Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Ultimate Guide to Indian Train Travel

The Ultimate Guide to Indian Train Travel

Why am I writing this? Because of the hordes of western tourists who decide to travel by choice by unreserved Second Class in an Indian train in spite of seven more comfortable classes available, then go home and write blogs criticizing "how pathetic and dirty all Indian trains are". The next person doing this shall be dragged back to India and locked inside a dirty toilet in a similar unreserved Second Class coach of Kurla-Gorakhpur Express in peak summer. If you ever need to travel by an Indian train, the following guidance will be more than sufficient to have a pleasant trip. Or maybe not. 

In spite of economic progress and India Shining and low cost airlines and multi-axle Volvo buses with leather seats and in-seat TV screens and six lane expressways and swanky cars, chances are if you are in India, at some point your travels will involve taking the Indian Railways. And although the AC coaches are more comfortable and delicate-traveler-friendly, there is no better way to enjoy India and enjoy a journey than the humble Sleeper class coach of an Indian Railways train. The typical Sleeper class journey experience involves the following stages-

1. The Reservation

In the pre-internet days, getting a confirmed sleeper class reservation on any train required an elaborate ritual of heading to the Reservation counter at the local railway station, filling up a detailed form, waiting in a serpentine queue for hours in heat or cold or rain, encountering either a totally disinterested or an overly enthusiastic clerk and praying to your deity of choice to receive a rectangular blue and white dot-matrix printed ticket. When the internet age came along, Indian Railways thought this experience should be recreated online and with this sole purpose in mind was created the great IRCTC website. At 8am every morning, thousands of frustrated Indians religiously use some selective words against imaginary mother and sister of IRCTC website, but after an hour of drama, you will eventually get a confirmed reservation. Except when you don't- in which case you will be pulled into a complicated system of Waitlist and RAC and Tatkal and agents. For the moment lets assume you were spared that experience and you have a confirmed sleeper ticket. On to the next step.

2. The Hope

On the day of travel, once you have negotiated your way through the maze of passengers and their relatives and reached your coach, every male passenger stops outside the door and goes into a dream sequence imagining romance blooming on the train with a pretty female co-passenger like it happened in a couple of  Bollywood movies, then opens his eyes, carefully goes through the Reservation chart pasted outside the coach, expecting some F21, F19 passengers but rather finds all middle aged uncles or families assigned seats around him and makes a slow walk to his berth. If you are traveling by an Indian train for the first time, do not forget this step. It is an essential one.

3. The Adjustment

If you are boarding from the starting station of a train the first thirty minutes after boarding will be spent in The Great Indian Adjustment Game. If boarding from an intermediate station, you have lost the game before having a chance to make your move. Irrespective of what berth you have been assigned, there will  always be some passenger who would want you to exchange it with his/her berth. A six year old brat kid will invariably start Occupy Window Seat movement forcing himself onto your lap or squeezing himself in between you and the window. Families of four with two reserved berths and twelve pieces of luggage will make themselves comfortable on a part of your berth after shovelling their bags in every inch of available space below the seats. Do not get scared by this experience. This is the best ice-breaker ever. Once you have successfully adjusted yourself to everyone's satisfaction, you will reap the benefits of it in the next step.

4. The Food

Depending on your luck, your train may or may not have a Pantry Car. If it has one, you will get to see the ultimate example of standardization in the world- every single meal item sold on every train will look and taste exactly the same. One one journey from Mumbai to Jammu, I was served exact same gravy, but called Aloo Mutter at lunch, Chana Masala at dinner and Chhole at the second day's lunch. This is the time to reap benefits of the previous step. Tha families around you will always have enough food to feed a small African country for a week and they will happily share it with you. Try everything. It is the most fun part of a train journey, but do not overeat, because then you will have to use the toilet, which takes us to the next step.

5. La Loo

Sleeper class coaches on Indian trains have Western and Indian style toilets but there is no guarantee that there will be posterior-cleaning supplies available, neither western nor Indian. The trick is to observe around the coach carefully to see if people walking up and down the aisle are carrying empty water bottles or not. If they are, you should also carry one to the loo. Trust me, you will not regret this. Once inside, you will experience cool breeze hitting your posterior. Look down and you will witness a facility unique to Indian Railways- a loo with a view. You have not experienced a train journey unless you have seen the tracks below while answering nature's call!

6. The Sleeper

A majority of passengers take the term "Sleeper Class" too literally. They will want to sleep as soon as the sun goes down, and sometimes even when the sun is high up in the sky. Invariably the person having the middle berth will have the maximum enthusiasm to get the berth down and sleep, thereby forcing the lower berth occupying passenger to crouch and Upper Berth passenger to climb up to his little abode. Try to delay the inevitable and they will argue- "But I paid for my Sleeper reservation. I don't want to waste it!". You have no option but to give in, but here comes the next, and best step.

7. The Door

This is something you cannot do on a plane or a luxury bus but can do in an Indian Railways Sleeper coach. Stand at the open door and enjoy the breeze! When you think you have had enough of conversations with co-passengers on everything from current affairs to sports to origin of universe and that your body has made sufficient use of the berth to get above the threshold of "wasting sleeper reservation", head out to the door and stand or sit at the footstep enjoying the view outside. Some like to have music in their ears while doing this, but if you ask me, the rythmic sound of metal wheels against the metal rail is the best melody ever. 

Happy Journey! 

Thursday, October 6, 2011

One More Thing...

I am not an Apple fanboy. I do not own a single Apple product. But still, the news of demise of Steve Jobs has saddened me. On my way back from work I had picked up my favorite food that I was craving to have since a long time and was cheerful about it, but now that's the last thing on my mind. Why? Why has the death of a man who is in no way related to me affected me so much? Because this man was a genius, and losing him is a loss to everyone. And when I say this, I am neither being overly emotional nor exxaggerating. Saying that Steve Jobs revolutionized the way the world communicates today is not an understatement. It is a fact.  

I have, on several occasions, expressed my displasure and criticized various Apple products- from the MacBook Air to the iPhone 4S that was released just yesterday, so you may be wondering why this sudden love for Steve Jobs? First of all, it is not sudden. I have always admired this guy. It is because he was a unique man who could accomplish this feat of garnering respect from even the people who disliked the products his company made. Why? Because he was more than just another CEO of just another big company. He was a man who knew what the world wants. He was a man who knew to read the world's heart. I have a Master's degree in Wireless Communications and work at one of the world's leading telecom company, so it is natural that I feel the desire to scrutinize every device Apple has launched in the past few years and ended up finding some or the other minor technical shortcoming in it that took away my interest from buying it, but that's because I am a self-confessed geek who thinks too much, but the world is not like that. The world wants things that make their life simpler, are easy to use, and look nice. Steve Jobs knew this perfectly well. And he designed his products for the world. He developed products that gave access to technology to the people who were previously deprived of it because it was too complicated. He made products that made technology simple. From the big heavy Personal Computers to small designer Mac. From awkward Walkman requiring cassettes to play to the iPod that made listening to music simple. From bulky ugly looking Nokia and Motorola phones of the early 2000s to the sleek iPhone that simplified the smartphone experience. The iPad that gave access to technology to millions of people who found it too complex to use a full fledged computer. And while fiercely protecting his products and innovations, he knowingly or unknowingly opened up a huge market with competition that drives even more innovation. It wouldn't be wrong to say that it was his iOS that led to the growth of Android and thousands of developers across the world innovating daily to be at the top of the race. It was his iPad that led to fierce competition for tablets and the research and innovation that is going into making all of those. It was his imagination and products that moved technology from being the playground of geeks to being a part of mainstream life of people across the world. This is by no means a small achievement. 

And, wait! There is one more thing... 
He made black turtlenecks popular. 

Rest in Peace Steve Jobs. iRespect.

And one more thing...
I am going to enjoy that food I brought on the way home, not mourn, following advice of Steve Jobs himself- "Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish." 

Friday, September 30, 2011

No Land For Single People

Genre and all I have stopped mentioning now.

