Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The best mode of transport in Bangalore.

This past Saturday I decided to give up the luxury, if you can call it one, of using my bike to commute around Bangalore and instead rode my bicycle. I wondered if I could be up to the task of cycling about 20 km to airport road in the summer heat. Surprisingly, it turned out to be quite an enjoyable experience. I wasn’t too tired at the end of it and I covered the distance in good time. Less than an hour to be precise and that’s decent for travelling right through central Bangalore’s legendary traffic jams. On Sunday, I cycled from yesvantpur to koramangala in 45 min.

So what makes cycling so enjoyable? Well, for one you can weave through all the traffic that is stationary at the signals and come right in front. And then the moment you get an opportunity to cross, you can go. Even if the signal is red. I stress that you have to exercise utmost caution while doing this. Else you can wait for the pedestrian crossings slots. Also, you always have a free left even if the signal is red. Then there is the footpath in case you can’t weave through. You can go the wrong way on one-way streets instead of having to make cumbersome detours. Also, there is no need of searching for a break in the road divider to take a U-turn. Just hop over it with your bicycle.

The best part is when you bend all these traffic rules; you don’t have to bother about the cops. In fact you can smile at them! I felt like giving the cop at trinity circle a middle finger salute for the unreasonable fine incident. And then you have a chance to best the auto guys in squeezing in all the gaps. You also need not bother about finding a place for parking. Just find a decent place on the footpath and lock your bicycle. The whole city is your parking lot, except the parking lots themselves because your cycle might be thrown out to make place for a motor vehicle.

Besides, cycling is a really good exercise and is an environmentally and economically friendly mode of transport. But you do need to have some level of physical fitness for long distance commute. The climbs can be really tiring especially if your bicycle doesn’t have gears. You get some rest when you have to stop at a red light. So you really don’t mind a red signal as much as when you travel by car or bike. It might also help if you have good shock absorbers. Else you get rocked in the wrong places when the road or footpath is bumpy.

As I have mentioned earlier, your own safety should be your first priority. You have to assume you are invisible, in the sense no one will give you way or bother about your safety. Cyclists are the lowest in the hierarchy of road users. Even pedestrians don’t bother about your presence. They just cross in front of you and don’t move out of the way even if you ring the bell. Less said about other road users the better. No amount of trring trring will get their attention. Sometimes it’s not their fault because your feeble trring trrring is drowned out by the ear splitting tttrrrrr of an auto a mile away. Make sure you have proper reflectors on your bicycle and wear light coloured clothes in case of night cycling. Also be extra alert around buses and autos near bus stops. You never know when they’ll swerve or brake hard, leaving you to fend for yourself.

So there you are. Cycling as a mode of transport has so many advantages. You do your bit for the environment and that is much more than just switching off your light for one hour in a year! You can help decongest Bangalore’s roads. You save money. You will not need any more of those boring treadmill sessions to stay in shape. And above all it’s fun! So pick up a cycle, plug in those earphones and pedal away to glory! Tring Tring!

Added on April 16,2009.
In Paris they have a wonderful bicycle rental system. Check it here I hope Indian cities follow suit soon!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

All nighter for poker

I arrived at the den ‘namma mane’ at sharp 8pm last Saturday, just in time for the big night. I had practiced the poker face for hours by not laughing at my own jokes and by watching himesh in the ‘back of ruby’ part of aap ka suroor. It was time to play poker. I let it be known

its bye bye
to the good guy
coz once the cards are dealt
no feelings will be felt
and i'll kick u below ur belt!!

And so began my gambling career. I soon won my first round. Although the winnings were meagre, it was a start nevertheless. I noticed that the southern end of the table, or mat in this case, was the lucky side. But soon it changed. I guess according to the vastu of the den, the southern end luck was meant to burn out quickly. I wanted to change ends but the casino manager turned down the request citing security issues. I was losing quickly. I decided to drink water, changed my seating, and began picking my card with my left hand. Nothing worked. My incredible bad luck continued. There was this one instance when I felt like tearing my hair out. I had the best cards and I was on the verge of winning the round. It was time to reveal the four poison jokers. The first three didn’t kill me but the forth did! And I lost the round I had heavily bet on. It was like when you put a nice juicy rasgulla in your mouth and it is snatched away from you just when you are about to bite into it!

