Monthly Archives: August 2005

Fire and Ice 15

On 19th of August was the Finnish fireworks championship. The 1855 bombardment of Sveaborg (Soumenlinna Fireworks with the moon in the backgroundIsland) barely touched Helsinki (but for a couple overshot shells), and the population even gathered on hills to watch the dramatic ‘fireworks’. This event refers to the bombing of Viapori, when the English and French navies bombed Suomenlinna (Viapori) while Finns watched on from the hills of Kaivopuisto Park. The best places for watching the Finnish Fireworks Championships are along the coasts of Kaivopuisto and Katajanokka, as well as the end of Hernesaari Island. The fireworks this year started at 10:30 pm, strategically timed with a full moon night. As I prepared to reach the venue I was ‘shell-shocked’ to see the crowd accumulated at the tram stop. For a place like Helsinki, that’s quite a sight. Suddenly there were too many ppl, more than the tram stop could accumulate, forget the tram itself. I realised just how much out of touch I had been with jostling arouThe full moon nightnd in crowds. As the feeling of inadequacy started creeping in, it got overpowered by my natural skills honed particularly by travelling in DTC buses. Out came an arm clutching my handbag under it, the zipped side firmly against my person, my unduly long plait in front of me rather than behind as it has a tendency of getting stuck in zippers (of bags all ye perverts) in the most painful manner. At long last the tram made its way through crowds in its way, to the stop itself. I could see people packed in like sardines. As luck would have it, the tram stopped with its doors right in front of me and I felt like I was drowning in a sea of scurrying (make that jostling) mice. I somehow made it into the tram, well versed with situations like this and held onto the first handrest I could get my hands on. I couldnt fathom just where all these ppl were going. It was unusually crA lit up islandowded even for a weekend, and then I realised that they were all headed to watch the fireworks near the harbour. Unfortunately I had the daunting task of getting off somewhere in between and not at the destination, where I would have just flowed out with the rest of the human mass. Experience has taught me to start making my way much before the stop arrives and that’s what I did. After getting together with some of my colleagues, we all started walking in the direction that we saw the crowds going in.
The harbour looked beautiful, bathed in the full moon light. The water of the Baltic sea gleamed and the *huge* moon peered down. I had heard that the moon is supposed to be as big as a thaali in these parts of our planet compared to the katori in our parts, and I saw it too. Swarms of people crowded around, drinking beer and generally picnicking (something they do a lot, anytime, anywhere). In sometime, the population explosion was replaced by thBathed in the full moon lighte fireworks explosion. The crowd gasped collectively. “Poor mites”, I thought as I remembered the diwali crackers back home and concentrated more on the huge thaali sized full moon, not so readily available back home. After enjoying the fireworks display, we enjoyed the huge moon and the glistening ocean, by sitting atop a hill in Kaivopuisto Park, far away from streetlights. No photography can justify the beauty of that moment.
Getting back was an adventure in itself. After waiting for about half an hour for a tram which was already more than half an hour late, I decided to walk till the station from where I got my connecting bus at 12:45am, back to my apartment. Anything to get away from that place which reeked so much of beer that I felt giddy myself. I felt as if I had had two cans of beer by just inhaling the fumes all around. Walking ahead, I witnessed a traffic jam at midnight probably because the majority of the population was concentrated at the harbour. I madTraffic jam at midnighte it to the station, just in time to catch the 12:45am bus. There was a long queue for the bus, full of people acting stupid and drunk. I stood a little distance away from the queue, also wondering how I would ever secure a seat for myself for a 45 minute journey when everyone seemed to be going in that very bus. The bus arrived shortly and for the second time that day, it stopped right where I was standing and the doors opened right infront of me. Amused to the core, I stepped in, before another jostling session would have pushed me in.
After I got home, I reflected back on the full moon glory. The beauty of that black and white moment – the dark water and the bright full moon would remain a memory for all times to come.

