Wednesday, February 11, 2009

First experience of driving in the US - II

The next threat to the survival of the human species came fairly quickly, I would say around 1999-2000, when everybody and their grandchild, pet dog and neighbour's infant was scooting about perched on a Hero Puch while I was content with enjoying the visual delights of the world, read women, from the amazing place called the pillion seat on my friends' mopeds.

Well, as you would have guessed, the Gods of the time were not in favour of me remaining in this utopian state for long and hence I found myself being coached by my dear friend Deepak to ride a moped. And that is the time I learnt a valuable lesson of life - you cannot say no to a friend even if it may not be something you are very keen on.

As it turned out, there weren't that many coaching sessions and I did not own a moped of my own so I was able to avert becoming a reasonably competent rider for a long time until catastrophe struck.

It was a sunny, breezy and luke-warm November morning in 2000 when our group of friends decided to set off on a customary trip to a nearby riverside 'picnic spot' about 40 kms away as part of the thrice weekly class bunking routine to fulfill the requirements of the bachelor's degree course. Our troupe was as motley a crew of characters of various hues as you can imagine with the only common thread connecting us all was that we were all pursuing the aforementioned degree rather vigorously and were very determined to ensure that even the most eclectic of such requirements were met religiously.

Since I wasn't exactly threatening Valentino Rossi with my superbiking skills at that point, I was assigned to be pillion rider, behind one of the female members of the entourage, which made me very happy indeed for obvious reasons. And off we went, three Hero Puchs, one TVS Champ, one Hero Honda Splendor and a Bajaj Super to round it all up rather nicely.

And it would have been a rather routine trip like many others before and after, and would have been banished to the nether regions of my memory, gathering dust for posterity if not for what happened almost a third of the way to the destination.

The female friend in question, ceased to feel as much on top of the world as she was at the onset and was unable to continue to steer the moped which was the choice of locomotion for both of us. Suddenly, I was faced with choosing from one of two options, taking public transport from a rural area back into town, effectively killing the expedition for the two of us atleast, or donning the mantle of knight in shining armour and rescue the damsel by bravely offering to swap places and ride the moped in her place while she recuperates.

With the first option still leaving the question of what happens to the moped, and also raising questions about my knight credentials, it was never in the race. And so, with a steely resolve, lots of visible bravado despite being petrified, we set off with me in the pilot seat. Lesson two, skills half-learned at the insistence of a friend can come in quite handy sometimes. Take a bow, Deepak. Thanks.

To my immense surprise, we managed to make it to the destination without any further material incident. The only notable event was a comment about why I don't change gears as often as customary. I was in a fix whether I should answer that and reveal my lack of riding skills when another dear friend Shashank (rather surprisingly more well known as Mukul/Mukki) came to my rescue by explaining that I was a big fan of being fuel efficient and hence stayed in the top gear for as long as possible. Where that came from, I don't know but it did satisfy the querying female friend so its your turn to take a bow, Mukki.

And from that point on, there was no looking back. Mopeds, dodgy incredibly small-wheeled scooters, bikes, nothing fazed me. Soon I was laying rubber on the Allahabad-Lucknow highway (which is a misnomer if there ever was one) and the rumble strip to Phoolpur (don't worry, nobody else knows where that is either. It was the parlimentary constituency of Jawaharlal Nehru though) regularly.

to be continued..

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Tuesday, February 10, 2009

First experience of driving in the US - I

Well, the title does give the game away but I would like to indulge in a few flashback instances from my rather eventful existence on this planet before I get to narrating what the title indicates.

Now for the more curious among you lot, the theme of these glimpses into the past is my previous attempts at various forms of locomotion.

The story starts more than a good quarter of a century back in time when our family friends and well wishers were beginning to get accustomed to visiting our family abode and expressing their concern about my absolute lack of interest in extending my lower limbs into any semblance of a support structure for the rest of my body.

Many theories were in circulation regarding the same ranging from the arcane to the downright bizarre. Some thought I was born 15 years too early for the pulse polio vaccine while others wondered if it was some sort of rare nerve disorder which made me unable to exert any sort of control over my shapely and supple legs, if I may say so myself. Needless to say, the eternal fount of wisdom that my dearest mom is, there was an increasing support for her initial suspicion that all these conjecturing toms were way off the mark and the real reason for my utter lack of self-driven locomotion attempts was sheer laziness on my part.

It took a good year and a half after I made my grand opening appearance on earth before my desire to grab hold of anything colourful as well as to take a healthy bite off anything interesting, in quite a few instances both happened to be the same, resulted in me shedding my torpor and deciding to take matters in my own hands, rather my own legs.

That initial global crisis averted, the next major challenge to world peace started rearing it ugly head around 1992 when it became patently obvious that I was not going to take to the bicycle mode of transport, by then readily adopted and honed to a considerable degree of expertise by my peers, with any success whatsoever. While my friends and classmates would lord over the world while pedalling away furiously, I would be content with being ferried to the school on a shared rickshaw trolley and walking ridiculous distances whenever alternative forms of transport were not available.

