Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Losing Sight

"What you've lost sight of is what you are, and what you are is what you hate. You're the 10-time WWE Champion! You're the man! You, like the Red Sox, like Boston, are no longer the underdog! You're a dynasty. You are what you hate. You have become the New York Yankees!" - C M Punk to John Cena. 


In June 2011, the WWE pulled off one of the greatest storylines ever told on television with their famous "Summer of Punk", a fascinating angle which had viewers excited like never before. On one hand you had C M Punk, the favourite of knowledgeable wrestling fans, a man who made it big in the little leagues and rose up the ranks the hard way after paying his dues over the years. This thing was he didn’t fit into the big muscular prototype that the company wanted and as a result, in the eyes of the system, he always played second fiddle to the reigning champion, and this perceived lack of respect was something that fuelled his bitterness. 


And then you had the champion John Cena. The chosen one. The face of the company and hero to millions of kids across the world. He was the guy who always, always overcame the odds and yet ironically his success lay in people watching him struggle to overcome adversity. The storyline had many more layers (see the excellent video below) which made even the casual fan sit up and take notice but in a feud marked by epic promos (wrestling parlance for speeches), massive repercussions and surprisingly little deep rooted hatred, the above lines from C M Punk stood out. 

 

To a non-wrestling fan, it was arguably the equivalent of Ricky Ponting telling Sachin Tendulkar to wake up and smell the reality that the latter was the best batsman in cricket history. Of Evander Holyfield telling the same thing to ‘Iron’ Mike Tyson when it came to the boxing ring. Sachin and Tyson were never the underdogs even if they (and the fans) liked to believe that they were fighting the odds. But is it just sports persons or celebrities that lose sight of what they become? In the real world, aren’t we like them in many respects? 


6 years ago when I first set foot in the corporate world, I noticed that a lot of our mid and upper management were glued to their Blackberry phones when they weren’t working on their laptops. They would often not even look at a person while talking to them but would instead be typing away furiously on their little phones. I for one, found this to be pretty rude and have often cut down on what I intended to say to someone senior if they were replying to an email on their phone at the same time. At that time I used to wonder how the world would change if they didn’t reply to that email at that very moment and how much better it would have been if they instead paid attention to the newbie talking to them. 


Things are different now. My friends and I have worked our way up the ladder and the heavy burden of the workload we bear means that most of us have our office email accounts configured on our phones. Thus we invariably check for new emails while having lunch or during a movie break or (and this is the worst one) the moment we wake up in the morning. We will never end up cold shouldering the person talking to us in our quest to save the company but we certainly are getting close to turning into what we thought we would never ever become. 


I look outside the corporate world and all I see are more real life examples. I know of so many people who used to be enthusiastic regulars on the Sunday morning biking scene but now they have completely disappeared off the face of the earth. Well it’s been forever since I went for a nice ride as well so it might sound like the pot calling the kettle black (double standards much?). But at least I am still active on the online forums whereas marriage and the responsibilities of parenthood have meant that my only chance of meeting these guys is to accidentally bump into them on the mean streets of Bangalore. These were the very same guys who used to scoff at the idea of settling down and over numerous cups of tea used to talk passionately about how biking was their passage to freedom and how the few hours on two wheels was their escape from the monotony and drudgery of life. 


Take the case of the guy in Delhi who used to get so frustrated by the lack of patience and common sense displayed by other motorists and used to frequently wish aloud that things were better. Unsurprisingly he in turn started behaving just like the very same people he used to look down on after driving in our national capital over the next few months. The list of examples runs long and I can honestly say I am in that line as well. 


In the real world, you and I might be pretty similar to each other and the sports persons we look up to. There is one difference between John Cena and some of us, myself included, though. I haven’t lost sight of what I am. Have you? 

Monday, March 10, 2014

The great Indian Music Concert Experience

Regular readers will know that I have always been a bit of a music buff and have thoroughly enjoyed the  concerts that I have had the fortune of attending over the past few years. So when I heard that the very talented screenwriter, director, actor, producer, lyricist, television host and singer (phew, that's quite the resume!) Farhan Akhtar had a concert in Bangalore, I wasted no time in reaching out to all and sundry to see if they wanted to join me for the event at one of India's premier B schools. 


As luck would have it, none of my friends were able to make it for the show but I decided to go alone as I am a big fan of his music and was on a music performance attending spree. I didn’t realize it at that time but flying solo also meant that I had the added advantage of being able to observe the rest of the audience (without the distraction of my charming / talkative friends) that fell into the familiar pattern that I was used to seeing at similar concerts. So what people can you expect to find if you attend a concert in India, you ask?


 1. The Party Poopers 
There are always a few such groups that want to prove that they don’t need to attend a concert to have a good time (hey, I haven’t understood it either…). They are usually the college going people who think that starting a random chant in between songs is cool or that cracking lame jokes loudly, much to the chagrin of everyone else, makes them the most happening people around. I would recommend you maintain more than an arm's length distance.


2. The Section Jumpers 
There are always a whole lot of people who think that because they have paid for entry into a particular section, they are entitled to jump the fence into the more expensive (and poorly cordoned off) areas to move closer to the stage. Those who saw it will never forget the Nehru Cup international football match in Cochin where people kept jumping sections until they were all crowded on the boundary lines of the pitch and did not give the players room to kick the ball in for corners. 


3. The Crazy Dancers  
OK, so you find crazy dancers everywhere but something makes people go bonkers at concerts. A top Indian DJ was playing before Farhan came on stage (seriously, who ever heard of a DJ spinning tracks before a rock concert?!) and the crowd went bananas as they pulled off crazy dance moves that would put a person having a fit to shame. Maybe it’s the anonymity that a starry sky offers you. Maybe they were just crazy. Who knows? 


