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zigzackly's omnium-gatherum *

Quid quid latine dictum sit, altum videtur

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Friday, July 29, 2005
Mumbai Help 

I'm about to further the perception some people have of me as being a serial offender when it comes to group blogs.

The recent floods in Bombay, though nowhere near as large a tragedy as the earthquake and tsunami, showed how unprepared the city is for a disaster.

A friend, one of the contributors to the SEA-EAT blog, has started a blog that aims to put together information on helplines in Bombay, facilities in case of emergencies, and the like. In future times of need, the idea is it will swing into action the way the way the tsunamihelp team did, posting links to current news, requests for help and the other stuff we know so well.

How you can you help

1. You could link to the blog from your own sites: http://mumbaihelp.blogspot.com/

2. You could become part of the team. You don't have to be from Bombay, or living in the city, though it would help if you knew a bit about it. In fact its essential that we do have some out-of-towners on board. When the electricity fails, and the net lines go down, those of us within the city may not be able to blog. Mail Sunil Nair - sunilrnair AT writers DOT net - or Peter Griffin - zigzackly AT gmail DOT com - and we'll send you an invitation.

3. You could mail in suggestions and information you have on emergency services. Same adddresses as above, or use the comments section on the blog.

4. And yes. If you live in a city or area that does not have a proper site and easily accessed emergency info, you could start your own regional blogs, and we'll link to each other. A chain of emergency service blogs.

Update:

Cloudburst Mumbai will aggregate news, links to news, and personal stories.
How to help: Same as above.

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Salaam, Bombay 

So you're back, old friend, unbowed,
a little damp, thirsty perhaps.
(Ironic, isn't it? Floods,
but no water in the damn taps?)

And you're telling brave stories
via email and SMS:
How many kilometres
you walked; how long it took; the mess

you walked through; and wasn't it sad
that we still haven't got a
disaster management plan;
oh, you read the new H Potter?

It's business as usual,
you're back, you're selling things.
You're picking up the phone
after the requisite two rings

Is it resilience? Pluck?
Or just that you need that pay
cheque? Whatever your reason
I'm glad you're back. Salaam, Bombay.

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Tuesday, July 26, 2005
I love Delhi in the winter. And that's it. 

Ruchir Joshi switches from a cooler to an AC:
It was not that it ceased to make the factory-worth of noise that it always makes, it was not that it stopped spewing air into my flat, it was just that, as far as coolness and dryness was concerned, it hit a wall. The air it produced was now unbearably loaded with moisture. It was as if someone had compiled large buckets of hot, glue-like sweat and was slowly pouring these buckets over my head. Escaping the barsaati-cooler nexus and venturing outside brought home an even nastier reality: all the stifling mugginess of a Calcutta in March-April, but coupled with a sort of wet, 43 degree loo, a bit like a heavyweight boxer punching you in the head, but with sodden gloves. At my advanced age, and despite my bank account showing a robustness comparable to Saurav Ganguly’s current batting average, I was forced to throw in the extremely wet towel.

The discussion around compressors and motors lasted for two days and was conducted mostly from the homes of more fortunate friends, the ones who already Had One, or Had Many. A friend best known for being a brilliant historian spent an entire lunch proselytizing about how I had No Choice.
This resonates with me. Not just because it was my first extended experience of the Delhi Summer (yes, it must be capital letters), but because I was delighted witness to some of the discussion that preceded the purchase.

Go read the rest. [Via Kitabkhana]

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Play it again, Uma 

Uma Mahadevan-Dasgupta was at Kalaghoda
And so we end up at Samovar, sipping guava juice, thinking how wonderful it would be if nothing ever changed. If these little moneyplants inside rubber boots, hanging on the grill, were to remain the same. If the red paper lampshade above the blackboard were to throw light, eternally, on the specials of the day: guava juice, litchee juice, mango lassi, pakori jaljeera, kala khatta...If this paraphernalia on the table remained here forever, in exactly this sweet, cluttered, lovable arrangement: this red plastic ketchup bottle, the cane-wrapped glass holding paper napkins and straws, the aluminium ashtray, the bowls with green chutney and Samovar’s special salsa, and of course the tiny green ceramic basket with the yellow marigold inside it, its petals tight and crinkled and mysterious as the future.
Mm. So many prawn biriyanis and memories, "pot teas" and confidences. Alas, she says, good old Sams may soon go the way of the Wayside Inn. (Hm, sorry that sounds like a bad chop sockey movie, but bear with us, we're all nostalgic like.

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Thursday, July 21, 2005
It really is made of cheese 

Neha points us to Google's follow up to Google Earth (cue celestial trump here): Please see Google Moon.

(: Turn the zoom up to maximum, and you'll see why we will continue to adore da Goog :)

[This post dedicated to Nilanjana, to carry on from her last SMS.]

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The "Ethics in Blogging (2005)" survey results... 

...have been posted, quite appropriately, on a blog. I haven't looked through it in detail yet, but I thought it might be a topic worth discussing on this blog. The survey's findings are in this post.

