Sunday, November 05, 2006

Pooja Phenomenon

Its been more than a year since I've been staying and working with Bengalis. As with any other state, they have their own unique culture, traditions, art, celebrations, food habits, heroes, fights. I'm used to the 'alao' love, 'maach' craziness and 'misti' longings of Bengalis.But one thing which stood way out and for which every Bengali goes bersek is 'Durga Pooja'.

During initial days of my stay with Bengali friends, I noticed that whenever somebody mentioned 'Durga Pooja', they would get energised so much and would never stopped talking about the Pooja. I never understood why Bengalis are so crazy about Pooja.

As I spent more and more time with them, I could only see that it is not few but most of the Bengali fraternity goes in mass Pooja mania. In office, I had seen people trying to somehow squeeze vaccations to India so that they can attend Pooja.And ones whoever couldn't go would be present in office physically and mentally they would be there in Pooja pendals.

What a divine coincidence! This time, things happened such that I was in Kolkata during Durga Pooja and it was time for me to get a first hand feel of 'Durga Pooja phenomenon'.

I arrived in Kolkata just a week before Durga Pooja started. It was already evident that Kolkata was waiting eagerly for Durga ma.Everybody in office & outside had one common favorite topic - Durga Pooja.

Durga Pooja was in the air !

As the days got closer to Durga Pooja, the strength in office started dwindling. In between some serious rain caused some concerns of spoiling the party.But it wasn't to be.

I had heard from Bengali friends that integral part of Durga Pooja is 'Pendal hopping' and I decided to try it myself.On the Pooja day, we started pendal hopping from the block where we stayed.As we started hopping from pendal to pendal I noticed that the crowd on the roads increased as the evening progressed. As the night grew old, there were families, friends, relatives, lovers..everybody out on streets to get soaked in festive atmosphere.

I heard somewhere that Bengalis like 'addabaazi', that is grouping together and having fun.Durga pooja was indeed the perfect time for addabaazi. People were visiting pendals, eating out, having fun.Totally a carnival feel.

The effort these guys put into bring uppendals is unbelievable. Each of the pendals are unique, theme-based and meticulosly planned. The lightings & decorations are so stunning.Most of them are so impressive that it is a pure art work.Durga ma is curved in various forms and using various materials.
While inside the pendal, 'Anjali' is performed and outside pendals 'dhaaks' roar. Anjali is the aarthi program and dhaaks are those drums, which give that unique sound to the celebrations.

We literally roamed the whole night and felt that city will never sleep for the festival.

Newspapers during those Pooja days carried exclusives only on Durga Pooja.Suppliments ran into pages about the best pendals, pooja special food and anything about Pooja.Most news channels too jumped the vagon and came up with exclusives.Most of the Bengali channels took viewers on a virtual 'pendal hopping' with live coverage from various pendals.

If pendals were one event, then Durga immersion procession on the last day was another colorful event.One notable thing was the significant number of ladies out on street , swaying to the dhaks.

Bengal is such a state where communists are ruling for past 2-3 decades and I was wondering how Durga Pooja and Communism can go together.It was sounding such a oxymoron imagining communists celebrating Durga pooja.Then I told to myself that nobody stopped people affiliated to communism from celebration.Even if they don't believe in God, they cant stop believing in celebrations!

That lead to another question..why in first place, Durga pooja generates such interest and celebrations?

I got a feel that Durga Pooja is no longer a festival of some particular caste but people has accepted it as their own festival. Added to this, is the excellent machinary which arranges Durga Pooja in such a stylish manner that people get soaked into it.The final reason what I felt was Bengalis though have several festivals, nothing is compared to Durga Pooja and Durga pooja is the time to let out all that steam accumulated.Contrast this to any South Indian state, where there will be atleast one festival every month.So net result is that people wait for a good year to get the opportunity to feel,enjoy & get drenched in one mega celebration.

And after-effects of Pooja looked devastating ! Next day after the immersion, I saw many people who were down with a feeling that Durga Pooja was over and few were already counting days for next year's pooja !! And few were so used to saying 'Shubh Bijay' that they couldnt stop saying it even after Durga Pooja !

With due regards to Bengalis, as one of my Bengali friend used to stay "Durga Pooja is the only time when Bengalis would be active after which they go back to sleep for rest of the year' !!

Monday, July 10, 2006

The Big Apple

July 03, Monday

The cheap hotel which we had booked in New York really turned to be 'cheap'. After understanding it was no use arguing with the hotel guys, we shifted to another hotel, which was pretty decent.

After getting ready, we set out for New York expedition, before that we dropped Ponamma to catch her with other appointment. Parking in New York is one hell experience and we promptly returned our car to the agency. Then onwards it was taxi.

First visit was to World Trade Center.

As we walked to the Ground Zero, those satanic images of planes crashing into skyscrapers were repeating playing in my mind. I was thinking how many innocent lives unaware of what is waiting for them would have come into their offices in WTC on that fateful 09/11.

There was emptiness in the site. Once there stood two magnificent towers with booming life. At the site there were boards describing how the transport was restored, what happened at Pentagon and there was a list of all people who lost their lives in the attack. All together 2373 lives. There was graffiti on near-by wall most of them paying homage to all the departed souls.

Paid homage to all the departed ones and a silent thanks to all the firemen. In the near by World Financial Center, there was a model of the upcoming 'Freedom Tower', which is to be built in the place where WTC stood. Mind was still thinking about how anybody would think in such destructive way, what meticulous planning would have gone in this. But what did they gain out of this??

Next took a taxi and landed up in Empire State building. Before getting into Empire State building, something about taxis here. Most of the yellow taxis are driven by Desis especially the Sardars. We always ended up in Sardar taxis throughout our travel in New York.

Empire State building is the second tallest structure in US with 102 floors. There was a huge queue to get into the top of the building. After taking tickets for that, we landed on the observatory section of the empire state building. The view of New York from there was awesome. Good that we took the 'Tony the Cabie's audio commentary'. It was nice to listen to the commentary about each building we were seeing.

