Let there be light

God said, “Let there be light”. And then man said “Let there never be darkness”. Thus came the inverters, generators and the 100% power backups that we have in today’s world. Some days back I made a trip down memory lane when there was a power outage. On a side, I must mention that the power outages in Gurgaon are so frequent now that I would be permanently living in the past instead of making frequent trips down memory lane. Thankfully that does not happen since I also happen to have that contraption called the inverter. But on this particular night I made the trip down memory lane since my inverter had a problem and I had to resort to the “not-so-ubiquitous-anymore-stuff” – candles. I don’t even have candles at home. Luckily, with a birthday just gone past, and with age beginning to fast forward as they show in movies – pages of a calendar flipping past before you can say J for January – I had lots of teeny weeny candles to spare. I lit those up and then it was time to go back to … childhood.

Power outages were very very rare occurances in childhood. But when they happened, they were a delight. It usually meant good quality time for the whole family. Things like the summer heat or the buzzing mosquitoes would be a nuisance but then who cares when one can have so much fun. Some of the things that we did during such times include
– playing with the candle flame by passing a finger through it.
– playing with the wax that trickles down and making shapes out of it.
– making the wax trickle down with ones bare fingers. It’s great fun because one could make finger imprints.
– playing shadow games with ones hands.
– making eerie noises and scaring others.
– playing guessing games.
– relating ghost stories.
– remembering old anecdotes as the whole family bursts with laughter.
– antakshri.
– general chit chat with family, tantamounting to quality time spent.
– inventing new games to be played for the next power outage.

As part of growing up, the frequency of power outages increased and certain areas of interest (during such times) changed. For eg. With time I also became interested in studying the structure of a flame. The games kept getting more innovative. Watching the stars and the night sky when the power is not there, is something everyone should do because the street lights don’t hamper the view and on a clear night one can see proper constellations. During hostel life, the areas of interest changed yet again. Night walks, singing, guitar sessions, Antakshri across girls and boys hostels (with them being locked inside respective hostels), shadow dances done by guys (in guys hostel) by holding a candle against a bedsheet and then doing some sapera naach for the girls (watching from girls hostel), calling spirits on the ouija board; entered the “interesting things to do list”.

Now the situation is different. Seamless integration of devices like the inverter, doesn’t even let one know when the power is out. My mother’s favourite quote is “It’s better to light a candle than to curse the darkness”. It certainly needs to be changed with today’s times because there isn’t any darkness anymore. I need to concentrate really hard to recollect the last time the power was out and I had a great time the way I have had some years back. One of my senior managers was relating an incident at his house where his inverter wasn’t working and a power outage happened. Both his daughters aged 5 and 2 screamed like anything and got absolutely terrified. He in turn got quite shaken up and got the inverter rectified the first thing next morning. It certainly makes me realise that there are already some people in this country who have never seen absolute darkness. How they will be able to deal with the fear of the dark is another thing altogether, but what they are really missing out on is something that can never be compensated. Tsk.

By the moon and the stars and the sky

The prominently evident flavour last weekend can be described in one word – spontaneous. After seeing a rather pathetic movie which finished at 1:15am and ended up giving me a headache instead of laughs, it was time to freshen up a little. I digress, but here’s a one word review of Malamaal weekly – “bakwaas”. This important event of “brevity in its real element” having been put aside, I shall now proceed to describe the wonderful spontaneity that ensued.
1. I wanted to see the sunrise in the hills since long now.
2. I have been to and lived in, various Jhumri tallaya corners of our country but never Rajasthan/Jaipur.
3. If I am awake that late, there’s no way I can get up by the time sunrise happens. Except if I never sleep to begin with.

Put 1, 2 and 3 together and you know what followed. After a quick “camera-jacket-sneakers-cassettes-water bottle” pickup, we were on the Jaipur highway by 2am. Well, practically I am on it every single day at least twice, but this time the destination was not yonders.

So off it was, with some breathtaking Kandisa in the middle of the night. Eerie moonlightI have said it earlier and I say it again. ‘Kaun chaday roz yeh sooraj, pawan kaun phoonke’ echoes just the sentiment I had at that time. The mesmerising moon followed us everywhere. It was almost full and there were no clouds. Everything was bathed in the full moon light. After the first toll check, small little hills began dotting the landscape. In the milky whiteness of the moonlight, all of them seemed even more pristine and untouched. Venus, shining brightSome attempts at taking the moon’s pictures got thwarted because of the sheer luminosity of it. I had been much more successful earlier the previous weekend while attending an Indian classical music concert in Nehru park, when the moon had bashfully peeped out from under the clouds. Kandisa soon gave way to Roxette. The darkness soon gave way to an eerie blue sky. At 4:30 am we stopped and had some adrak chai from a dhaba. All this, while Venus was shining brightly in the night sky. It’s a strange feeling, this exploring in the darkness business, while the world sleeps. It unites one with nature, just a little bit more, than what one would be in the daytime. It all seems to be one’s private haven, one’s private adventure, one’s private magic show. In the morning it would be there, but it would be for everyone. That is magical yes, but special – no.

