Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Braindead

My internet cable stopped working last week. Yes, I know, bigger calamities have befallen the world. And I survived pretty well, I think. But the process of getting it fixed was so protracted and painful that it brought out my claws. I tried calling the local service provider. He told me he's show up the next day. I completed the whole rigmarole of getting the warden's permission, and the donkey did not show up for the next three days. Then I decided it was time for a little violence. I called him up again.

Me: - I'm calling from so-and -so hostel. I've been waiting to get this thing fixed for three days now. Do you intend to show up?
'Service Provider': - Oh of course. It'll be done today.
Me: - That's what you told me three days ago. How do you measure days and nights?
'SP': - Actually you see, this is not my job. I deal with collection. Please call Fool #2 at this number.
Me:- Fool #2 has switched off his phone.
'SP': - It isn't my problem
My thought bubble: - Oh, sweet, you have had it now.
Me: - Alright, I'll have to deal with it. I'll find someone who listens.
'SP': - Ehehe....I'll send someone over.
Me: - Sure you will.
I hang up. Which indicates that my temper has gone beyond the bend, because I NEVER hang up on ANYONE in the middle of a conversation.

Still, some part of scary me must have been effective because the guy did send a technician who told us that all the wires had been eaten up by squirrels. I used to find them cute and cuddly. Now I see a demonic glint in their rapacious eyes. The wires were replaced, but my connection resolutely refused to work, and I had by this time crossed all limits of exasperation. So I called the customer service guys at the main service provider.
Me: - Seven whole days it has been. Let me tell you one thing. If you cannot provide service, please shut shop. Just because you have a monopoly on campus doesn't mean that you can do whatever you please. Nautanki samajhke rakha hai? We have better things to do than to wait around all day for your engineers to show up. Please do one of either: do not give cause for complaints, or have the grace to respond quickly when they occur. And please inform the local guys that they aren't doing us a favour.
[Note to reader: - I always conduct these conversations in my sweetest, most reasonable voice. It makes retaliation tricky. Therefore, if I'm too polite to you, you'll know that I'm really mad at you].
I probably ruined that techie's day.

Anyway, it worked. The two engineers who showed up discovered that the previous blockhead had joined blue wires to orange instead of joining wires of the same colour. He also discovered that our local man has been giving two connections in the space allotted for one. So my connection got fixed, and the company was informed about the creative permutations and combinations that 'SP' has been using on the sly to make a quick couple of hundred bucks.

Hah....Don't mess with me.

Among other things,

My tea's gone cold, I'm wondering why
I got out of bed at all...
The morning rain clouds up my window,
And I can't see at all,
Even if I could it'd all be grey
But the picture on my wall,
It reminds me that its not so bad, its not so ba-a-ad.

And A-a-aiiiii want to thank you,
For giving me the best day-hey of my laa-i-aaife
And o-o-oh, just to be with you
Is having the best day-hey of my life....

Dido. Dang it, you're a woman.

Actually, it doesn't matter. Marry me anyway.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Pak Conversations - III

How went the next day in Lahore? Something like this.

In the morning, on waking up, I kept telling myself,"You woke up in Lahore!" over and over again, but it stubbornly refused to sink in. I felt like I was cheating myself for some reason, not being able to fully comprehend the fact of my being in Pakistan. Strange, but for about the first three days I couldn't believe that I was technically a foreigner.

Anyway, at breakfast I discovered that Pakistani butter and cheese are YUMMY, creamy, soft, golden, the works. I had three pieces of toast, and I actually hate bread! Our wonderful, eversmiling caretaker took us down to meet an old gentleman who had taken part in the freedom struggle and had been a companion of Gandhi at Wardha. He was lonely, and more than a little bitter. He spoke impassionedly for about twenty minutes on how we were lucky that freedom was more real to us in India, whereas all designated 'freedom fighters' were still watched by the government over there, and how he still came in to work everyday inspite of being over ninety years old. I felt awkward, shamed somehow. I didn't feel like telling him that freedom in India is only if you don't push the bounds too far, that a lot of times it is the illusion of freedom that suffices. But I figured that ninety is not a good age to get disillusioned.