The "Conclusion" section states
Overall, our findings show that personal and non-personal bloggers are distinctively different in their demographics, blogging experiences, and habits. Our findings also show that there are significant differences between personal and non-personal bloggers in the ethical beliefs they value and in the ethical practices they adhere to.

Therefore, an important point to note is that when studying the blogging population, distinctions must be made regarding the type of bloggers who are being examined to prevent any misperceptions.

In addition, the limited support from bloggers for a blogging code of ethics poses a serious problem for advocates of on-line social responsibility. If any inroads are to be made in terms of bloggers regulating themselves, consensus in the community must be developed.
Hm. It took a survey to come to that conclusion?

The survey was conducted by three students at the Singapore Internet Research Centre (part of Nanyang Technological University, between 6 Feb and 1 Mar 2005, and got responses from over a thousand bloggers (including yours truly) across the world.
[Cross-posted on indi�]

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This little piggie... 

A few days ago, Adrants got its chuddies in a knot about the image on this promotional website, which features a Bharata Natyam dancer. Her hands are in what the site calls "a pose called the Hanover High Shocker," which, apparently, has, erm, deeper meanings in America. We left a comment (the first one there), and now we see the, er, debate has carried on.

Go show them which finger is which, kids.

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Sunday, July 17, 2005
Mousetrap... 

...is finally officially online. Would have been from the start, but the damn o3 interface stubbornly refused to accept the Indiatimes ID that is the prerequisite for a TOI column.

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The Spring Dosa strikes back 

We can't stop chortling. In China, says this Business Standard story, they're bastardising North Indian cuisine.
Nitin Chawla — who, ironically, is in the business of serving Chinese food in India — and his bride were not as lucky. In the course of their honeymoon, they visited Shenzen and Guangzhou, and were horrified to encounter glorified dhabas masquerading as restaurants and serving samosas and yellow dal.
. (From what we know of BS's standards, this was a pretty mixed up, awkwardly-flowing piece, we must warn you. Unless it's one of the usual web-version-has-boxes-mashed-into-main-text-and-formatting-knocked-for-a-six stories. Which would be delicious coincidence. Update: Jai clarifies, in the comments section, that that was indeed the case. So an apology to the writer, whose name has slipped our feeble mind, and - darn - the BS link don't work no more. Jai?)

[Via Amit Varma]

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Friday, July 15, 2005
Maximum Suketu 

An excerpt from Suketu Mehta's speech at a CRY convention in New York, where he also announced a legal defense fund for Indian street kids that he has set up.
One Bombay morning, walking on the road leading to the Strand bookstore, I saw a little family: A mother, with wild and ragged hair, walking with a baby boy, maybe a year old, fast asleep on her shoulder, leading by the hand another boy, maybe four or five, the boy rubbing his eyes with the fist of his free hand. He was walking the way children walk when they have been walking a long time; his legs jerking outward, his head nodding in a circle, to beat the monotony, to beat the tiredness. They were all barefoot. They might have been walking like this for hours. The mother said something gentle to the older boy, still clutching fast to her hand. I had walked past them, but then I had to stop. They came up to a stall, and, as I expected, the mother held out her hand. The stall owner did nothing, didn’t acknowledge them. Automatically I found myself opening my wallet. looked for a ten, then took out a fifty instead, and walked up very fast up to them, my insides raging, and thrust the fifty in her hand, "Yes, take this," and walked on without looking back, till I got to the air- conditioned bookstore and then stood in a corner and shut my eyes.
There are more excerpts on the CRY site, here, and we also have the full speech, for anyone who's interested. Leave a comment with your email address, or drop us a mail.

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Thursday, July 14, 2005
Send me your tired, homeless chain letters 
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Answer yea or neigh. 

To raise the tone of this blog a bit after the last post, we thought we'd share this with you.

News Hounds, a group of US bloggers who magnanimously "watch Fox so you don't have to," inform us that the extreme right-wing in the USA admits to liking a nice bit of ass..

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Tuesday, July 12, 2005
Emetic or simplistic? 

Our post on the Save India Family Foundation seems to have riled a person called Sumanth from Eastern Dynamics. Since we're all for free speech, we're bringing it out of the comments section:
Do you support imprisonment of old and sick people without investigation (under section 498a of IPC) ?

Please answer yes or no.

Radical feminists in India, want the law to remain the way it is. If we explain them politely, those hedonists will not understand. Even police and Judiciary shouts that 90% of the cases are false. Even children and minors are getting arrested without investigation based on just one line of false complaint by an adulterous daughter-in-law for money.

It is not surprising, Media fellows are brainwashed with liberal extremism and hence they are extremely intolerant and conservative about their liberal views.

Please, answer the issues we are tackling. Do you support legal abuse of elders ? If no, then what can you do about it ?

It is easy to talk about Tsunami and Imrana because that is fashionable. Then, who will clean the unfashionable shit in the society ?