The world is unfair to single guys, well to be technically correct, a guy who lives alone, as I have realized two months into my experiment of living alone. No, this is not going to be a sentimental rant about loneliness, so if you have moved your cursor towards the Back or Close button on your browser, stop, and continue reading. 

The discrimination against guys living alone transcends across continents and has percolated across myriad sectors. Let's look at travelling here in the United States- on highways in cities, they reserve lanes where single folks are not allowed to drive. Very nicely they call it 'High Occupancy Lanes' and only allow cars with two or more people in it to use these traffic-free lanes. In which universe is two considered a high number? Encouraging car-pooling and all is just excuse, I tell you, they just want the single guys to suffer in traffic and watch couples happily breeze past them in High Occupancy Lanes. It's just rubbing salt in their wounds, a way of saying, "Dude, live with a girlfriend (ok ok, boyfriend is also now legal) and then you can zoom ahead of the traffic". Unfair only it is. 

Think of moving away from this by leaving the car home and take the train to travel and they will again bombard you with the same unfair treatment. You can book one seat on Amtrak trains, but if you want to book a sleeper berth, you have to book two only. Even if you are travelling alone, they will ask you to pay for two people and book a roomette if you want a sleeper berth. If not injustice, what is this? Yes, we know it is nice to travel as couples and have a private roomette to yourself to indulge in various activities but why do you need to rub it in to single guys? Back in India it is better because they let you book one sleeper berth if you are travelling alone, but the injustice against single guys does not stop. It comes back to haunt you in other ways. First of all, Indian Railways has this sadistic pleasure module in their reservation system that will never ever give a single guy a nice window seat or a lower berth, and if by some stroke of luck it assigns one, at the time of travel someone will invariably come and ask you to move from your originally chosen berth to some random upper berth because they have an old uncle or fat aunty who cannot climb to their assigned berths.  

Driving is unfair, trains are unfair, so you decide to fly and the ghost of unfair treatment comes back to haunt you. Every damn airline will operate their domestic flights with a 3-3 seat configuration and long international flights with a 3-3-3 configuration, so if you are a single guy, you have to endure torture of a chatty couple or annoying uncle-aunty or some similar combination of two people next to you. They could have thought of keeping 2-4 seating so that single guys stand some chance of landing up with a pretty fellow single co-passenger but no, that they won't do. They just don't want single guys to be excited and look forward to travelling. 

About restaurants and bars and night clubs being unfair to single guys, the lesser said about it, better. They will let couples in free but if you are a single guy, ask you to pay up. They don't realise they are doing it wrong. It is the single guys who need to visit the bars and clubs so they can socialize and find someone interesting and so they are the ones who should be allowed in free. The couples are supposed to be happy with each other's company. If they need to head to a bar or club for fun, it means their love life is probably rather boring, and the bar should charge them for helping them get over their boredom. The restaurants are not so unfair, but are not completely welcoming either. They will never have tables for one person, minimum will be two, and if you show up alone, the staff will stare at you left and right, and behind, to see if you are hiding a midget partner somewhere or are really alone. (But, I love Denny's. They are impartial. They serve their cheap unhealthy food with equal enthusiasm to single guys and large groups.) 

By the way, all this applies only to single guys. If you are a single girl, well, that's a completely different story for some other day.  

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Bill pe Bill

Genre: Humor

Now that the government has agreed to include the recommendations of Anna Hazare in the proposed Lok Pal Bill, several other prominent personalities from the civil and not-so-civil Indian society have decided that they will also come up with their own versions of the Lok Pal bill to present to the government for consideration.

Arindam Chaudhury will present the IIPMPal Bill. Dare to think beyond Lokpal. Everyone enrolling to support his version of the draft will get free laptops and a study tour to Europe. 

Rahul Dravid will start writing his draft of the Lokpal bill and will continue non-stop for five days. 

Chetan Bhagat will publish his version as a book. Three Mistakes Of Lokpal: What Not To Do In Government

Ram Gopal Varma will present a sequel. Lok Pal Ki Aag.

Aamir Khan will release only one chapter of his Lok Pal Bill per year.

Lalit Modi will start a Lokpal Premier League (LPL)

Ekta Kapoor will script a version that will run for seven years and will be called Kkok Pal Bill

When Rakhi Sawant was asked if she will also contribute, she said "Yeh Lokpal hain na, mereko usse shaadi karneka hai. Mereko na usse ekdum love ho gayela hai" 

Although not an Indian citizen, Steve Jobs will be allowed as an honorary guest to launch his version called iPal Bill. After six months he will launch a faster, slimmer version called iPal2. 

Rajinikanth will not present any bill. He himself will be the Lokpal and the entire committee.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

What's In A (Re)name?

Genre: Current Affairs

No, this is not about the Anna Hazare-Lokpal issue. Everybody and their pet dog have presented enough and more views and counterviews on it by now.

Apart from cricket, India has another favorite pastime. It’s called Change the Name game. Many Indians, most of them in power, believe that the names given to streets, monuments, villages, towns, cities, even states of the country are not good enough and it is their sacred duty to rename anything and everything that has a name. Initially the argument put forward to indulge in this activity was that it is a sin to call places built by the British in India by the names the British gave, so they should be renamed. Accordingly Victoria Terminus became Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, Connaught Place became Rajiv Chowk and so on. Not satisfied with just this, came the second round or arguments- that the British “spoiled” the original names of our cities, so they should be renamed to their original pure form. In the process Bombay became Mumbai, Madras became Chennai, Calcutta became Kolkata, Trivandrum became tongue-twisting Thiruvanatanthapuram, Bangalore will soon become Bengaluru, Mangalore will become Mengaluru and so on and so forth, in the process wasting millions of rupees of taxpayer money in repainting all signboards, reprinting new stationery and updating all maps and databases.

After renaming of cities was done, someone thought, hey wait, this is not enough. We can go one level higher. Let’s rename our states too. And so it began. The ministers of the newly formed state of Uttaranchal felt the name was not good enough, and in the most expensive Backspace operation in history, decided to tweak the name to Uttarakhand. No, don’t ask me how this is any better. It just is. Because they said it is. Next to grab this opportunity was Mamata Banerjee, (who anyways has a penchant for grabbing many things including attention and cabinet ministry), who came up with the most unbelievable argument in the history of renaming- West Bengal is alphabetically last among Indian states, so its turn comes last in roll call and by that time the audience falls asleep, and to correct this catastrophic problem, passed a bill to rename the state to Paschim Banga (which she pronounces Poschim Bongo thereby making it feel like the name of a tribal village in central Africa) which brings her state’s roll number up to 21 from 28. Huge improvement! Now Uttarakhand becomes the last-in-roll-call. Now it will be fun if they decide to re-rename their state using the same argument. And then Punjab, Rajasthan, Sikkim, Tamil Nadu, Tripura and Uttar Pradesh should do the same and boom! We are back to square one! And then Paschim Banga can think or renaming themselves further up in the alphabet. This cycle can go on and on and on. And millions of rupees of tax money can be spent on it. Meanwhile does it matter that the state has one of the worst road infrastructure in the country? Does it matter that the Naxal movement has resulted in night-travel ban on the important Mumbai-Howrah rail route resulting in trains being detained for upto eight hours inconveniencing thousands of travelers every day since the last fifteen months? Do these things need attention and money of the government? No, they can wait. More important is ensuring that the state’s name is not called out last during roll-calls.

Before these folks come up with the idea of changing the name of India itself, I will go and search for a new name for my blog because this one comes too late in the alphabetical order, so what if it doesn't matter anywhere.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Longest Night

Genre: Non-fiction

Its yet another dark rainy Tuesday afternoon, common during Mumbai monsoons and at 2pm just after the lunch break, students in a class in VJTI in Matunga are discussing whether to sit for the next lecture or not, one eye on the heavy rain that is pouring outside. No unanimous decision is reached and half the class bunks the lecture and leaves while I am in the other half that decides to sit for one more hour before leaving, hoping the rain would subside by then. By the time the lecture is over, the rain has shown no signs of subsiding. Rather it is pouring harder, nothing unusual about it, we see days like these every monsoon. Me and Sid are taking a cab to Dadar station when dad calls on my mobile- "Do you want me to come to Dadar to pick you up? The trains may not be running". I shrug off his offer- "No need. I'll go to station and see. If trains are not running, I'll let you know". We reach Dadar station and heave a sigh of relief to see the indicators still showing Borivali Slow and Virar Fast as usual. We get into the First Class coach of 3.20 Borivali Slow and it runs smoothly through pouring rain to the first stop- Matunga Road and then to Mahim. After the usual 30 second stop, it departs and slowly ambles along and comes to a stop in the mangrove-filled area between Mahim and Bandra. 