From there we landed up in Times Square. The first impression was awe. It was nothing but glittering. So many people, so many lights, sign boards, flashy bill boards, advertisements, it was a perfect place to roam in the night. Roaming in the Times Square was like walking in the Brigade-MG Road. We just strolled the street and had dinner at an Italian restaurant. Times truly reflected the 'never sleeping city'.

It was time to go back to hotel. But we didn't know the address of the hotel! Neither was it written on the key they gave. At that time we were in Time Square at 7th Avenue 47th Street. So 'somebody' in our group called up and asked for the hotel address. Depending on that, we took a taxi and went to 7th Avenue, 146 th street to find that there was no hotel there! Again when we called it was known that the hotel was in 7th Avenue 46th Street. This meant the hotel was next street from where we started! We laughed at ourselves for this, when we saw Times Square from our hotel window!

July 04, Tuesday

As soon as we were ready we went to the Central Park, which was at a walkable distance from the hotel. Central Park was so huge and everywhere people were seen jogging, cycling or skating. After spending strolling across the park and enjoying the central park benches, it was time to bid adieu to Dips.

We were back in Central Park and Archana was insisting that we will hire bicycles to roam around. So hired the bicycles for 2 hours for a rent of 20$. Last time I rode a bicycle was atleast 4-5 years ago. So first few seconds were shaky & finally I got the grip.It was awesome strolling the central park on the bicycle. It was good to see so many joggers, cyclists, skaters & walkers around us.

After 2 hours we returned the bicycles and went for one last round of stroll in Time Square before we left for the airport.

We reached JFK barely with any time left, but plane was made to wait for nearly 2 hours on the runway due to some runway problem, which meant that when I arrived in Phoenix, I had missed my connecting flight to LA. I was put in the next day first flight at 6 AM.The stupid airlines argued that they can't provide accommodation. Suppi took me to his home with an extra burden of dropping me in airport for the first flight.

I almost missed that flight too, but somehow made it! But it was not the end of action as my baggage didn't arrive when I landed in LAX. Finally everything ended fine!

Climbing Statue of Liberty
Getting soaked in Niagara
Drive in the freeway
Silent moments at WTC
Top of the world in Empire State building
Stroll in Time Square
Cycling in Central Park

So many wonderful moments throughout the trip combined with the presence of my awesome friends without whom this trip would not have so much fun and memorable.

Still savoring each moment from the trip...

Saturday, July 08, 2006

A magnificent statue and an awesome waterfalls

It was tough to get back to work in office after spending an awesome time with friends in awesome places. I’m just back from a trip to New York and Niagara.

The idea of this New York trip originated during our last Las Vegas trip. Even though we thought we will book the tickets & hotels well in advance, it never happened. Finally it boiled down to just one week before the trip. Then as always we rushed and in hurry tried to book air tickets. Even though it was little expensive, it wasn’t bad either. At some point, we almost dropped the idea of the trip seeing the prices. Somehow everything fell in place.

But this time, biggest villain was hotel! We literally struggled to get a decent hotel and when we finally booked a hotel at a surprisingly low price, we were elated. Not knowing what was waiting for us next.

When everything was fine, suddenly at my work place, there was some concern about me taking an off. Somehow I convinced them. Same thing happened with Suppi too.

Keeping aside all these initial hiccups, so finally we kick-started the trip from flying to New York. Only after landing in JFK Airport in New York, I and Suppi realized that still there are lots which we need to battle. Our plan of hiring the car from airport went for a toss as there was not even a single vehicle available in any rental agencies. After roaming frantically for 3 hours and after surfing on the spot, we managed to get a car from a rental agency which was 10 miles from JFK.

Mean while it was not going good for our friends who went to hotel to rest. The hotel would have been easily rated one of the worst. We were deceived by the hotel’s flashy website & the price carrot.

July 01, Saturday

Finally it was 10:30 on Saturday morning, when the same gang of Deepti, Archana, Supreeth & I met in Battery Park. Only addition was Ponamma. This was the place from where the ferry would take us to one of the most recognized monument in world, Statue of Liberty.

There was an intense security check, just like in airports, before we boarded the ferry. As the ferry moved nearer to Liberty Island, the famous statue was becoming more and more visible. It was a memorable moment to see the Statue of Liberty in person. After getting down on the island, we proceeded to the statue. Entry to the Statue requires tickets and thankfully I had booked it online.

As we entered the Statue, again there was one more round of security check, this time it had some puff test, which blew air on the body! Now we were in the Statue and the stairs led us to the exclusive exhibition about Statue of Liberty and its history.

Did you know this? Auguste Bartholdi, the sculptor of Statue of Liberty was thinking of ways to provide the support from inside to the statue. He consulted Eiffel and Eiffel suggested that there should be a tower like structure which runs across the statue to support it. And that idea worked. By the way, Eiffel is the same guy after which the Paris’s famous tower is named.

It seems there is a path up till the lamp. But that route is no longer accessible.

So there we were at the feet of Statue of Liberty. The gigantic, green and magnificent statue, gifted by France to US, to mark the later’s independence. The Statue stood as a symbol of freedom, hope & liberty. It was the first sight any immigrant entering to US through New York would have seen during those days. One interesting thing to notice was that right feet of the statue was on toes, something like to ‘ready to go’ state. (Well, Archana cooked up some cock-bull reason why it was like that ! )

The view of Manhattan from Statue was amazing too. We took some funny pictures around Statue, had lunch and started back in the ferry to Battery Park.

According to plan, we left New York for Buffalo, a place 450 miles away. Our Plan was to visit Niagara and come back again to New York. Suppi started the driving from New York and drove till we were totally out of New York traffic. Then I took over and as always it was pleasure driving. Especially driving in the freeway is an experience. We got a good company of some 4-5 cars who consistently kept me competitive. After 4 hours, Suppi took over. It was 1:30 night when we reached the hotel in Buffalo. The hotel was too good compared to other in New York, thanks to our IDM manager !