Soon the milky whiteness of the night began giving way to orange hues in the eastern corners of the sky. The western corners were however unconcerned with whatever was happening on the opposite end and retained the same look. Lots of kilometers and trees went past. Finally we stopped again, just as the sky was beginning to glow a ripe golden. I tried a panoramic shot which I later stitched together. The most fabulous golden sunrise wasThe panoramic sunrise just *about* to take place along with a big moon against a blue sky, just about to vanish away like the cheshire cat’s smile. The ripple of clouds spread above the sun like a natural quilt, only enhanced the colours more. While I took a series of shots to create a panned panoramic shot, I could see the sunrise taking place in a different frame (than my camera’s) and the sun actually coming out from behind the hills as if golden butter floating its way to the top in a pan. The opposite end of the sky was of course still drowsy and birds lazily flew along, carrying wisps of brightness with them. The fabulous sunriseWith the glorious sunrise witnessed, we inched our way towards Jaipur.

On the outskirts of Jaipur is Amer fort, built atop a hill. Since we didn’t have much time to spare, we knew this would be the only “Jaipur” we would be able to see. So off we went spiralling up the hill with “Kuschel Rock” giving us company Shall we dance?over music. Never before had I realised that hills are so close to Delhi! This fact itself quite pleased me. The place was absolutely scenic and full of greenery as well as lots and lots and lots of peacocks. There were entire peacock families moving about calling out to each other. It reminded me of my childhood when my sister and I also used to go “Keyooon” along with the peacocks in ChandiMandir and they would reply back with equal enthusiasm. We spotted a lot of peacocks Stretching by the moon!dancing too. Soon we came to a clearing from where the splendid view of the valley below was visible. Wisps of cloud hung in the air over the town and over the palace in the middle of a lake. Typical Rajasthani stuff. We reached the gates of the Amer fort soon but there was nobody to greet us except the longtailed long..err.. langoors. They made quite a picture, perched on a tree against the fast vanishing moon. The fort would have opened at 9 am and we were already there before 7am. But with enough of happiness and smugness collected for one day, we set back towards Delhi.

I drove on the way back, with speeds between 120-140kmph. Glisten carefullyMore smugness followed. I promptly earned myself some ma-behen gaalis like “Michael Schumacher kee maa” and “Narain Karthikeyan kee behen”. But in the end, nobody can ignore true excellence and I got a compliment on my excellent driving skills when we landed in Gurgaon by 11:30 am and promptly went to 32nd milestone for a brunch. Surprisingly I wasn’t drowsy even after a night out and eventually slept after 36 hours. All in all, a great funfilled weekend which I shall always cherish for all times to come. But this wouldn’t have been the same without my friend who actually was spontaneous enough to get up and go all the way to Jaipur in the middle of the night, who was patient enough to stop and watch each time I felt the urge to click pictures, who let me drive his car, and who also listened to entirely my choice of music. For all this praise that I am showering on you, I am sure next time you would let me visit Chowki dhani and let me buy some nice mojris too :p.

Of sunshine and light, and all things bright

A rather adventurous journey is what I had on the way back from Helsinki to Delhi. I managed to somehow pack, stuff and run to the airport. In spite of my deepest desires to try out driving in Finland, I refused my Finnish colleagues offer to drive his car till the airport. At that time, all I wanted was putting an end to this business of getting back and I certainly didn’t want to take any risks. At the airport, the female who was assigned to me for check in was a completely different experience than what I had so far experienced when interacting with the Finnish. She was so rude that I began to doubt if she was Finnish at all. She was also adamant that I somehow reduce 3Kgs from my baggage or pay (gulp) 108 euros for excess baggage. Eventually when no amount of coaxing worked and there were just 20 minutes to take off time, I lightened my shoulder bag by taking out my handycam and putting it on my shoulder, and putting the smaller Canon camera I had, inside it and checked in the shoulder bag. In my rush, I forgot that it was a mere shoulder bag that I had checked in, with no locks, and an expensive camera inside. But it was too late to make amends. As soon as I got inside the plane (the last person to board), I contacted the air hostess, and explained the situ. She initially told me that nothing was possible, that things would be anyhow safe, but I know Indian airports better than they do. To cut a long story short, I had to take a risk and eventually, she talked to the pilot, who telexed the airport at Munich (where I had to change my flights), informed them that my luggage had to be offloaded instead of what was planned earlier, I had to check out, lock my bags etc, check in again in a short span of time, and board the continuing flight. In that bid, I hardly got time to acknowledge to myself that I was eventually leaving that place that had been home for such a long time. It still didn’t sink in, but when the plane took off, it did appear infinitely saddening. Eventually I dozed off, which was bound to happen,after spending those late nights, packing or checking out the night life. Suddenly I woke up with a start to lots of Finnish being spoken around me and I somehow got the feeling that I was in my living room (in the apartment I had in Helsinki) and had dozed off while watching TV. With another start, I realised, that this feeling of reality was also false and that I was in a plane where the passengers were speaking in Finnish. I dozed off again. This time I woke up to a kid in the front seat staring at me like anything. I guess staring has that power of making itself felt. I managed to raise a sleepy eyebrow and dozed off again, this time to be woken up by the air hostess telling me that Munich airport was nearing and that I had better be ready for the drill.