Ten minutes, fifteen minutes, half an hour, the train shows no signs of moving. By now some passengers have jumped off the train and started walking on the tracks. Me and Sid discuss "How silly! Why can't they just wait inside rather than getting drenched like this." I call up dad and tell him the situation. He suggests coming to Dharavi overbridge by car and once he is there, I jump off the train and get on to the bridge and the car. We wait. An hour passes. And another. Dad says he is stuck somewhere in Chembur at the other end of town and suggests we do not wait for him and start moving ahead on our own. Now this is a bit worrying. We look around. Everyone has left the coach except us and one other man. We jump off the train onto the tracks, and not wanting to stay back alone, the Bihari man, we call him Gajodhar, also jumps with us. We walk along the length of the train towards Bandra and when we reach the driver's cabin, we realise the extraordinary situation at hand- the motorman has abandoned the train, locked the cabin and left! Now this is something I have never seen or heard happening in Mumbai rains. We walk along with hundreds of other passengers coming from various stranded trains until we reach the Mithi river bridge.

The railway bridge on Mithi river, though not very long, is treacherous. It has no walkway, no safety railings, in fact not even a firm base. There are metal sheets laid between the tracks, through which now we can see the usually quiet and stinky Mithi river now overflowing with water whose speed would put whitewater rafting locations to shame, and this just two feet below track level! There is no option, the river has to be crossed. Volunteers ask passengers to form a single human chain, holding each others hands, to carefully walk over the rickety metal sheets and cross the bridge. We somehow manage to do this, and think the ordeal is over since now we can safely perch ourselves at Bandra station, bot how wrong we are! The sight at Bandra station is one I have never seen before. All the tracks are filled with water upto platform levels and the entire station looks like Kumbh mela, overflowing with passengers occupying every single inch of available space. Now one thing is clear- there is no way trains are going to run anytime soon. We need to find alternate transport. We walk out of the station, hoping to walk to SV Road a few hundred meters away and take a bus from there, but wait! The entire road from station to SV Road is filled with knee deep water, and its dark. Impossible to walk through this. As if this is not enough, to add to our woes, Gajodhar has been following us all along and declares "I am new to this city. I don't know how to reach Borivali. I will come with you guys wherever you are going!"

Me and Sid look at each other and decide to go back to the station. On platform 2, there is one local train standing amidst deep water, powered down but filled with passengers. We tell Gajodhar to wait inside this train as it will go to Borivali while we go to use the washroom. Making sure he is well inside the train, we run away from that platform as fast as we can. Its around 8pm already when uncle finally manages to get through one call to my mobile through the congested network. He says he is travelling by car with his boss and should be crossing Bandra shortly, and ask me and Sid to manage reaching SV Road somehow. We walk out to the bus station. As we are discussing the possibilities, one BEST bus driver decides he will brave out the deep water on the road outside and take his bus to Bandstand! Immediately we hop onboard along with a hundred other passengers and ask him to drop us beyond the flooded street on to SV Road. As promised, he revs up the engines, turns on the headlights and pierces the bus through nearly three feet deep water and stops safely near SV Road where a majority of the passengers get off. We walk to the decided spot on SV Road and wait for uncle. We wait and wait. An hour passes. We see hordes and hordes of people walking and realise the situation doesn't seem good anywhere in the city. Around 9.30pm, uncle comes in his boss's car and we are overjoyed to find dry shelter and a ride home. Or so we think.

The driver decides to continue on SV Road since the highway is jam packed, but traffic cops divert us on to Linking Road citing water logging ahead. So far so good. There is traffic but its crawling at a decent pace. It takes an hour to reach Khar. From here, we are diverted into some small lanes where we get stuck and how. An hour passes but there are no signs of movement. Uncle's boss doesn't live far from here but we have a long way to go. So he suggests we rather get off and start walking like the others and after initial hesitation, we give in. Its around midnight now, the rain has stopped for a bit but some areas have power cut, so it is dark, wet and terribly crowded. By midnight we make our way to SV Road and start walking northwards with the huge crowd. Students, office goers, businessmen in expensive suits, celebrities, everyone is walking together, Mother Nature has brought everyone to one level. Upto Santacruz the walk goes fine but then its trouble. SV Road around Juhu airport is flooded with two feet of water but thankfully there is help at hand. hard working folks from Mumbai Fire Brigade have formed a human chain, have ropes set out for people to hold on to, and are guarding open manhole covers. In one single line, hundreds and hundreds of people slowly cross the long waterlogged stretch. We are hungry, dead tired but our survival instinct keeps us going and we reach Andheri station by 3am.

Once at Andheri, we hope the trains have started running again so we head straight to the station, but no luck. There are trains parked on every platform, packed with passengers, but with no signs of moving. Also, walking further is not possible since the cops have closed SV Road north of Andheri station due to excessive water logging. There is no option but to find shelter somewhere close by. Sid lives in Andheri but far from the station, so the ordeal is not over for him either. Luckily soon he finds a truck driver who is willing to take people onboard and drive towards where Sid lives, so he hops onboard. Me and uncle cross over to the east side and head to a building nearby where one of our relatives live. We walk into the colony, dead tired, in the dark owing to powercut, and find our way up the stairs and ring the doorbell. No answer. Ring again. No answer. Finally we ring the doorbell of their neighbours who wake up startled. We ask them to phone our relatives and wake them from sleep! They do it, and finally the door opens and we get a place to sleep for the night, or whatever was left of it, since it was already 4am. We wake up and head to Andheri station by 10am, and turns out, by then train services north of Andheri is just beginning to restart, although not as per timetable. After a half hour wait, the train we are onboard starts, and slowly but steadily drops us at Malad station, from where its a five minute walk to Home Sweet Home! 

Thus ended the ordeal. The journey that took 20 hours to travel 20 kilometers. Thus ended the night the city suffered as one, came out in the dead hours to help each other and stand united. Thus ended the longest night Mumbai city has seen. The night of 26th July 2005.  

Thursday, July 14, 2011

When Will This Stop?

Genre: Current Affairs

So, yesterday Mumbai once again witnessed serial bomb blasts. 1993, 2003, 2005, 2008 and now again. Once again the common citizens of the city have lost lives even as the culprit of the previous attacks enjoys VIP treatment in special jail and the netas of the state "offer deep condolences", their lazy fat asses safely tucked behind a wall of security personnel. This has reached a stage when I no longer feel enraged at the terrorists doing these attacks. The rage is entirely towards the spineless incapable government, of the state as well in Delhi. As someone had rightly said, Civilizations fall not so much because of the strength of the enemy outside, as through the weakness and decay within. 

Now the moment I say this, some smart Alec will come up with the straight-out-of-Civics-textbook statement that "it is we who elected this government, so whatever is happening is our fault, and next time we should ensure we bring the right people to power". True, very true theoretically, but if only things were as simple as that in reality. Did "we" really elect this government to power? Talking of myself, I did not. In the last election, many of us did not vote for the well-known corrupt candidate. We went by the "We want change" principle and voted for an IIT engineer who was contesting the election with the utopian idea of "Be the change you want to see". But what happened? He lost badly and like every time, the same corrupt politician won the election. How? Votebanks. In this "largest democracy in the world", most of the winners are decided much ahead of the election date. How and why does this happen?  