Soon I was in the red. I had to borrow from the rich. I continued losing. So I decided to call it quits. I watched from the side lines for a while. There some innovative rules being made for each round like lowest total value of cards, jokers, adding the alphabet value of the first letter of each card, and some even more complex stuff that can’t be described here. I couldn’t resist and decided to rejoin by taking some more loans. But my luck didn’t change in the second stint. I just lost more slowly as I played defensively. Some players even took their coins to the bathroom during their breaks lest someone stole them. I didn’t have such problems because I knew each of my few precious coins by name and would have easily detected their absence.

The hours flew by. The rich got richer and made little piles of their coins. While the poor became poorer and began to act sleepy and disinterested. Soon the rounds were being played at really low stakes mainly because the poor were mired in debt while the rich were wary of losing their hard earned coins towards the end of the session. The organisers tried to inject money in the system by having many jokers. But that tactic also failed. We decided we had had enough. So finally after a marathon 10 hr session, we finally called it quits at 6am.

Each player went to bed in different moods and probably had different dreams too! It had been a fun filled night. I realised gambling is truly addictive as can be seen from the fact that I did a night out (something very rare for me) for poker. It was also fun to see the way the winners, including me very rarely, grab the stakes of the round. Thus began my gambling career on a not so promising note. But I know I’ll get better with time. Las Vegas, get ready to welcome the soon to be poker master!

Epilogue: the next morning i woke up at 10 and heard a knock on the door. I opened the door to furious neighbours unloading their frustrations on me. It was good to know there were people more frustrated than me with the previous night's incidents, albeit for different reasons. Apparently our late night revelries had disturbed the neighbourhood. One guy, who didnt know proper hindi or english, started scolding me like by saying "monday to friday shanti, weekends tum log doing gulata!" Now i didnt know what exactly 'gulata' was. It sounded like galipata. I dont know the meaning of that either. So i just nodded seriously and suppressed a yawn. I then handed over the baton to abhijeet who managed to calm them down. And i went back to sleep.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

The time when its proper to call someone a F*cker

We all know that auto guys are the biggest pests of Bangalore roads. I didn’t know there was a group coming in a close second place. Manish and I were going from Ulsoor to Airport Road last Saturday night at about 10:30. The signal was green to take the left turn at trinity circle. As we past the signal a cop jumped in my way like a frog and frantically waved us down. I thought it was a general checking. I showed him my documents. He told me I had violated traffic rules. I was stunned. I was riding slowly with a helmet on. I wondered what rule I could have broken. He said I had jumped a signal. Now no amount of persuasion could change his mind. And there was no way he could have seen the signal from where he had been standing. How do you argue with this?

Next he could have said I wasn’t wearing a helmet because I had taken it off to talk to him. Thank God he didn’t do that. He said the fine was 400 bucks. We protested, argued and begged. He threatened me saying that he would confiscate my licence and produce me in court where without any hard evidence; it would be my word against his. I don’t know how they decide such cases. But luckily we managed to convince him that we had only 100 bucks on us. I thought it would be a bribe. But he gave a receipt! And in the end he said 'thank you brother!' I wonder what you can do in such situations. Except maybe give him a good dose of expletives in your mind.

Monday, March 16, 2009

The Return of an Alumnus (Part-2)

Bachelor of Engineering. That was the honour bestowed on me by BITS. So how did I earn it? The general opinion of the public is that we bitsians probably slog hard all semester with very little time to take a break for relaxation and fun. But we all know it’s the other way round. We take short breaks from relaxation and fun just before exams for some quick preparations. Some guys don’t even do that. Anyways as I walked the hallowed corridors of the institute building, some fond memories of our classroom experiences came rushing back.

Every hour spent at a lecture was like cutting your life short by 60 minutes. The excruciating one hour was shortened by 10 minutes by the smart idea of coming late to class. I remember one prof, who had just joined, thought he could put an end to this ingenious idea by bolting the doors once the lecture had started. Little did he know that by the end of the week he would have to respect the old adage ‘beggars can’t be choosers’. He had to accept students arriving even 30min late so as to have a decent attendance level by the end of the class. Then there was this time in a mechanical CDC lecture when there were two profs and one student. Yeah it had to be the highest teacher-student ratio of all time. BITSians have always been smart. They know that in order to increase the teacher-student ratio, you have two options: increase the teachers or decrease the students. We unanimously chose the latter!

