasion that I am having dinner outside on this day!" She laughed and then reminded him, "But only if we do manage to find some place!"

They continued the walk-talk. Quite a few minutes went by before they came across the next restaurant. It was Chinese again. She sensed this should be it and looked at him expectantly, wondering whether he had anything to say about this one. "I have been here before, it's a nice place," he stated, "Let's see if it's possible to find a table." They went in and, this time, stayed in for some 100 minutes. Despite being forced to follow the expensive Valentine's Day special set menu, they liked the food. During the dinner, though she had no such intention, she ended up talking about her country, the government, her political beliefs and then moved onto things related more directly to her life. Yes, their conversation was mostly about her than him. She wondered a few times whether she was boring him but he kept asking her questions. She easily identified that he was trying to employ the common technique, 'make it all about her so that she finds it interesting'. She didn't mind. Perhaps, he was actually listening. He was definitely looking at her, engrossed. Being showered with attention isn't such a bad thing after all, she reminded herself. Also, in spite of all the focus on her, she managed to learn a few things about him too.

Done with the dinner and the subsequent formalities (they split the bill, he knew she wouldn't let him pay all of it), they stepped outside, into the cold street. He turned to her, wanting to say something, worried that this might be the end of their evening. But say what? She broke through into these extensive discussions within his mind, using her faintly dimpled and slightly toothy smile, and asked, "I promised to meet some people at a nearby bar now, would you like to come?"

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Notable books read during the long long vacation

As it states here, i had read quite a few books in my long long vacation of 70 days. So finally, let us get cracking on them!

Harry Potter by J K Rowling: I am referring to the last book in the series. Yes, yes I admit I have read all the previous books, and it was because of that sole reason, I finally read this one, mainly to bring a culmination to that than any genuine interest. I would say it ended on very expected lines. The author could ventured out of the safe zone and been more radical, after all the sales or popularity wasn't in question irrespective of whatever she might have written!

Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman: Brilliant read. Wholly recommend, and all such plaudits. It is absolutely hilarious, a bit satirical, quite a bit farcical and entertaining throughout. While the general comic level is maintained throughout, many a time, the reader will laugh out loud, and laugh again. The fun comes from the ingenuity of the writing, the plot and the absurdity of it. The plot is too twisted for me to talk about here. What I would say is, just start reading it with a blank mind :P.

The Calcutta Chromosome by Amitav Ghosh: I was recommended this author and this book a long time, and the wait was worth it. Not often does one come across a first-class India-based science-fiction novel. The multiple time-lines in which the narration takes place adds charm without confusion. The characterisation is really nice and every word in the whole book seems perfectly in its place. A very smooth read indeed.

Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett: The first time I tried to read this book was when I was 12 or 13 years old. And failed miserably to understand anything. Actually, that was also the time I had a brief and unsuccessful affair with 'Brief History of Time' by Stephen Hawkings (of course, I did read it and also understand most of it later, much later :P). Anyway, coming back to Godot, I re-tried to read it this time and realised it wasn't straightforward at all. It is quite open to interpretation. It is also so short, almost like a short story! I think the story is a good metaphor for inertia and stagnation in life :P. And yeah, the mystery remains, who is Godot :P.

The Confessions of an Economic Hit-Man by John Perkins: How did I end up reading a non-fictional book? Well, I found it in the house, the description was captivating, and the topic, very interesting! It is about something we suspected all the while. How the big companies and governments of big 'aid-giving' countries like US make highly exaggeration predictions, convince the poor governments to take loans as aid and then arm-twist them to extract their resources and garner their support in the international arena. The author was involved in one such organisation that convinces the governments to take aid with fantastic predictions on what the aid will do, for 20 years. Initially, the book is engrossing, but starts getting a bit repetitive later on. As with all such books, it could have been shorter and more to the point :P. However, the experiences of the author in various countries ranging from Indonesia to Ecuador made the reading worth it.

The Writing of a Novel by Irving Wallace: You want to start writing a novel? How about reading a book on how one particular famous novel was written, by the author of the novel itself! Yeah, so Irving Wallace narrates on how he wrote his novel, "The Prize", which is a story set against the Nobel prize background. He takes a chronological approach, starting from how he got the idea for the novel 20 years prior to writing, how it was lying at the back of his mind, when he actually started working on it, how he did the relevant research, the actual writing process, getting stuck, moving on, followed by the editing and revising. He even talks about the response, the critical reviews, the sales and the movie deal! And the appendix of the book contains a brief summary of the novel itself. A true insight into the workings of popular novel-writing.

Cat O nine lives by Jeffery Archer: The only short story collection of this author that I hadn't managed to read until then. Though not as ingenious as 'Twist in the tale' or '12 Red Herrings', the charm of these stories lies in the fact that they are all true (except a couple). These were stories that Archer collected from his prison mates while he was in prison. The book shows how, often, reality is stranger than fiction :).

The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai: I didn't think I would ever read this book. It had been gifted to me many years ago and I felt it was yet another of those Indian-immigrants-to-western-world's child's lost identity and stuff. Something like "Namesake". But it wasn't! Mostly based in Kalimpong, the descriptions help you live in those misty surroundings and see the story for yourself. The plot contains a few subplots, but all nicely linked together. It is mainly about a teenage girl living with her grand-father and their cook, their few neighbours, the cook's son who is an illegal immigrant in US and the girl's tutor who is caught up between love, rebellion and poverty. No, no, it is not as serious as I make it out to be. The plot is also based around Bengalis caught up in the Gorkha-land rebellions in those times.