4. The What The Hell Am I Doing Here People 
I often feel bad for this section of the audience. You have elderly folk who just stand there wondering how they can locate a seat cause their legs hurt. You have young mothers wondering how they let their husbands talk them into attending a rock concert that has left their kid bawling continuously. You have people who haven’t heard a single song from the artist but have been dragged to the event by their friends who were keen on making it there and could lip sync to every single track. All of them sport the eyes wide open and spaced out look though. 


5. The I’m No Waiting In Line-ers  
Despite most people reaching much before the supposed start time of 18:00, the organizers finally opened the gates at around 19:30. The chart below shows you what actually happens when Indians have to wait in line along with the time stamps. The green dots represent the people who came on time and were in line along with me. The purple dots are those who came in later and crept into the line and created offshoots of the four queues. The grey dots are those who were fashionably late and started taking up any empty spot they could take at the end of the queues by around 19:00. After the gates opened, it was mayhem and it's a miracle that I made it through the gates unscathed. Oh and I’m the red dot who moved forward 20 feet in an hour and forty minutes!


Friday, January 03, 2014

The Zero Hero

A country of 1.2 billion people certainly needs its heroes. The frustrated housewife in Trivandrum who was sick and tired of the road blockade by the opposition party workers that had laid siege to the Chief Minister's residence and let loose a verbal volley that had the party workers reeling and hiding behind our men in khaki and forced them to open the road for movement of the common man. An act that resulted in a leading industrialist awarding her Rs 5,00,000 as a reward but also made her the voice of the voiceless. The former Joint Commissioner from the Revenue Services who fought for the Right to Information Act, the massive underdog who took on the incumbent Chief Minister in Delhi and defeated her by a margin of over 25 thousand votes. An act that resulted in him becoming the brightest ray of hope in a country filled with cynicism and accustomed to decades of corruption, nepotism and abuse of power by those we elect. The man who most fans regard as the greatest cricketer of all time. But did his exploits off the field invite the admiration that his cricket career did? 


They certainly come in all shapes and sizes

Outside of his much publicized automotive misadventure, there are stories that never make it to the front pages of our national media and thus leave us with untainted and consequentially deluded perceptions of our icon. Few people know the story of how around a decade or so ago, the cricketer wanted to get one of his cars fitted with a top notch sound system and when the installer returned the car, the missus calmly told them that he should be proud that he was getting the opportunity to work for one of cricket's greatest batsmen and that he should not expect to be paid. After saying that he needed to be paid for the cost of the components and that he could give a discount on the installation charges he was also told his business would boom because he could boast about the fact that he had worked on the car of our nation's greatest sports star. Ticked off, the installer asked for the keys to the car so that he could remove the speakers if he was not going to get paid by the wife of our cricketer in question which is when she finally caved in and decided to pay up. 


After his much publicized retirement, the cricket maestro decided to apply for membership to a prestigious club next to his large bungalow in Bombay and despite the massive waiting period for people trying to become members (think small multiples of 10 years for an idea of how long) the club decided to go ahead and allow him to jump to the head of the line. As per their policy they sent him a letter informing him of the acceptance of his application and asked him to proceed with the payment of the membership fee (think small multiples of Rs 10 lacs / 1 million for an idea of how much) which is when our star batsman replies back to them stating that he has never paid for a club membership in his life and he being who he is was of the opinion that the club should waive off the joining fee. The elected representatives of the club then proceeded to unanimously cancel his application (much to my delight) and told him to take a hike. 


This ladies and gentlemen, is a man who by virtue of being the first really big name in Indian cricket (no offence to those greats who preceded him), helped changed the rules of sponsorship and ensured that sportspersons make a pretty penny from endorsements. This is the man who has inspired countless youngsters over the last few decades with his performances on the cricketing field. As part of the fabulous four of Indian batting, he was the hero the nation wanted. He was the hero the nation needed. Outside of the cricketing grounds and away from the spotlight, it’s a shame that he probably isn’t the hero that we thought he was.

Monday, November 04, 2013

The great Indian cricket match experience

Back in the day, I was the biggest cricket buff around but the frankly massive overdose of the sport in recent years has caused me and many other loyalists to turn away as the once regal sport that has now become all song and dance with very little focus on the actual cricket. But despite this, when I was offered a chance to watch the series clinching final match between India and Australia one day international, I jumped up and grabbed the opportunity before anyone else laid claim to the ticket. 


So here are my top 10 memories of the great Indian cricket match experience which is something that you need to go through once to know that you have really lived a true sports fans life.

1. Cricket administrators are morons!
How else can the explain the fact that they do not allow you to carry a camera inside the stadium but mobile phones with built in cameras are permitted? Every Tom, Dick & Harry in the stadium had a smartphone that could zoom in so much that you it was easier to just watch the players on the phones surrounding you than to strain your eyes and watch the live action on the field instead. I ended up walking all the way back to my car and leaving my camera there and thus missed out on the first few overs of the match because of this stupid rule. 


2. The Bangalore crowd is awesome
So rain temporarily halted play for half an hour or so and the crowd patiently waited for the weather to change and actually applauded the sun when it made its appearance. True story! The Mexican wave did go around the stadium several times and at the end of it, all of us cheered for ourselves. True story again! The crowd was very appreciative of the gritty Australian team as well which was not something I had seen in my earlier cricket matches. All except for Shane Watson though who was booed out of the stadium as he was dismissed because he had exchanged words with some Indian players who had mocked him earlier. 


3. The Helicopter shot! OMG!
I've seen some crazy batting in my time but nothing prepared me for watching the ball sail out the stadium thanks to MSD's unorthodox but brutal helicopter shot. Ridiculous strength and timing. 


4. Watching an Indian batsman score 209 
That was just freaking insane. We almost felt bad for the Australian bowlers. Almost. 