Buffalo streets was full of Saturday night parties and energy level was quite visible-audible. But we badly needed rest and slipped into sleep.

July 02, Sunday

Tired with the journey we woke up pretty late and started towards Niagara, which was about 50 miles from Buffalo. By the time we reached the place and found car parking, it was already afternoon. Information Center informed us about the combo-trip package which covers the Niagara Falls extensively. We booked the tickets for that and tickets were available only for 4:30 trip.

Meanwhile it was time to attack the lunch at a near-by Punjabi restaurant (In fact the name was Punjabi dhabha which made us to run to it!).After a good buffet lunch, we were all set for the Niagara expedition.

Niagara Falls actually consists of three falls – American Falls, Bridal Vail Falls and Canadian Falls (Horse Shoe Falls).

First of the trip was called ‘Maid of the Mist’. This is the trip where the cruise passes near the American Falls and takes right into the Horse-Shoe falls. Before boarding the cruise, we were given blue colored plastic gowns and as the cruise moved towards the falls, we realized why the gown was required. The entire atmosphere was misty and there was a strong wind blowing, making water droplets flying in all directions.

The American falls sight was magnificent and the sun rays and the water drop had created a big rainbow across the falls. American falls was 1060 feet in width and had a 180 ft height. When we were still enjoying the American falls, at a near distance we heard the thundering noise of water thrusting. The boat took a slight turn and slowly the Horse-Shoe Falls appeared. In next few moments, we were in the middle of Horse-Shoe falls. To the left, to the right & to the center, it was water in majestic form. It was jumping as if it has broken all shackles attached to it, as if there was no tomorrow...

Imagine a waterfall which is 2600 feet in width and 173 feet height and water jumping in full form. It was an absolutely stunning experience. When the announcement in the ship went “Ladies & Gentleman, THIS is Niagara Falls”, automatically all the hands in the ship clapped in unison with loud cheering. Truly, it was a moment to cherish.

We couldn’t stop talking about the view of Niagara after we came out of that ‘Maid of the Mist’ trip. Next on our list was ‘Cave of the Winds’ tour. This time the queue was extremely long and before entering we were given the yellow plastic gowns and water slippers.

There was a small pathway, which lead to the falls and when the path ended, we were right below the falls. Now we knew why water slippers were given. As we climbed nearer to the falls, the water was splashing on us from every side. As wind blew, it carried a barrage of water droplets and sprinkled on us. We stood right below the falls with water falling with massive force and what a force it has. Thanks to the gown, clothes were dry, but couldn’t resist getting the head wet thoroughly.

Up close to the falls was an awesome experience. We could have continued like that forever. It was getting dark and slowly the lights were coming on. We came out of the ‘Cave of the Winds’.

The powerful light sources on the Canadian border were projecting the colors on the falls. The water falls was taking new colors and in the night it was another different world. It was such a myriad image to see the falls in blue, green, red and in many other eye-catching colors. It was around 10 in night now and the fireworks started on Canadian border. It was excellent show but got curtailed due to rain.

We returned back to our car with Niagara running in our minds and the images constantly lingering in eyes. Time for dinner and we went to one more Indian restaurant. There the owner of the hotel and a Desi had picked up the fight and arguing stupidly. We carried with our dinner and before dinner got over, we could see the hotel owner trying to be nice with that Desi customer by calling him ‘Beta’ and hugging. It was hilarious!

After refueling the car, it was 1 in the night when we started our journey back. I started the innings with me being in driver’s seat. After roaming for the whole day, folks were feeling sleepy and soon Archana & Ponamma slipped into sleep. We made Suppi to sleep so that he can take over from me. Deepti tried giving company to me by continuing her request show and talking to me. Finally she also slipped into sleep.

Meanwhile the drive was extremely cool, as always started with 65-70 mph and slowly ramped up to 80-85 mph. This time there was no company to chase or play with on the freeway. Archana, I think got worried twice when the car swayed at few turns. Ponamma was sleeping sound as if she was sleeping in a nice cozy bed. Finally it was 4:30 when I handed over the wheel to Suppi and I slipped into sleep for some 2 hours.

We were on our way back to The Big Apple..

Coming up next...Ground Zero, Empire State building, Time Square and many New York attractions

Friday, June 09, 2006

Football Fiesta

The Festival of Football is back!!!

If there is one game which can truly be called ‘global’, it has to be Football. What makes Football wonderful is the intensity, skills, passions & emotions involved in the game. Now you may come up with arguments saying that every game has all this and if you say that there is nothing like cricket, then probably you have not experienced the feast of football.

The very basic idea of game is simple and appealing. Two teams of 11 players with an aim to putting the ball in the opponent’s goal post using only legs & head. The next best part about football is the speed. The game is usually played for two halfs of 45 minutes and naturally the game moves at a brisk pace. So the agony of sitting for hours & hours watching something which already is pre-decided is not required.

I don’t know how I got bitten from this football bug.

In our small town of Harihar, there was a football club ‘Town Sports Club’. Everyday evening, when returning from school I used to pass by the ground where these footballers used to practice. It didn’t take much time to fall in love with the game. I was then in 5th Standard, started playing since then and it continued till I was in 10th standard. After that though it was not so regular, I played whenever possible.

So having the first hand of idea about the game, world cups were always a treat for hardcore footballers like me.

First memories of world cup was Italia-90.

After 1986 ‘Maradona’ world cup, his influence was so much that our club’s jersey was designed exactly same as the Argentine team’s. Having heard/influenced of legendary superstar called “Maradona”, me and friends in our club supported Argentine through out that Italia world cup.