Freedom of thought 1

Independence day was spent at an alien office this year for a change. It was odd, not having a holiday since I am not in India. For me, Independence day has meant roaming around the deserted streets of Delhi, along with psycho, both of us in our Khaadi kurtas, enjoying the extended time and the extended space, that’s so rare to come by in our daily rat race. It was unanimously decided this year that we (my colleagues and I) would all go to the Indian embassy here in Finland (where a lot of other desis were getting together). The flag hoisting ceremony was to start at 9:30am. The distance between my place and the embassy, made me cringe at the thought of getting up ultra early. But then soon, (if I may say), ‘patriotism’ took over and I ignored my body’s pleas the next morning to let it make up for the accumulated sleep deficit. I got ready much ahead of time and set out with a lot of buffer. As luck would have it, I encountered a traffic jam (the first I encountered here so far) and there was absolutely nothing I could do about it. I reached the venue at 10:15am. With the hoisting over, the national anthem already sung, the crowds dispersed … all that was left was the Indian flag, fluttering slowly, looking quite forlorn. Then I noticed something quite exquisite. The blood red and silky looking fresh petals of rose, were all around me on the street and on the pavement. Somehow it all looked so wrong. What was that *royal* flower doing down there on the street? It didn’t deserve getting trampled by mere passersby. And then came a moment when one answers one’s own questions. The following lines suddenly fluttered in my mind from nowhere.

Mujhe tod lena ban-mali,
uss path par dena tum phenk
Matra-bhoomi par sheesh chadhane,
jis path jayen veer anek.

Pluck me, O keeper of the garden,
And onto that path throw
To lay their lives for the motherland
On which several heroes go

– from ‘Pushp Kee Abhilasha’ (A flower’s wish) by Pt. Makhanlal Chaturvedi

And then I realised, I was the one who was diminishing their true worth, not the mere pasersby.

Finally! 14

I finally got to see the event as I wanted – on the eve of the closing ceremony. After scouring the venue for 2 days we finally got the tickets of the closing ceremony (14th Aug) for D-upper section (originally 155€) in 35€. Now I can pat my back for my bargaining skills. We ultimately sat in the D-lower section (since our seats were already occupied!) which suited us even better. The calculated risk, that we took by waiting for the closing ceremony and not watching the event before that was not really needed. We expected much fanfare for the closing (like in the opening ceremony) but all that happened was ‘victory ceremonies’ – in other words, medal distribution. Had India been there somewhere, it would have made sense.The Indian flag along with others
It seems that even a country like Finland unexpectedly has its own market of ‘tickets in black’. Only these tickets are not costlier than the officially available ones (like in India), instead they are cheaper, but not very. Some agents were even selling them at the same rates as the official ticket stalls! It all depends on the date, the timing at which *you* buy it and the date/timing for which you want it, the section of the stadium (in which one wanted tickets) and then of course ones bargaining skills. These agents seemed to be foreigners too. Moroccans to be precise. That’s what I learnt when I asked a couple of them where they were from. One of them wished me ASAK and I responded back instantly as if I had been doing it all my life. Another asked me how long it took for my hair to grow ‘that’ long and labeled me as ‘the lady with the long hair’ for the next 2 days.
Watching this kind of an event was great. It was a first for me inside a stadium as I am not a sports freakThe new world record for women's javelin throw anyway (I detest cricket even more so because it’s fed so much to us Indians in our daily diet). It was also a first for even an event of that magnitude! I saw a world record happening in front of my own eyes and not on the camera for a change. Osleidys Menéndez from Cuba made this world record. It was amazing, seeing that particular javelin throw. The javelin just didn’t stop and went on and on along with the collective “ohhhh’s” of the audience and finally landed outside the last boundary line made for javelin throws. I don’t have any shots of that. But I don’t regret that. At times, one forgets to enjoy the experience in a bid to capture that moment forever. Some irony.
Even though I have seen on TV that more than one events take place at the same time, it was weird with so many happening at the same time that one had to instantly switch ones vision (as if channels) from one point of the stadium to another. At times people kept concentrating on the wrong end for eg. at the introducton being given for a men’s 4X400m final instead of where the real action was happening at that point (women’s javelin throw).
A teary eyed winner of the women's final racing event
Apart from the games, I saw just how much pressure all players face. I also saw the glistening pride on the faces of the winners. Whenever any medal awarding ceremony took place, the flag of the nation which stood first, was hoisted and the national anthem played. Many a time, tears of joy would silently be overtaken by the evident pride.
My only regret – I could not cheer for India.