5. $!&@(^%%^!^@# TV producers 
Ok, so if you have watched cricket matches that are being played in the Indian subcontinent you would have noticed how often pretty spectators get close ups of themselves whereas the only time men get shown is if they are jumping up and down in a fit of delirious frenzy that has seemingly been caused by ants in their pants. Here too they had a roving camera man who spent so much time focusing on the pretty women sitting a few rows in front of us while completely ignoring the entire male section of the crowd. I demand equality!


6. The Australian Collapse 
Hah, this looked to be too easy. Wickets kept tumbling down and when the Australian captain ran himself out in a moment of complete amateurishness, we thought the game was done. I mean even my 7 year old nephew couldn't have managed to get himself run out like that and he doesn't even know how to play cricket!


7. Maxwells Silver Hammer
I dont think the Beatles were referring to Glenn Maxwell but did he bludgeon the Indian bowling or what? I wouldn't be surprised if he actually turned out to be a son of Asgard. We were squirming in our seats and the first elements of doubt slowly started to creep in. Surely we couldn't snatch defeat from the warm and welcoming embrace of victory. Or could we?


8.  What Shots by Watson
After suffering a hamstring injury in the first half, Shane Watson walked out and continued where Maxwell had stopped. The ball just kept flying to the boundary and I was beginning to suspect that we might just be staring at an ominous defeat when thankfully Watson finally got out. 


9. The Rising of the Silent Crowd 
23 year old James Faulkner then decided that he was going to make a competitive match out of whatever was left and for some reason the Indian team just couldn't stop him from scoring runs at will. And before we knew it Australia were within sight of the most improbable of victories. The crowd was silent and between overs there was a nervous tension that hung ominously over us. Until the Josh moment happened. 


There it was on the big screen. A message from a guy named Josh that read "Come on spectators, team India needs your cheers!". And just like that the crowd woke up. Trepidation made way for hope. The silent murmurs gave way to cheers. Had it happened in a movie, you would've turned around and said "What bull !" But rather unbelievably, that one message brought the home field advantage back into play and the Indian team woke up as well and finished the tail off.  


10. Indian cricket fan guy is probably a jerk


So this guy is super famous for being an ever present part of India's fan contingent and I'll give him credit for being a flag bearer (no pun intended) of Indian supporters worldwide but during the drinks break an eager fan asked him if he could get a picture taken and this guy didn't even bother acknowledging the fact that someone was talking to him and just walked off. That was rude on a whole different level. 


At the end of the day I realised that you are much better off  watching a match from the comfort of your home with the luxury of your own food and with commentators (house trained but good ones nonetheless) to help you pick out the finer points that you might have missed. But at least once in your lifetime, you have to be a part of the great Indian cricket match experience!

Diwali Notes : Hear and There

So a few years ago I wrote about how Diwali in Bangalore could get a little crazy and I'm glad to say that over time I've become a little smarter about this wonderful festival of ours. Despite the copious amounts of completely unhealthy smoke from the crackers, the beating that my ear drums take from the ridiculously loud explosions (they still make me feel like I am in an actual war field) and the fact that the streets are just covered with so much litter that it is difficult to walk, Diwali still has a charm that is impossible to resist and enjoy. 


So this year I stayed off the roads while people were bursting crackers and instead got myself a nice vantage point and experimented with my red Olympus camera (its not pink I tell you!) as I tried to photograph the lit up Bangalore sky in all its glory. After a few misguided attempts I managed to figure out the actual settings and sorted out the exact angles that I was looking for to get the best results. 


And this is when it all started going downhill. After ensuring that everything was just perfect I was content to sit back and let the camera work it's magic but fate cruelly conspired against me as people just stopped bursting crackers altogether every time I was about to click a picture. As a result of this I ended up with several shots of a clear (if smoggy) Bangalore sky that was completely bereft of fireworks and others of people just standing around doing nothing. 


It got worse though, not only did people stop bursting crackers when I had the camera focussed in their direction but people on different streets would then start sending up fireworks and by the time I would set up my camera there, they too would stop and take a break! And so it went on and on and I was finally about to give up when a wayward rocket burst a few feet away from me and nearly took my hearing along with it as it went up in a thick cloud of smoke. To say that I nearly jumped out of my skin would be a massive understatement.  


On the plus side, I did manage to sneak in a few good pictures though that seemed to have more to do with divine providence than my own skill. I hope you had a memorable Diwali as well. Just don't call to tell me about it. You see, I probably wont hear my phone ring ..... 


Saturday, October 19, 2013

Be Careful What You Wish For

Disclaimer: Now those who do know me well are fully aware that my if it isnt a narrative about something serious, my storytelling usually tends to get a little garnishing with the sole intention of enhancing its entertainment aspect. The two stories below though are completely stock. I havent changed them one bit. Scouts honour!


So my friend realised that the hard disk that he had recently purchased wasn’t working and went to the authorized service centre to get it fixed. After examining the hard disk in question, the service centre chap stated that it appeared as though my friend had tried to physically tamper with it and hence they would not replace it even though it was under warranty. Despite protesting against their false claim nothing happened and my friend returned an angry young man. A week later he thought he ought to try his luck once again but he sent his fiancĂ© with the very same hard disk to see if anything could be done. This time though the service centre guys said that they could not fix it and since they did not have a replacement for the 320GB hard disk with them, they gave her a brand new 500GB hard disk instead!

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Long time readers know of my disdain for the ridiculous pricing of the iphone in India though I have to grudgingly admit that its screen is nice though it is not good enough to command a nonsensical premium. Now a month or so ago, Apple released a software upgrade for its existing customers that had all of its loyalists jumping up and down in unbridled glee. So a friend of mine promptly updated her iphone and found that it had bricked itself and was useful only as a paper weight though most paperweights were better looking. The Apple service centre guys immediately replaced her phone without any questions. Now this is where things get interesting.