But Maradona didn’t take off as we expected, instead there were some other eye-catching players in other teams like Schillaci of Italy, who became popular for his scissor-like passes. I became so influenced by that pass, that I successfully implemented in my game and promptly I was called ‘Schillaci' for few days! Then there was Roger Milla and his Cameron team which became overnight famous for defeating our favorite Argentine. We hated them so much! But to our pleasure, our Argentine team reached the final and it was to play against West Germany.

I still remember the final match was at 12:30 in the midnight and my dad took me to his friend’s house to watch it. Nothing spectacular until that penalty was given and Germans scored that penalty to win the world cup. Totally devastated we were. Next day & for few days, post mortem of the match followed in the school and in the club.

Meanwhile our school was doing great in the inter-school football championship & we had reached the district level.

Next World Cup, USA 94.

Nothing much to remember , except the pony-tailed Roberto Baggio missing the penalty shot and Brazil winning the cup in a penalty shoot-out.And of course that Valderamma's orange bushy hair!!

Out of school, I was now in college and my football play continued with hostel mates in the hostel grounds.

Come 1998, it was France-98 World Cup.

Post Maradona, my loyalty had shifted to Brazil. There is something about South American Football. There is some rhythm, some style and some genuine talents.

Everybody was talking about this 20 year aged bald headed Brazilian Ronaldo. True to the legend, Ronaldo mesmerized and took his team to the final. What a final it was! France playing in their home ground against Brazil. Ronaldo going out mysteriously after the final match started and Zidane heading two marvelous goals. A dream victory for any host!

Now I was working, I was not able to play much except that inter-office football tournament representing my company.

It was Korea Japan -2002 World cup.

The world cup started with many surprises. Defending champions France lost the opening match to a new comer Senegal and eventually was eliminated. Likewise was Argentina.

Meanwhile my favorite team Brazil was making good progress. One particular match I remember was Brazil V/S England in quarterfinals. I had disappeared from my cubicle for the match with few of my colleagues to watch the match! Match was a tight one before an amazing free kick from Ronaldino sealed the fate, defeating England.

The three Brazilian Rs – Ronaldo, Rivaldo and Ronaldino were fantastic and Brazil reached the finals. Final match was against Germany. It was touted as the battle of titans – Ronaldo against the German super goal keeper – Oliver Kahn .Ultimately Ronaldo won the battle and Brazil, the trophy.

Most memorable part of that world cup was the stunning performance by host countries – South Korea and Japan. South Korea managed to reach semis while Japan managed to last 16. Especially the ‘Red devils’ of Korea was such a huge phenomenon and I believe that ‘red devils’ were one of the major reasons behind Korea’s dream run.

Now its time for one more world cup, this time in Germany.

This time also I’ll be backing ‘Seleção’. With a right mix of experience and raw talent, Brazil is the team to look for.

But at the end of the day all that matters is that 90 minutes in the field and that’s is why this game becomes so interesting.

In next one month, there will be millions in hundred countries following teams, there will be spectators highly charged up, there will be passions running high and above all ,there were will be feast of football.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

A Priceless Re-Union Trip !

Flying to Phoenix – several 100 $
Ride to Canyon – several $
Hotel in Vegas – several 100$
Money spent/lost in Vegas – several $
Being with my old Bangalore gang – Priceless

What shall I say about the past 3 magical days, after which it is so difficult to be in the office!

In the first place, it was so astonishing to see how things fell in place and within a week’s time our trip was planned.

It all started with a call from Deepti asking me about the long weekend plan. I was still in the confused and undecided state. Then came the news that Venu may join with us, if we plan something. On other side, we came to know that Archana will be flying to Phoenix in the long weekend, where Supreeth stays. So taking these all jigsaw pieces & after some elaboration we fitted the jigsaw puzzle. After several Google searches and after one conference call, a plan was ready. Phoenix was our first destination.

Friday May 26, 2006

On Friday night I flew from Los Angeles to Phoenix, Deepti flew from San Jose and Venu from Chicago. Meanwhile Archana had flown from Denver in the afternoon itself and was enjoying the privilege of being the early bird by shopping things for the trip with Supreeth.

There we were at Phoenix airport, 5 of us, who were/is part of Lucent Messaging project in Bangalore. Especially for me, I was meeting all these friends nearly after 9 months. How excited and happy we were to see the old gang!

A good dinner at Supreeth’s place (special mention of Channa masala he prepared) was complimented with our peppy talks on LMD days. The next day was supposed to be very hectic. So we retired to bed, hoping to make an early start.

Saturday May 27, 2006

Next morning we started, not as planned at 6 but at 8 AM!

The agenda for the day - visit Sedona, Grand Canyon and finally reach Las Vegas.

Our first place of visit was Sedona rocks. Sedona has these red-colored rocks in different shapes .We had stops at the bell-shape rock & several other spots before we headed towards Grand Canyon.

The way to Grand Canyon was overly crowded & the traffic was extremely slow moving. We hoped atleast, once we are done with watching the 45 minutes movie on ’Grand Canyon’ at I-max theater, the traffic would ease. But it grew still slower. After limping on an annoyingly slow pace, we reached the South rim of Grand Canyon.

I still remember the awe which struck me when I first saw the Grand Canyon last year. I was totally mesmerized and I could see the same feeling on our folks faces. The best thing we did was taking the bus ride along the Canyon points. The Canyon shuttle carries visitors to several view points and the views at few of these points were breathtaking.

Simply put, Grand Canyon is magnanimous. It has to be God’s one of the best creations.

From there we started our journey towards Las Vegas.

If Grand Canyon is one of the best creations of God, then Las Vegas is one of the lavish materialistic creations created by man. As we drove closer to Vegas, the Vegas skyline was making presence with its brightly lit structures. Some land marks like Stratosphere were visible from the distance itself.

Around 2 am, we reached at the Gold Coast hotel, our stay in Vegas. It was a tricky situation. If we had gone out in Vegas at that time, we would have definitely not returned by morning and would have no energy & sleep for the next day. At the same time, it feels bad to sleep early in Vegas! Finally we decided to rest & start fresh the next day. That plan proved to be correct.