For me, language education was more about the interesting stories that were part of the curriculum rather than the language itself. That’s the case with both English and Hindi. There are certain stories and certain lines in those stories that I still remember and relate to. I remember the Hindi textbook in CBSE (at least in classes VII, VIII and IX) used to be quite a bore really as most stories were more of ‘Jeevanis’ (biographies of authors/poets, mainly consisting of mundane professional facts) rather than being anecdotal in nature. Maybe that’s why the few anecdotal ones really stuck in my memory. A really funny story in the Hindi textbook of CBSE class VIII (I think) was (loosely translated to bicycle ride). It had the main character (written in first person) rather scared of riding a bicycle if I remember correctly. One fine day, he did muster enough courage to get on with it and his fears became reality. He fell down and broke his spectacles (without which he was almost blind) along with probably some other parts of his body. I may be mixing it up with another story. I don’t remember much of it except that it struck as pretty funny and well written then and full of rather wry humour. I remember his apprehension and his admission that it was unfounded and his still not being able to do anything about it and the amused style in which the narrator saw things. The term ‘cykil kee sawaari’ became synonymous with that feeling.

One may wonder what I am really arriving at. It so happens that I really and desperately wanted to try out cycling in this beautiful country where it is not a hazard unlike in India. There was just one hitch. I hadn’t ridden a bicycle since about 12-13 years now. The apprehension that crowded my mind now was much more than I had ever experienced earlier when as a beginner I had learnt it in about 2 days. But along with the apprehension was my powerful desire to experience a ‘cykil kee sawaari’ once again and get nostalgic about the days gone by when I used to rather flaunt my ‘slow cycling’ (being able to balance a bicycle with the minimum possible speed) skills. To add to it, the only bicycle I had access to was the one that my landlord owns and I can use, by virtue of using his fully furnished apartment. The fact that it is a gent’s cycle and has its handle like a racing bike at that, only made it worse. In my desperation, I tried getting onto it one night and checking whether I managed some success at least as far as getting onto it is concerned. I miserably failed. My feet weren’t reaching the ground even with the seat at the lowest possible level. I had to tilt the cycle a lot in order to feel the ground under me i.e. with my feet. Each time I tried standing and straightening the cycle, the damned ‘top tube’ was getting err.. rather uncomfortable to handle. More important issues like maintaining balance had not even been addressed yet. So once I had tried it, I let it be. I never could fathom the reason for the top tube being there in a gents cycle. It would have perhaps had good practical reasons to be there in the 60’s and 70’s when men would take their beloveds with them on a bicycle, seat them on the handle bar (ouch) and utter sweet nothings into their ears. But now? Zilch.