Take an example. Before every election, a politician from a certain party visits a slum locality near my residence and offers the people living there a cash incentive and foodgrains to vote for him. If he did this to me, it wouldn't swing me in favour of voting for him, because for me principles matter more than the money. But does the same apply for my maid who lives in that slum? No. For her, the money matters more than principles. Why? Because she is poor. Why? Because she is uneducated. Can I do something about this? Yes, encourage her to send her kids to school so that they don't get pulled into this same quicksand. In the meantime, how do the existing politicians afford to spend so much money on their votebanks? Because they are shamelessly corrupt and accumulate millions of rupees in bribes. Can we stop this? Theoretically yes. How? By getting a strong anti-corruption bill passed in the Parliament. Will it happen? No. Why? Because the sitting MPs will reject any bill that plugs their "source of income". Why? Because they are in power and they can unanimously do what they want to. Can we remove them from power and get someone else in? Theoretically yes, but practically nearly impossible. Why? Because they have vote banks. Why do so many people vote for corrupt politicians for money? Because they are poor. Why? Because they have not got enough opporunities to get educated. Can we get them all educated? Possible, but a Herculean task. Will the existing government want to sincerely do it? No. Because that would mean digging their own grave. Why educate everyone and make them rise up to vote on principles and get thrown out of power when its easier to "buy" their votes with little money? 

In short, this is a very messy vicious spiral. If India aspires to truly become a world superpower, this spiral has to stop. How to do it is a very difficult question to answer but someone has to do it. Someone who? We, the citizens of India. We need to realize voting is not the only way to bring about change. Do we have that potential to bring about the change? Yes, we do. Incidentally, the people of India showed what potential they have to come together and unite for a cause yesterday itself, in the aftermath of the serial bomb blasts. While the TV news channels were busy shouting out irrelevant stuff about how they were the first to report the blasts and assorted bullshit, scores of unknown heroes, common men and women from across the country, had risen to the occasion to quickly send out accurate information and help anyone and everyone in need, on Twitter. Within minutes of the blasts, hundreds of unnamed citizens had given out their phone numbers and addresses on the social networking site offering complete strangers either a place to come over to stay, a ride back home from work, food, first aid, blood etc. Someone came up with this brilliant idea of collecting this information from the tweets into a Google doc spreadsheet and within one hour there was a list of over 250 people in different parts of Mumbai whom people affected by the blasts could contact for help. This particular document soon went viral and many of you must have noticed it being shared on Facebook too. This is the power of social networking. This is a small trailer of what the citizens of India can do when united for a cause. But to bring about a pathbreaking change such as overthrowing a government, it will not be enough for just the Facebook-Twitter junta of India to unite. It will require encouraging the very large poor and illiterate population of the country too to join in and fight for principles. This will need someone who can bring the whole country together. Something like what Hitler did in post World War I Germany. And in the current scenario, I can think of only one personality in India who has that influence over the entire nation that people will come out and do whatever he asks them to do- yes, Sachin Tendulkar! But I don't see him doing that anytime soon, so we have no option but to wait until that one messiah comes up and unites the entire nation against the corrupt leadership. India needs an Egypt type revolution. 

Until then, keep outraging, take out candle marches, talk about "the spirit of Mumbai" and keep paying taxes on time so that the netas can continue to afford to travel with their security cordons and Kasab can enjoy one more serving of his favorite biryani.  

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The India Flight Checklist

Genre: Travel

The next time you take a flight to India from any airport in the United States, or vice versa, take this checklist along and cross out each event as it happens. If you happen to cross out everything, be rest assured your flight was normal.

[ ] A perfectly healthy senior citizen walks up to the airport check-in counter and asks for "free" wheelchair assistance.

[ ] A queue of 100+ passengers forms at the gate long before boarding is to begin

[ ] "Pre-boarding for passengers with small kids" is announced and passengers with 15 year old kids queue up to board

[ ] "Boarding Rows 31 and above" is announced and a passenger with seat in row under 30 walks up to gate, only to be sent back

[ ] Atleast one passenger approaches to request 'seat adjustment'

[ ] A Smart Alec reclines his/her seat after Flight Attendants have checked everyone's seats to be upright for takeoff preparation

[ ] A cellphone rings minutes after captain has announced "Turn off all electronic devices"

[ ] A passenger stands up and/or walks in the aisle after the plane has started taxiing towards the runway.

[ ] Queue forms outside restrooms, in spite of "Restroom Occupied" signs illuminated and visible.

[ ] A passenger takes out a bag of thepla when dinner is served

[ ] More than half of the total number of meals loaded onboard are labelled AVML (Asian Vegetarian Meal)

[ ] A passenger asks for two servings of alcohol. At once.

[ ] The moment the plane touches down, 100 people stand up from their seats and choke the aisles, and stare blankly.

[ ] A passenger runs and/or pushes fellow passengers on the way to board the bus to the terminal

Yes we are Indians. We are like that only.

Monday, April 25, 2011

(Not-so) Tourist Friendly Map of Mumbai

Genre: Random

Inspired by Krish Ashok's Madras Map, presenting a map of Mumbai that is very tourist friendly. Or maybe not.

Satellite Image Courtesy Google Earth. Edited and used for non-commercial purpose only.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

The Unforgettable Moment

Genre: Sports

A million articles would be written about India's victory in the 2011 Cricket World Cup, so why am I writing one more? Because, since several years, I have been told stories by my parents and uncles about how the country celebrated when India won the World Cup in 1983, in the era of 60 over cricket and transistor radio commentary. So, now it is my turn to archive memories of this glorious occasion to narrate to my kids twenty years down the line.

The year is 2011. Twenty20 and IPL have begun to dominate the Indian cricket scene. Some people have started calling traditional 50 over ODIs "boring" and "outdated". Enter World Cup 2011, being hosted mainly on Indian soil, with Sri Lanka anfd Bangladesh sharing some matches. That one chance for 50 over cricket to regain its lost popularity. It did, and how! Instead of after-office T20 tamasha, once again the cricket crazy Indians around the world began to spend entire days watching matches, even if it meant bunking college, taking off from office, or waking up at unearthly hours if they are in other timezones, like I did. In spite of being 15,000 km away from the actual action, it has been a memorable World Cup experience. 

Two days before the start of World Cup, someone mooted the idea of screening World Cup games on campus. Since Star Cricket does not telecast matches in USA, the only legal option was to purchase a subscription of Willow TV. Students were asked to contribute $2 each, and who would have thought that time that these were going to be the best $2 we ever spent. And so the stage was set. Thanks to timezone differences, all India matches, scheduled as day-night encounters, started at 4am local time here. Logistics were worked out, the car-owning students driving remaining fans to campus in the dead of the night, Virginia Tech graciously allowing us the use of TV room at the International Center, and we were set.

The first match against Bangladesh saw a small but enthusiastic crowd, complete with Indian flag, vuvuzelas et al. The next match against England was worth every minute spent, ending in a nail biting tie. Every Indian boundary and opposition wicket were cheered, while boundaries by opposition resulted in reaction that is, to put it subtly, not suitable for family audience. And this became the usual story for every game that India played. That is, until the Semi-finals.

Then came the big one. India vs Pakistan. World Cup Semi-final. Stuff every cricket fan's dreams are made of. Obviously the TV room was not going to be enough for this occasion. So we upgraded to bigger arena. Now it was time to watch on big screen. And it was a weekday. So, classes were bunked (a rare occurence for engineering grad students in a US university), labs were rescheduled, assignements were completed way before deadline, and eight hours on  Wednesday, March 30, 2011 were spent in an extreme display of patriotism, furiously cheering every Indian run, and meeting every Pakistani boundary with choicest display of colorful language in the form of the popular chant that goes "Mohali mein aaya bhoot, Pakistan ki...(complete with rhyming profanity)" and not to forget the all time favorite- "Gali gali mein shor hai, Pakistan chor hai!". And at the end of it, when India won, it was celebration like never seen before. I was seeing so many grad students so happy  for the first time in my two years here! It was a dream come true. Indian cricket fans attaining nirvana. Nothing could be bigger than this. But wait, there is more!