Lady luck eventually smiled on me that day, I eventually got my luggage (there was a chance that it would never turn up there), took out my camera, locked my shoulder bag with the extra lock I happened to have, and re-checked in. Phew. I was given to understand that the feeling that I was on my way back to India would eventually start coming in once I took the connecting flight to Delhi. No such thing happened. The crowd was less Indian, more German (could be due to Lufthansa’s relatively new flights in the Munich-Delhi sector). I was still thanking the air hostess in German. The so called Indian meal was still pretty European. With so many flights that I had hopped into, in the recent past, this flight hardly seemed different. In due course of time, I borrowed an Indian mag from an Indian lady. When I started reading it, all things Indian still leapt out at me – The model on the cover, the word “India”. Within two hours of reading all stuff Indian, I got fully soaked in the Indian experience, and eventually got the feeling that I had never left India in the first place! By the time it got to my normal time to sleep (around 1:30 am), it was already early morning in India! After several months I saw the sunrise and a vibrant sky. I felt as if I had never left Delhi in the first place. My Finland sojourn seemed like a distant dream.

I expected some culture shock to last for at least a week, since last time I got back from Japan after a stint of less than 2 months, it took me at least 3-4 days to get used to “the India that I imagined and the India that I saw”. This time I expected it to last much longer. Again, no such thing happened. The airport seemed much cleaner than the last time when I had been quite shocked at seeing paan stains all over the walls of an international airport, the place smelling like a urinal. But this time, the day I landed was bright and clear. The noise and the smells didn’t disturb me like I expected. The only thing that took me aback was the way ppl were driving (including my dad)- haphazard and too close for comfort. Walking down a street in the evening, where again the noise didnt bother me surprisingly, I soaked in the “aroma” experience and distinctly began making some good use of my olfactory senses. The smell of the winter evening breeze, the peanuts being roasted, the local stall preparing aaloo tikki, another one preparing ginger tea, the parks letting out their leafy smell, the balloon vendor smelling of helium, the smell of “raat kee raani” as I passed some of it, all filled me with much joy. But before I realised it, this got too much for my unprepared olfactory senses and I had a bout of allergic sneezes. This was a sureshot indication that I had “arrived”.

Experience teacheth

‘Experience is the best teacher but its fees is very high’. This happens to be one of the favourite quotes of my mom. Teacher’s day has more importance in our house than Mother’s day, since my mom’s a teacher and in my schooldays there were never so many this-days and that-days but only a few countable ones like Independence day, Teacher’s day and Children’s day. Of course now we wish her on all the this-days/that-days too. For us, Independence day meant the national anthem and ladoos, Children’s day meant Chacha Nehru and Teacher’s day meant that my mom had a special function to attend at school and that she would come back with bouquets, cards etc which my sis and I would go through, at times finding it odd and at times finding it sad that we had to share our mom with so many!

With time, Teacher’s day started meaning something else altogether. I realised early enough, that in class XIIth, one gets to wear one’s own clothes and not the school uniform on teacher’s day. As if that wasn’t exciting (read embarassingly) enough, females needed to wear a saree and some (un)lucky students even got “teacher’s duty” to get a taste of the other side by supervising a junior class in that fancy dress! (That reminds me of the time everyone got titles from the junior class during farewell, but that makes another post). Years passed by when I would stare at giggly and unelegant girls metamorphosing into ‘women’ suddenly. Stupid grins got replaced by lipstick, school ribbons and hair bands gave way to open wavy hair, or maybe a mature looking hair bun – stylised to suit the occasion, the school shoes (with the horrible buckles) gave way to high heels and of course the uniform’s existence was forgotten as if the day marked freedom from well-ingrained ‘conformity’ of 12 years. That was the day most girls went all out. Of course they had another chance in the form of ‘farewell’ when they could air the backless cholis and halter neck blouses meant to expose a back or a cleavage in a ‘popping the cherry’ sense. But then the farewell also meant boards and pre-boards round the corner, leaving lesser scope of getting noticed by the ‘dashing’ guys or leaving an everlasting impression on a crowd which had other issues like exam fever or the turmoil of finally bidding goodbye, on their minds.

