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I know the pieces fit 'cause I watched them fall away and I've done the math enuf to know the danger's of a second guessing.


A Misty Mountain Hop

We were sitting in the boarding area awaiting the announcement from a Kingfisher official of our flight to Coimbatore. I was twiddling my thumbs and trying to shake off the starry eyes and drowsiness as a result of the Deepavali celebrations from previous day. The wife was making sure that her iPod shuffle was in her handbag and getting tensed that the taxiwala (Tangavelu, as we later came to know him as) did not call up with the cab information and or confirm that he'll pick us up from the Coimbatore airport.

Although I had a poker face on, the same thought process was going inside my head. What will we do if he doesn't show up, are prepaid taxis available at the airport? Is it the best option we had? Are there any other mode of transport? Why hasn't he called yet? I must admit that this was one of the quick and probably the most unprepared trips I was about to start. And that too, not having traveled in India in the past decade or so did not help. The India that I knew of had changed, lack of information had become almost non existent. Distances had been reduced by more than one half by the availability of quicker means of transportation, the ease of travel and the luxury that you can avail of during your trip had grown by leaps and bounds. Why was I in a dilemma? Why the hesitation and the plethora of questions? Something I can never explain; In India, after being away for almost a decade, I was acting up like a tourist with his hands all over his pockets and eyes scanning the crowd to find the person about whom he had read in the tour guides and travel books by people who had visited the country.

After I started getting a feeling that I've been sitting in the wide leatherette seat in the boarding are for hours, I got the call I was expecting. Sir, mein tangavelu bol raha hoon. Aapne taxi bola tha to mein Coimbatore airport pe aa jaoonga. Aap pahunchne ke baad call kar deejiye. 'I'm the cabbie and I'll be waiting for you at the Coimbatore airport, please call me once you land and I'll pick you up'. Phew! I wasn't expecting Hindi from him at all. the last two days had made me think that its probably difficult to find someone who knew Tamil in Tamil Nadu. Cutting the chase, we boarded the Kingfisher flight after traveling in the pick up bus for what seemed to be a million kilometers. The bus turned left then right and then again left before repeating the same for about a bazillion times. Finally we were seated in what seemed to be a full flight headed to Coimbatore.

Udhagamandalam, Ooty, was about a 3 hour drive from Coimbatore. One doesn't get a 5 days long weekend in India that often, I was told. And hence, we decided to make a trip somewhere and somehow ended up going to Ooty. The previous day's Deepavali celebrations, again a get together and a festivity that I hadn't attended in almost a decade, was short and sweet. We lit some firecrackers, had some sweets, did some rangoli and were immersed in the lighting and the celebrations that followed. I was still getting starry eyes sitting in the flight the next day while I was trying to get some sleep. Although we did not get a window seat, the wife and I were seated comfortable near the rear of the airbus. After about 2 hours we landed at the Coimbatore airport and headed out. The cabbie was waiting just outside the exit door and we were able to get in to the car, get out of the airport periphery with ease. I conveyed to him that we need to get a quick lunch and a pit stop at a store to get some refreshments etc. He took us to a nearby restaurant where we filled our tummies with some thali meals served on top of a banana leaf in a bronze plate and a variety of tamizh delicacies topping it off with a chikku juice. We finished our lunch and the Tata Indica started zooming on the two lane highway kicking off a three hour long drive.

The route from Coimbatore to Ooty is a well toured road. One could spot a taxi or a rental car every few minutes either going to or heading back from the tourist place. After about a couple of hours, we were driving past the mountain ranges and slowly the mountains were getting a coated by the low lying clouds; some dark, some white as cotton. We asked Tangavelu about the whether in the past few days and were disappointed to learn that it has been raining and the forecasts did not look good at all. We hit the first set of traffic on one of the curves heading onto the mountain range. The cars and SUVs were all lined up and I had a few moments to capture some snaps after rolling down the windows of the Indica. Aaney! Elephant! he yelled out, there are designated routes for elephants to cross the main road. I pointed my Canon to the road side but no elephant in sight. Someone who walked past the queued up vehicles informed us that a volvo bus had caught one of the low lying wires on the side of the road and that's what was causing the delay.