The car arrived shortly, and we made our way through the streets of Lahore towards Jahangir's tomb. They tell you Lahore is like Delhi. Well, maybe, some parts of it are, but it is much more beautiful. A canal from the river Ravi runs through the city, and fountains light up the night. Hmm, well, this was still morning. The drive was enough to show the striking contrast between the rich and the poor in Lahore. The place where we stayed was clean, sparkling, open. It was lined with spacious bungalows, swanky shopping malls etc. We crossed these old colonial era colleges like Acheson College. They were breathtaking to look at, immense colonial buildings and campuses, and one college had these manicured lawns interspersed with quaint little white park benches. I had visions. Never mind. Even administrative buildings like the General Post Office were housed in beautiful British buildings. They even had their own version of Connaught Place. But on crossing into the old city, we saw the cloistered buildings with their little balconies, the clustered shops, the bad roads and the masses of people. I don't know what charmed me more.

At Jahangir's Tomb, we were asked to cover our heads by a rather hysterical man. The veil gives a very strange feeling. I didn't really hate it, maybe because I knew it was temporary, and it did help in cutting out the cold a little bit. Anyway, the tomb was exquisite, but the maintenance was nothing to really write home about. The place was under restoration, so maybe it'll get better. Again, my old ghost caught up with me. Panels, ceilings, pietra dura on the tomb, lightning scarred trees all caught my fancy. These people had really awesome ideas about use of space. In this world of shelling out big bucks for matchbox sized 1 BHK apartments etc., its just soothing to think of a time when a despot could say,"I want my tomb to encompass all this land as far as the eye can see", without worrying about brokerage fees and the rest. We walked across the complex to the very dilapidated tomb of Asaf Jah, Noorjahan's father. It had been been stripped of all its marble by Ranjit Singh to be reused in the Golden Temple in Amritsar. A similar fate had befallen Noorjahan's tomb which lay separated from Jahangir's tomb by a railway line of colonial vintage. These places were in a bad way. I was in a Shelleyesque, 'Ozymandias' kind of mood already; it made me sad to see how grand visions are reduced to glorified rubble, and how a lot of empire building is just denuding the past because it isn't our own past.

Enough of tombs, it was time to eat. We went to a little lane in an old market whose name I never found out. The little lane had a little restaurant, and we sat upstairs in the 'zenana' section. Quite a change from Bundu Khan, but I was not complaining. Details of food- chicken qorma, chicken biryani, haleem, pizza sized rotis and sesame seed covered nans, gajar ka halwa (which I learned to love that day), shahi tukda and some other dessert (dates in golden sugar syrup) whose name I can't recall. Appraisal- YUMMYLICIOUS. Cost to pocket- minimal. Bursting at the seams, we rolled out onto the street, and from a street vendor I bought a pair of the rattiest looking gloves I've ever seen. I still have them, they're tougher than they look. The next item on the agenda was the Lahore Museum, where I discovered that I'm an utter fool for museums. The only reasons we left in less than an hour were that they were closing, and nature was issuing urgent summons to R and me.

However, valiantly ignoring nature for the moment, we made our way to the walled city area to look at Wazir Shah's mosque, which still retained most of its colourful splendour. Blues, greens, yellows, reds, symmetry, crazy man screaming at me even though my head was covered, it was a complete experience. The artistry of it has to be seen to be believed. What also took me a while to believe was the sight of a couple cooing what I presume were sweet nothings to each other inside the mosque complex. I think they would been very glad to have been in JNU right then.

Now came the most important bit--the walled city is a shopper's paradise.....I maintained some semblance of control, and bought only one exquisite shawl as a gift for SKT, and three sets of cloth for the sisters and myself. Congratulating myself, I walked carelessly into the lair of my nemesis.....the shoe seller. End result- four pairs of exquisite jootis at throwaway prices (Rs.70 INR each). What a way to lose one's resolve. And a pleasant side effect was that nature stopped calling. The therapeutic effects of shopping need to be seriously studied. No, it isn't over yet. We did some more shopping at the beautiful Anarkali Bazar. I actually bought cheap knockoff sunglasses, which says a lot considering I can't even wear them yet, but I continue to be optimistic. That's how knockoffs should be done, the chaps at Sarojini Nagar should seriously take lessons. This was my first encounter with the Pakistani shopkeeper. He is utterly charming and his strategy is ingenious. Let me demonstrate.
Me: - Too expensive.
Shopkeeper: - I'm not doing my shopkeeper routine with you. This is a special rate because you are our 'mehmaan' (guests) from the other side.
Me: - Erm....
SK (looking crestfallen) : - We were hoping that you would buy this and think of your brothers on this side fondly when you're back home...but if you can't afford it....
Me/Sucker (looking completely shamefaced) : - Alright, I'll take it.
My wallet: - You moron...not again...
No wonder they love Indians.

