Wednesday, June 27, 2007

It rained

Last week of May and I started crying out for rain. Blame it on the weather tracker within me. It's been used to damp weather from the beginning of June. So I told half the world I am waiting for rains, where the hell is it.

And then a friend comes up with great indignation demanding what happened to her summer. She tells me Bangalore usually gets rain only by July, which means June should have still been summer, which it anyway wasn't. So she asked half the world where the hell her summer had gone.

In school, rain always meant squelchy shoes, wet socks, dripping umbrellas, a damp desk if your seat in class was by the window. It meant cramped morning assemblies along the corridors. Keeping uniforms white an impossible task. "Games" periods got converted to English or Science or whatever else. Stolen minutes in between classes to stare out the window at rain dripping off tall blades of grass.

Loved those class rooms that looked across the football ground, the empty land beyond, bordered by the railway track, the road after that, then the airfield. The clouds would draw in, the room would darken, the teacher would pause in deference to the mighty roar of oncoming rain. And we would in silence and with a thrill rising, watch the rain coming rushing in from the horizon, over the airfield, across the road and the railway track, and take over the football ground to finally rat-tat-tat on the window panes.

It has been years. But those memories are as fresh as the rain drops beating against my window now. The rain these days has been a mere soft mist though the weather is all wind and clouds and falling trees. And every time it rains, I hear my mother's voice reminding me of what Kunjunni-maash's advice -- never miss an opportunity to watch the rain.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Digital red tape

Who said the red tape is restricted to government offices? All these call centre services these days -- nothing other than the new form of red-tapism.

You have a credit card. You don't get the statement for ages. But the company insists on calling you and reminding you how much you have to pay.
The collection guy calls.
"But where is my statement?"
"For that you will have to contact customer service."
So one calls customer service.
"Can you send me my statement so that I can pay the credit card bill?"
"Sorry madam, we are not authorised to send you the statement, you will have to talk to the collection dept."
"But they asked me to call you."
"I don't know why they did that, we certainly can't send it to you."
So one calls back the collections dept.
"May I speak to Mr so-and-so? He had called me a while ago about a payment."
"Sorry madam, I can't transfer your call."
"So then on what number can I call him?"
"No, I mean, we don't take incoming calls here. You will have to wait for him to call you."

So I wait. In the meantime, the same bank is sending me some document. I tell them I won't be home to receive the courier, so can they please send it to my office address? No they can't. Because it is a high-security parcel, they will send it only to the residence address. So then can I bring some identity proof and collect it from the bank? No; for security reasons, the bank's policy is that they cannot deliver it to someone who walks into the bank.

Oh I have run out of patience typing this out. Suffice it to say this is only half an hour of the many long hours I have spent trying to get some work done. From renewing vehicle insurance to getting the fridge repaired.
Which reminds me, I better get the computer serviced. There goes another few precious hours of my life, wasted dangling on a phone.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Thought parcels a.k.a. SMSs

This thing called SMS -- wonderful technology, ain't it? No, it is not that I have woken up to it only now, but was wondering why we take it so much for granted.

Little morsels of thought.
Anytime of the day.
Just to let someone know you are thinking of them.
In the middle of a stressful day, a word from friends or family, something that brings a smile, a memory, anticipation.
And then to spoil the effect and the romance of "little morsels of thought", come these:
"Get the latest Bollywood downloads at blah-blah-blah", or "Citibank credit card offers you yada-yada-yada".
And pop goes the bubble.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

The sun slept in today

Even the sun gets lazy, doesn't he?

Today is the day for the perfect walk. Cloudy skies, gentle breeze, and even comparatively less traffic. The kind of day when you could just walk along streets, rows of mango stalls in either sides. The comforting and at the same time exhilarating thought that the skies would open up any minute and pour down buckets of water.

It's another story that it took the promise of a grilled chicken salad to tempt me out of home in the morning.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

First leg of my world tour :)

My dream is to travel around the world (ideally, to visit every town, every village). Finally the process has been kick started with a week-long trip to Malaysia. An official holiday you could call it.

The marvel of cutting across time zones for the first time still hadn't worn off before I was overwhelmed by the large open spaces of Malaysia. Starting with the airport and the roads. Miles of greenery and disciplined traffic. Even the smaller terminal for low-cost carriers was better than Bangalore's international terminal. Took it all in with unabashed wide-eyedness.
The first port of call was Kuching in the state of Sarawak on the Borneo island. The land of tropical forests, mangroves and several indigenous tribes. All the fatigue of two flights through the night and sleeplessness vanished the minute I drew back the curtains in my hotel room. Kuching city lay spread out on either sides of the sluggish Kuching river. A golden domed mosque in the distance with a chain of mountains serving as backdrop.