The sky was getting dark by the minute and it was hardly 4 pm. Although we were used to see that in the winter months, it was a bit unexpected in the Indian subcontinent. And suddenly it started raining, taking our hopes of getting out and enjoying Ooty into the drain with it. We reached our hotel with the car drenched in rain water and our umbrellas and rain jackets out. Dumped our luggage in the hotel room and waited. An hour went by with no respite from the rain. And then two hours - still raining. Finally we gave up, asked the cabbie to take us to a restaurant nearby where we had our dinner. He then drove us back to the hotel where we bid adieu. He said his replacement would be coming in to take us around tomorrow.

Day II was a bright and sunny day. The yellow rays of sun filled the hotel room asking us to start our day early. We beat our estimate and got out to explore. Ooty to Coonoor the toy train ride was first on our hit list. The scenic train ride took us through the ups and downs of the misty mountains and tea estates. Kids, Family, Tourists, School Kids and Daily commuters, they all thronged the train. Thanks to some forums, we had booked tickets for the train ride in advance. We occupied the window seat which gave us an excellent view of the small towns on the way. After about an hour the train pulled in to the Coonoor railway station. We had already filled almost half of the SD card in our camera and our trip had just started. Jaykumar, the new cabbie, was to pick us up from the Coonoor railway station. After a few minutes wait, we got in touch with him and took to the task of visiting the hot spots in Coonoor. Tea estates were the first stop. Mist covering the estates was a pleasant sight. A light wind made sure that the mist shifted now and then letting us view the best sights from the top of the hill and enabling us to capture the Kodak moments in our Canon. After stopping at a few tourist attractions on our way, we were back to Ooty visiting the Botanical garden (deemed as a must visit for any tourist) Rose gardens and a few other attractions.

Ooty is a small town, some say one could have a peaceful stay and an excellent tour of the town and nearby places about a decade ago but over the last 5-10 years, an increase in the number of tourists has not made the infrastructure and facilities improve to accommodate them. However, we were staying close to the town and did not feel so. Of course it would be buzzing with activity mainly during the summer months and tapering off after October before picking up after March. Jayakumar made sure that he gave us some background about the town and other attractions. He informed us that he has been driving in and around Ooty for more than 20 years! He knew the history of the town way back to the British days. It was indeed nice to see that he could very well fill in the shoes of a tour guide. A multifaceted person who just loves to drive!

Satisfied with the day's achievements, though tired, we reached our hotel in the evening. The next day, we were to drive back to Coimbatore to continue our onward journey. We turned to the Idiot Box to provide us with some news and/or entertainment. I had totally forgotten about technology the last couple of days; a place like Ooty can do that to you! I caught up on my emails and took to the task of planning the remainder of our trip. We checked out the next day early morning, visited Dodabetta peak, the highest peak in South India on our way back and resumed the 3 hour long drive back to Coimbatore.

Although I was itching to drive the car on more than one occasion, I choose not to. Let the professional do what he does the best yeah? It was probably the first vacation where I hadn't driven a vehicle. Felt nice, less stress; should do more often :)

Until next time ....

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Posted by Rajesh @ 4:33 AM; PERMALINK, , Links

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Its raining cats and dogs

Clearly one doesn't understand the real meaning of the word 'Monsoon' until he or she experiences it first hand. Nothing in this world can ever give you the true meaning of the word like experiencing it by being in the midst of it; not even books, tales, experiences shared by someone who's seen it or videos.