There were so many measures taken to lure students to class. Some were obvious like attendance marks, some dumb like not allowing students to go out of campus before 5pm, some useless like blocking internet access during class hours but keeping the LAN on. You can’t make a horse drink water if he is not thirsty! Sometimes the situation got so bad that the students didn’t even know who was taking his courses. This was exposed when once during a viva, the prof asked the student who was his instructor and he didn’t know! Then there was this course numerical analysis. I went to collect my T-2 recheck paper just before the compres from the instructor’s chamber. He checked my name in the list and showed me my attendance. It read PAPAAAAA.... He asked me what the problem was. I said to myself I miss my Papa!

And there were some memorable instances of the times when I did go to class. Like the time when we went to class thinking we would get our test papers. But when we walked in, we saw no papers with the prof and so promptly walked out! And when I got chucked out of a class for laughing or got lectured one-on-one in class and after class by a prof because I was messaging in class! I was so traumatised by the ‘lecturing’ episode that I stopped messaging for a whole month! [:D] There were some instances which were quite hilarious even though they happened in classes that I wasn’t present in. Like the time when a prof slipped and fell and instead of helping him, the students were laughing. And when the prof said ‘magic’ as he didn’t know what had happened when a screen saver came on.

The lectures really increased my patience and mental endurance. Although I didn’t master the art of sleeping with my eyes open, I still did and learnt many useful things like practicing meditation, trying my hand at drawing, messaging without looking, learning to say the alphabet in reverse and when I was bored of that, I tried saying numbers in reverse! The practical sessions will always be remembered for all the gossiping and dry joke sessions. And as a result sometimes we obtained results better than the theoretically predicted ones. Who said experimental results can never match the theoretical predictions?

Some profs knew their subject well but didn’t know how to express themselves. They should have used Airtel. There were others who knew nothing but had good oratory skills. They used every minute of the lecture to impart, I won’t say knowledge, but I‘ll say to impart stuff. They spoke so much about themselves and what they had done and what was wrong with us that we would have pasted his poster in our rooms and say to ourselves ‘I must be that guy when I grow up!’ And there were those who knew nothing and didn’t know how to talk also. Negative negative cancels out right? Not in this case though because every rule has an exception. This combo led to the 2 prof-1 student incident or the 5/500 attendance lecture. And finally there were the good profs. Those rare gems, for which you yearn for and because of whom you say to yourself, I wanna be a prof like him when I finish studies! And to get a feel of our profs Bushisms check the immortal quotes listed on Orkut.

All in all it was a wonderful time of my life. I thank all my friends for making my undergraduate years so awesome. I’ll forever cherish those fun filled days. So here I conclude this tribute to BPGC with a hope that my life ahead will be at least half as much fun as my BPGC days.

Friday, March 13, 2009

The Return of an Alumnus (Part-1)

‘BITS 1-km ahead’. That’s what a signpost on NH-17B told me. I was going to campus again! Maybe the last time. I was excited. This was the place where I had spent the best days of my life. So many memories came rushing back. I signed in as a visitor. I miss those days when I proudly showed my id card at the gate. As I made my way slowly towards the insti building, I remembered all the good times I had with my friends.

I passed my hostel: the fantastic BH2. I recalled those unforgettable moments that made hostel life so awesome.
Playing football inside the hostel and breaking glass panes. Cricket matches that soon ended up in prolonged fights over trivial issues. The eternal pastime of playing carom at any time of the day. The innovative birthday celebrations that made you wish you were born on 29th Feb or better still, 30th Feb. Watching cricket matches in the common room that was so crowded that you had to stand on the window sill to get a glimpse of the TV. The singing and dancing sessions that we had in our rooms to relieve whatever stress we had. The perpetual water shortage that caused unexpected hardships, like the time when water got over before I had completed my bath and I had to run to the next bathroom in the middle of the night. The virtual abuse room of campus, DC, where everything would go – abusing others, starting rumours, making announcements, sharing all sorts of stuff, exchanging coupons and the like. The booze parties people had in the hostel. I had my 1st and last booze party on my last day in the hostel. But it ended in a fiasco as the three of us who were supposed to lose our campus-drinking virginity were joined by 7 other guys intending the same. And all of us ended up getting jus a sip each. All the memories made me hungry. So I decided to visit the mess