Needless to say, when the situation did not show any signs of improving by early 1994, my immensely wise father decided to take things in his own rather capable hands. And quite literally so. One nice fuzzily warm February day, he picked me up and perched me on the bicycle seat, warned me to be careful of my teeth and then pushed me away. In the 3-4 seconds of eternity that elapsed between the push I felt in my back and the 'slam' I felt on my teeth and knees, I became quite convinced that I would never be able to get friendly and feel warm and cozy around self propelled locomotion devices without any inherent balancing mechanism.

If I had my way, there was no way I would ever allow my precious posterior to be planted on another triangular semi-soft piece of impotence-inducing torture device called a bicycle seat. However, not surprisingly, and as all of you know very well from your own personal childhood experiences, I did not have my way. Which means that I had to undergo some more of the frankly scary and seemingly life-threatening experiences of being pushed in the back, lurching around for a couple of seconds and then succumbing to a rather sudden affinity for mother earth, usually with rather detrimental effects to my physical appearance.

Well, to cut what is drifting into a rather long story short, I realised that each successive push was resulting in me somehow being able to lurch around like a veteran alcoholic for a microsecond longer and I reached a point where my frustration with the repeated injuries forced me to make some rather half-hearted attempts at counter-balancing to stay vertical for a little bit longer. To paint a better picture in your mind, just imagine somebody realled sloshed to their gills trying to avoid falling flat on the ground and navigating their way home on their own rather shaky two feet. Top up the guy with 10 more drinks and you have a picture of me on the bicycle.

Anyway, so after dozens of these experiences, I found I was able to pedal my way from home to school in the morning in one go without endangering my knees and also do the reverse trip in the afternoon with no damage. And so it was, that I was weaned from the rickshaw trolley to using the bicycle for going to school. A Close shave, but crisis averted.

to be continued...

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Monday, February 09, 2009

Mission Sri Lanka - accomplished with minor damage

Dont need to write much on this, with the reams in the country's newspapers back home and the megabytes of opinions posted online already. Suffice to say it was a clinical performance, ruthless by Indian standards and yet, routine by Aussie ones.

Food for thought, team India?

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Saturday, February 07, 2009

The land of opportunity, really?

27 years, 3 months and 11 days after first setting foot on this earth; about 15 years after first hearing about this country; about 10 years after first dreaming of and visualising being here; 4 years after really hoping for the first time to be here; 12 days after being told that I need to come here, here I am, in the land of opportunity, the melting pot of the world, the maelstrom of cultures, races, ethnicities, eccentricities and everything else, more popularly known as the United States of America.

And frankly, I am underwhelmed. Not that anything specific I had hoped for in terms of infrastructure, facilities, vehicles, blah blah, isn't there. They are all here, and more. And yet, there is something distinctly not-so-impressive about this country. Maybe its because I have stayed in the UK for more than a year off-and-on, maybe its because I have had an overexposure to the US culture via television, movies, internet and books, maybe its because I was just expecting something not so rational, maybe I am becoming too cynical as a person, but it all looked so mundane, routine, almost taken for granted.

Having said that, its fun to see people driving on the 'wrong' side of the road and the automatic cars zipping about. I wish I was driving here. The sheer size of the country poses and immense and yet interesting challenge compared to the relatively puny UK where you could zip across the length of the country in less than a day.

The city of Hartford, Connecticut looks bright and shiny, snow-swept and welcoming. Good portents for the start of a new chapter in my life. It should be interesting.

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Sunday, February 01, 2009

two wins on the trot

I had deliberately not posted after India won the first ODI, just to make sure that the win was not a fluke start to the customary attritional ODI series in Sri Lanka with the islanders triumphing in the end.

And I might seem like contradicting myself by posting after only the 2nd ODI, with the series still undecided, but there is a reason for doing so.

What makes this win, 2nd in a row for the series and 7th on the trot for ODIs, different is the fact that Ajantha Mendis, the carrom-ball spin sensation from the country we should call down under instead of Australia, seems to be no longer a threat of Himalayan proportions that he was until now.

In the recently concluded series, in India no less, Mendis seemed to have got the better of not one but an entire batting order filled with superstars, all of which were brought up on a lifetime diet of high-quality spin bowling. A lineup that even the great Shane Warne could not budge had been made to look like English county batsmen from the decidedly second-rung teams in the Midlands. That the young upstarts from the south had given us a lesson in spin bowling was at once humiliating as well as thought-provoking.

That the Indian batsmen have managed to thwart his threat, and Murali's too, and take runs off both with giving them any wicket (Mendis got the last 2 tailenders while Murali got none) suggests that the batsmen have learnt their lesson, particularly that of aggression being the best form of defence.

Heartening to see an Indian ODI playing with the freedom and purpose we rarely associate with the Men in Blue.

Best of luck guys !

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