Come Saturday, April 2, 2011. The Final. India vs Sri Lanka. Waking up at 3.45am, watching Sangakarra make a mockery of the toss bordering on blatant cheating, almost giving up hope before start of game when Dhoni announced Sreesanth is in team instead of Ashwin, heading to the auditorium of the local church on campus in freezing cold, cracking customary Rajinikanth jokes on seeing him in the stadium, watching Jayawardene bat like a hero hell bent on stealing a victory for Lanka, the church people giving a pleasant surprise by graciously offering free breakfast for the hungry crazy students, Malinga getting Sehwag out with scoreboard reading 0/1, The God getting out early with score looking even more ominous at 31/2, Gambhir and Kohli playing a slow sensible inning to stabilize the chase, getting into the typical Wankhede atmosphere with chants of "Sachin Sachin " and "Ganpati Bappa Morya", watching captain Dhoni himself hit that final six into the stands to end it all in the best possible way and breaking out into insane celebration, it has been a truly epic day.

All these sleepless nights over the past six weeks, listening to Ravi Shastri who goes on and one like a tracer bullet with his torture-on-ears commentary, which included gems like "This stand is veru sunny right now, that's why it has been named Sunny Gavaskar Stand", feeling like pulling hair every time Sanjay Manjrekar said "Tainduulkar", bearing Willow TV's heights-of-cliche advertising, from " for NRI Gujaratis like us" to "G1G Insurance for parents visiting USA" to powerpoint-slide ads of estate agents and software consultancies, screaming "Jeetega bhai jeetega, India jeetega!" thousands of times until throat went totally hoarse, all of it seemed totally worth it for that one scene- Indian team carrying The God aka Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar around Wankhede for a victory lap. Absolute speechless moment.

I have never been that crazy a sports lover that I get emotional over wins and losses, but the sight today, of Sachin running into the field, later draped in an Indian flag made me teary eyed, further pushed by Virat Kohli's soon-to-become-immemorial lines "For twenty one years this man has carried a nation's burden, the least we can do tonight is carry him on our shoulders". 

Dhoni lifting the World Cup trophy and the celebration that followed has been an occasion that has overwhelmed my emotions, so much so that for hours after the match I was in a state of clueless limbo as to what exactly happened and why am I grinning for no reason. Of course adding to the fun was the fact that it is the day of International Street Fair on Virginia Tech campus, and after the match, around a hundred Indian students march into the venue, screaming, shouting carrying Indian flags and Dhobighaat Blues, our local band, dedicating songs to the Indian team resulting in massive cheers from the Indian crowd, leaving everyone else at the venue flabbergasted! The day has long come to an end, but the celebrations have not. 

It will take some time for the feeling to sink in, but the fact remains - 

Monday, March 14, 2011

e-Love Story

Genre: Fiction

It was a calm night in New Delhi. Earlier in the day, hundreds of workers of the city's public transit company had gone on a pre-declared strike complaining about some of their long pending demands, forcing thousands of commuters to look for alternative means. Surya, a final year engineering student at IIT Delhi posted his views about the strike on Facebook. Nisha, an Aerospace Engineering student from the same institute ranted about the troubles she had to face due to the strike in comments to Surya's post. Half way across the world, sitting in his lab on a sunny morning, Aryan was glancing through his Facebook feed when he chanced upon this conversation. An IIT Delhi alumni, now pursuing his PhD in Computer Science at Harvard, he got slightly annoyed with Nisha's comments. Although coming from the same college, he had hardly ever interacted with Surya, and never known Nisha, yet he decided to jump into the discussion with his two cents. Not the one to give up, Nisha replied with more arguments, and Aryan countered them with more of his. Eventually the discussion died down but impressed with Nisha's in-depth analysis, he sent her a Facebook Friend Request, which Nisha promptly accepted.    

As it happens with all online friendships, the next step was exchanging email addresses and adding each other on GTalk. A casual conversation at first, they soon realised they share more passions in common than just analysis of Delhi's current affairs. As time passed, Aryan and Nisha started chatting online frequently, about random things under the sun. A month later, Aryan came to Delhi in his summer vacations, and that's when they finally saw each other in person and heard each other's voice. By then, they had already hit off well online, so phone numbers were exchanged and for the time Aryan was in Delhi, they interacted a lot over text messages, rarely talked on the phone, and never met again in person during the remainder of Aryan's stay in Delhi. Once back to Harvard, medium of interaction between Aryan and Nisha went back to GTalk chats. A few months later, it was that time of the year when thousands of engineering students across India apply to colleges in USA for higher education, and look for students already in US to get free career counselling. 

Enter Myra, Nisha's best friend and one of those counselling candidates. Nisha introduced her to Aryan and they hit it off right from Day 1. A little counselling, a little timepass, sometimes with Myra, sometimes with Nisha, and often with both, Aryan had now found two new buddies from his alma mater whom he never knew earlier. Between counselling Myra and pursuing his own PhD, with every passing day Aryan started spending more and more time with Nisha, chatting at odd hours about anything and everything from sports to politics to movies to happenings in their personal lives. Come December and Aryan went back to Delhi, and met Nisha at one of IIT Delhi's favorite hangouts, and this time it was Myra whom he met for the first time in person, after extensively interacting via GTalk. The three of them met a couple of times more before Aryan had to return to Harvard. By now the friendship between them had grown strong.

Was it just friendship? Between Aryan and Myra, yes. Between Aryan and Nisha, nobody could tell, including themselves. Engrossed in his love for robotics, drawing and football, Aryan had never dated a girl all his life, never knew what first signs of love feel, and had no idea how to ask a girl out if ever that moment came. Nisha was no different, intellectual and enthusiastic about dancing and painting, but single all through college, with some of her friends even ridiculing her that she was not programmed to be normal and think about guys from a romantic point of view. Meanwhile, the bond between the two had grown so strong that Aryan would wake up to a Good Morning ping from Nisha, and she would sleep only after a Good Night chat from Aryan. All this time, without letting Aryan know, Myra, herself in a steady relationship since three years, was trying to gather hints and nudge Nisha to listen to her instincts. On the other hand, Aryan was confused. He had had momentary crushes on several girls during his college days and none of those girls had shown any interest in response to his hints, and although he was feeling the same about Nisha, he had no idea if this was just one of those one-sided feelings or something more. 

One fine day next Spring, Aryan was working in his computer lab, simultaneously chatting with Nisha, as was the usual routine now. Between some random conversations, Nisha asked Aryan casually if he considered her as a girlfriend. Not knowing how to react, Aryan instinctively typed out his inner feelings. Turned out, this is exactly what Nisha was waiting to hear, just not willing to take the first step herself. And so it was done. No candle-light dinner, no romantic proposal, no well-planned dates. All it took was some courage. And GTalk.  

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Rest In Pieces

Genre: Current Affairs

So far in my life, there have been only two people for whom I have wished instant death, because they just don't deserve to be alive. One of the wishes got fulfilled today, so it is time to celebrate. Yes, I am happy Arjun Singh died, and I am not the only one saying this. I was following Twitter updates in the hours after the news of his death broke out, and the ratio of celebratory to condolence messages was almost 100:1. Never before have I seen so many educated Indians celebrate a death. So, why this strange reaction now? Because the man deserved it.

For the uninitiated, Arjun Singh was the Human Resource Development minister in the Indian government and besides other cases of corruption and manipulative politics including mishandling of the Bhopal Gas Tragedy case, he was a vehemant supporter of caste-based reservations in admissions to presitigious engineering and management colleges of India. Now, per se, it is a good thing to promote education for all, and I am all for it, having myself participated in Teach India program teaching street kids who cannot afford school fees. But the method adopted by Arjun Singh was downright wrong, unfair and implemented for the sole purpose of gaining political mileage. Providing education to backward caste kids is one thing, but keeping aside seats in premier institutes and handing them on a platter to certain students simply because they have a paper that says they belong to a certain caste is outright stupid.