As someone said, if the world has to look for a long term progress in any part of the world, it has to be the Indian subcontinent. For no other nation or group of nations experience a steady dependable period of downpour from the heavens like the subcontinent does. In fact this act of nature, also known as rain, is probably one of the most important needs of humans. They need it in order to meet their daily needs, to progress and to sustain the civilization. I cannot think of any other part of the world where a monsoon, or its equivalent, works like a clockwork every year.

1st of June is known to be the day when Monsoon hits the southern part of the country in the state called Kerala. Apparently, June 1st marks the first day schools reopen after the long summer break. Keralites have known for years that these two coincide almost every year. No matter what happens, it rains on the 1st of June. Some kids are probably annoyed that their school season starts with a schoolbag and an umbrella (or a rain jacket) in hand whilst some are happy that the monsoon is finally here - they can enjoy it out in the open: playing in the rain is like a dream come true for any kid in this part of the world.

In a matter of weeks the Monsoon gradually travels north-west and hits the western part of the country before arriving in Mumbai in the 2nd half of July and then the northern parts of the country in August/September. June through October are the months when the country meets most of its supply of the yearly water consumption filling in lakes (both natural and man made) and dams. It comes with another benefit - a relief from the scorching summer heat. With temperature rising every year, the importance of monsoon rains would only increase in the future. Of course, needless to say that its a boon to industries and the agriculture industry. Nothing better than a natural source of water.

It also brings a level of discomfort with it. The intensity of rains on certain days almost disrupts the routine people are used to. Travel, communication, electricity and anything you name it is affected. As the intensity increases, folks get over the initial jitters and life during monsoon falls back to normal. It can bring a whole city to halt (like what happened in Mumbai a few years back) and bouncing back becomes difficult. The uncertainty adds to the displeasure of residents; if it starts to rain - one can never predict when it would stop. Sometimes it just rains for a week. Light rain at times but still it keeps pouring days and days. There are quite a few industries that survive as a result of Monsoon. They're active during these 4-5 months and make full use of the rains.

People have started to wonder if the Monsoon is of that help. All it causes is a discomfort, they say. To them I only have this to say - One year without a Monsoon and it would be difficult for half of the country to survive. The amazing thing to note is its dependability. Nature is reminding us time and again of the way it works and for as long as people in the subcontinent can remember - they have seen it function like a clockwork.

It is fun to look out of the window and enjoy the thunder, the lightening, heavy droplets of rain, small droplets but nothing like having a hot cup of tea and pakoda! Off I go to have my tea and pakoda, of course!

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Posted by Rajesh @ 10:26 AM; PERMALINK, , Links

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Fighting it out with a scraper in hand

You wouldn't expect anything different from mother nature in the winter months. A rain here a snow shower there, a sunshine (here) a chilly night filled with moonlight (there), an adorable view from the house (here) a not so pleasant moment sitting in the car waiting the engine to warm up (there). The winter months in New England comes with its own perils which start with cleaning your vehicle.

It is like a war out there. The first thing you do is get dressed up for the occasion. This is not easy because , for example, one moment you're cleaning up the car and the next, you feel the cold wind reach your bones and unless you want to feel them, its better to dress up ... in layers. So here I was debating whether to get out there and clean up the vehicle today or tomorrow. Wait one day and mother nature's miracles would hamper your progress. Sunshine would take care or the fluffy snow turning them to ice and then ... all I gotta say is - good luck ! Finally, I overcome my procrastinated mind and decide to venture out. As I head to pick my jacket I say to myself - dress up in layers, dress up in layers. Before I even realize, I'm suiting up in a sweater a fleece and a 4" thick jacket that I bought for myself at Burlington Coat Factory while I was in Chicago.

Dressed up like I was in the North Pole, I venture out and realize that I've got to plunge into the ocean of white flakes that have accumulated in front of my apartment. The rate at which these white flakes have traveled the earth's atmosphere was too much for the snow plowers and they decided to wait till mother nature decides to ease up. So, after I lunge through the accumulated snow and walk through the snow covered tar-road and peek at the number plates to spot my car I realize that I am only a third of my way through the entire process called "spot and clean up your car".