BTW, our conference at Constitution Club in New Delhi '498a- A Family Killer' was covered by DDNEWS and Total TV. The guests included Madhu Kishwar, hope you know who she is.

If you want to debate with us, join yahoogroup saveindianfamily.

As you do not have any answers for the issues we raise, you are frustrated. We have concern for your situation.
We thank Sumanth for the concern. And we put it to you, dear reader. Does this sound to you like someone who is trying to obscure the question? Or are we just underinformed (which we'll happily admit to)?

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Monday, July 11, 2005
You think someone's been ripping off your blogposts? 

Try Copyscape. We gave it a spin, and found posts that we had crossposted on different blogs, and also sites we'd quoted from (Neha, it was just a link, honest!). Works only on more recent posts, though. wethinks you have to sign up for the paid version, Copysentry, for more than that.

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Sunday, July 10, 2005
Puke city 

Live and let live, we say. It takes all kinds, we smile. Judge not, lest ye be judged, we remind ourselves. Still, we can't help smoking at the edges a bit at when we see sites like Save Indian Family Foundation.. On the home page they equate single parent families with crime:
The least we want is a large scale single parenting and resultant massive crime rate in another 15 years time. Is this the kind of society we plan to hand over to our children ?

And thesite is - surprise! - anti-feminism:
We are also opposed to various reductionistic ideologies like Feminism which advocate very ineffective and grotesque solutions to various social problems.
Flip to the Say No to Feminism page for more:
Feminists are against religion and spirituality. Almost all of them are Atheists deep inside. Have you ever come across any single instance of spiritual talk in Feminist literature that is circulated in India ? The answer would be No. They want everything around them to be arranged such that they can indulge in hedonism. They are hypochondriac hypocrites and they are infecting all of us at a very rapid rate. The satanic forces of Feminism (a part of the demon called reductionism) is threatening our very social existence.
and
A person can only be compassionate to everybody or she can be compassionate to nobody, because brain can not do a distinction.
Oh yes. there are pages showing the Correlation between breaking families and Cannibalism in Europe, and (perhaps this a very subtle joke) a page on the "Newage Man" that is "Under Construction." Gah.
But here's a clue, on a page about something the author calls "SOWRY harassment"
Neither will I provide a weekly amount of sex, or whatever I used to give.
.We're off to lose our dinner.

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Saturday, July 09, 2005
Insinnuendos 

That's a word we just made up. We think. Or we may have read it somewhere and forgot.

While we try and think up a witty defintition, got more?

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Game, set, no matches 

Manjula Padmanabhan has a game for you. "Sudocritters" she calls it. All the fun of Sudoku, the game that's gone all cult with the numeric numerate types, but now in a multiplayer edition, without the numbers.

Go get yours while they're hot. And before the patent lawyers descend.

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Scots Wa' Hae 

We have it on good authority that the definitive earliest known citation of the phrase "the whole nine yards" has nothing to do with machine guns and all that. It dates back to a romantic moment in Bonnie Scotland.

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Cool Britannia 

Tunku Varadarajan at the Wall Street Journal wrote to several friends in London, hoping the blasts had left them unscathed. He received responses that reassured him, "marked by that distinctive unflappability."
"I'm OK, but am a bit shattered, old boy. It's a hairy thing, walking to work at my age. At Bond Street [tube station] someone went around shouting 'Everybody out. Emergency reported.' Thousands stagger out. Bus queues horrendous. I get in line. Swear. Looked around for a taxi. I must be joking. So hoofed it. Still puffing. How to get home, Zeus knows!"
[Via Amit Varma at India Uncut.]

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more from London 

Neha Vishwanathan, blog buddy and collaborator on the SEA-EAT blog, is in London now, and blogged the blast from a coffee house. In a later post, she muses:
In a strange sense it brought me back to where we stopped after the Tsunami. Now, the blasts in London were in no way comparable. You compare the infrastructure this city has to say a little fishing village in India and your heart stops right there, but it is the possibility that I find incredible. Further, the internet scores over traditional media when it comes to emergency services, in the sense that all the information is available all the time, instead of *streamed* information as on the radio and the television, whereby it is easier to access relevant information. While streamed information makes a lot of sense if you are an audience and eating dinner meanwhile, consolidated and collated information is more crucial when you need it the most.

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So that's what this blog is 

Omnium-gatherum. Mm. Don't you just love the sound of that word?

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Friday, July 08, 2005
Everyone's going to be wanting one now 

tscrabble hDSC00049
DSC00051one letter ifFederal Reserve
letter rnO parking\"C\"ongestion SignKSExclamation point

Go on. Go try Spell with Flickr.

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Thursday, July 07, 2005
From London 

The BBC features first person accounts. [The Beeb seems to be be one of the very, very few in Big Media to get the "power of the people" bit, no?]

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Monday, July 04, 2005
Break for shameless self-promotion 

Somewhere between Saturday night, when we last checked and just now, this blog crawled past the 10,000 visitor mark. Thank ye kindly, all ye who wander thisaway.