The mess was the place where the intellectuals met up to discuss current affairs like who was the best looking gal for the day. Unfortunately these discussions ended rather quickly as the severe shortage of gals threw up very few contenders. I wonder what it would be like to study in an institute where girls outnumber boys! Anyways the food in the mess was usually tasteless and it took a great deal of will power to finish your meals. When the will power was lacking, we ordered food from Preeti. It used to be a welcome break but the fact that we had to go the gate to collect our packets like refugees going to relief camps, made it an unattractive proposition.

As I walked to the audi, I remembered the times we strolled around the campus spending hours talking about every topic under the sun and at night, under the moon. The endless PJ sessions that left everyone with a headache in the stomach! I reached the audi. Aah, this was the place where many a battle was won and lost. I remember the zephyr days with all the slogans and placards, all the intensity and patriotism. The regular cultural programs when we booed shamelessly when in the audience and got booed embarrassingly when on the stage. The AH-2 group dance performance will always be right up there with the best moments of my life.
The place was better than Inox for watching movies because we could dance during songs, howl our lungs out at the saddest of jokes and attempt to make some wisecrack comments which no one wanted to hear. Suddenly I saw Rohan Karmali on stage. Hmm, who remembers that ultra cool and suave antakshri host? I’ll always remember the picnics we use to have to Sarvondem for that annual all goa antakshri competition.

Walking towards the SC, the basketball courts brought back memories of Nagraj’s tirades against every other player on the court! Boy he was a fellow who played friendly evening games with NBA intensity. At the SC, the stationery aunty was still there. Slow and stupid as ever. Some things are timeless. I felt like troubling her by asking for dozens of things and not buying them in the end or bargaining over a phone bill! And there was the 5 star Aatish cafe at the back where experiments were made to invent new dishes by means of mix and match. That is how Manish once got chicken in his veg curry! I am surprised not many people ended up in the nearby medical centre. Probably people were too scared to fall sick given the fact that the doctor there used to diagnose mild fever as typhoid and a running nose as lung infection!

I saw our chief warden as I was heading back. That brought so many memories of our trysts with the talented faculty of our campus. After all the main purpose of going to college is to study and attend classes.
But I’ll keep that for my next post. As I walked back to the car, I saw some children playing in the park where we used to relive our childhood days on the swings and slides. Now I hoped I could relive my college days. How I yearn for the days when I could see the sun set over the picturesque Zuari River. How I miss that carefree life, when you wake up in the morning and know there is nothing important to do, when you could decide to play carom instead of going to class. But then you have to move on. Everything has to be left behind, except some priceless memories.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

The Coorg travelogue

The trip started off on last Friday night. After days of preparations, we were finally on our way to Coorg – the Scotland of India! The small bus was filled with the cacophony of 17 BITSians celebrating with beer from yahoo and netapp parties! The driver screened the movie Khosla ka ghosla, but had to stop cause of repeated loose connection. Circuit branches should have applied their knowledge here. The ride was very bumpy and I could only manage some intermittent sleep. Then suddenly the bus just stopped. The driver wanted to catch some sleep, I guess. So we stepped out for breath of fresh air. And lo and behold, there was a stall selling idlis and tea at 3:30am.

We reached our first scheduled halt at kushalnagar at the break of dawn. First up was the elephant camp at Dubare. The place was quite beautiful with the morning mist still hanging in the air. We forded the river to see the elephant training grounds. Somehow the elephants didn’t appear very majestic. After trying to get some pictures with the big beasts, we headed off to kallooru peak for a trek. Our guide told us it would be a short 2km trek of beginner level difficulty. Little did we know that 2km would be the distance vertically and beginner level is a highly relative term. The trek was long and the climb, steep. The path was slippery with loose gravel and leaves. The thick undergrowth ripped our skin and clothes. The weather was warm and humid. But then as with all great climbs, the view got better and better. And finally after a lot of huffing and puffing we reached the peak! Unfortunately we didn’t have a flag to mark the occasion of the conquests of Coorg’s highest peak. At least we all thought it is the highest peak. After another photo session with many digital cameras and mobile phone cameras it was time to head back down. The climb down was obviously less tiring but more treacherous. We reached back to the bus tired, but content to have conquered the peak!