Now that I've spotted my car, and that I have my war cap on, I spend a few seconds , but waste no time, to decide the mode of attack. How am I going to approach this beast that has grown to be 2 feet above the roof of my 4-wheeler and more than 2' near the tires? I decide on what seems to be the best approach and take a dive. It is like cutting a cake - you start from one side and carve your way through the icing. Hands, Scrapers, Legs, Shovel - all come into play as you try to take control over what looked like a no-win situation a few minutes back.

Thirty minutes, Forty five minutes, An hour and finally it looks like we're making headway. Doesn't this look something similar to how you had left your vehicle yesterday ? I ask myself; knowing that the answer ought to be - Yes.

A Nor'easter that created havoc in New England and I fear - the winter has just started!

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Posted by Rajesh @ 8:42 PM; PERMALINK, , Links

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Skiing Mantra

The Northeast got its share of December snow just after Christmas - close to 20 inches. New year started off with cold air and winds that would blow your nose off. As we await another storm this weekend I couldn't help but think - how about some skiing? Having done it once, I think its going to be fun; though the last attempt was a couple of years ago. Would I have forgotten what I learned in the 3-4 hours we spent in the hills? Don't know, but then lets find out .... Pizza Franch Fries anyone?

Gearing up for an interesting winter season.

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Posted by Rajesh @ 8:44 PM; PERMALINK, , Links

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God's own land? Don't think so.

Saturday morning as I sit on the chair with some breakfast in my hand, staring through my window at the tree that has just bloomed and the rain drop dripping from its baby pink flowers, I ponder; have I seen this before? Of course - everyone has. I've seen it too, and have pondered about it back then, in what they call the God's own land - Kerala. Tile houses are surrounded by flowering plants and trees that get a booster shot as if life has been pumped into them as soon as the first ray of sunlight falls on them. Everything you see and experience out there is divine and is irreplicable (if that's even a word).

Well, that's the land that they all portray on websites and on the top attractions list that India carries in her pouch. Getting deep into the nooks and crannies of the inland, one would start to get the notion that maybe not. It may all be a hype. It is a great tourism destination but a state as big as Kerala cannot survive merely on tourism. Isn't there anything else out there? One would ask. And from what I've seen, there is but its gonna die out sooner or later.

The state has a unique distinction, a magnetic power if you may call it, to repel anything that comes in its path, any new notion, an idea, an industry. Anything that starts to bloom in Kerala is met with an ill fate; some do not even bloom, the idea is opposed and killed before it can even take flight. This is quite evident from the fact that there are almost no industries in the state, most of the people have fled to other parts of the country, the Middle East, the Western hemisphere and Europe.

Hartals and Bandhs are the backbone and the main reason that industries have tried to run away from the state. The state carries unique distinctions - like the most number of bandhs in the country (~100 bandhs a year in the recent times) , the maximum success rate of a Bandh has also been registered in the state. It had become such a nuisance that there was a Court ban on Bandhs and that too more than a decade ago.

Visiting Kerala a few months back, I heard from people that the state cannot go on living like this for long. Nokia was in a negotiation trying to setup a factory in India to make use of the exploding market in the subcontinent and this state was in its radar. They backed away the last minute and opened up their factory in the adjoining state of Tamil Nadu (TN) because of a fear that the labour force would spend more time on the streets raising flags and protesting than in the factory itself [overheard]. We all know the Coca Cola war that was going on a few years back. There are may more examples, which I do not wish to list here, that describe the sad story.

Literacy rate is one of the highest in the country but isn't that big of an asset because the young task force is not able to work in the state after he/she graduates. 20% of the educated class is unemployed (three times the national average). Most of the anger can be diverted to the politics in the state and the involvement of politics in colleges and unions at workplaces. Politics itself is a fire , forget mixing it with education and work .