My friend from the hard disk story incidentally also has an iphone and he too updated it at the same time and found that suddenly it had a ton of problems and was virtually useless. The Apple service centre guys took a look at it and then returned it to him saying that it was fixed. Over the next few days my friend found out that it wasn’t and he was forced to walk around with an old Nokia phone of his that was probably fashionable sometime in the later 90s. I told him about how Apple had replaced my friends iphone and so he sent his fiancĂ© to the Apple service centre only to find that they gave her a brand new iphone as a replacement straight away!


And the women I know say that they are fighting for equality …..

Thursday, October 03, 2013

Target Practice

It’s the season of targets and am I going to have a tough time meeting them or what?


There’s my sales target for the coming financial year that my boss has just shared with me and I don’t even have to be smart to know that I’m going to have a hell of a year trying to achieve those numbers. So much for my post Himalayan biking, inner peace achieving, work – life balancing mindset that was just about beginning to settle in comfortably. I’m sure everyone who told me that my bliss wouldn't last is grinning away to glory.



Then there is my book writing for which I need to set a target date if I want to send it to publishers. Its 99.99% done and I know that the finish line is in sight but something just keeps holding me back. All that is left is for me to spend a couple of days to polish the top 5 chapters before forwarding it and this will be followed by me keeping my fingers crossed.


Then there is my guitar work for which I need to set a target list of songs. My playing to be honest has been going good (pat on the back) except for my life long problem of not being able to remember the lyrics to songs so I am faced with the inglorious challenge of knowing how to play multiple songs but drawing a blank when it comes to singing them. So the only option left is to create a list of songs which will be my master set. If you ask for anything outside of it, I’ll be sure to tell you that I don’t know it. Now if you do have a special request, be sure to send them in while I am creating my master list and ladies, please don’t fight. One at a time.


Then there is my targeted bank balance which is nowhere near where I want it to be and is directly correlated to my work targets and my writing targets. Speaking of writing targets, once I do send the select chapters out, I need to start working on another idea that I have which is much more elaborate than anything I have ever attempted before. And that includes the 30,000 word masterpiece (did I just hear you say disaster piece?) on my Himalayan trip. This time I haven’t bounced the idea off my usual reliable pillars but that’s something I need to correct soon, assuming that they are interested in helping me that is.


To kick start that creative initiative I sat and started writing my initial draft on paper but the combined problems of my writing being too slow for my brain (it’s probably the only thing too slow for my brain) and the serious problem of content correction has made me realize I need to type that out as well, which is going to be another long exercise.


Which reminds me, the consistent (and understandable as well as expected feedback) that I received for my Himalayan travelogue was that it was too long. Well duh! But it turned out it was so long that even my occasional readers made an attempt and gave up while telling me that I needed to keep my posts shorter but with the same level of sweetness. With that in mind I had targeted 500 words for this post but I’m inching towards 600 instead. So much for meeting my targets!

Runaway Train

When it comes to corporate do-goody programs and initiatives, I think I am pretty much at the top of the cynics list. Having been gainfully employed for the last 5 ½ years in the same organization, I have become a part of ‘the system’ and along the way I have picked up more than a few tricks of the corporate trade. So when the initial emails on the worldwide marathon that our company organizes started trickling in, I quickly deleted them without even bothering to read their contents. After all wasn’t it a gigantic marketing exercise that ensured that ‘the system’ gained publicity and good will? My lack of support was ironic considering that if the system gained I too would gain, given that I am a well-entrenched part of it but I think it’s best to let that bit slide. 


This year though something changed. Maybe it was my boss’s long running (pun unintended) enthusiasm about having the team sign up for the event. Maybe it was my inner self saying that I needed to get rid of that tiny itsy bitsy bit of baby plumpness (What? Who says a 24 year old can’t have baby fat?). Maybe it was me trying to get a hold of how much I could actually push my right knee because for the last year or so I have only been jogging in moderation to stay in shape but in a controlled and sedate manner. This was after suffering a severely swollen right knee from running and a senior doctor had advised me to completely avoid doing so. Maybe it was just a little bit of everything.


Before I could change my mind, I decided to sign up but in a moment of extraordinarily questionable decision making, I decided to register for the 10k event and not the 5k one. Now I am pretty sure that I have never clocked 10 kilometers at a stretch. Ever. Surely I would be able to complete it through systematic practice runs and building my stamina while at the same time ensuring that my right knee didn’t give up on me. Or so I thought.


Work (rather predictably) decided to take a nasty spike upwards from the day I registered for the run and hence the slow buildup of my running capacity topped at only 6 kms as we approached D day. How I was going to complete the remaining 4 kms was anybody’s guess. To my chagrin the 10k run was to start at 6 AM on a Sunday morning which meant that I would have to wake up at 04:30 to get to the start line on time! So much for my weekend beauty sleep….


Based on my practice timings and my bad knee I was hoping to clock a time of an hour and a half which I felt was pretty reasonable given what had transpired.  But deep down I had a sinking feeling that I would be huffing, puffing, panting and in the end breathlessly dragging my sorry self across the finish line while my entire body cried out in protest and pain.




And yet none of that happened. By pacing myself through the combination of a running application and listening to my body, I was able to complete the 10 kms at an average speed that was much higher than my practice sessions. Yes I ended up running a much greater distance while doing so at a faster pace than ever before. Go figure. And no, my body didn’t feel like it was about to give up on me and except for the slight pressure on my soles that there were no real aches and pains and I felt that I could’ve done another 5 – 6 kms easily. And I was genuinely pleasantly surprised.


Now most of my friends thought that I wouldn’t even attempt the 10k. Honestly I had serious doubts about the condition in which I would finish the run. But here I am, continuing my mid week practice sessions weeks after the company event came to a glorious close with a performance by the marvelous band the Raghu Dixit Project that did remind me of the Dave Mathews Band on more than one occasion. 



That’s because I’m trying to see if my knee can take the stress of 21 kms which is my target for the Bangalore Midnight Marathon in December. Or if it will be able to let me get my time close to an hour for the 10k run at the same event. I guess it is safe to say that I may not be topping the cynicism charts when it comes to a certain topic anytime soon. 