(Yes, we know, 10k isn't much for the year that the counter has been running, and we're small fry, but please humour us.)

We're off to sleep now. Meeting tomorrow morning, so the pithy obervations of Delhi traffic and Calcutta's charms will have to wait for another day.

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Travel log - break for cynicism 

You know the bit that airline companies like to spout, about how you're more likely to die crossing the street than in an air disaster?

Well, it occurs to me that far, far fewer people fly than cross streets.

Bloody spin doctor who thought that one up must have got a whacking great bonus. They must burn incense before his graven image in every airline corporate HQ.

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Travel log - 17 

They say Jaipur is the Pink City. I know all of Goa is yellow in my mind's eye - the yellow gold of beer, the yellow of fried fish, the sandy yellow of the beaches.

I never thought of Bombay as having any particular colour, though. At best, a murky grey.

But as the plane comes in over the slums of Ghatkopar's hills, I see that my city has turned bright blue. Every second hut has reinforced its roofing with sheets of thick blue plastic. (The blue variety, I'm told, is ubiquitous because it's the cheapest.) I know that at street level, the lanes between those huts are mucky and filthy, that the drainage and sanitation leaves much to be desired.

But right now, from here, in the gray monsoon light, it paints a pretty picture.

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Travel log - 16 

I'm bad about heights. I hate flying. So naturally, I always try and get a window seat in an attempt to cure myself of this phobia.

As we head South-West across the plains, I look down at the lattice work of fields in various shades of brown and yellow. Below, small fluffy clouds advance. Not so small, I see: their shadows cover complete towns. Perhaps they will have a few showers for the broiling north.

Somewhere midway, the captain tells us, in a strong Australian accent (or perhaps it was NZ), that there's a spot of cloud approaching, we should belt up, and the service would halted for a while. (Oh yes, if you're flying Air Deccan, do not have the samosa. Twenty-five rupees gets you one of them, and it's a hard, cardboardy, tasteless thing. And carry change. The flight attendant owes me five bucks.)

I clasp the armrest, knuckles white, as I peer forward to the wall of cloud that stretches further than I can see above, below, and to either side of our flight path.
We go straight into it. Gawd, I think, how the effing hell did aviators manage this in the days before radio beams and radar and computers and whatnot made flying as safe as it is today?

And yes, this is where all the rain is. The clouds we passed on the way looked like an armada, Many of them, yes, stretching off to the horizon, yes, but each separate from the other. This was the real thing. This was the monsoon in no uncertain terms.

After what seems like forever, we break through the wall, and we're floating above a carpet of cloud, an unruly carpet, twisted into phantasmagorical shapes by the conflicting air currents, spires, and spirals, and whorls, and castles, and mythical creatures, and waves, and, and, and... shapes for which I have no words. Here and there, shafts of sunlight cut through, stirring up fluffy maelstroms, where they meet the thicker clouds. I completely forget that I am terrified of flying.

We begin our descent, and as we get below the cloud, low enough to be able to make out details of the land below us, I can pick out individual fields again. These are all brown. Not the dry brown that characterises Maharashtra most of the year. No, this is the brown of mud mixed with water. Of fields stirred up by lots of heavy rain. And its raining now. The windows are streaked with water racing across the plane's fuselage.

And finally, we cross New Bombay (Hi Mom!), and the creek, and Bombay itself slides into view.

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Travel log - 15 

The sheer vastness of Delhi hits me as the plane climbs into the air.

Bombay may stretch interminably northwards, but, because of its geographical constraints, it is a slim city.

Delhi sprawls outwards in every direction, horizon to horizon. I have a vision of the city as a giant amoeba, gobbling up, nay assimilating, UP, Haryana, burping, then moving on to Himachal Pradesh and Uttaranchal.

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Travel log - 14 

It's a blistering hot day in Delhi, and in the airport, the airconditioning, as well as Air Deccan's computer systems, have gone West. There is a long, grumbling line. A large family earns vituperation for barging to the front of the long queue. One of the woman is carrying an infant, and she brandishes it like a cardboard sign as explanation for the line-jumping.

A stunning young woman in a backless blouse is the focus of most gazes. I amuse myself in my normal way, watching people watch people. Before I kick myself for being an idiot and join on on the communal lech.

Behind me, a young couple is speaking Marathi. And I realise that it's been three weeks since I've heard the language. Now, I had to learn the language at school when my family moved to Bombay from the South, and I was pathetically bad at it, almost failing a year because of the low marks I got in the subject, so I developed a deep bias against the language. But now, rootless, cyncical, footloose me, I'm feeling all soft and fuzzy and at home.

Go figure.

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Travel log - 13 

A doesn't like Delhi's autorickshaws.

But I seem to have better luck with them. Haven't got majorly ripped off to date, despite knowing little of the city except CP, New Delhi railway station, Nizamuddin and the roads that connect them. And had one experience that warmed the cockles of my very cynical heart.