After some time again, desperation and nostalgic memories of thrill, wafted to the ‘controlling’ section in my brain. So I thought I would give it a try again. This time I finally gathered the courage to take it out on the road and try it. So far I had tried the getting-onto-it bit, in the bicycle shed which had very less space. I decided to try it in the dark, for avoiding embarassment and also potential victims into whom I might collide. Ultimately I went out at 11:40pm which was still quite early. I took out the cycle, and voila!!!! I couldn’t believe it. I could actually balance it again after some about-to-fall-off-badly sessions. Theoretically it’s true that one doesn’t forget cycling/swimming but I wasn’t so sure, esp with this cycle which was a gent’s and had those race bike handles and what not. I succeeded in not only getting onto the bicycle but also in not falling off and maintaining my balance. But I was unable to control the handle very well. It just kept going in any randonm direction and felt rather sensitively calibrated! After some time I got the hang of it but my wrists were paining badly because suddenly the pressure of maintaining balance and direction was on them. Even for applying the brakes I had to make weird angles and it was quite difficult. I noticed a ‘thing’ on the front handle, which had 3 settings. I wondered what that was, but didn’t fiddle with it as I suspected that to be something to do with gears (I had never seen a bicycle with gears so far). In some time, I got a little confidence boost by riding in my own colony and then I decided to take the risk of taking it on the road, since it was already midnight and I didn’t expect traffic (there isn’t any, anyway). So out on the road I went. The ride was smooth and exhilerating! It was great, esp when the incline wasn’t much. I realised that when the incline wasn’t much or it was downhill, the cycle went *too* fast for me to handle as if it didn’t have any brakes and when even slight uphill came, I was TOTALLY unable to pedal it up. No it’s not because I wasn’t able to. It’s due to tubeless tires which have much more friction. Suddenly the friction was *too* much when going even slightly uphill. At least my own cycle back home wasn’t like this. So I wondered whether it was something to do with the ‘thing’ with the 3 settings. I switched it to a different position and then tried the cycle again. When uphill came, I couldn’t do anything again. So I got off and changed the setting back to normal. This time when I tried it again during normal incline, I suddenly realised that the pedals were totally ‘free’ or disengaged and then gradually realised that that was because the chain had come off! The pathetic cycle doesnt even have a stand (am thankful it has brakes, most cycles here don’t even have those and you are supposed to pedal backwards to stop!!) So I trudged back home along with the cycle. I got it into the shed, so that i could lean it against a wall, get good light at that unearthly hour and then try to fix it. I struggled with the chain for quite some time, realised that the chain wasn’t coming on at all and that all this was because of that ‘things’ setting that I had changed that somehow increased/decreased the diameter of the chain wheel (rear) and that tightened or loosened the chain. (Later I was to learn that it was indeed the gear mechanism I had fiddled with). So I got the setting to minimum, to lessen the diameter, and finally managed to get the damn chain onto the damn thing somehow, with my hands all grease filled and utterly black, and then changed the setting to the max diameter again. I have tackled grease ealier but never in my life had I had my hands so full of grease like this even after having owned and used a bicycle for such a long time. But as they say, all’s well that ends well and the main highlight of the day had been the fact that I was able to have my adventure without a precarious fall.

IAAF World Athletics Championships in Helsinki 11


This was one of the events responsible for a lot of personal misery to me (and my colleagues) unfortunately. No, I am not a sports fanatic at all. But it’s strange to note, how such external factors do affect us still. I had to arrange for an apartment for myself within the first 3 weeks of arriving in Finland. We had been told it’s not really difficult. But when we started searching, we were just not able to get *any* apartment available in the time period that we wanted. Even though the time period was supposedly the best, since in summers, a lot of apartments get vacant as the majority of the population goes off to a summer cottage, we faced major problems in finalising an apartment. Whatever little was available was at greatly hiked prices. I remember one chap was renting out his place only for the week in which the IAAF World Championships had to take place in Helsinki and he expected 2000€ for it! Outrageous by any real estate standards! Well the woes can make up a long post in themselves maybe later.

For now, the world championships are taking place out here. Helsinki is all geared up for the event. As can be expected, there is much fanfare, tourist friendly schemes, escalation in real estate and a good business opportunity for people. Suddenly there is a major influx of ‘foreigners’ in the local transport and on the streets. It feels good to be not the only ones, who do not understand Finnish/Swedish. Initially we thought that India isn’t taking part in these events as there was just no information anywhere in the Indian media (on the net). Finally on visiting the venue, we managed to spot the Indian flag and later we learnt that Anju Bobby George was taking part in the long jump event (She had won the bronze in the same games held in Paris in 2003). She stood 5th in the event this year inspite of the bad weather. (Later she would get upgraded to Gold medalist status due to other winners being disqualified)  The weather conditions were *really* bad for the past few days and literally dampened our plans to watch this event. So far, I have not been able to watch the event. But will surely try to, in the 2 more days that the event is on. Even if India wasn’t participating we all would have loved to use this opportunity to make a first, as far as watching a sports event in a stadium is concerned.

There are a lot of other activities which go on outside the stadium, for eg. marathons, fun games for free in which one can win prizes ranging from small badges and caps to passes of a cruise! I tried my hand at these games and collected a lot of small stuff (badges, pens, caps) but no cruises passes unfortunately. I also got my face painted with the Indian tri-colour! For once I won’t face a problem of my nationality being mistaken.