Sunday May 28, 2006

The plan for the day was shows, casinos, roaming & fun.

The day started on a bright note with Supreeth getting one heart-warming smiles from a black-lady-security guard at Hotel Bellagio. How our Supreeth used to blush when we mentioned that topic!

I had some fond-not-so-good memories of this Hotel. This was the same place where the touring group had left me deserted, when I visited Vegas last year with them. So all those moments of me finding that our tour bus had left me & I wandering around the hotel looking for my friends/bus was playing in mind.

But it was a feel good factor for me to be back in Vegas-Canyon on the same day as last year!

We roamed around on the ‘Strip’ checking few casinos and looking for goggles. The Las Vegas in the day light has a different look and it was looking like a gift box, waiting to be opened.

Evening session started with a bang with Venu & Archana winning teddy bears/doggies in the Circus Circus games. Probably if we had continued like that, I think we would have got enough stuffs to open a teddy bear shop. But unfortunately we had other things to do in Vegas!

There was nothing special about Circus show and I still didn’t understand why people were sitting there an hour before to see it!

As evening unfolded, Las Vegas was growing more attractive and looking more stunning. I wonder how much electricity would be required for this city which never sleeps. So much colors, so many lights, so many amazing structures & so many different people there for numerous reasons.

The first show we saw in the evening was ‘Sirens of TI’.A musical act with scarcely-clad ladies as Sirens and some hunks playing as pirates. It was visually very rich and entertaining. I liked especially the dance which the pirates did. If Treasure Island people are looking for a new face for that captain’s role, may be they can think of our Venu…

The Volcano show in Mirage was just ok. Before that it had a long delay which we used effectively for chatting all our non-sense talks! We were just about to erupt after waiting for more than an hour to see it, just then it started. But the delay of this show did trigger a series of just misses.

After a quick dinner (Burrito Bol) at Chippendales, we were in front of Bellagio again for the fountain show. The fountain show didn’t disappoint and it was as always amazing. Our luck with Laser show and Stratosphere rides was not that good.

It was around 2 in the morning when we reached Newyork Newyork hotel, where we stopped at a bar to listen to the band playing there. The band was belting some good numbers including ‘Hotel California’. The crowd there was enjoying in their own ways.

We moved across to MGM hotel, just in front of Newyork Newyork hotel. After that Venu & me ventured into some other place, while Archana, Deepti & Suppi were busy in Casino. Finally when we all met & started from the ‘Strip’, back to hotel, it was 6 in the morning!!

We had spent an astonishing 19 hours non-stop in the Las Vegas Strip!!

Monday May 29, 2006

Back in hotel, we hit the bed as soon we reached it. But there was no luxury of sound sleep as we were scheduled to leave for Hoover dam. So after a quick power nap for 2 hours, we were ready for Hoover dam.

As we left Vegas, I was thinking of what all things Vegas offers. It has got everything for everybody’s demands/needs. One thing I again learnt was every time you go to Vegas, you feel that there is still something which you didn’t know/experience about the Sin city!

This awesome line I saw it on a t-shirt summarizes the Vegas experience.
Las Vegas – Successfully separating decent people from their pay checks since 1911”.

From the Sin city, we moved towards Hoover dam which is almost an hour away .The dam was built on river Colorado to prevent flooding along its way, to use the water for agriculture in California, Arizona & Nevada and for hydroelectricity generation. It is located on the borders of the states of Nevada & Arizona and is named after US President Herbert Hover.

The view from the top of dam was magnificent and the dam has unbelievably steep curved dam walls. An awesome engineering creation!

The winged figures at the entrance of dam were interesting. It seems rubbing the feet of these statues bring some good fortune. So all of us were there, rubbing the feet of that winged figures statues!

With Deepti’s flight at 8 and Archana’s at 8:30, it was time to rush back to Phoenix. It seems it would usually take 5-6 hours to reach Phoenix. But when you have Supreeth who can easily give competition to BMTC drivers back in Bangalore for overtaking, that distance proved too short.Supported by the excellent company for the journey and with some awesome songs playing, the journey just zoomed by. The journey back was blasting with singing & some back seat dancing! We reached Phoenix in little more than 4 hours.

It was time for good byes.

First Deepti, then Archana, finally Venu & Me took our respective flights. I Know Suppi would have felt totally alone at that moment, after being with us for all these 3 days.

The very moment I put my foot in the plane, I started missing the gang and all the fun we had. It was funny to be sitting in the business class among those serious looking folks. All around, folks were busy either digging their laptops or reading some books.

I just closed my eyes and all the wonderful moments of the trip were passing by like a slide show. As each image of the trip passed by, there was a smile sailing through my face.

My iPod was playing the song

Har Pal Yahan
Jee Bhar Jiyo Jo Hai Sama
Kal Ho Na Ho

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Popcorn & Holy Grail !

Scene 1: Feverish frenziness in office, everybody booking tickets online expecting a huge turn over.

Scene 2: Outside movie theater, several groups sitting with boards ‘Blasphemy’.

Scene 3: Pretty long queues for ticket, many of them not getting tickets.

Scene 4: Movie is going on. The black guy next to me slips into sleep, only to be wakened up by his girl friend often.

Scene 5: Guy sitting in next row, shouts ‘Oh Jesus! What are they saying?’

Scene 6: Coming out of theatre, many young men-women discussing about Bible, about Jesus & about Christianity

This summarizes the movie experience of ‘The Da Vinci Code’, the most anticipated & most controversial movie.

Having read the book ‘Da Vinci Code’ twice, the first thing I wanted to do was to see the novel on the screen. Keeping aside the arguments-counter arguments about the authenticity of the contents of the book, the book was simply flabbergasting. Nobody other than Dan Brown could have mixed fiction and fact in such deadly combination.

With story being well-known & almost everything in the story familiar, all I was interested was to see how it is brought to celluloid. Print media and Celluloid media have their own advantages and disadvantages. Often things bridged from print to celluloid will loose some charm in the transition. Da Vinci Code is no exception.