The caste-based reservation system must have spoilt the careers of millions of Indian kids over the years, and I will narrate a couple of examples how- when I applied for admission to VJTI in 2005, out of 60 seats available for Electronics Engineering, only 19 (yes, nineteen only) seats were offered to students on the basis of their merit. A whopping 68% seats were reserved for students under various quotas- female quote, Scheduled Caste quota, Scheduled Tribes quote, Other Backward Class quota and so on. How does this affect a student's career? This is how- the admission to VJTI was through Maharashtra state Common Entrance Test (CET). The cut-off for Open category male students was 191/200. My friend who had scored a healthy 188/200 in CET could not get admission to his course of choice. However, a common friend of ours, with a mediocre score of 110/200 made his way in to the said class. How? Because he held a piece of paper that proclaimed he belongs to the "backward caste". So, was he indeed poor, backward and oppressed? Well, he used to come to college on a swanky bike, armed with an iPod and an expensive cellphone. Imagine yourself in the shoes of that friend whose dream of studying at a premier educational institute, for which he had studied day and night for 2 years, was crushed and several relatively undeserving students walked in, because they had a certain piece of paper. So, if there was no reservation, would he have made it? Quite easily, considering his rank among applicants to the said course was 43. If all the 60 seats were available on the basis of merit alone, he would have accomplished his dream of getting a B Tech degree from VJTI. This is just one example. Cases like this happen every year with students aspiring admission to the presitigious IITs, IIMs, AIIMS and other institutes seeing their dreams crushed, thanks to one man- Arjun Singh.

So, if this was unfair, did the students not protest? They did, we all did. Coming together under the banner of Youth for Equality (YFE), a non-commercial non-politically aligned group, comprising of college students and their parents asking for appreciation of merit. Unlike some political groups who resort to violence, demage to public property and vandalism to protest, we chose the democratic way. YFE conducted protest rallies (one of which me and my friends attended in the middle of our final exams), organized awareness drives (in one of which, me and a friend stood a whole day in heavy rain explaining new college applicants the consequences of reservation system), several students at AIIMS went on a hunger strike and YFE submitted petitions in court. And what happened? On orders by the government, students in Mumbai were treated like criminals and beaten up in the middle of the road and the petition in Supreme Court was quashed by Arjun Singh's ministry, and this is when the Chief Justice handling the case famously said "if this is how the government wants to function, why don't we just put a lock on the court?". Having seen all this, it is natural that the news of death of the man responsible for it is received with cheer and happiness.

So here it is, to the man who screwed up India's education system- Rest in Pieces in Hell, and if you plan to go to Heaven, make sure to carry your reservation certificate, because for sure you do not have enough marks to make it through on Merit. *

* Last line courtesy my friend Pranay Karwa

Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Joys (and Sorrows) of High Flying

Genre: Travel

First a confession. Reading about this envy-worthy achievement of one of my best friends was the inspiration for this piece of long pointless writing that follows.

It is a common complaint among normal people that air travel is a long boring annoying task with nothing interesting to look frward to, but I am among those abnormal people who beg to differ- yes, the class of geeks called aviation enthusiasts. Although a recent obsession, my interest in metal birds and the stuff that controls them, in the air and on the ground, has taken off quite steeply. For 21 years of my life, I had never been on an airplane, not even inside an airport, partially due to my deep love for trains and partially due to economic considerations, and now in the last 18 months, I have been on 20 flights, including 10 in the last two months taking me through some of the world's biggest and busiest airports- Heathrow (London), Brussels, JFK, Newark Liberty, La Guardia (New York), Hartsfield Jackson (Atlanta), Logan (Boston) to medium sized ones like Charlotte, Mumbai, Kuwait to the tiny ones like Roanoke in Virginia, USA. 

So, what is it about planes and flying that is interesting? Everything, well, almost. The fun starts before the actual flight. I love airports, the big ones with multiple terminals and hundreds of check-in counters. Although functionally similar, all of them have a unique flavour and character to them, if you observe carefully. While Mumbai's Chhatrapati Shivaji International with its swanky renovated concourses but staff with outdated equipments truly reflects 21st century India- developing but not fully developed yet, London Heathrow is typical British- stylish but toned down while JFK International is completely what New York City is- huge, glamorous, shiny, confusing, crowded, chaotic and full of life. What is boring is that whatever be the character of the airport, you have to do the same boring ritual everywhere- stand in long queues for check-in, hand over your bags into the mouths of conveyer belts running into unknown worlds, take off your shoes, coat, laptop, cell phone, camera, wallet, coins and everything else that a terrorist would NOT use to blow off a plane and walk through a metal detector, and head to the gate area.  

The wait at the gate area is one of my favorite parts of air travel, but only if there is a clear view of the apron, taxiways and runways, which is almost always the case, except at some brilliantly designed terminals like Mumbai's International T2 where you have to sit staring at empty walls and LCD TVs playing Rakhi ka Insaaf. For the curious souls like me, the view from the gate area has always had something interesting to offer- like my first sight of the Airbus A380 Superjumbo at JFK or a glimpse of a plane from rare airline like Royal Brunei at London. Once the flight is announced for boarding, it is a sight worth seeing. If you are at any Indian airport (or New Jersey for that matter), the scene resembles a fish market. Even before the staff fnishes announcing "Flight XXX is ready for boarding", over hundred passengers, sitting scattered across the hall will arrive in lightning speed to form a huge queue, knowing fully well that all airlines board their passengers by row numbers and no plane ever departs without taking the last passenger aboard. My most memorable experience here has been at JFK where a queue of almost 150 people (yes, no kidding!) had formed at the gate and the lady asked passengers in Rows 31 to 37 ONLY to start boarding. I got up from my seat, calmly looked at the queue, and entered the aerobridge first while all the impatient junta, none of whom had seats in Rows 31 to 37 kept waiting!

On all my 20 flights, I have had window seats in the rear half of the plane, which means boarding first and waiting till all the impatient passengers eventually board at the slow rate a single aerobridge allows. Once that is done and the customary safety instructions announced, starts my most interesting part of air travel- the stage from pushback from the gate to takeoff. If you have a little knowledge of runway numbering, air traffic control and a keen observation, the sight from the window is fun to watch, especially at big airports with multiple runways. If you observe carefully, the manner in which ATC manages takeoffs and landings is simply amazing at super-busy hubs, something I have loved admiring. At London Heathrow, it was best use of two parallel runways on display- on Runway 09R, landings were scheduled so optimally that the moment one plane lands and slows down out from the runway onto the taxiway, another one touches down at other end of runway, and this goes on and on. At the same time on Runway 09L, its rapid takeoffs. The moment one plane lifts off the ground, another one is asked to line up on the runway and the line continues. At Boston, it was best use of crossing runways on display- all landings lined up towards Runway 33 while all takeoffs schedule from Runway 27, with both runways intersecting midway. The moment one plane lands on Runway 33, one plane is lined up at end of Runway 27, immediately as the landing plane crosses the intersection point, the plane ready to takeoff is given clearance, and this sequence went on continously. And how can I forget the joy of seeing parallel landings and parallel takeoffs at Atlanta- stuff you can do when you have five parellel runways! Needless to say, after seeing this, I am totally addicted to trying it out myself on Airport Madness. And how do I know all these layouts and runway number etc? Well, the curious cat that I am, I check out the Google Maps image of the airports I am flying out of! (By the way, check out the current Google Maps image of Atlanta's Hartsfield Jackson International Airport- there are 144 planes lined up at the gates at the same time, incredible by any means!) 

The first few minutes after takeoff and the last few minutes before landing are my favorite times for photography. Whether day or night, there are always spectacular views to cherish. Be it spotting the Verrazano Narrows Bridge before landing in to LaGuardia New York or the flypast over illuminated Manhattan or stunning views of desert at Kuwait or the priceless glimpse of my own Mumbai from the air, I have enjoyed all of it and more. The landing, they say, is a real test of the pilot's skills, and in spite of knowing it is safer than driving, it still gives me goosebumps. The only saving grace is when there are friendly pilots who talk to the passengers before landing, like on my recent trip to Boston, the captain gave all details that normal passengers would not want- "In thirteen minutes we will be landing at Boston Logan International Airport. Currently we are heading west, soon we will take a full U-turn and land from the east on Runway 27. Wind gusts near the ground measure 24 knots, so we will have a bumpy landing. Be prepared." 