I was heading to Nehru Place to get myself a ticket from an Air Deccan booking office.

First, the auto driver didn't make any demands, just turned on his meter, which, I'm told, is a minor miracle. And reinforces my belief that I lead a charmed life.

Then, on the flyover between Nizamuddin and the Ashram junction, traffic slowed to a crawl. I was starting to worry about whether I'd make it to the travel agent's in time. Peering through the windscreen, I saw that the hold up was party because of a cycle rickshaw, laden with bulging sacks of atta, being pulled by a scrawny man straining every sinew.

The cars ahead swung to the right of him, in typical Delhi style, unmindful of what might be in that line, some swearing at the hapless rickshaw puller. Shit, I said to myself (we do a posh line in soliliquy), I'm never going to make it at this rate.

My auto finally came up just behind the cycle rickshaw. And the driver began what my Bombay instincts think of as a risky overtaking manouver. But, as he drew level, he slowed down, stuck his left leg out and instead of the passing kick I thought he was going to deliver, braced his leg against the back of the rickshaw, revved his engine, and began to push the cycle rickshaw up the long slope. The rickshaw puller feeling the load lighten, picked up the pace to a shambling half-run. Our convoy was now sticking even further out into the traffic, and the impatient horns behind us built to a crescendo. Angry faces glared at us as they overtook in the remaining one-and-a-half lanes. But we proceeded slowly right up to the crest of the slope before my driver brought his leg back in and scooted ahead, barely acknowledging the rickshaw puller's grin of gratitude.

Random kindness, senseless acts of beauty. Never thought I'd find an example on Delhi's roads.

(Yes, I got my ticket. Though I honestly wouldn't have minded if I hadn't.)

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Travel log - 12 

Most of the notes for the Guwahati-Lumding-Haflong-Silchar leg of my trip have been chopped and pruned into the Outlook Traveller piece (archived here). These are some of the bits that were left on the cutting room floor.

The Retiring Room at Lumding is musty. And the bed linen does not bear close inspection. But this I notice only in the morning. I am greedy for sleep, after the late arrival of the Inter-city Express from Guwahati, thanks to some truly ludicrous delays at the starting point. As I drift off to sleep, burping the evil egg curry and rice I had on the train, I notice that the sky has begin to lighten, and the birds in the trees are already rasing a ruckus - it's not even 4 a.m., fercryinoutloud!

I am woken earlier than I want to be, because the other occupant of the room has an earlier connecting train to catch. There's a nip in the air, thanks to the rain that had been falling all night, and I treat myself to a rare hot bath.

All things considered though, these retiring rooms are a bargain. Just ninety rupees, and you get a bed, a washbasin, an attached bathroom (with heater!), and a wake-up call.

***

I tarry so long over my bath that I barely get into the train before it starts moving. No time to find breakfast. The Bong family next to me has a cavernous tiffin basket. And they proceed to chomp their way through its contents in methodical, determined fashion. I have to swallow drool and concentrate on the landscape very hard when they break out a box of mishti. Argh.

Salvation. Tea and sweet buns. The elderly gent selling chai on the Barak Valley Express is evidently a freelance operative. Either that, or he's a Railway employee who hasn't heard of Lallu Prasad Yaday. No khullars here; he's using environmentally unfriendly plastic which people are pitching out of the window when they're done. My green heart is aghast - the landscape we're passing is so breathtakingly beautiful.

I stow my used cup under the seat, intending to take it to the compartment's rubbish bin later, but when he comes around to collect his three rupees, he spots it, picks it up, and chucks it out of the window.
Sigh.

I'm not a major channa fan, especially when it's served with huge lashings of eye-watering masalas, but that's about all the food that gets sold on this line. Except for the tea and sweet buns, and boiled eggs (called "dim" - it took me a while to figure out what the singsong "dim-bun" the vendors at the stations were hollering meant). And fruit. delicious, juicy, sweet pineapple slices at almost every station. Thick yellow bananas. Some kind of berry that I forgot to sample.

***

A tunnel. There are no lights in the train. The blackness seems unending. My eyes struggle to get used to it, but there is nothing to get used to. It just stays black.

Birdsong so loud that you can hear it above the train noise.

I remember the travel chap at Guwahati telling me about Jatinga, near Haflong, where I'll be staying the night. Folklore says that birds commit suicide there, diving into fires, blundering into trees. The truth, he tells me, is that tribespeople light fires to disorient the birds as they fly through the mist. And club them out of the air as they bumble past. Attempts are being made, he says, to "educate" the tribes into not doing this, but the practice is too deeply entrenched in their way of life.

He also tells me that former Bodo militants are now employed as wardens in the wildlife sanctuaries. They know the jungle, have poached those very areas, and so know excatly how to protect them now. Wonderful idea, whoever thought of it.