Director Ron Howard looks like did a decent job of being loyal to the novel barring few minor changes here and there. The movie is fast paced and many threads in the story run parallely as in the novel. It makes a perfect broth for an entertainer with murders, secret codes, car chases, cryptography and Christianity. Don’t forget the locations it is picturised.

Casting is usually good. Tom Hanks effortlessly slips into the symbolgist Robert Langdon’s character. Audrey as Sophia sparkles once in a while with her nice smile.Unlike in novel, somehow Collet looks like challenging Fache. Silas is as chilling as described in the novel. But the scenes involving Ian McKellan as Tiebing take the top spot.

Few scenes in the movie where theatre was involved..
Silas whipping himself..Tiebing dramatically saying Mary Magadelane was married to Jesus..Langdon breaking the Draculian Devil clue...

But my fav one is when Langdon asks Sophie at the end "Does it matter if Jesus was married? Does somebody stop inspiring others just because they are human or God "

I was interested to know how few of my friends who had not read the novel felt about the movie. Though they got an outlook, they obviously missed some references.

I need to add that here is not much scope for Tom for his skills..

Over all, if you are a great fan of Da Vinci Code and want to see the movie, only suggestion is don’t expect a holy grail. All you can expect is faithful story & fast narration with occasional tweaking in the plot. A picture speaks more than 100 words doesn’t hold good. Somehow in this case, ‘those 1000 words’ are more thrilling.

Consider it a pop-corn entertainer, but at the end of day it does pops up some questions.

PS: This I heard in the parking lot from a friend about crucification. According to that person, Jesus was never crucified instead Peter was crucified. Jesus passed away peacefully somewhere in Kashmir!!

Dan, are you listening?!!

Friday, April 14, 2006

Curtains Down..

A void feeling which is hard to describe…

Phones and E-mails with my Karnataka friends has only one topic. As I talk with my parents back in Bengalooru, I can sense that same sad feeling in their voice too. A feeling of losing someone close. Mom says ‘Rajkumar hogbitta’ (Raj Kumar dead)

Do any of us know him personally? Did we ever meet him?
Answer to these questions is ‘No’. But still why we are feeling that something is missing?

A little flashback here…
I think those were the days when I was in my early years of primary school. There is a small theatre ‘Shobha’ in Harihar. We had an occasionally visiting grand mother to our home. Whenever that grand mother visited our home, it meant one thing…movie time, to be specific Rajkumar movie time. Was it because Shobha was just 5 minutes walk from our home or was it because it used to show mostly Raj Kumar movies, I don’t know, but I, grand mother & mom used to end up there frequently for a Raj Kumar movie.

On the screen, while Raj was sparkling on the screen as Sri Krishna, a devotional feeling sparkling in grand mom’s eyes as if Lord Krishna himself has appeared. When Raj donned that energetic role of Babruvaahana or Mayoora, one can sense that feeling of pride sweeping the theatre. Me and my dad watching Raj's action kind of movies such as 'Shankar Guru' and enjoying those whistles and claps whenever Raj making an entry. Those discussions over dinner about the movie and most of it about Raj.

Like me, I think many of us grew watching the movies of Raj. Those were the days when one whole generation was under the strong influence of Raj’s charisma.

There was one of my cousin who was a huge fan of Raj and when Raj visited Davangere, somehow he managed to get him photographed with Raj. I still remember how much he beamed with happiness whenever he talked about that photo and how he went on forever describing how simple is Raj in real life.

My brother too was a huge fan and he had once written a short story of about 2 pages. The specialty of that story was all the words used were nothing but names of all the Raj’s movie names!!!

As I grew, I started realizing that Raj also had an awesome voice. Suddenly everywhere there were songs sung by Raj. In parties, marriages, school functions, college functions & even in temples, everywhere.

I sometimes wonder how Raj became the supreme and how he got so much fan following.Unlike few other superstars in South India, I think he never had any fan clubs funded by him.

Raj never feared to experiment with the roles. Mythological characters, family man, lover boy, comic character and even he played ‘James Bond’ kind of a role.Fans loved him in any avaatar.

No doubt, Raj was an amazing actor. But what stroked the chord was his real life persona, which matched his reel characters. Forget real life, even on screen, Raj never did smoking or drinking. Almost whole Karnataka knew about his famous daily routine of getting up at 4 in the morning and doing Yoga.

His roles were inspirational and always carried some social messages. It seems many college graduates went back to their villages to take up agriculture after seeing that ‘Rajeev’ character Raj played in ‘Bangaaradha Manushya’. His role in ‘Jeevana Chaitra’ fueled the anti-liquor fight and it seems many stopped drinking alcohol after seeing the movie.

I have heard many times, ladies discussing the roles which Raj portrayed. Often I overheard saying comments such as ‘magaa idhrey Rajkumar taraa irabeku’ (If there is a son, he should be like RajKumar).True, he donned the roles of ideal son, ideal husband, ideal lover, ideal father. And what appealed to mass was the fact that even in real life he was the same ideal person.

Whenever Raj was bestowed an award, the whole Karnataka used to rejoice as if each one of us got that award. The 2 national awards, 9 filmfares, 9 state awards, Padma Bhushan, Dada Sahib Palke award, a honorary doctorate, Karnataka Ratna… never stopped raining accolades.

As time progressed, the same Raj started appearing little amused to our generation. We started admiringly mock his dance steps and his trademark dialogues in a humorous way. Make no mistake, Raj was still the best.

Still as years rolled by, we realized that Raj like every other person also started growing old. Though everyone wanted to see Raj back on screen, it was evident that his health may not allow Raj to do it again.

Coming back to Raj’s popularity…
The actual reason Raj was liked was the fact that he stood as the proud symbol of Karnataka and Kannada. He actively participated in few movements without which the state of Kannada would have been still worse. I read that Raj literally crisscrossed Karnataka during the Gokak chaLuvaLi, which became major success mainly because of Raj. It was the biggest showcasing of how much the public loved him.