And when young people try to bring a wave of change, they are opposed throughout their stint in the state and they don't have any other option but to resign to the fact that here I am trying to get some common sense but its all in vain. IPL - the big thing in India these days. A few months of sport and an income that would be enough to sustain one for years. This year, though, it has been in the news for all the wrong reasons. The first half was taken over by the staggering $$ amounts that the team owners have spent and the news that there would be two new teams starting next season - Pune and Kochi.

Kochi - the port city in Kerala and the most happening place in the state. Young crowd that grasps anything that comes in its way, reflects it back to the audience watching and gives a "foreign" look to the city. The new announcement was grabbed with both the hands by the people and the dignitaries of the state. But when it seemed like everything was going smooth, the so called chair of the IPL started throwing dirt indicating that a minister of the cabinet (M Of State for external affair) Dr. Shashi Tharoor (who is an MP from Thiruvananthapuram) was involved in wrongdoings and was involved in obtaining the bid for the winners (Rendezvous).

If there's anything we can learn from the state's history it is the fact that we shouldn't be surprised. As I mentioned before, anything and everything that has attached itself to the state has encountered a road block and the matter has always gotten worse thereafter. Here's a guy who has left a United Nations job to come and serve for his country and finds himself amidst a storm initially and now a hurricane. Should he be targeted for his novice? It looks like he underestimated the state of Kerala and what it is capable of. The name in itself is enough to malign a good deed - he should have known that.

About a month back the state government sent out a letter to the Big B of Bollywood, Amitabh Bachchan, indicating that they would like him to be the state's brand ambassador to promote tourism. BigB agreed only to be rejected a couple of weeks later. The government says it was yet to make up its mind on the matter. The fact was the BigB was promoting the same for the state of Gujarat, India, and they were questioning the fact that he's supporting the state were riots took place a few years back. I mean, come on - grow up. If you need time to think over then just say so before jumping the gun and sending out the letter and being made fun of in the public.

So, at the end of the day, even though many of its (Kerala's) social indicators are on par with the developed world and it has the highest human development index in India, it finds itself in a huge conundrum ... how to save itself. Low infant mortality, high literacy rate, highest life expectancy in the country, lowest school dropout, high gender ratio (women outnumber men), low population growth, lowest rural poverty in the country - are all statistics that look great on paper [stats courtesy BBC]. Even after achieving these positives, the state has one of the highest suicide rates, highest unemployment of the educated class, lacks industries that can make the state sustain itself and politics/unions that threat to shake the pillars and topple the building with a bandh/strike few often. Anything that touches the state or its affairs - turns into coal.

It looks to me that we are observing two extremes here. One extreme will eventually be successful. Which one? We need to wait and watch.

PS - Just my thoughts. Am sure all may not agree.

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Posted by Rajesh @ 9:25 AM; PERMALINK, , Links

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Writers Block - Cleared

So they say spring is round the corner, today marks the first day of Spring '10. It couldn't have been better, one couldn't have asked for more - a low 70 deg F temperature the hustle and bustle in town and no cloud in sight ... woohoo !

Its been a while since we've been postponing the visit, since it was winter we didn't want to go out there in the single digit temperatures, although they say some of the best sightings are possible in winter. Star gazing at the Planetarium / Observatory. I didn't know that there are sessions organized by the Museum of Science [weather permitting of course]. So we went to explore; being a Friday we didn't expect much crowd but were surprised to see about 50 ppl waiting to learn more about our neighbors and neighboring galaxies, waiting to see what they might have read on paper.

It was fun, after a few minutes of standing in the queue we were able to see something - The Orion cluster, Mars and Saturn. All three visible by naked eye but a telescope adds a glitter and much more detail - like the gas floating around in Orion and the red Mars. Nice start, I'd say, for any one who wants to explore what you can see using a telescope - visit your nearby observatory; am sure they would have something going on in the summer.