***

This line is one of the last of the metre gauge lines in India. It's diesel locos now, but they do run a few tourist specials with steam engines a few times a year. Those would be the Brits, I think. A train-loving people if ever there was one. I have been told the line will convert to broad gauge soon, but a journo I met in Haflong tells me that it will be more than a decade before the work is complete. Barely a tenth of the money needed has been sanctioned by the powers that be. I certainly see no signs of work in progress except towards the end of the second leg of my journey, near Silchar.

***

Haflong is HQ for the North Cachar Hills district, and most of the buildings I pass seem to be either some form of goverment office or army billets. The market area is full of taxis, rickshaws and busses. And STD booths.

The Circuit House at Haflong is British built. (Next to it is the New Circuit House, which is a two-storeyed, concrete box.) Its angled roof is high, the verandah is broad, and the little garden in front is lovingly tended, a riot of flowers. Chrysanthemums so huge that N&D's neighbours in Nizammudin would go quite green if they set eyes on them. Shoeflowers in red and yellow. Many others I cannot name. The property sits on the crest of a hill and has a picture post card view. Clouds caressing green hills, a river - which must be the Barak - threading its way through the valley, a distant bridge along which a goods train the length of my little finger is making its way. And the air is moist, misty, fragrant. It occurs to me quite suddenly that I am very literally head in the clouds.

The service here is wonderful. After some initial confusion (from my name, they were expecting a gora), the staff lead me to a "VIP" room. It is huge, and the carpets carry musty memories of the clouds they have shared the space with. The bathroom is larger than most of the hotel rooms I've stayed in. And it's the only one I have ever seen that has a western style commode, an Indian squatter and a urinal, all in a row. And a huge, elderly water heater.

The room has overstuffed armchairs, and mosquito nets above the beds. I sink into a chair to wait for the tea and toast the cook was rustling up for me, and doze for a few minutes.

The tea arrives. And the toast, is buttered on both sides. Really.

I am asked what I'd like for dinner. Anything, I tell them. Whatever you are eating. I am rewarded with a delicious fish curry with a soft, thick-grained rice, brought to me in a large hot-case. Yum. The blues - they always come to me when I'm in a really beautiful place on my own - vanish, and I polish off every last grain. I am very definitely not one of those people who will waste away when I am sad.

There is no one I can talk to here. The staff had retired after the standard polite exchanges of information about ancestry, community, employment history and marital status that are so much a part of Indian conversations with strangers. My Nokia is just an alarm clock on this journey: The only cellphone signal one gets after Guwahati is BSNL, which does not allow customers of private networks to roam on its frequency. The STD booths in the market would be closed. Email is out of the question. So I write poetry instead.

***

There is a storm. It is a wild, alive thing. From the spill of light from the verandah, I see the wind whip the trees in the compound into a frenzy. The rain falls in fat, heavy drops. I walk out into it, and am drenched in a few minutes. Lightning flashes - and I am in a flat area on top of a hill. I scurry back indoors. There is no electricty. I write up my notes by candlelight, and with the mosquitos kept at bay by slathers of repellant and mosquito nets, I go to sleep with the windows open, and do not miss the fan at all.

***

I am woken by hammering on my door at 7 a.m. I had forgoten that I had met a young man from ETV the previous evening and had promised to give him a sound bite in the morning. Cup of tea in hand, I step out into the bright sun (takes getting used to, this early sunrise-sunset thing), and proceed to pontificate for his camera on tourism in the North-East, from the vast perspective of a day-and-a-half in the area. (I did tell him this was my first visit, and that I knew very little about the region, but he brushed that aside. I suspect that the exotica value of having a chap with waist-length hair blowing in the wind in his viewfinder outweighed the ignorance I displayed.)

We chat a bit after he gets his footage, and he makes delicate inquiries about any editors I might know who would give him writing work that he would do for free, for the exposure. The lack of opportunity in the hills is something that he feels deeply; he tells me of the two day journey to Calcutta he had to take to the interview that got him his present job.

***

They are erecting a new covering for the platform at Haflong Hill station. The platform curves through thick vegetation, and you can hear the train chugging up the slope from miles away.

The journey to Silchar is marred by a selfish old bitch who stretched out asleep over three seats. After a while, when she finally shows signs of stirring (she was faking the sleep, I'm sure), I am able to get the middle birth up and lever myself into its confines (meter gauge trains are way smaller in every respect, including the space between bunks, and there's way too much of me). Fifteen minutes later, she demands that I lower the berth, because she wasn't getting enough breeze. We spend the rest of the journey in a state of cold war. And she looked like such a dear old thing.

About half an hour from Silchar, she reaches up to pull down one of the bags that she has spread out over the complete upper berth. I rise to help her, she politely refuses my help, but a tacit truce is declared.

When I pull out the notes with the hotel names and locations that the young TV journo had given me, I notice that she is peering at them, trying to read them upside down. I grin to myself. Finally, I give in, and ask her advice about how to get to them. She replies in great detail, and then proceeds to Make Conversation. The usual - community, work, reasons for stay, etc.