But I think biggest thing which made people bestow their love and affection on him was the thing that he never entered politics, despite being lured all the time. I read he could have become Chief Minister if he wanted. He even had a Chief Minister as relative but Raj managed to remain far from the politics.

It was natural that when somebody of such stature passed away, the emotions would run high. It was also natural that there would be frooglepoopillion grief and sorrow, inspite of knowing that nobody can escape the death. But what was shocking was the rampage which followed aftermath.

Raj’s so-called fans have been creating much embarrassment to Raj off-late. My first memory of such unruly fans behaviors was during a release of a new Raj movie several years back. All Raj fan clubs had taken out a huge procession on the day the movie got released and during procession somebody threw stone on the procession and rest it went bersek.

Next major disturbance was during those days when Raj was kidnapped. I remember we were in engineering and next few days were very tense. The whole of Karnataka was restless in those 108 days when Raj was under captivity. It also showed the glimpse of things to come if something happens to Raj. Atleast in all these cases, there was some provocation.

Call it mob hysteria, planned provocation, mismanagement or whatever… but I don’t understand this case. When Raj was supposed to be given a peaceful & heartfelt farewell, how come the so called fans got into such lawlessness. When the whole state was mourning, how come some one can get into such rowdy acts of burning vehicles, buses & properties? How about those 8 lives which got wasted in the mayhem…

(I’m using the phrase ‘so called fans’ here because I don’t think these people are any fans at all. Any true fan who knew about Raj’s life can never get into such horrifying acts)

Poor Raj’s soul would have been weeping silently, seeing all this frenziness which happened in his name…

May Almighty rest ‘aNNaavara’ soul in peace

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Finding a 'Jonathan' within us

It took about an hour to read through those 127 pages of that book. The reading was a bit of it and the thinking which followed after that was more of it.

This is about a book which is universally considered as a best-seller classic. I’m not going to review or walk you though the book. All I’m doing here is just talk about this book ‘Jonathan Livingston Seagull’ by Richard Bach.

For starters, Jonathan Livingston Seagull is a book ‘authored’ by Richard Bach in 1970.It is a fable about a seagull by name 'Jonathan Livingston' whose passion is to fly higher and who believe that there is something more than ‘just’ living. It is a fable, where this seagull braves the outcasting, age-old conventions-beliefs, & finally shows that there is a world to be explored, beyond what is seen/believed to be.

What appears to be this simple fable about a seagull soon captured imagination and within two years of its publication, over a million copies were sold. Even a movie with the same name was made. Isn’t it amazing that the book written in 70 has its latest reprint in 2005-06.

Still wondering why I’m talking about a 70s book?

What fascinates me is the way the underlying metaphor of the book changes every time the book is read. The thoughts in the book irrespective of time, still remain relevant. May be next time I read the book ,I may see the underlying things in a new light.

In the story, there are ‘seagull flock on the earth’ and ’flock in some other world’, which denotes two different schools of thoughts. The 'seagull flock on earth' believes that their main objective in life is to get the food. But 'other' group thinks differently. For the 'other' group, it is not just about to live to get the food, it is about to discover the potential within, to fly to the heights where no other seagulls fly.Jonathan Livingston belongs to this second group.

Why did it strike cords with millions of people?

I think at some point of time everyone would have felt like Jonathan. But may be not everyone who had such thougths but didn’t venture as Jonathan did.

Isn’t Jonathan denotes all those who stand-out from the crowd? Isn’t Jonathan’s story is about people who had the guts to believe that they are meant for something more than mundane things and about people who showed that new heights can be reached through belief, inspiration and practice?

Now something other than the metaphorical meanings, there is a story about the origin of this book. This is what Richard Bach said in an interview

“It was the weirdest experience of my life, I was walking along one night, worrying about the rent money, when I heard this voice say, 'Jonathan Livingston Seagull.' But no one was there. I had absolutely no idea what it meant. When I got home, I suddenly had a vision of a seagull flying along, and I began to write. The story certainly didn't spring from any conscious invention on my part. I just put down what I saw."

May be these sound bytes sound debatable and fuzzy, but there is even more interesting trivia about why the name ‘Jonathan Livingston' for the seagull’s character was chosen.

It is believed that this book is inspired by a real person by name ‘John H Livingston’. John Livingston was one of top US pilots during 1920-30. He was into barnstorming which was a form of ‘flying circus’ where every known stunts like spinning, diving, rolling and every possible maneuver with the plane were performed. It seems Richard Bach, a ‘reserve’ pilot himself, got inspired by John Livingston’s dare devil life.

That was something about the book, thoughts,origin & names. If you haven’t read the book yet, I think you should give it a try.

Signing off with my favorite line in the book which is in the dedication page !!

“To the real Jonathan Seagull, who lives within us all”

Jonathan Seagull within us?? Think of it!

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Celebration of Life

“I pray that you get the strength to accept the things and to see the tomorrows”

After this line, I couldn’t write anything in that card we gave to her, which was our little token of support.

She….our client manager.I just can’t imagine what all she might have gone though before this. She always was that dignified person with a cracking sense of humor. Make no mistake, when it came to work, she was the boss. But I never could imagine that beyond those authoritative and humor-filled eyes, there was an ocean of grief.

Until the last day when we came to know that her husband passed away we didn’t know anything about that. But what intruded me was the fact that she knew that her husband is going to die and still she maintained the composition!

I don’t know how she managed to put up that brave face when her love of her life for more than 15 years was diagnosed with blood cancer. I heard she did all that she could do to fight to snatch her love with the slowly-inching death. I’m thinking, when she exactly came to know that the battle is coming to an end, how did she take it? From where did she get the courage to face the situation?