Phew! Nice weekend all around and hopefully we've seen the end of snow/winter. On a separate note, I can't believe its been almost a year since I wrote a post out here. Hopefully the summer will infuse some energy and an enthusiasm to get rid of my writer's block.

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Posted by Rajesh @ 2:04 PM; PERMALINK, , Links

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Your Voice or Their Voice

Here comes Google with yet another app. What was once GrandCentral has been transformed to Google Voice. One number for you with some amazing features. These guys have just one thing in mind - give the best out there to everyone. Well depending too much on them may not be a good thing but then how can you not love their products ?

Access to Google Voice is by invite only but then you can get one with a wait of about 2 weeks or so these days. Till then - might as well check out their About page and some videos like the one I've attached below. Enjoy !!





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Posted by Rajesh @ 8:10 PM; PERMALINK, , Links

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Innovation

Just another filler .... am really running out of ideas and an 'enthu' to write - boo hoo






Posted by Rajesh @ 7:59 PM; PERMALINK, , Links

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Not Your Average Joe

He sat there all the way towards the end of the bus staring at the folks who walked in from the front door, taking off their ear muffs and scarfs, gloves in one hand and bus pass in the other. He sat there with a smile on his face, with a cap ON that barely protruded and covered his eye. Had an inner shirt that covered till neck and with no jacket or gloves he had made a point of getting noticed in the 30 some group of people taking the 8:25 bus to the train station. 

He smiled often, staring out of the window looking at the passing trees maybe, trees that could barely be called trees as they had shed their green long back, staring at the frozen lake that had an Ice cap with a few cracks in them, staring at the sea gulls that sat on the cap staring at the sun looking for the air that would bring change and ask them to move to the north.

He didn't blink, didn't talk to anyone, didn't read anything but just sat in the same pose throughout, keeping his legs a few inches apart, the same angle throughout, not a move, not an inch. He was not bothered by the small kid wearing a pink hoodie and pink shoes talking to her daddy asking him questions that would make a normal person giggle. He wouldn't look up when the girl and her daddy ask the driver to open the rear door so they could get out and wouldn't stare when the daddy piggyback's his daughter on the sidewalk.

He kept looking at his stylish watch often calculating the time the driver has wasted and probably realizing that he's about to be late in reaching his destination, wherever that may be. He looked uncomfortable for he would never have been late, never allowed to. A left, a right, a 90 degree turn and a honk - nothing would bother him as he kept staring straight not bothered by the folks who were looking at him trying to read him gauging his dress from top to bottom. A dress that had patches and stars but definitely an elegance, a cap that had stitches but covered the few grey hair that had grown on his scalp.

He wouldn't blink wouldn't worry, for he had the four letters ARMY stitched on his right pocket.

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Posted by Rajesh @ 12:18 PM; PERMALINK, , Links

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Google searches and the Carbon cost

I never paid much attention to the fact that how many times I hit http://www.google.com for performing searches. Let it be anything, the very first thing that comes to mind is "do a google search and find it out". It does matter though. How much? Well, I happened to read an article on BBC the other day where some studies suggest that a search produces anywhere between 0.2 and 7 g CO2 (thats actually more than enough to boil an electric kettle). 

The price has to be paid right ? I mean the faster the search is, the more data banks it uses to transmit data contributing towards the energy usage. Google has come out and said that they've improved their search engines to be more energy efficient and that it doesn't consume large amounts but some research has to be done in order to minimize the consumption. I'm sure there are studies underway as we speak and folks are trying to cut the cost of energy being spent by a computer. 

How soon can we see changes? Not  sure its gonna be that fast. There are websites that help minimize these costs and the emissions by suggesting you as to what should be done; co2stats.com is one of them (am sure there are many). So the next time you do a search on google - think twice ... maybe you could avoid it and save some energy :D

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Posted by Rajesh @ 7:53 PM; PERMALINK, , Links

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