Nisargadam was the next stop for the tourists. It is some island in the Cauvery. The hanging bridge was quite cool. Then we went for some boating. But the boating area was so small that we ended up going round in circles for 10 minutes, much like those toy trains for kids. We explored the garden a little and came across a tree house. All the photographers in the group sensed a good opportunity for pictures. But the tree house was occupied by a couple. All of us inadvertently ended up staring at them impatiently, waiting for them to come down. That certainly helped matters because they hurriedly left the place after that. Nice use of the staring technique to drive someone out. Then there were some deer which everyone tried to feed. I don’t know how that can be entertaining! Maybe because they appear 'cute'! Last we went splashed around the river for a while before heading to the bus.

We arrived at Homestay in Madhikere where we were to put up for the night. The place was beautiful, perched high on a hill top. We waited patiently for the sun set but suddenly some clouds came in and spoilt the scene. Later, we went to the town for dinner and shopping. Things to buy include coffee, spices, honey and wine. The day was supposed to end with a camp fire. But we were too tired for that formality. So some us hit the sack while the rest grabbed some bottles. Everyone has his own way for relaxing.

The view from our dorm the following morning was heavenly. The hills appeared like dark islands in a sea of white morning mist. It was really beautiful. The mornings agenda was to visit talcauvery. After a quick breakfast we were on our way. Unfortunately, the ghat roads got to me. My ‘vomit free since 2003’ streak was broken. I guess I completed the previous night’s booze party with my mess! Talcauvery, the origin of river Cauvery, is situated atop a hill. There is built up temple pool which is the origin. The place wasn’t worth the 60km round journey on hilly roads. There is a viewpoint from which nothing great can be seen.

Our final stop was a Tibetan monastery. The architecture of the temples is quite exotic. You suddenly feel you are in Tibet or the north east. The temples are open to visitors even during their prayer times. It was weird to see people clicking pictures of monks deep in prayer. After going around the stalls that sold some overpriced stuff ranging from handicrafts to clothes to crockery, it was time to head back to Namma Bengaluru.

During the journey back, we played dumb charades to amuse ourselves. It was quite hilarious at times. Like when one guy had to act ‘Madagascar’, he thought the key syllable was ‘gas’ and acted it out in a way that I think is not appropriate to describe here. The word luck was conveyed by rhyming it with a certain four letter word. This was dumb charades at its peak of awesomeness! And when we asked for music, the driver played himesh songs. Finally we had found a fellow himesh fan. I was really enjoying the journey back. Then there was the one last twist in the tale.

Our bus broke down a couple of hours before Bangalore. So we decided to go the village for tea. We were probably the first tourists to visit ‘Billakere’ and thus got quite a lot of inquisitive looks from the villagers. We were back on our way after a while. Then the bus broke down again and the driver said that we would have to go to Bangalore by ourselves. So it was KSRTC to the rescue. It was quite a scene with 12 of us making a lot of noise at the back of a silent bus! We reached Mysore satellite bus stand after a while. Maybe they should name it chandrayan or something! [:D] From there it was in a pink shuttle bus to namma Majestic. It was midnight by then. We boarded the last bus to airport road. Suddenly someone started playing some music on his cellphone. And it was really loud. These Chinese mobiles are really, well, noisy. Then someone else decided to rival it with his own music at full volume and then a third guy. Luckily the conductor told them to lower the volumes. Then it was time for a BMTC special on the deserted city roads. He floored the gas pedal and kept it there. And within no time we were on airport road. All of us stumbled out of the bus. The trip ended as it had started with Golden Star smiling at us with a coke bottle in his hand from a hoarding on airport road.

On the whole this trip was good fun even though it was extremely hot and all the places lacking the green magic. I guess coorg is at its best soon after the monsoons. But then I will not be here around then. I thank my chief of staff Neeraj, for helping organise the trip and all the others for making it a success.

You can contact our guide Mr. Murari at 9840557671 for guided tours such as this one to various places in south india.