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Fan-tastic!

Have you ever had that feeling when you think that something that you do / love / are passionate about just doesnt fit in with society's view of what's acceptable and what's not and that you just don't fit in?

Last year when I travelled to China for the first time (something I had promised to write about though I never got around to doing so, forgiveness I beg of thee!) I was wandering through narrow streets filled with totally touristy stuff including fridge magnets and cuddly panda bears and every thing else that could qualify as a souvenir when I noticed a small shop sandwiched in between that seemed to have collectibles from various games and movies as well as soft toys. Before you ask, there's a massive difference between collectibles and toys! 

Everything from cuddly panda bears to Angry Birds memorabilia (this was at a time when Angry Birds was barely spoken about in India) to Super Mario stuff to characters from the Halo series to Star Wars merchandise were available and I felt like a lil kid in a big candy shop to be honest. It was a treasure trove for someone like me and I only wish I had a larger suitcase that would’ve allowed me to buy the half a dozen collectibles that I wanted to pick up.

And then I saw them. Two collectibles about 10 inches tall from the ridiculously popular Dragon Ball Z series that my brothers were crazy about. It wasn’t a matter of choice really, I just had to buy them and I paid through my nose for those two given that I spoke no Mandarin and the shopkeeper spoke no English and so each of us had to resort to typing on a calculator as we negotiated on the price.

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Go on, admit it, they do look awesome...

As I was leaving the country a couple of days later, I was stopped by the security at the baggage check counter and they indicated that they wanted me to scan my carry-on suitcase again. I was a little surprised and hoped that nothing was wrong as they insisted that I open the suitcase for them. Now the last thing I wanted to do was get held up by airport security in a country where the vast majority of the people don’t speak a word of English but I had no choice and I opened and handed the suitcase over to them. To my amazement, the guard at the machine took the two collectibles out (which he obviously recognized from the initial scan) and called out to the others on duty as he showed them what I was carrying.


Now the fact that he was laughing loudly put me at ease but I got the distinct feeling that they couldn’t believe that a guy in his mid 20s (you can stop rolling your eyes now) would come to their country and buy collectibles of characters from a famous cartoon. With a huge grin he asked me something in Mandarin which I obviously didn’t understand but I replied that it was for my younger brothers which I indicated by holding my palm by the side of me at my shoulder level and then at my chest level. 


That he understood and while laughing he returned them to me as I realized that by now everyone going through the security check in had seen that the only Indian guy in the airport was carrying toys in his bag. Of course my brothers are as tall as me but I had to show that they were smaller than me to make the guard understand, sorry guys! 

Now my brothers and I have been fans of everything related to comic superheroes (we got hooked back in the day when a very few Indians had even heard of the Avengers and the Justice League) to cartoons (He - man and G.I.Joe were the first shows to get us hooked in the years before cable television came to India) and I always thought we were in the minority for so long. Of course there has been a recent spike in popularity of superheroes in the Indian audience which can be attributed to the excellent  Batman trilogy from the past decade as well as the big money maker The Avengers (third on the all time revenue list behind Avatar and the Titanic) and to a lesser extent the Spiderman trilogy. But nothing prepared me for Comic Con 2013 in Bangalore. 




Check out the crowd watching the Cosplay competition in the left half of the picture 

We went in during the second half of the second day and man, was it crowded or what? The place was jam packed and there were so many who had come for the cosplay competition (costume playing) that I couldn't believe my eyes. We even got a picture with someone playing the Joker from The Dark Knight where he was dressed up in the nurse's outfit with green streaks. As I stood there on the balcony and watched the crowd continuously trickle into what that was slowly becoming an ocean of excited humanity, I realised that almost all of them were all fans albeit those of various degrees. And that I fit in perfectly.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Epilogue : Purple Pills - D12

You really cannot do a trip like this and return to your day to day life without finding that it has changed in so many different ways. The mountains have a way of putting you in your place. You find that for all the big money that you earn at the end of the month and the fancy joints that you frequent across town and the hundreds of people that are below you on the corporate ladder, a stray rock fall or some loose gravel on a dangerous turn will ensure that it is curtains for you. You start appreciating life for what it really is.


I was talking to a friend of mine who had covered the entire region with his buddies after hiring a cab a couple of years ago and he too went through the exact process after returning to his ‘normal’ life. The thing is though, life doesn’t let you get back to the old normal. The mountains give you a rush and it’s like your eyes and your mind have finally been opened. The Himalayas then represent the red pill from the Matrix. It’s the painful truth of reality about the world we live in but often see through the wrong pair of glasses.

“I been to mushroom mountain
Once or twice but who's countin'
But nothing compares
To these blue and yellow purple pills”

Purple Pills – D12

After leaving Manali I encountered several signs which made me stop, smile and reflect on the whole trip and what it really meant.  

Sign # 1 – I was in a car on the way to the Delhi airport when I heard the rumble of an approaching Bullet. Instinctively my mind knew that it couldn’t be the Man who didn’t know which football club to support as he used to potter around on his bike and the revs that I heard certainly didn’t match his style. It wasn’t My favourite couple of all time, as they used to give the Bullet the stick and this bike sounded more subdued. It cetainly wasn’t Vishal as he drove all out all the time. And then it struck me, I was in Delhi and our group wasn’t riding any longer..…


Sign # 2 – I was wheeling my suitcases out of the Bangalore airport when I heard the couple behind me say something rather interesting. Instinctively my eyes darted to the left and right of my hands that were on the trolley, searching for the rear view mirrors to get a glimpse of this couple. And then it struck me, I was in Bangalore and I wasn’t holding onto the handlebars of my Bullet …..