Then the highlight of that night....Food Street...rather, Bliss Avenue, as I like to call it. The street is lined with chairs and tables, and softly illuminated buildings on both sides. What did I eat, you ask? I did not eat, I consumed. The best fried chicken in the world, crisp, succulent, subtly spiced...the best fried mutton in the world, similarly described, some exotic bird whose slaughter is banned in India, chicken in gravy. pizza sized rotis again, chicken tikka, mutton tikka, and sweet, sweet phirni. The food is cheap, the portions are humungous, and the taste is beyond divine...I'm hungry again.

It was finally time for the day to end....with ecstatic reviews of all the shopping, with satisfactory 'ooh's and 'ah's from the comfortable companions, midnight snacking on phirni and tikkas, and moaning about hurting tummies. All in all, perfection with a few specks of dust on it.

PS :- You know the definition of a wonderful day? Waking up at 9.30 am, toast, fried eggs, tea for breakfast, long hot bath, no washing clothes, a short bus ride, making it to the movie just in time, the movie being completely worth a watch, clean toilets, good lunch, great cheesecake, a long due haircut, and the perfect black shoes. I have closely resembled a Cheshire Cat all day.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

And This Is Life, My Dear

So let's take a break from the Pakistan chronicles for today, for two reasons. Firstly. I'm tired and I can't be bothered to reminisce right now, because it reminds me of exactly how boring the aftermath of my vacation has become. Secondly, this entry has been made possible due to the goodness of A, who has agreed to let me monopolise her computer for some time, as my internet connection has decided that we need a trial separation. So I will write what comes easily right now, and is therefore written faster. And thirdly, what am I doing? This is MY blog, I can write whatever I want, I'm not giving any reasons for it.

Anyway, this is something that I have wanted to write about so badly since Saturday last that I've been squirming with the discomfort of not having done so. Saturday was a day that I had been looking forward to because I was supposed to attend a lecture by a visiting God of History from Cambridge. It was something that was particularly important to me because it was after a really long time that I was getting back to history, and memories of the days when I was an undergraduate and actually happy with my academic life, before I got sidetracked by superficial kablooey. Aaargh...never mind.

So in the evening we made our way to the lecture venue, and were not surprised to see the intellectual who's who of the city gathered under that roof. We were ushered in to the coffee area first, so that whoever wanted to chat up the God was given a chance to do so. I was, of course, content to merely sip my tea and giggle like a silly adolescent at the sight of the people who I'd only read so far (yes, I know, your head is exploding with the need to shout, "LOSER! SUCKER!". Calm yourself, I'm not finished). A of course had to meet the God personally since he is soon to assume a position of great significance in her professional life. She came back slightly dizzy, and we made our way back to the lecture room.

The lecture happened, and I won't tell you what it was about. Those of you who are relieved to hear that, have some respect, we're talking about a God here. And those of you who are disappointed, well, go attend the darn things yourself. While applying myself wholeheartedly to the lecture, I also noticed the following: -

1. A lady sitting in front of me, clearly an 'Intellectual Socialite' (smells expensive, nods at the right moments). She was alright, actually, except for the ROSE IN HER HAIR!!!! I mean, come on, she wasn't Salma Sultana by a long shot. And the jewellery on her strategically displayed hand was....interesting. Ahem.

2. This bright looking young man, who might have been intriguing, inspite of the clearly forming bald patch, if he hadn't insisted on surreptitiously patting the said patch all evening in order to conceal it. Of course I had to notice, how could I not?

3. A young lady, whose identity I shall conceal, and her male companion, who were having a conversation in her notebook. Knowing her, I can safely say that it wasn't terribly reverent.

Okay, well, it was good, and then it was over. Then it was time to eat, yet again. We made our way to the iconic Khan Chacha in the market of the same name, stuffed our faces with tikka rolls and whatnot. Then it was on to Barista where my companions wisely stuck to chocolate cake and icecream. I, of course, had to get experimental and order a disaster known as chocolate croissant. Let me tell you what it isn't. It IS NOT warm buttered croissant stuffed with melted chocolate. You can figure out the rest yourself. Oh, wait, the hogging wasn't over yet. We then went on to McDonald's to finish the evening off with french fries. Whoa. We sure can eat.