***

At Silchar, I stop to buy smokes. A voice from a passing rickshaw yells my name. It is the young reporter. He had been looking for me on the journey (he was in the same train), and he berates me for my elusiveness. He had called a hotel in Silchar and booked a room for me from the train. Verily I say unto thee, bretheren, somewhere in my youth or childooood...

***

Then hotel is a bit of a dump. The kitchen is closed. The bellboy is concerned that I have not eaten. I send him in search of some food. He returns with a packet of bread and no change from a fifty. Ah well. Expensive bread and bottled water for dinner.

There is another storm. And the lights go out. I stand by the window, looking out on a town lit only by passing headlights. Nearby, in another hotel, there is a wedding. The loudspeakers blare Hindi film songs. Ooh, local culture.

***

The airport is a long way away. The flight is late.

***

Just outside, a cafetaria is open for business. Assam tea, and parathas is all I can get. I'm not complaining. Delicious.

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Travel log - 11 

Guwahati.

It's so green here. The monsoon isn't here yet, officially, but from the drive into the city from the airport, you wouldn't know it. Everything is green, in way that I have only seen in Kerala. The air is cool, crisp, clean, and smells of growing vegetation.

If it wasn't for the never-ending stream of hoardings, this would be a magical ride. my profession has much to answer for.

As we get into the city proper, the temperature goes up several degrees. And vehicle engines and horns make their presence felt. Roads are being widened and resurfaced, in preparation for the monsoon, my cousin tells me. Ah. Municipalities everywhere are alike.

Ingrid, my cousin, drops me off at the office of the travel agent who has arranged for my stay in Haflong. She has to go to the station to get a lost train ticket replaced. I stay for a while, printing out time tables, doing a bit of quick research on the area, and chatting with the staff. I also make a quick business pitch to the owner, about Pinstorm. He seems interested.

Pinstorm. Egad. I forgot. I turn on my phone, and there are three messages from the office. I call, and chat with the team about an assignment in progress.

I collect the fax that confirms my Circuit House booking in Haflong, and set off for my Ingrid's house. She isn't back yet, so I make the acquaintance of her two little boys, the maid, and the family's cat.

It is only four in the evening, but the sky is beginning to darken. Ah yes. That's why the "Garden Time" (one hour ahead of IST), that the folks here sensibly run their lives by.

Squadrons of mosquitos descend. I lather myself in Odomos before stepping out for a smoke, and to play with the kittens, while the boys, and their tutor, finish off their homework. They join me later, and tell me about school, and sports, and friends, and ask me when they could come visit.

By the time I head back to Guwahati station, it is somewhere between six and seven, and the rest of India is getting its sunsets at conventional times, but it's dark here already.

Ingrid is still in the booking office building, joined now by Prafulla, her husband. She has been shunted from counter to counter, but can't leave - she has to make a work-related trip to Calcutta tomorrow. There, amidst a bevvy of Buddhist monks and flocks of businessmen, we attempt to catch up on the last ten or so years before it's time for my train.

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Travel log - 10 

Bagdogra? What, where or who on earth is Bagdogra? Before this plane ride, I didn't know the place existed. I had no idea that my flight to Guwahati wasn't a direct one. I had kind of assumed that the name I saw next to my flight number on the destination board at Delhi airport was just the name of Guwahati's airport. I would have probably got off the plane if the announcement asking passengers bound for Guwahati not to change seats hadn't penetrated through the cotton stuffing my ears. God, I know so little about my country.

Ah. A clue. My cellphone searches for a signal. The operator name comes up. "Airtel W.B.," it says. W.B. W.B.? W.B.! West Bengal! Hoorah! I'm not lost anymore.

Such is the life of the veteran travel writer.

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Saturday, July 02, 2005
Travel log - 8 

Outlook Traveller offer me a trip to Jaipur to ride a couple of metre gauge trains for their July trains special. I accept.

N&D look concerned. If I'm wilting like last week's cut flowers in Delhi, their eyes say, how the heck was I going to manage the desert?

The day I decide to call OT and chicken out, a reprieve comes my way. They'd like me to ride a hill railway in Assam instead.

Somwhere in my yoooouth or childhooood...

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Travel log - 7 

For some reason, I associate bad visibility only with cold or rain.

So it comes as a surprise to me to see the heat and dust haze as we ride an autorickshaw through the city's broad streets.

I drop A off, and head back to Nizammudin. She is a mere wisp, is A. But she does this route every day, by bus. She has no AC at home. And here I am, hulking large brute, and I can't get home to the airconditioning fast enough. Yeah, she grew up in Rajasthan, and she's as tough as nails and I'm way too fat and out of condition, but I still feel like a complete loser.

Gaah.

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Travel log - 6 

Things close early in Delhi. That was my impression many years ago when I first visited the nation's capital. Of course that was also a time when militancy in Punjab was still very much a clear and present danger.

My dance shoes (yes, this was very long ago) had given out, and I needed some kind of soft canvas shoes for our rehearsals. I remember going out to look for a shoe shop at around 7:30 p.m. Not a shop was open. Not one.