Once airborne, the only thing to look forward to, or maybe not, is the food. Although I have got everything from Pav Bhaji to Kanda Pohe on international flights, I will not go into the details and rather point out that the "poore-India-mein-world-famous" blogger Krishashok has summed up the plane food experience perfectly. And, what about the period when you are actually in air, cruising between takeoff and landing? How is it? Extremely boring and annoying. Period.

Monday, February 14, 2011

The Checklist

Genre: Random

Today as couples around the world celebrate their love (never figured out why they don't celebrate it all year round), I spend the day in the same fashion as I have done for the last 23 years- doing nothing, being single. Fortunately, I have been blessed with some extremely concerned and caring friends who keep on asking me what kind of girl I would like to have in my life (although none of them have ever introduced me to one, but thats a different story). So for the benefit for everyone, once and for all, I present the type of girl I am looking for. 

If you are female, Indian (ABCD aka American Born Cute Desi girls are allowed), single (or in a relationship but looking for greener pastures) and aged between 20 and 24 years as on today, here is a checklist (along with my reasons for each point). Tick all that applies to you-

(If you are either male, or a female who does not satisfy the above criteria, still you can continue to read. There is something for you at the end)

[ ] You have an active Facebook account.
Come on, how technology-alienated and boring life you'd be living if you don't have one

[ ] You can cook, and like cooking decently good vegetarian food
They say the way to a man's heart is through his stomach, to mine it certainly is.

[ ] You can speak two or more of the following languages- English, Hindi, Gujarati, Marathi.
What? Would we talk in sign language?

[ ] You love, or at least don't hate train travel.
Well, if you don't satisfy this condition, we are likely to have a lot of fights!

[ ] Your wardrobe contains at least 10% and at the most 25% pink clothes.
Any less is impossible to imagine for any normal girl, and any more is overdose of cuteness.

[ ] Your skin tone is any shade between Bipasha Basu and Katrina Kaif.
I believe they are the ideal thresholds. Anyone out of these limits doesn't look Indian anymore.

[ ] You have at least a basic knowledge of what's going on in the world around you.
I don't want you to know by-heart all news daily but if I talk to you today and you say "Egypt? Why, what happened there?" sorry, you are out of contention. 

[ ] You have at least some interest in cricket.
We are Indians, cricket is our religion, so if you cannot tell names of at least five current Indian cricketers and two IPL teams, you are out!

Math has never been my favorite subject, so I don't care about figures.

Also, there are some knock-out conditions. If you satisfy any of these, you are out of the competition-

[ ] You smoke. 
Smokers are people who have no interest to live but no balls to kill themselves at once. 

[ ] You religiously follow all saas-bahu TV serials.
Get a life. Seriously.

[ ] You are a fan of Justin Bieber, Lady Gaga's fashion sense or Twilight movies 
Get yourself checked by a psychiatrist dear.

On the other hand, there are some criteria that can earn you significant amount of positive Brownie Points. Don't ask me reasons for these, just be happy if you can tick off few or all of these-

[ ] You love The Big Bang Theory.

[ ] You love Star Wars, or sci-fi movies in general

[ ] You have an active well-maintained blog 

[ ] You have an active Twitter account

[ ] You love travelling/driving/nature

[ ] You love photography

[ ] You like Hindi music

[ ] You are from Mithibai / Agrawal Classes / VJTI / Virginia Tech

If you satisfy 7 or more criteria from the first list and any from the last list, congratulations! You know what your next step should be.

As I promised, if you are a male, or a female not satisfying initial criteria, here is what you can do- if have a sister, friend, ex-girlfriend who you believe fulfils these criteria, it would be a great service to humanity if you introduce her to this piece of writing. 

P.S.: There is a trump card too- if you are female, Indian (ABCD aka American Born Cute Desi girls are allowed), single (or in a relationship but looking for greener pastures) and aged between 20 and 24 years as on today and already like me for what I am (highly unlikely scenario), it can help in your favor to override some of the above criteria that you may not be satisfying. 

P.P.S.: Even if you are not interested in that sense, be sporty and copy the checklist in Comments and tick the categories you qualify in, just for fun :)

Finally, the reason for publishing this today-

Happy Valentine's Day!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Tweet, Don't Just Face the Book

Genre: Technology

It can be made official- since the last six months or so, I was cheating on Facebook. Instead of giving her my undivided attention, I had started hanging out at another equally seductive beauty of social networking- Twitter, and by now I can safely say she has replaced Facebook as my Number 1 source of entertainment, time waste, and in general procrastination. This led to another question- if Twitter is mo much fun, why haven't my friends fallen for it? I have close to 400 "friends" on Facebook, out of which at least 100 are fairly active users- posting status updates, uploading photos, sharing videos, taking pointless quizzes such as 'Which Carbon Atom of Di-chloro-ethylene Are You?' or playing retarded games like FarmVille and Mafia Wars on an almost daily basis, and what about Twitter? Looking at my list, I see close to 50-odd of these friends have Twitter accounts but no more than 4 (yes, FOUR) are active Twitter users! I am no social media or human psychology expert and there are probably 100,000 websites out there comparing Facebook and Twitter (out of which I have read none), but since I have been smitten, I will do the noble duty of convincing as many of my friends to get active on Twitter and waste even more time than they are doing now on Facebook. Here are five reasons why Twitter-shy junta should start tweeting-

1. It's Not About What You Are Doing Now

When Twitter was launched, general impression was that it is a creepy site where creepy people with no better thing to do in life keep writing what they are doing all day, giving other creepy people opportunity to virtually stalk them. This fact is further proved by the fact that every now and then I see a newbie join the Twitter bandwagon and tweet stuff like "Going to meet the professor now" or "Had a sandwich. It was awesome!" This is no longer the case. Why? Because nobody freaking cares! Even if you are as popular as Sachin Tendulkar or Justin Bieber, nobody really is interested in knowing what you are eating or wearing or seeing. Twitter is not about being creepy, but being creative. How? See Reason 2.

2. It's Hilarious and Witty

I must confess, there have been hundreds of moments when I have smiled, LOLed or ROFLed over creative one-liners, witty puns and sarcastic comments on Twitter over the last six months, although I can't say the same about Facebook. The 140 character limit leaves no scope for long boring posts and all it takes to unleash the creativity is one "trending topic" may it be Rajinikanth or Super Bowl or IPL. In fact, I have realized over a period of time, the best one-liners originate on Twitter, pass on to Facebook, percolate to SMS forwards and die a slow painful death via Orkut and BBMs. Of course a prerequisite to getting this dose of entertainment is that you need to follow the right kind of people. If you just follow your real life/Facebook friends, it may not be that entertaining. Expand your scope. As they say, on Facebook you stalk people you know, on Twitter, people you DON'T know. So, who are these people to follow? The list appears at the end. Please be patient. 

3. News Break on Twitter Before Anywhere Else

If you are the one who cares for whats happening in your country and the world but are too lazy to read newspapers or watch news, look no further. Twitter is your source of everything you need to know, and then some you don't need to know. From 26/11 terrorist attacks to the recent Russia airport blast, from Saina's gold medal to Rahman's Oscar, news stories from myriad sources come to your Twitter timeline faster than it comes on mainstream media, thanks to a nifty feature called Retweet or in Twitter lingo, RT. If someone you are not following but one of your followers is following (like Friends of Friends option on Facebook) writes something interesting, your follower just RTs the tweet and it appears on your timeline too. This effectively forms a virtually infinite network by which you get the most interesting feed from random people you have never heard of. So, that means a lot of spam isn't it? No! Because only things that are really interesting or important gets RTed around enough to reach you! 