I was totally overwhelmed with all these emotions when I attended the funeral service.Funeral service was drastically different from the funerals I had been before. There was no grief, no weeping, no crying and no devastated looks all around. Instead it was like a celebration. I learnt that particular community in Christians does everything passionately, they celebrate everything in life and that includes the ‘final journey’ also.

The funeral service was marked with songs about heaven, meeting the Almighty and about life there. I should say that I felt I was not in a funeral service but in a crowd who was there just to celebrate death or call it re-birth. Then there were friends and family members who fondly spoke about the deceased one. The whole service was aimed at one thing ‘rejoicing’, what they believed that the deceased one is now in a world which is free of pain & grief.

Standing by her young kids, she looked very composed through out the service. Even managed to say a ‘Hi’ to all of us. But at dieing moments of service, she couldn’t control it no more. She broke down and she was escorted out.

These memories are like the waves of sea. They keep coming and making the mind wet…

After the service, we managed to meet her. She couldn’t speak anything but just hugged me, no tears.

I was still thinking about this, when I got this news about a friend’s friend who was diagnosed with a rare case of a blood deficiency. This guy was just exploring and enjoying the life when life handed over this ‘heavy baggage’ to him. He had recently gone back from overseas and was doing great .He had this very happy proud parents and tons of ‘would-be’ father-in-laws looking for him. And now I heard the news that even if all the necessary expensive medical treatment is given, his survival chance is 40%.

My sincere prayers are with him.

I’m just thinking how tough it will be for these people to spend each day. What if you know that you have so many days to live and what if you even know your last days are just a handful? How do you take it?

How about the people who love them? What pain and emotional distress they will be undergoing? How cruel to see that your loved ones are dieing everyday but you can’t do anything but to watch helplessly…

After reading all this, you definitely wonder why this is named as ‘Celebration of Life’.

When I was going through the funeral service which I mentioned earlier, I happened to look at the leaflet given, which described the funeral service as ‘Celebration of Life’. That phrase struck in mind like a bullet.

Do we actually ‘celebrate’ life? Forget celebration, do we actually ‘live’ a life? Even when we know that the days here are numbered, why do we behave as if we are here to stay forever? In such a short span of life, why do we make life still worse with our egos , unrealistic deeds and so many other self-created evils?

I know I’m sounding totally clueless, helpless and philosophical. Can’t help, sometimes life pops up such questions for which we have no answers....

Monday, January 23, 2006

Parade of memories..

It all started when I was checking my foto albums and my sight got fixed when it came across this album 'Sakleshpur trek-2005'. After that, it refused to come back and still wandering somewhere in those high-bridges, dark tunnels and that deserted house in Yedakumeri.

Now sit back and enjoy the parade of memories….

When we came up with this idea of going for a trek along the abandoned railway trek, we never thought the strength would reach 11. There was Ambarish, Hakim, Ayush, Anmol and Kishore with whom I already had traveled quite a lot. Gurpreeth and Nikhil were probably new to me(who got introduced as roommates of Ayush).To prevent it being an all-boys-trek, there were three beautiful ladies in the trek group – Pooja, Archana and Varsha. I still wonder how the later managed to get permission to come for the trek!

On the day we were about to leave for Sakleshpur (exactly one year back on Jan 22!), we got a surprise half day off in office due to Beny hin disturbance. When we were advised to go back to homes, we freaked into Bangalore Central for trek shopping! We brought MTR ready-to-eats, biscuits, chips and of course those shoes.

On that Friday night when the Bangalore-Sakleshpur bus left majestic, it appeared as if all the people in the bus were going for the trek. Our gang was in fantastic form. Ambarish was busy renaming every one of us. He called himself Dan Brown and called me Robert Langdon for reasons not known till now. Call it after-effects of reading Dan’s novels!

After the bus dropped us in the middle of a forest in front of a tea-shop (remember that aunty & Inchara), our field day started. Our first venture of traveling in a mini open truck, that clear skies, stars sparkling and we all the gang happily sitting in an open truck… we all silently sitting in the early morning hours looking for little sunlight waiting to start our trek..

The best part of journey with the rail tracks was the high altitude bridges and the pitch dark lengthy tunnels. I think there were about 19 tunnels and 25 bridges.Those bridges were so high and sometimes the plates in them were rusty making it ever more dangerous. But I liked the dark tunnels most. Almost mile long tunnels with no signs of any light and bats flying over making strange noises. At places water drop tickling from the roof. It is an awesome experience.

One more thing which made the journey along the track more memorable was the streams, waterfalls and woods which we came across. And of course the awesome anthakshaari all along the way.

Those tired & hungry looks, the way we ate the ready-to-eat food packets for lunch was a thing to remember. I think in between we ran out of our quota of water.

But most remarkable thing for me was the fact that even the first timer trekker though obviously tired had that will to complete the trek and indeed they completed.

Next episode there was about the place where we stayed. It was an abandoned railway station with a ruined house with no electricity. After walking nearly for 19kms, every one of us had crashed in the sleeping bags in no time.Our ‘house’ for the night was a treat to watch & experience. It had those big holes in the roof and no doors!! Those screams by Archana seeing those mighty rats should be still ringing in Yedakumeri !

That waterfalls where we had a natural shower.How cold the water was! And of course that episode where we went looking for a suitable place for our ‘morning activities’!

Getting lost while coming back, taking a truck to travel, asking a mini-truck for lift, visit to Tippu’s fort, standing on the walls of forts posing for photos..still feels it was few days back. Someone who wanted to go by Rajahamsa and at end became such that they wanted to travel to Bangalore by truck!!

Then that truck journey to Hassan and our pranks of waving hands & saying ‘Hi’ to whomever was passing by, those songs we sung (special mention of songs by Pooja & Ambi)…incredible.

I was just walking through Hollywood, thinking of all these wonderful moments. What a coincidence; at the same time I got a call from one of the trekkers.

I wish I had a time machine in which I could fly back to those days & those moments spent with all wonderful people.

Memories sooth the mind just like that massage after that long tiring trek…