Monday, September 25, 2006

The Hitch-Hiker's Guide to Salvation

I always look forward to coffee-shop banter with people I am comfortable with because of the infinite directions that the arbit conversation can potentially take. Maybe it’s the stimulating effect of the coffee.
Like the other day, interest centered around the phenomenon of hitch-hiking and I found it remarkable that a subject as mundane as hitching a ride could evoke such strong and opposing reactions among the junta. So here’s my take on the controversial subject, and this comes from a guy who’s saved just short of a million by opting for rides across town instead of the conventional modes of transport….and has also given an equal number of rides, by the way!

So pray tell me, what is hitch-hiking??

Images of open roads, blue skies, green fields, a rucksack on your back, no destination in mind, no people in sight, till the first truck trundles along and you flag it down? How romantic….and how unrealistic! A more pragmatic picture would be your sweltering in the noon sun, hundreds of two-wheelers whizzing by, your futile attempts to flag one of them down and more often than not, be left behind in a cloud of smoke. If it was the rainy season, you could replace the smoke with a puddle of rain water.

Err…I am a novice at this. How exactly do I hitch a ride?

Never fear, you are not alone. Going by the whole gamut of signals I’ve been subjected to while out on a bike, the Hitch-Hikers’ Ignoramus Club is a thickly populated one. From a “Hail Hitler!” salute to a friendly farewell wave to a secretive gesticulation of the hand which only a paranoid could have detected, the signals are always varied and confusing. All that’s required though is a series of jerks of the hand with the thumb pointing in the general direction you want to go; not upwards, since that would indicate a distinct lack of trust in the driver’s abilities, and not backwards, since that could easily be interpreted as an obscene gesture. But whatever you do, make sure it’s noticed!

Is there a particular class of travellers I should concentrate on for hitching a ride from?

You could try the process of elimination. Vehicle-users, by nature, are reluctant lift-givers. After all, where’s the incentive for them to share their travelling space with a sweaty, overbearing, potential human bomb? So, cars, vans and all four-wheelers of the like can be safely discounted. The closed environment they sit in makes it perfectly simple for the drivers to pretend to have not noticed you. Two-wheelers with two people already on it are a no-no for obvious reasons. Bikes driven by a member of the fairer sex are gambles which very rarely pay off. But it’s worth pursuing, because of the inherent ‘high risk, high gains’ opportunity associated with it. All said and done though, the ideal target is male, travelling alone, on a bike, roughly around your age and with a sympathetic enough face.

So how about some tricks of the trade?

Now we’re talking! The key to remember here is that most travellers suffer a pang of guilt when they refuse a request for a ride. Whether that’s rational or not is debatable, but the hitch-hiker should look to capitalize on this.
This is best done by catching vehicles on corners or traffic-signals when they slow down since this increases your time of contact with him, making it tougher for him to ignore you.
Also, there’s the classic counter-trick that drivers attempt to pull, by indicating that they’re taking the immediate next left/right turn and so they have to turn you down, however much they hate to do it. The counter to this counter-trick would be to catch him on a straight road with no perceptible turns for some distance. Incredible though it seems, the lack of a plausible reason to ignore you can force some drivers to pick you up!
And you could help your cause by making your plea for a lift as earnest as possible and not treat the lift as something long overdue to you. And keep walking while you signal for a lift. It creates the impression that you’re willing to consider the option of making it on your own too, and you aren’t some lazy bugger who won’t budge an inch till a vehicle stops. Pure psychology, but it works!

But...but is all the effort really worth it?

Ask the Ministry of Non-Conventional Energy Sources and they’ll lecture you on the environmental merits of pooling vehicle resources! From a purely personal point of view too, it exposes you to new experiences and new people. I still remember a couple of memorable conversations I’ve had with complete strangers over the state of Indian cricket and my experiences at school. It more than makes up for the numerous folk who ignore your very existence when you signal for a lift. And remember, by successfully hitching a ride, you’re making the driver feel good by giving him a sense of having done his good-deed-for-the-day. It’s all about the human interaction, you see.

So if you have the time to risk and the hide of a rhino, hitching a ride is seriously recommended. Just ask Arthur Dent!

Friday, September 15, 2006

Home Is Where The Heart Is

For the first time in three months, Iam haggling over the fare with an auto-driver, I can feel the shirt sticking to my back half-an-hour into a drive in the city and Iam forced to remember what a mosquito bite feels like. Yes, Iam back in good ol' Madras!

Strange, but it feels like I never left the place to begin with. Travelling home from the station in the dead of night the other day, I had this surreal feeling of having seen all the sights just yesterday. I wonder why? True, three months ain't that long a time, but did it really slip by so quickly? Or am I not really that attached to this city I call home?