4. Interesting Links to Keep You Hooked

If you are one of those people who love seeing videos and reading links that your friends share on Facebook, Twitter is a goldmine for you. Every day I spend considerable time of the day reading some interesting, some humorous and a whole lot of just weird, quirky news, articles, photos, videos, cartoons, comics and what not, from sites I would have never gone on my own, because I did not even know they exist! One might argue that why do I even need to know all these stuff? Well, I don't. But it serves as a great refreshment in between boring sessions of assignments or work.

5. Interact With Your Favorite Stars

Several dozen Bollywood stars, Hollywood stars, cricketers, footballers, pop stars and anyone who is a celebrity of any kind has a Twitter account where he/she posts updates about their work and life and occasionally shamelessly indulging in an overdose of publicity for their upcoming movies etc. Unlike their websites and Facebook fan pages that are professionally maintained, I have noticed many celebrities actually maintain their Twitter accounts personally, evident from not-so-politically-correct messages and unglamorous un-photoshopped photos that wouldn't make it to the magazines and newspapers that they occasionally post on Twitter. This also means, Twitter is probably your best probability of getting a one-on-one conversation with a celebrity, may it be as short as one line reply. My high point so far has been getting a personal reply from Sonakshi Sinha (if she can considered a celebrity, that is!). 

So, now that you are probably convinced into wasting more of your time by getting active on Twitter, here is a short Beginner's Guide of few people you should start following for some interesting entertainment. This is just a small starter, from an Indian point of view, and there are several interesting people around whom I don't follow yet. These people are Tw-elibrities, or Twitter Celebrities- people who are common folk like us, students, IT professionals, businessmen/women etc who have carved fame for themselves simply by being a great source of Twitter entertainment. 

@gkhamba - A part-time stand-up comedian from Delhi, this guy is a laugh riot. Not always using family-friendly language, but his sense of humor and impromptu witty takes on everything from current affairs to movies will leave you in splits.   

@fakingnews - As the name suggests, this guy maintains the popular website Faking News, which in my opinion is the best parody news site I have ever come across, and his tweets are equally hilarious

@eyepeeyell - If you like cricket, especially IPL, even one bit, this is one person (nobody knows real identity of this account) you just can't afford to miss. Using extremely expletive-filled language at times, he generates humor like no other from cricket matches and cricketers' lives. And with IPL just round the corner, he is gonna get super active!

@krishashok @greatbong and @thecomicproject - Popular bloggers and not as hilarious as the guy above, but these men have some really interesting stuff to share and witty takes on several topics under the sun.

@sunainak - If you thought comedy is mainly a male-domain, think again. This Punjabi kudi can be sweet and girly at times and at other times crack some extremely good (read: bad!) PJs and one-liners. 

@HelloMeHippo - The cutest 'animal' on Twitter. Doesn't tweet much, but when he does, in his inimitable kiddy broken-English, it is just too adorable.

 So, if you are wondering, "where are the celebrities? They are the ones I want to follow". There are way too many out there to enlist, but some I follow are-

@chetan_bhagat - The Five Point Someone guy. Many Twitter celebrities generate their humor by screwing case of this man, but he himself has interesting stuff to say too.

@sachin_rt - Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar. Enough said. Why do I follow him? Because he is The God. Period. 

If you are male, just for the eye-candy factor you probably want to follow @priyankachopra (Priyanka Chopra), @bipsluvurself (Bipasha Basu), @realpreityzinta (Preity Zinta) and ONLY if you are a guy, you probably would like to follow @SherlynChopra too, just for the pics she uploads! :P

Apart from real celebrities, there are fake celebrities- parody accounts, who are more hilarious than the real celebrities. Some I follow are-

@sheldoncooper - Bazingga! You know what to expect!

@DepressedDarth - For Star Wars fans- imagine Darth Vader hitting a period of depression, bored of the dark side, venting out his frustration. Get the idea what to expect!

And then, there is one rather interesting "person" to follow - @kweezzz - This is not a person. This account is created simply to host interesting quizzes. Anyone who wants to host a quiz on any topic under the sun from American History to Identify Actresses From Their Legs can contact the admins and get access to this account for a certain time slot in which he/she posts a series of quiz questions that anybody around the world is free to answer by just replying. Quizzes are held almost daily and usually the first three people to reply with correct answers score points. The prize is no money, just recognition and a sense of accomplishment. I shall humbly announce that I have finished on the podium in two kweezzz so far- one on India Travel and another on American Eateries!

I think this is enough to get you started. Of course, there is one more guy you probably want to follow- the one who wrote all this crap. Yes, my Twitter handle is the same as the title of my blog. Easy to search. 

PS: Twitter has neither paid me anything nor offered me a job for writing this.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

An Open Letter to Director of VJTI

Dear Sir with very long Surname,

I passed out from VJTI with a B. Tech degree in June 2009, so technically I am an alumnus, but emotionally still a student. I happened to visit my alma mater this month after an eighteen month gap and was shocked to see not one, but three completely unnecessary changes-

First of all, what was the need to start moral policing and enforce an illogical dress code prohibiting girls from wearing anything shorter than full pants? You may argue that you don't want students to come to the prestigious engineering institute wearing indecent clothes, but have you ever stepped out in the Quad and examined the general dressing trend among VJTI students? In my four years, most of it spent in the Quad and canteen, I have never seen any girl in VJTI campus wearing anything that can be considered even close to indecent. One popular argument of political parties enforcing dress code in Indian colleges is that they do not want students to get distracted. If that is the excuse you are going to give and if you really want to improve concentration of students, I suggest you invest your time, money and energy in employing good teachers and improving lab infrastructure. Professors who cannot speak two sentences in correct English and lab equipment fit to be preserved in museum are the reasons why students do not concentrate in class, not girls wearing three-fourths and knee length skirts.

Second totally unnecessary exercise started recently is making every student sign a register every time he/she wants to exit the campus with name and reason for leaving. What purpose does this criminal waste of paper, ink and time serve? Have you even once gone through the register and analyzed the reasons why students exit campus during college hours? If you do, you will find most of the students go out to get Xerox copies of assignments and class notes. Is the register meant to serve as a deterrent to this practice? If yes, have you wondered why this practice goes on in the first place? Instead of maintaining a pointless register, why isn't money and energy spent on training professors to teach the students in such an interesting manner that they actually feel like doing their assignments on their own instead of copying from Xerox notes? I am pursuing Masters from a US university and in the last eighteen months I have not copied or Xeroxed a single homework or assignment, something that students, including myself, do regularly in VJTI. Why? Is it because we love copying and are lazy to ? No. It is because most of the times the professor has been either too boring or unsure of his own concepts and as a result, has not taught his topics in a way that students would understand and be interested. So, the majority of the class resorts to copying assignments from a chosen few in the class who studied and understood the concepts on their own, without help from the institute or professors. VJTI, as you are aware, admits the brightest minds from across the state, and these students, if given equally bright professors and interesting study techniques, would not resort to copying and faking assignments.

Third change that I do not understand is the recent paranoia of security threat to the institute. When there are other pressing needs like purchasing new appartus for laboratories, why was a large sum of money spent on fortifying the campus, which already had a decent boundary wall with a new boundary wall higher than the International Border between India and Pakistan? Agreed we live in difficult times and security is a concern, but building that Great Wall of VJTI serves no practical purpose. I can even now point out a dozen other ways a potential terrorist can still enter the campus if he wants to. Another side effect of this paranoia is the recent diktat banning students from taking photorgraphs on campus! Today when most teenage psychology experts encourage students to take as many pictures as possible of their college days to serve as fond memories helping in hard times in later life, and I have experienced this is true, having gone through the collection of thousands of photos of my VJTI days every time I feel low, you are depriving the current students of this opportunity citing security risk. Again, in this age of Google Earth and hi-resolution satellite images, do you really think someone with a malicious intention against VJTI will rely on group photos taken by students to plan his attack? Highly unlikely. 

These are small things, but what saddens me is that the administration of my beloved institute is focussing its time, money and energy on skewed priorities. It would be great if this effort is rather channlized into the right direction to reinstate VJTI's position to the claimed title of "premier engineering institute in Maharashtra state."

A proud VJTI alumnus   
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