Monday, August 28, 2006

Musings on Rails - 2

Long distance trains in India usually comprise second (sleeper) class, first class and AC coaches. The second class coaches are usually packed beyond capacity with people without reservations and often leave no room for even a trip to the washroom. While the air-conditioned coaches are a boon in the scorching Indian summer, the flip side is that they do cut one off from the surroundings and thus take away most of the romanticism of the journey. Since I was travelling in winter I had chosen a first class cabin. Hence I enjoyed the relative privacy of a closed cabin while retaining the ability to interact with the world outside. I shared my cabin with an elderly couple. They apparently had ‘been there, seen that’ and held no fascinations for the views outside.
As the train sped through the darkness I stole a glance at my watch. It indicated that it was almost time for dinner. I have always had a weakness for the meals served by the Indian Railways. While most Indians would nod disapprovingly at this, I seem to sustain the liking each time I travel by train. Soon the attendant arrived with the trays loaded with packed meals wrapped in aluminum foil. He handed mine and moved on. Placing the food on a spread out newspaper I sat down to enjoy a hot meal consisting of rice, dal, puris, egg-curry and some pickle. The elderly couple had spent most of their journey dozing. They woke up once in a while to eat a few morsels of curd-rice from a huge steel bin (for want of a better word) that seemed to have an unending supply of it. After staring disapprovingly at my plate for a while they got their bin out again. After eating a few spoonfuls of the by-now-evil-smelling paste of white they were back in dreamland. And all this before I finished my meal!
The lights in the cabin were switched off. I had my face next to the window and felt the cool breeze blowing on my face. The whole train was silent, as most of the people were asleep. It was a strange solitude, with a thousand other people in close proximity. It was the type of solitude that I did not want to break by thinking even. The train sped past a station without stopping. For no particular reason this brought a smile on my face. I have often stood at a station and watched a train zoom past. Hence the feeling of being in the train itself while others watched was a source of joy, again a residue of some childhood thrill.
After a while I shut the window, leaving a tiny crack open. Placing my pillow below the window I curled up under my blanket. The first-class and AC coaches have these reading lights. They have a flip open metal lid that doubles as a switch and also gets real hot in no time. It was by this light that I started reading the novel I had brought along. I cannot explain why but it feels just great to read by this light. Soon I was finding it hard to keep my eyelids open. I have often thought that the motion of the train is like a giant cradle and that probably explains why I usually sleep like a baby when on one. Thus, while the protagonist of the novel was out saving the world, I drifted into a peaceful slumber, rocked rhythmically by the speeding train.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Musings on Rails - 1

Chai… chai!!…’ I jerked back into consciousness from a drowsy trance-like state that I was in. Only the gentle rocking and the rhythmic beat of the train can put one in this state. It was a few moments before I had my bearings right. I gave an annoyed glance at the perpetrator of the noise. However he was probably used to getting such looks and nonchalantly carried on announcing his presence. Stifling a yawn, I looked out of the window.
The train had just pulled into the station of one of those nondescript small towns that dot the Indian landscape. It was late evening and the station was busy with hawkers peddling their wares, from sliced cucumber with a dash of rock salt to boiled eggs. As I looked on I wondered how many trains came to this station in a day. And how much did these people make. Presently the vendor selling tea made a second pass and this time he elicited a favorable response from me. I curled up with my cup as a slight chill had set in. Served in small earthen mugs, it had a very unique taste. And I got this childish thrill out of tossing the cup out of the window when the train ran at high speed, knowing I wasn’t polluting the environment. Then I noticed a sudden increase in the tempo of activity. Craning my neck I caught a glimpse of the reason for this. The stationmaster was waving a green flag at the train. As people completed their last minute purchases the train started moving.
The train pulled out of the station and gradually picked up speed. Soon the town receded. I made a mental note to remember this place, knowing too well that I would never recognize it again. Soon the houses gave way to vast, seemingly endless fields stretching out into the horizon. Sometimes in the distance there would be a lone farmer walking back with his cattle. There was not a house in sight. It made me wonder where he stayed and how long it would take him to reach there. Questions I would never know the answer to. At times I spotted a light-pole with a single light burning on it and a pump providing the much-needed water. Occasionally the train went over small bridges that just had wasteland below them; scattered patches of grass and shrubs and at times a seldom used dirt track. Made me wonder why a bridge was needed there in the first place.
Soon the sun melted away below the horizon and the evening blended into dusk. There is a curious mix of light and shadows at this time that plays with ones perception of the surroundings. It’s quite difficult to visualize anything clearly and the motion of the train does not help. Soon figments of imagination manifest themselves into the weirdest of forms. And suddenly the place was engulfed by darkness. Except for a few distant spots of light, the train seemed to be going through some void in space. It was like a small world of its own, with a thousand odd people travelling through infinite black space.
And there outside was another world. A world I was permitted to get just a fleeting glimpse of. A world that I would never be a part of.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Home is Where....