We hailed an auto and got on, and then the fun really began. Apparently it was one of those days where life decides to show you that variety is indeed its preferred condiment. The auto driver regaled us with the finest Bhojpuri film songs for the entire duration of the ride home, some forty odd minutes. The words I remember most clearly are 'saiyya', 'gamcha', 'uthaike', 'khatiya', 'sab kuch dikhaike', 'chumma' etc. Now put them together and see what they add up to. Exactly. Of course we giggled. Apparently it irritated the guy, who got his own back by bumping against a speedbreaker so hard that yours truly had an achy knee to show for her rather obvious sense of humour. Yet the giggles didn't stop.

The evening ends there, and would've been articulated much earlier, if only my internet guys knew what the words 'Customer Service' actually stand for.

One more thing. Kitkat has decided that she has had enough of blogdom, atleast temporarily. This post is dedicated to the first blog I ever read, and arguably one of my best reads. It was written with wit, style, humour, and above all, what I love about that chocolate covered wafer-person the most....an unending supply of sheer compassion. Okay, KK, you may hang up on me once in a while, I feel stupid being angry about it, so I'm not, not anymore. And you, www.ankitakaul.blogspot.com. You will be missed.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Pak Conversations - II

The story continues thus.....

We crossed over to the Pakistani side and were required to show our passports to a soldier sitting at a desk near the gate. The rest of us made for the soldier, while R continued to walk blissfully into the sunset, lost in heaven only knows what visions of happiness. It took the startled shouts of the soldier and our combined yelping to bring her back to earth. We were quite tired, because in a misdirected fit of woman power, we had dragged our very heavy luggage for over a kilometre on the Indian side (okay, alright, it wasn't just about the woman power. We were pretty sure the porters on the Indian side were trying to rip us off). So, by now, the backaches and shoulder pains were getting too insistent to be ignored. At this point of time we were accosted by a Pakistani porter, and A very quickly began the inevitable process of haggling.

A: - How much?
Porter: - Fifty rupees.
Me (secretly pleased) : - Hah!
A: - Way too much.
P: - Baaji, I'm not trying to cheat you. You are our guests, four ladies, lugging so much on your own. Fifty is at a special concessional rate just for you. Consider.
My thought bubble: - 'Baaji'! How sweet! (I really think it was the novelty of the word. I never get really thrilled when anybody addresses me as 'behenji'. Actually, the pejorative dimension of the word 'behenji' sadly overshadows the 'respect' dimension of it).
Me to A: - I think its okay.

Then followed the long drill with some more incredulous officials at immigration and customs, this time on the other side. After half an hour or so, we went out into Pakistan, met P, co-hosteller, gracious host and nervous wreck. After exchanging pleasantries, we set off for Lahore. I looked out of the window, looked some more. It was so hard to believe that this was it.

Once in Lahore, we made our way to Lahore Fort. It was simpler and more understated, under restoration. Being the sucker that I am, I took a zillion pictures of panels, and relief details, and pretty trees....you get the idea. The fort was in the same complex as the Golden Temple at Lahore and the Badshahi mosque. In the evening, the mosque was lit up, and we walked into a little bit of magic. The sheer beauty of these buildings never fails to amaze me, I cannot stop getting astounded by the sheer perfection of Mughal architecture. We managed to lose our guide in the mosque.The poor man was rather irate when he found us again.

Next we made our way to a reastaurant called Cuckoo's Den. It is set in an 18th century (maybe older) building, on the second floor. On the ground floor were exhibited some paintings that the previous owner had made of some prostitutes. The deadened expression in their eyes is something that I cannot forget, alongwith the complete resignation expressed in their person. Pulling ourselves away, we went to the restaurant, climbing steps which brought the reality of Humayun falling down stairs and his consequent death home to us (I'd always thought it a bit of a silly way to go). The restaurant was beautiful, with a view of the fort-mosque complex, but a Coke cost us sixty five rupees! Using history to rob. Ah well.

On getting to the guest house, we were told that the son of the tour organizer would be taking us out for dinner. He landed up in a while, and then the mean one in me came to life again. Here was an NRP, forced by his parents to take out a bunch of very dull women for dinner, when he also had a party to attend that very night. The UK accent first made me realize that fun was on its way. Then the two huge diamonds on the ears and the gaping tear in the jeans made my evil cackle ring out in my head. Anyway, we we driven to the restaurant in an opulent car that actually purred inspite of being driven by this boy, who evidently thought that driving was pretty much whatever he wanted it to be. We almost ran into two people, and R was thoroughly nauseous by the end of it. We were taken to a restaurant by the name of Bundu Khan, because the young one had visited the branch in London. Priceless. He ended up ordering everything on the menu, and we ended up eating all of it. We offered to go dutch on the bill (some 3000 bucks!) but were relieved when he refused....we really didn't wanna go broke on day I in Pakistan.