Things aren't that extreme now, of course. Even then, one weekend, when I'm supposed to meet A and maybe catch a play, I tarry over work (God bless net connections) a little longer than planned, and only wind up at her office near eight. Nothing will be open now, she tells me scornfully. It's way too late to go anywhere now.

Ah well. Cafe Coffee Day is ACed.

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Travel log - 5 

The eyes feel it first, this unfriendly inland heat.

They go dry and sore around the edges.

Then the nostrils feel it too.

I'm told the lips go next. That in the desert, after as little as a day of water deprivation, the lips, composed of even higher degrees of water than the rest of us, can disappear altogether.

Thank goodness for ACs.

I only start to revive in the evening. In my own small way, I know now why Bedouins and Hottentots prefer to travel in the night.

I'm amazed that Delhi actually gets any work done in the day time. I mean, sure, there's ACs in the office and all that, but how the hell do people manage to summon up the energy to get there?

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Travel log - 4 

N&D do not sneer.

They console me, by telling me that it was sensible of me to not push it. Better to acclimatise, they say. "I do not need to acclimatise!" I want to scream. "I am tough. I am a traveller. I am a hiker."

But it's too darn hot to raise my voice.

Like I said. Wimp.

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Travel log - 3 

Nizamuddin.

In the macho spirit of one who travels with a haversack instead of a suitcase, I decide I will walk to N&D's home. It's a ten minute amble even if one stops to look for roses to smell.

A minute away from the station, and I'm beginning to wilt already. And regretting the sneering way I dismissed many importuning taxis, autorickshaws and rickshaws. Another thirty seconds and yet another rickshaw pedals by asking for my custom. I give in. I fifteen or so pedal strokes later, I'm there, shamefacedly explaining to the sinewy rickshaw pedaller that it was the haversack, and I normally can do this easily. And I give him a twenty instead of the ten he asks for.

It's hush money.

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Travel log - 2 

Delhi first.

From the sauna of the Bombay summer to the oven of the real thing. I've never really had to handle dry heat for any length of time before. The most time I've spent in the interiors before this was a-couple--days-for-a-friend's-wedding kind a thing. And those times were spent, as far as possible, in close proximity to giant coolers and the like.

Advance notice of what I was heading into came when I opened the door of the Rajdhani to sneak a smoke. Just 9 a.m., but the sun was already doing its thing in no uncertain terms.

And even then, in that cauldron run dry, I could see people working in the fields we were thundering past. Makes one feel like a complete wimp, I tell you.

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Travel log - 1 

Way back in the last century, some net users would post decriptions of their forays into the corners of the world wide web. Over time, in a tip of the hat to even more ancient world travellers, they called these web logs. Which, over time, in the way of all things web, was shortened. To blogs.

This blog just returned to home base after three weeks and a bit in other parts of the country. And for the first time, carried a note book (the paper kind) around, and jotted down impressions. Over the next few posts, I'm going to put those notes down here.

You have been warned.

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Words

We've all heard that a million monkeys banging on a million typewriters will eventually produce a masterpiece. Now, thanks to the Internet, we know this is not true.
~ Eyler Coates

to be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best night and day to make you like everybody else means to fight the hardest battle any human being can fight and never stop fighting
~ e e cummings

In three words i can sum up everything I've learned about life.
It goes on.
~ Robert Frost

Ring the bells that still can ring,
Forget your perfect offering,
There is a crack in everything;
That's how the light gets in.
~ Leonard Cohen

May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. May your mountains rise into and above the clouds.
~ Edward Abbey, naturalist and author (1927-1989)

I fell in love – that is the only expression I can think of – at once, and am still at the mercy of words, though sometimes now, knowing a little of their behavior very well, I think I can influence them slightly and have even learned to beat them now and then, which they appear to enjoy.
~ Dylan Thomas, Welsh poet, short-story writer, and playwright, "Poetic Manifesto" in the Texas Quarterly, Winter 1961

A writer is somebody for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.
~Thomas Mann, novelist, Nobel laureate (1875-1955)

The world in general doesn't know what to make of originality; it is startled out of its comfortable habits of thought, and its first reaction is one of anger.
~ W. Somerset Maugham, writer (1874-1965)

In times of profound change, the learners inherit the earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.
~ Al Rogers

Assumptions are the termites of relationships.
~ Henry Winkler, actor (1945- )

Our deeds determine us, as much as we determine our deeds.
~ George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans), novelist (1819-1880)

Either you think - or else others have to think for you and take power from you, pervert and discipline your natural tastes, civilize and sterilize you.
~ F. Scott Fitzgerald

There is no remedy so easy as books, which if they do not give cheerfulness, at least restore quiet to the most troubled mind.
~ Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, author (1689-1762)

Work like you don't need the money. Love like you've never been hurt. Dance like nobody's watching.
~ Satchel Paige

Fake it till you make it.
~ (Heard on West Wing)


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