June 2004 to Aug 2005
There is something special about working in the city where your home is. Having stayed away from home for the first year of my professional career I decided to touch base again. Base happens to be Pune. Maybe it’s the aura of the city that draws me to it. Or just the fact that every memory in the past twenty odd years has an association with this city. Whatever it may be, the city has something magical about it. For me, it is home. And I am glad to have grown up there. I have seen the city with the eyes of a school going kid, a high school teenager and an engineering undergraduate. And now I was seeing it as an employed professional. But then maybe it was an illusion. The city did not change. I did. The people did. After all, a city is nothing but a reflection of the people who reside there.
And so there I was. On my bike, in my city. It instilled a sense of freedom, a sense of exhilaration and a quiet comfort in the fact that I was always on home turf. And even then at the end of the day I had a home to go to.
But then the human spirit is not easily appeased. Soon the feeling gave way to something more intense. The need to do something more. To get out of that comfort zone. After all there was more to life. There is always more to life for those who dare to dream. I had always been a dreamer. Now it was time to give those dreams a tangible manifestation.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Jaya He!

They died in war so we live in peace.
On the 20th of October 1962, the Chinese Army launched an attack on Riznag La pass in NEFA (NorthEast Frontier Area), wiping out the Indian battalion posted there. The brave soldiers fought to the last man and the last round. Today, at Rizang La, a small white memorial marking their valor reads:

For how can men die better,
Than facing fearful odds,
For the ashes of their forefathers
And the temples of their gods...

May we always respect and value the greatest gift bestowed upon us, Freedom. Let’s make INDIA proud of us.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Ban Humans

August 10, 2006 LONDON -
British authorities said Thursday they thwarted a terrorist plot to simultaneously blow up 10 aircraft heading to the U.S. using explosives smuggled in hand luggage, averting what police described as "mass murder on an unimaginable scale."

Everytime something like this happens I get the feeling that the human race ought to be ostracized from this planet. Not only do we destroy every other life form, we also try our best to destroy ourselves. Maybe we should leave this planet to the animals. It would be a very peaceful place then. We call them wild; the epithet applies more to the human race than to the animals. Animals kill only to feed themselves. However we fight wars where we kill millions. And even in ‘peace’ we try to kill as many innocents as possible. Wanton destruction of human life seems to have become the norm.
Yes, the human race needs to be banned from living (or rather killing and dying) on this planet.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

City of Dreams - Episode Vier!

The Exodus...
It began with one of us leaving shortly after the training. And soon others were to follow suit. While some went on to pursue higher degrees in education others went in search of more lucrative offers. Whatever the reason the outflow had started and it would only increase as time passed. And so it came as no surprise when within one year more than half of our initial batch had severed their association with the firm. While this is not a reflection of the quality of the firm, it certainly provides a peek into the mindset of today’s youth. There was a time when graduates fresh out of college would stick to their first job for a decade or more. Not so now. We are no more satisfied with a decent living. We want more in every aspect of life. The pros and cons of this are the topic of another post. However this is primarily what caused the exodus.
And so we bid each person farewell. We had had such a great time and within a year it was time for change again. And the Siebel group felt it even more as more than half of the team left within a short span of time. As we bid farewell to each member office seemed more uninviting with each passing day. And soon it was my turn too. I was going back home! However as I set off on my last day I felt a tiny pang somewhere deep within. All these people had influenced my life in some way. And I hoped I had managed to reciprocate that influence in some way at least.
And I knew I would miss Bombay. It might come as a surprise to most that before this one-year stint I had been to Bombay just once. And that was a whirlwind one-day trip that left me with the impression of it being an overcrowded, dirty and hot city. However I know now that I couldn’t have been more mistaken. The city has a soul to it that I have not felt in any other city that I have been to. Each one of the teeming masses seems to have an identity, and more importantly a purpose. There are a lot of maladies that plague it. However sheer human spirit wins over these. The packed local trains and stations. The huge traffic jams. The unbelievable variety of food available. The efficient BEST buses. The bookstalls of Churchgate. The beauty of Marine Drive and the beaches. The torrential and awe inspiring rainfall. Yes, I would miss it all. But most of all I would miss the people and their spirit. I shall always have a soft spot for this great city! Truly, ‘Yeh hai Bombay meri jaan!’
It was with these mixed feelings that I parted ways with I-Flex and thus Bombay exactly a year and two days after I had joined. But that span of time had changed me. I now was, and always would be a part of the real world.