Sign # 3 – The main road near my place was finally getting tarred but in its current semi prepared state, it was a dangerous mix of loose gravel and fine sand. Something that I would have avoided like the plague earlier. And then it struck me, after what we had been through, this was the equivalent of a leisurely stroll through the biking park and I looked at it with a devious gleam in my eye.


Sign # 4 – I was glad that the trip had renewed my passion for biking and started my bike (the simple pleasure of using an electric start after two weeks of kick starting the Bullet is indescribable) which I have owned for the last four years but strangely it felt all wrong for the next couple of days. I was so tuned to the upright seating position of the Bullet that this sporty posture had my body in all sorts of discomfort. The pin point braking had me really worried because my body wasn’t used to this sudden retardation and I had to relearn how to balance myself to counteract this. The acceleration now matched the twists of the throttle and there was no delay while the bike said to itself “Ok then, time for me to get to work and pick up the pace. On second thoughts, maybe in a minute or so” And finally there was no deafening rumble to shake the windows off my neighbours houses. And then it stuck me, I would certainly miss the Bullet.

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Author’s note – This marks the end of what certainly has been the most challenging writing exercise that I have ever embarked upon. I ended up clocking a shade under 30k words on this travelogue and it certainly was great fun writing about the wonderful trip and the great people I met. Bouquets and brickbats are most welcome so if you have any thoughts to share about the travelogue or the writing please leave a comment or two. And yes, I know the posts were long. If you thought it took you time to read it, imagine how much time it took me to write the whole thing!

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Day 12 : With A Little Help From My Friends - Beatles (Manali to Delhi)

The last day of our holiday was finally upon us and while I did miss the riding, it was nice to finally get back to the ambling along the streets for the regular touristy stuff routine that I like to indulge in while on a trip. It took a while us to get ready, after all we didn’t have departure deadlines hanging over our heads today, and we eventually stepped out to find a place for breakfast.  After disqualifying the first couple of hotels that we spotted, we settled for a small run of the mill joint that didn’t have anything exotic but had enough items on its menu to keep us satiated. Or so we thought.


We had nothing to complain about the first round of food but the subsequent dishes that we ordered severely tested our taste buds and when we finally did get the bill we made the mistake of mentioning to the waiter that the chutney didn’t seem to be all that fresh. Now this got him talking and he mentioned that the idli was a few days old and the chutney was from yesterday and he even rattled off the rather short list of dishes that were actually fresh. We and our big mouths!


With a slight drizzle for company we walked down to the monastery that was not too far off and tucked away from the hustle and bustle of all the touristy traffic on the main road. It reminded me of the beautiful monasteries in Bylakuppe which is a Tibetan settlement that is around 100 kilometers away from Bangalore, a must visit if you are in this part of the country.

We also spotted this really furry white wabbit (Elmer Fudd reference there people) at the monastery that everyone totally fell in love with immediately. It’s strange how we Indians are fascinated by these albino rabbits but the moment you show them a rabbit that has bits of browns and blacks on it, the affection just seems to fade away. A reflection of the way we think in more ways than one.


We took a short tour of the shops that lined the exit of the monastery, again something that was straight out of the Bylakuppe experience, before we slowly made our way back to the hotel to finish our packing and check out of two of our rooms while we dropped all the bags in the third. Lunch was at the same place where we had our food fight yesterday and consisted of tasty pizzas and wrongly pronounced soft drinks, something that was becoming a regular feature now that we had all started doing it.


Soon enough though it was time to leave and we jammed our bags into an auto while I tried to ensure that none of the bags fell out though I probably should’ve paid more attention to my own balance and ability to stay within the auto given the scant space that was left for me. It was time to say farewell to the Man who was on a mission who was heading to Chandigarh from Manali while the Lady who could single handedly break down a Bullet, My favourite couple and I boarded our bus to Delhi. 


Our ever present companion, Mistress Drama though was never far away even today as we got a call from Vishal who wanted all the pictures (that was obvious given that he was in half of them) and said that he would get me off the bus near his place and would then drive me to the fruit market in which time I would transfer the pictures onto his memory card before getting back on the bus that would make multiple stops in between. True to his word, there he was, standing in the middle of the road while directing the bus to pull over behind his car in proper filmy style. As I stepped out he told the driver that he would get me back on the bus later and if the bus left Manali without me, it wouldn’t be plying on this route any longer. Gulp!


I squeezed myself into the back seat of the European sedan when I found that the hard disk in question wasn’t working and so calls were made while we were driving along and I could actually see people scurrying around to get a replacement hard disk / memory card. Finally we were handed one that worked and we even had some local gentlemen of questionable repute join us in the car just in case the bus driver decided to make a scene. Double gulp!!


As we waited at the market, one of the gentlemen went off to get a local beverage called Fruit Beer which is basically fizzy apple juice. After completing a couple of rounds, I left the thermocol cup on my laptop as I’m a stickler when it comes to not littering. My host though insisted that I throw it out on the road but I refused as I said I’ll take it with me and dump it in a proper place. What I was told next had to be one of the most interesting ways of thinking that I’ve heard in a very long time, “Bhai (brother)”, he said, “our local elected representative is a friend of mine and is doing a great job of keeping our place neat and clean. Now if you don’t throw your cup onto the road, how will he do his job well and how will people in turn appreciate his hard work?” With that he flung the cup out the window before I could even react!


The bus was made to pull over once again and while the final set of pictures was transferred onto the hard disk, the gentlemen of questionable repute slowly loaded the bus with boxes of the freshest plums that you could find for the four of us before I was given the green signal to board the bus. The others actually said that I looked like the typical nerd that gets kidnapped in all those Bruce Willis movies and honestly I can see why they said that. Quite the experience!