Just enough time for a quick shower and a quicker bite of lunch and we set out. The city has several ugly and huge cat sculptures -- Kuching means cat and the cat is the city mascot. After the thickly populated Indian cities and towns, this laid back place seems almost deserted. There are comparatively so few people you wonder how much business sense the malls make. Some old buildings, Chinese temples, quaint little souvenir shops.

First stop is Sarawak Cultural Village. Spread across some 17 acres of land just outside of Kuching at the foot of the Santubong mountain is this model village. Developed and maintained by the government, it tries to recreate tribal settlements. Something like DakshinaChitra in Madras. A showcase for tourists. Model houses and workplaces have been built the way tribals build them. There are few of the indigenous people in each of these dwellings, doing the things they would do in the forest -- carving on bamboo and weaving baskets.

We see the heads collected by the head hunting tribe, the feathered head gears of the hunters, the magnificent colours of the weavers. My favourite is the Orang Ulu tribe and their string instrument sape. "It's like the sitar," says Francis, one of the tribesmen at the Orang Ulu house and a superb sape player. Mention we are from India, and he is playing Bollywood songs on the sape. The lilting haunting music dies out, and as we leave, we are followed by the strains of a wooden xylophone, which a craftsman is still working on.

Close to the village is the Damai beach, again with the Santubong mountains looming over it. Damai means peace. And peaceful it is.

By the time we return, there are claps of thunder and soon a mist of rain through the golden sunlight. The river takes on a hundred hues as it rains, as the skies clear, as the sun sets, as the lights come on. We venture out for some dinner. There are cafes and food stalls along the river, the city has cooled down. But the restaurants are quiet and empty. The home food must be excellent :)

The next day, we are off to the Bako National Park. A 20 minute boat ride along the Bako river almost right into the sea and mangroves all along. Apparently, 12% of the country’s land mass is mangroves and these wetlands are well preserved.

The Bako park is the smallest in Malaysia and is home to the long-nosed proboscis monkey, clouded leopards and pitcher plants. The last one was the one I most wished I could see. But such was our luck that we did not even see the most common macaques or the bearded pigs that are forever venturing out towards the park’s office buildings.

The trails through the park are laid out with wooden planks and marked with daubs of red paint every now and then. Our guide Rose tells us that some of these trails can take one to quiet beaches, where it would be just you and the sea.

The next day we fly back to KL, yet again by-pass the city, and head to Melaka. Right out of history books, the Straits of Malacca and the old buildings, the narrow cobbled streets and forts. The heritage society has seen to it that the old buildings maintain their facade; you can do what you want to do with the interiors.

Of all the museums I went to in that one week, the most interesting was the maritime museum at Melaka. Not because of what was inside, but because it is housed in a grounded old Portuguese ship.

Much of the city’s recent development has happened over reclaimed land. As we take a ride in one of the colourful trishaws, the trishaw guy tells us how the spot where our hotel is used to be the beach. "Now we have to go 10km to reach the beach. But it is better this way," he says.

The next day, finally, we enter KL. Cannot but marvel at the efficient infrastructure -- fly-overs, subways, metro and monorails. Soon the Petronas twin towers come into view. For the next three days, I will catch it spying on me at every turn, peeking from between other buildings, lording over the city.

Most of the next couple of days is taken up in attending Malaysia Tourism events. But I do get some time off to walk around the streets, take the metro, window shop. Later, we got bird’s eye views of the city first from the KL Tower and then from the "Eye on Malaysia". But come to the city of the twin towers and not walk the skybridge? So Sunday morning saw us waiting in queue for the coupons to visit the skybridge. Only about 1000 coupons are given each day and people start queuing up early morning. We finally bag an afternoon slot and when the time comes, we step into the high-speed lift that goes at 5-6m per second. The bridge is at the 41st level, which we reach in less than 41 seconds. The view is the same, but the excitement of being on the skybridge was something else.

After a week of pampering at the best of hotels, with the best of vehicles, it was finally time to return home. The calling card had been exhausted, patience had worn out and the suitcase was bulging from all the shopping. So it was with a sigh of relief that I stepped into the Bangalore airport. If you think of the KLIA as a football ground, then the Bangalore one is a mere chessboard. And the actual grounding experience was the wait for the baggage. One can get so used to an organised way of working. After a week of that, here suddenly was chaos. The conveyor belt was stuck and passenger were pushing it along. For a long minute, I missed the pampering. But then, this is home.