The weary lot made its way back to the hostel, and crashed. As I slept, I wondered if my dreams would be different in Pakistan. I discovered that they were. They had an infinitesimal bit more colour.

PS: - In winter, having a phone conversation from under one's blanket is about as cozy as it gets.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Pak Conversations - I

So, finally, I'm putting away all the layers of cozy winter laziness and making myself put into writing the Pakistan experience. God, the idea of writing about it is so intimidating that I can't bring myself to start. Okay, deep breath. One more. Alright. Here goes.

The first chapter is set in India, though.

Anyway, the day we were supposed to leave was the epitome of chaos. There was last minute packing to be done, there were printouts to be collected, drycleaning to be picked up, soap to be bought.....phew. Then there was the small issue of fellow travellers and self going hysterical at the thought that this was finally happening, and what if it didn't? We were all trying to not think about the possibility of something going wrong, which obviously implied that the thought was always on our minds. So after completing all the necessary painful work, we finally set off for the station an hour before the train was scheduled to leave. We were saddled with a driver who was slightly slow on the uptake, so A vented her frustration by making some unnecesarrily confrontational conversation with him, which he failed to understand as well. Then we were in the car, on our way, and the guy kept snidely guffawing at me just because I had happened to melodramatically utter the words 'heart attack' a couple of times. We reached the station and found a smiling coolie who proceeded to take all our luggage to the appropriate spot on the appropriate platform after hectic haggling. He deposited all our luggage, still smiling bashfully. I like to think that it was my penetrating gaze that made him blush so. We got onto the train into two different coaches, and R and I ended up together. We were sharing the compartment with a family from the USA. The lady of the party was rather suspicious of the standards of cleanliness in Indian railways.Her husband asked R, in an air of true bewilderment, "Why is everything so dirty?". She actually checked the blankets for lice. I realized that although I'm not much of a nationalist, some things are able to irritate me quite easily. To my relief, we were able to switch compartments and join A and T soon.

However, the fun quotient was not over yet. There were three gentlemen in this compartment, the most annoying one being Mintoo Paaji. This man spent the whole evening staring at A. He then proceeded to snore his head off so that we couldn't sleep, and then woke up at 5 am when we were finally asleep, and started conversing with his companion so loudly that we were all rudely awakened. Oh, and, not to be mean or anything, but short, squat balding men should steer clear of black suits with red pinstripes. Okay, I'm kidding about the not wanting to be mean part.

We reached Amritsar at about 6.30 am, and hired a coolie and a cabdriver, again, of the smiling variety. We went to the Golden Temple, and it was a curious experience. I haven't believed in God for a while now, so it wasn't easy. But I was so moved by the faith that these people there had. I mean, there were folks who were taking care of people's shoes, staying in a smelly room all day handling other people's footwear, all for the love of God! It was that faith that touched me, and made it easier for me to go through the motions of worship.

After this, we had a rather oily, and therefore, rather yummy breakfast at an establishment known as 'Bubby da Dhaba', and made our way to Jallianwala Bagh. It really shocked me, I just was not prepared. What made it worse was this group of boys laughing at the bullet holes in the wall, commenting on the stupidity of the people who died while trying to climb out of that death trap. It was a sad moment.

We finally went back to our waiting cabbie, who gave us a piece of his unkind mind, before starting off for Wagah. The sleepless night (courtesy Mintoo Paaji) finally caught up with all of us, and we napped a most enchanted nap. Lo and behold! We were at Wagah. There was a very loquacious dhaba man all the way from Bombay, who wanted us to get bangles for his sisters. It was the start of a beautiful friendship, which R cemented by promptly breaking one of the china plates there.

We crossed into the border area, to meet incredulous customs and immigration officials ("Four girls????!!!! Pakistan!!!"). After filling out forms, smiling (a lot) and visiting one of the dirtiest toilets in the world, we finally did it. We crossed over.

PS: - the American lady met us in the Golden Temple, and offered us some money in case we ran short. Sweet.

PPS: - This one's for you. So, I turned 23. Thought about you all day, both of you. Are you happy, now that you're together again? I hope you are, coz yesterday your memories made me smile. All day. I hope you're smiling too. I love you both with all my heart, always will.