Identity by Milan Kundera: I wanted to pick up another Milan Kundera book (after "The Unbearable lightness of being" and "Immortality"), and chose this one because the back-cover description did not reveal much and it was the cheapest [yeah, my book selection ethics are pathetic]. Once again, the writing went into depth about the characters, their emotions, their illusions and their actions. What I particularly like about his stories is the way he highlights the prevailing irrationality of human behaviour. Another books that provides some insight into the mystery that is the human mind. What is different about this book, is there are no deviating narrations or subplots and more importantly, the climax is quite ambiguous.

Reading right now, that is since the past month or more :P- Snow by Orhan Pamuk.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Hola España

It is indeed a very good place to visit. Even before landing there, the first thing that catches one's attention is the strange kind of farmland visible from the air. It consisted of unending rows of infinite length of bushy type trees arranged equidistant from one another. After due debate, we concluded that they must be olive trees. Yeah, welcome to Spain!

Landed in Madrid airport. It is huge. Well not as huge as Heathrow I guess, but huge nevertheless. The newest terminal and its sub-terminal are really long and can make you walk from one end to another if you are unlucky with your flight's boarding/arrival gate. The slightly unsettling aspect was that the when you get off the plane, you end up in the departures lounge! Anyway, took the underground/metro to the bus station and then a long 5 hour journey to Granada.

Granada: Situated amidst snow capped mountains, it is a very unique city. Unique in its looks- many roads are lined with orange trees lush with enticing oranges dangling from them and one of the main and busiest road has a very large pavement in the middle containing benches, life-like statues and fountains. Its culture is unique too, with an excellent North-African influence in the Moorish architecture. In fact, different styles of buildings can be seen in different localities. The most famous is the Alhambra with its palaces and gardens. Queues to buy its limited tickets for the day start at 6am (while it actually opens at 8) and can have around 300 people waiting in it. Of course, the nearby and slightly hidden ticket machines only have small queues of 25-30 people. That is the way to get in! Since we were there during the Easter week, we could witness the famous processions taking place. Another wonderful aspect of Granada is the free tapas that you get with your drinks in many of its bars. This means that you don't really need to buy dinner separately. And yeah, if you do, the food tends to be really good :). For souvenirs, the best place is the extremely colourful area next to the cathedral containing hundreds of small shops called Alcaciera.

Sevilla: Easter time is the time to be in Seville. Hence, we couldn't get any affordable accommodation. Yet, it is a must-visit city, so made a day tour from Granada by a train+bus journey of 2.5 hours each way. Large scale preparations for the evening processions were going on. These start from the various churches in the city to converge at the cathedral and then go back again. The cathedral there is definitely the biggest around, and contains a very tall tower. Ramps instead of stairs let one reach the top pretty easily to gaze at the whole of the beauty of Seville and identify the other famous monuments ;). One of these that we did visit was the bull-fighting arena. Learnt the history, the method and the madness behind it all. Didn't see a fight though, very gory and expensive it would have been! And once again, the bars and tapas around the cathedral are sufficient for some other needs ;) And how can I not mention the beautiful riverside, where we can lie down for eternity?

Barcelona: The city famous in so many ways and loved by so many. The main street- La Rambla has to the liveliest street I ever saw. Next to it was the old quarters with some majestic buildings, cathedral and many museums. We did go to the Picasso museum and finally, I now know about his life, somewhat about his art, especially when it transformed into being crazy ;). The other absolutely unconventional art that you can find in this city is the architecture of Gaudi. The most famous is the Sagrada Familia and is still under construction. Its look, from the outside itself, is amazing, the intricate statues and stories being told and the occasional colourful fruits is a unique combination! Some of his other buildings seem plucked out from some fantastical lands. Apart from these, there is the Plaza Catalunya with its majestic fountains, lights and people, parks and statues everywhere, the beach with its perfect blue waters, the irish bars alongside the tapas bars and the italian restaurants alongside the spanish ones. We also visited Camp Nou and admired the greatness of Barca F.C ;). Just outside the city, the background is filled again with mountains. The metro is very modern and the library of the university is very old. I was shown some books which were more than 500 years old! That was in between the two talks I gave on the same day, on the same topic, to different audiences :P. And most places are signposted in three languages- Catalan, Spanish and English, in that order.

Madrid: The capital, but nothing much to see other than the palace and an extremely modern -looking cathedral with a style very different from the general European ones. Lots of art museums as well, containing extremely expensive paintings from all regions and eras in Europe. Madrid is also the place for nightlife- lots of plazas, each of which is surrounded by bars and clubs. These clubs only start getting crowds after 2am or something! And again, many spanish style bars with free tapas.

Toledo: Just 30 minutes away from Madrid, on the superfast AVE trains, is this world heritage town. The old part is situated on a big hill, jam-packed with quaint buildings and very narrow, cobble-stoned roads. They are too narrow for cars but the cars still strive, inching forward slowly while the pedestrians flatten themselves alongside the walls to let them pass. The inclines are so high that, often, rooftops of buildings end up being next to other roads! This is a very nice place to visit and walk around, for half a day. A must visit if one is in or around Madrid. The different style and feel of the place makes it worthwhile. Each and every building looks good, old and fascinating.

Spanish food, as is known, contains a lot of meat based varieties. Nevertheless, the spanish omelettes are delicious and can be had anywhere, as a slice or as a whole. There are also several other different types of Tapas to satisfy all kinds of taste-buds ;). As for the drinks, Sangria and Mojitos are ubiquitous and often come with free tapas to munch on. Lots of American tourists will be found, much more than any other place in Europe that I have been to. British tourists, settlers and influences were expected anyway. To sign off, better not choose the overnight bus journey from Granada to Barcelona, some experiences are not worth having :D.

Gracias. Adios.