I was never the butterfly and was quite scared at the prospect of showing the world what my tucked-under-a-school-shirt,-skirt-and-belt tummy looked like. I had never worn (like many others) a saree in my life nor had I any experience in brandishing my palloo as if a saree was the thing I came to school in. Matters needing attention, like how to keep ones hairstyle in place, ones lipstick in check and heels from getting stuck in the saree were the ones I considered would be topmost on my mind, when my turn came. God forbid if I got a teacher’s duty (of which there was a high chance, being the man-eater..err monitor), I would have died of fright at the thought of being mercilessly torn to pieces by the boys just one year junior, who considered it their duty to take advantage of the fact that a damsel in fancy dress couldn’t even deduct their marks, if the need arose.

So it was with butterflies in my stomach, rather than being one on the outside, that I approached the teacher’s day when I was in class XIIth. ‘Silk is the easiest to handle’, was what I was told by my mom and my aunts. Several times. But then past experiences with silk had taught me that it also cluttered around in a very unbecoming fashion and one needed to be mannequin thin to look elegant in it. I chose to take a risk this one time and chose a blood red chiffon saree of my mom, knowing very well that it was a self inflicted nightmare, for not only did I not know the s-a-r-e-e of a saree, I didnt even know the spelling of chiffon, leave alone managing it with the above mentioned attention seeking things niggling at my mind. But then one gotta do, what one gotta do, when it’s just once in your life.

This teacher’s day saw me getting up rather early, to wash my hair, iron the saree, get ready with the help of my mom, who being a teacher herself had other things to attend to, than my own saree. Unfortunately this time she wasnt even in the same school as I, which would have given me some solace in case my saree failed to comply and landed me in Draupadi like trouble. Armed with only the courage that a FAT safetypin, a reliable saree pin and a long, stomach-and-back-covering blouse lent, I set out with my lipstick in place, heels carefully kicking out the saree (as I had been advised) and a fancy strappy purse on my shoulder just for the effect.

The first hurdle came soon enough even before I reached the bus stop. My neighbour’s pesky kid instantly remarked ‘Oh you look like Juhi Chawla’. My already flustered mind got even more flustered when it couldnt make out whether this cheek of a girl was paying me a compliment for a change or taunting as usual. I had other important issues to concentrate on. Oh! the woes of an inexperienced sarree-wearer! Next I had to get into a modified army threeton. Can one imagine the plight of a rather flustered girl, trying to balance a precarious saree, being stared at in the face, with not only the mammoth task of now accomplishing the feat of getting into a truck with all this finery, but also the amused looks given by the rest of the school kids who wonder if that’s a new teacher or just twilight fairy out on the path of self destruction. I understand, I really do, what an Indian bridegroom goes through when he gets onto the mare. Well, an army officer’s daughter is taught to plunge head on, and that’s what I did. I leapt onto the modified truck’s steps, throwing caution and my saree to the September wind and thinking that I would carry out the damage control, when I got to school, for there would definitely be more of it. At least my hair was a manageable length and I had carefully ensconced it into a bun, replete with a whole packet of invisible and fancy joodaa pins, which posed a problem for later but would help me hold my head high just this while.

Thankfully I had no classes to ‘take’. But this fact did little to make me less jittery. The truck soon reached the school and now I had another hurdle – getting down from the truck without the saree giving the vehicle a much needed sweep or all other kids stepping on my saree from behind. It was my mom’s precious possession after all. Not only was I responsible for myself, but also for the saree, the heavy earrings and the ’tilladi’ (a sikkimese pendant) I had borrowed from my mom. Somehow, aided with the weight of the joodaa pins, my head held high, I made it through the gates with panache – into the school. Colorful butterflies gave me some comfort. Seeing others whom I had seen in uniform all along, distracted my mind somewhat. The comparisons would come later, for now I just wanted to reach my classroom. Never had I realised that reaching my class, something I did everyday, would be so difficult just this one time. No amount of kicking the saree out, helped, I was more scared it would eventually just kick off and if that happened I would just kick the bucket. Amidst the exchange of compliments, I finally reached my classroom and under the protective cover of the two other girls in my class out of a class of 60 students. The excitement in the air, the “oh you look so different”s, the combination of various heady perfumes, made me forget soon enough that I *was* wearing a saree. Relieved just a little, I began to enjoy the attention, rather than getting embarrassed. At the end of a day well spent, I understood, just how magical it can be, wearing a saree and just how a ‘woman’ is born.

After this school function, I went and watched my first movie ever in a cinema hall (Yes, at that age in life), sans the saree and in the comfort of a long skirt and frilly top. It happened to be a Chirpy Chawla movie. But that makes for another post altogether.

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.