Despite the additional day in Manali, all of us were more than exhausted and slept through most of the bus journey except for when we stopped for dinner. We woke up on the outskirts of Delhi the next morning and got off at the last stop where it was time to say our last goodbyes. The Lady who could single handedly break down a Bullet caught herself a cab and I was to get picked up by my aunt while My favourite couple of all time waited for their cab that would take them around the city before they departed. Despite what we had gone through, there were no dramatic and tearful goodbyes nor were there false promises that we would meet each other every weekend for the rest of our lives, something that most people tend to do at the end of trips that were a fraction as adventurous as ours.


We knew that we had been a part of something special and we knew that we would stay in touch. And that’s all that mattered. It was an anti-climatic ending to what had been the most amazing 12 days of my life. Like I wrote at the end of the post on day 11, the Himalayas were the star attraction when I came flew into Delhi. Now I realized the mountains were just the supporting cast in the story that was actually about us overcoming massive odds while constantly skirting with danger and depending on Madam Fortune while getting by with just a little help from strangers who we would now truly call our friends.

“I get by with a little help from my friends,
I get high with a little help from my friends,
Going to try with a little help from my friends”

With A Little Help From My Friends – Beatles  


Day 11 : Goodbye My Lover - James Blunt (Jispa to Manali)

“What we have seen is that carelessness on the last day of riding usually leads to many accidents so please be careful tomorrow to ensure that we all reach Manali safely without any issue” is what one of the organizers said during the sit down session the previous night and it was something which rang through my mind in the morning. Over the last ten days we had been through hell in the closest that one can come to biking heaven and the last thing that anyone wanted was for minor incidents to happen on these 100 odd kilometres before we reached Manali and officially ended our biking trip.


The morning though began on an unusual note as I sat outside on the balcony (we got rooms in the building while other travellers from Manali had taken the tents) and watched on as a guy charged into the meal room and started shouting at the staff for not providing hot water in his tent despite multiple requests from his end. He was more than a little hot under the collar and let loose a verbal volley to the staff, which quite frankly weren’t really tuned to customer service. I can only imagine what the guy would go through if he stopped at Sarchu or Tso Moriri where the only thing resembling hot water came in the shape of a comfort bottle for the night.


The riding began after breakfast and with the tarmac being pretty good for the initial bit, we did get a chance at some well-paced riding before it started breaking down into crumbly roads that would’ve made a brownie proud. Since the Lady who could single handedly break down a Bullet had to change the memory card on her camera we had to stop for a couple of minutes which meant that we were back in our familiar position trailing the group by a fair margin (which if you recall is my preferred riding spot when I do group rides back in Bangalore). Some members of the group weren’t happy about this though as they felt the group had to ride slowly for us to catch up, ironically it was these very same members who everyday used to stop every 10 minutes to take pictures on the first half of our trip and consequentially slow down the group even when we had strict instructions to maintain a good pace! 


As the bad roads made their familiar and hopefully last appearance, my pillion suggested we try to up the pace a bit and try to move up the pack and we did for a while before terribly slushy sections slowed the group down again. Now despite having over 9400 photos, we didn’t have a single one of probably the slushiest section that we encountered which definitely was the most heart stopping bit of the trip. Initially we were stuck in a block as a bus had wedged itself deep in the thick sludge while trying to navigate a turn but it managed to extricate itself after 15 minutes. It was our turn to navigate past the stationary SUVs to the front of the line where we saw viscous slowly moving sludge that was almost ankle deep pouring down the mountain face and across the road.


We had a real fright here as the Lady who always seemed to skip dinner was trying to stomp her way across it (honestly that’s the only way to get across if you were on foot) while the Man who should have played Bane in the Dark Knight Rises was physically and mentally willing his bike across at full throttle when we saw that the sludge suddenly increased in its flow down the mountain and threatened to wash them away. We desperately honked, hoping that they would see the impending danger and fortunately they managed to make it across alive. That was some scary crap straight out of the movies right there, that’s for sure.


Inch by painful inch the rest of us wrestled our bikes across this veritable death trap and after we took the hair pin bend ahead and rode for a minute or so we saw that it was an excavator that was clearing all the rocks and mud that had fallen across the road by pushing it down the mountain and this coupled with the streams was responsible for creating the dangerous sludge factory below. Only in India!


Being a Tuesday (honestly I had lost track of days and dates within a couple of days of the start of the trip) Rohtang pass was closed to tourists which meant that we would have a straight forward ride to Manali but once again, fate was to have other plans. As we approached Rohtang pass, thick mist began to envelop us in a closely wrapped shroud and visibility was really low. Now the problem with mist is that you really cant see too far ahead but you can see sufficient distances to be able to maintain a fair clip but you had to be really careful because if a lorry came up from the other side, you would probably see it too late to do anything about it if you were riding on the wrong line.


While we were riding in single file in this mist and using the tail lights of the bike in front of us as a reference point, I suddenly felt the clutch cable snap which was probably the worst thing that can happen to you when you are riding down a mountain with sharp hairpin bends. Pulling over I checked to see if my fears had come true and indeed they had but by this time the rest of the group had ridden ahead and we saw them on the road directly below us as I honked to no avail.


Well technically the entire group hadn’t ridden ahead as we heard the thump of an approaching Bullet and in true filmy style My favourite couple of all time rode through the thick mist after having realized that our bike which was behind them seemed to have dropped off from the group. It was exactly at this moment that I turned to my seemingly super human pillion (silencer, heat guard, flat tyre and now the clutch cable, that’s not human ladies and gentlemen) and said, “You know, they are my favourite couple of all time”. In many ways this was what true biking was all about, the fact that you are always aware of what is happening within the group and you never leave a fellow rider and friend behind, whatever the circumstances.


While the women folk helpfully offered chocolates (and hand wipes later on to get rid of the grease which never really went away) and watched on, the two of us tried every possible solution that we could think of to come up with a temporary fix for the cable but it wasn’t to be. After escaping scratches, bruises (well I did get some after being punched on my arms several times though that doesn’t count), falls and broken bones, I finally shed blood while trying to work the cable. Ok so maybe it was more of a small trickle rather than a broken fire hydrant bleed but the mountains made me bleed nonetheless! With over 15 minutes having passed, we were surprised to find that the organizers hadn’t returned for us assuming that they had realized that four people were missing. It would’ve been worse if they hadn’t realized that four people were missing!


Finally we decided to shift the bike into neutral and use a combination of locomotive force and a strong foot from behind with me walking and occasionally thrusting the bike while I sat on it. We managed to cover a few hundred metres or so down one bend and made full use of gravity to ride down the slope while the women trooped away and seemingly left us behind. Finally though I threw in the towel as I felt all the strenuous effort wasn’t worth it as we surely couldn’t make our way down the mountain like this and besides the whole point of the back up van was to help us in such situations though we knew that it was at least half an hour, if not more, behind us on account of the bad terrain.


After debating about what we had to do, we decided that it made sense for My favourite couple of all time to ride ahead and catch up with the group and let them know that we were stuck up there in Rohtang pass. There was to be yet another twist to the whole tale as they turned around within 100 metres of starting as they had found that now they had a flat tyre! True story.


They rode back and all four of us had a good laugh about the whole thing while there was still no sign of the organizers. Fortunately we realized that we were on the outskirts of civilization and our cellphones had range so we called up the organizers who said that the group was waiting for us at the bottom of the mountain. We munched on some pistachio nuts and more snacks at what we now officially christened Breakdown Point, while we waited for the van to come save us. Seriously how could you not love a couple that returns for you, carries pistachio nuts and snacks in their backpacks and always has a great sense of humour and big smiles on their faces?


The new mechanic managed to get the clutch cable replaced in no time but after replacing the tube in the other bike we found that the foot pump wasn’t working and so we had no way to inflate the tyre at all. We had to depend on some good Samaritan bikers who were just starting their trip and they had actually packed their pump at the bottom of a bag that they had strapped down so tightly that it took us close to 10 minutes to get it out. To say that I was grateful would be an understatement. Again, helping out a fellow biker in trouble, someone that you have never seen before and probably someone that you never will again, was what it was all about. 


We called up the organizers when the van arrived and they said that they would be going ahead with the group because a few of the guys had buses to catch that evening and they had a bit of paperwork to do before they could depart. We were told where the group would be stopping for lunch and we rode slowly enjoying the emergence of greenery as we snaked our way down the mountain towards Manali.



My favourite pine trees were back and by now we knew that we were in the home stretch, something which left me with mixed feelings. I knew that my family and friends were waiting to hear from me and wanted me back in one piece but was it selfish of me to want the trip to go on for another few days? We stopped for lunch just as the rest of the group was getting ready to leave and we quite enjoyed the view from the balcony of the nice restaurant which served by far the best food of the entire trip. 
 


With content stomachs and even more content spirits, we rode back to Manali to hand the bikes over to their rightful owners. With their paperwork done, we bid a very fond farewell to the Man with arms longer than the law, the Man who tried to beat sunburn and the Man who didn’t know which football club to support who left for Delhi by the buses that evening. After a bit of pushing and prodding we managed to get the organizers to help us book some rooms in Manali and arrange for transport to the hotel.


After freshening up we decided to hit Mall Road (definitely the most happening street in Manali, a cause helped by the fact that it’s the only happening street in Manali) but treated ourselves first to some nice pastries at a nearby shop that even served Apple Paes. Im sure Leander isn’t too happy about that!


With all good chocolate cakes come uncivilized food fights that have manners thrown out the window and chunks literally stolen off each others spoons. Not that I would resort to such barbarian like techniques, I ate like a gentleman of course! We spent the rest of the evening hunting for memory cards and helping the women shop for even more stuff to take back.


Now for all my readers who are not accustomed to Indian ways of shopping, you have to truly understand what we men go through to appreciate the hard life that we lead. First there is the shopping where we can offer no useful advice whatsoever and are relegated to playing the role of financier while we stand outside the shops and wait patiently. Then there is the type of shopping where we can offer advice, which will be blatantly disregarded of course, while we still continue to play the role of financier.


Then there is the third kind of shopping where our women shop for us and hence we take centre stage when it comes to decision making, financed of course by our own wallets. Well if you did believe that, shame on you, our women hardly buy anything for us and we certainly never come close to real decision making. On top of all this we have to carry the over-stuffed bags and keep an eye out for the seedier lot that frequents these markets, often having to innocuously elbow and shove them out of the way before they get too close while nobody else realizes what we have done. It’s tough, I tell you!


This probably was the most enjoyable dinner that we had throughout the trip and consisted of great company, very tasty food, a copious dose of laughter and misspelt soft drinks that confused everyone around. With no concrete plans for the next day, we called it a night as I pulled out my laptop for the second time this evening and continued to download the nearly 100 mb worth of office emails that had accumulated during the trip, a sign of what was to come once I returned to the corporate world.


Could things have been done better by those in charge today? Most definitely yes but in its own way the careless attitude exhibited today held up a mirror to the true dynamics of the group that had ridden together for 10 days and taught us what the brotherhood of biking was all about. 

“You touched my heart you touched my soul.
You changed my life and all my goals.
And love is blind and that I knew when,
My heart was blinded by you.
I've kissed your lips and held your hand.
Shared your dreams and shared your bed.
I know you well, I know your smell.
I've been addicted to you.”

Goodbye My Lover – James Blunt

It was strange really, I had come to the mountains wanting to experience the unforgiving roads and the harsh climate and majestic beauty that I felt would combine to make for an unforgettable experience with a bunch of people I did not know and yet years from now while I will treasure the memories of my first bike ride through the Himalayas (you better believe that I’m going back next year, this mountain riding stuff is unbelievably addictive) and the perspective changing cleansing that I experienced on this trip, it was the people that I rode with that will remain unforgettable. 

Click here for Day 12 - Manali to Delhi