The last three months have experience, for want of a better word. A new environment, new friends, new challenges, it's been a rollercoaster ride. I've found myself in situations I never thought I'd find myself in, I've disappointed myself in ways I never thought I could, I've exceeded my expectations on unexpected occasions, I've hit some real highs, I've sunk to some deep lows....but as long as Iam learning something, I know Iam on the right track. So yes, it's been fun and it's been 'full'! Maybe that's why Madras always felt so close, never absent. And at the moment, I know I don't have enough time to 'reconnect' to the experiences back here. That's the problem with short holidays. You're just begun with them before the countdown starts!

But even as I do my regular rounds of family, friends, movies, theatre and hangouts in the city, I begin to realise that a few things will always remain unique to my experiences in Madras and which I'll miss anywhere else.

The pleasure of revving down the ECR on my favourite Yam.

The strong aroma of Mylapore filter coffee.

The familiar morning dose of The Hindu.

Watching the sun set at Bessie Beach.

The amazing set of folks I call my parents.

May some things never change!.....hmm.....and I have another week left to add to that list.

Monday, July 24, 2006


The earth splits open once again
Brown, confusion everywhere.
Slivers of hot ash in the cold rain
Dashing hopes and laying them bare
Heaps of rubble and pangs of pain
But yes, this day too shall pass.

The mother seeks her missing son
Blood and tears flow on the ground
She knows her wait has just begun
With the stench of death all around
Has life ended, is the story done?
But no, this day too shall pass.

A new morn dawns, prayers are said
Yest’day was gone by in just a blink
Blue sky greets city, so unaffected
As a country stops and pauses to think
The mother knows she has to look ahead
And this, yes this, shall remain!

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Happy Birthday!

It's quite ironic.
Iam back here after a while and I decide to post on how long I've been around!

But yes, the days have slip-slided away and I find that this blog is a year old! And with a post count touching fifty, it's just a shade lower than the frequency I was looking at to begin with.

So, reason enough for some nostalgia and self-gratification, I say! Here's a look back at the first lines of the first posts of each month through the last year. Not an original idea, I admit, but it's a cool concept.


*Disclaimer : Any resemblance to any character, either fictional or imaginary, is purely deliberate*

Yuck! My first line was a disclaimer?!


A bit of old news, but those billboards of Jyothika all over the city serve to keep it as fresh as ever.

It's got older, and it remains just as fresh.


I came across this hoarding on the way to office.

Office...that feels nostalgic...sigh!


Mike came up with a neat post on his blog with his take on music, and that's stirred me into penning my story....

Funny I haven't blogged more often on music.


They say in the advertising game, it's one of the more crucial things to find bthe right medium to focus on your target group.

Yeah, and Iam learning that in a classroom right now!


1. The colour of the world is grey. I refuse to see any issue in black and white.

My first tag! And what a misfit this guy seems to be!


I attended a birthday party the other day.

Hmm...good memories......


I have this fetish for persisting at things Iam not great at.

Aah! Now that explains why I keep coming back to this blog!


I sometimes wonder at the Tatas.

I sometimes also just wonder......

April of those natural occuring dividers of demography in a society, something we instinctively adhere to without even realising it.

Can social commentary ever get more incisive?


Iam back after a while, and with a sordid tale to tell.....

Ouch! Iam still wincing!


It's that time in the four-year cycle when life gets compressed into a "sphere of 8 inches diameter", and I realise how distantly removed I have got from the beautiful game.

And the tournament's still running?!....looking forward to tomorrow's game!

Key finding:

Eight of those twelve opening lines had either 'I' or 'me' in it. Talk about self-obsession!
Hmm....but maybe I've just got that bit closer to figuring out what this blog is all about...Anyway, here's to the future!

And a very warm thank-you to the very few but very precious people who have deigned it fit to honour this blog with their comments. You people rock!

Sunday, June 18, 2006

In Transit

I think people who insist on an AC coach for a train trip miss out on a lot. The childhood magic of sitting at a window seat and letting your senses be overpowered by the experience outside will never be lessened for me. I realised that recently.

It's always the same story. A thick novel, a walkman, a crossword puzzle...all carefully planned for the long trip ahead. Yet they remain untouched once the train journey begins.
Villages with gawking kids whiz by, wild thorn bushes stand as sentinels to paddy fields beyond, electricity cables engage in a sinusoidal dance from post to post, small groups of birds give company in the sky before giving up the unequal race with the train, the setting sun shimmers on the distant stream....and I can do nothing but watch.
The drop in the evening temperature is distinct, and the cool breeze is a breath of fresh air, literally. The sun sets and the images outside blur. The ensuing darkness is thick, with only an occasional spot of light from a lonely house breaking through. I can't make out a thing outside the window now, but I can vividly feel the landscape rushing by, and it feels strangely reassuring. And in the darkness, images dance in front of me...from the past, from the future, arbitrary musings...scattered, random and clear.
And I ponder, and I brood, and I wonder...till I feel the gooseflesh all over me.

Today, I realise that what I need desperately at the moment is time NOT to think. I want to be immersed in something so completely that I have no occasion to brood. I want to be so busy with routine activities that it leaves me with no opportunites to entertain random thoughts.
And I realise the place Iam going to might just facilitate that. Which is perfectly fine, because then on my way back home on the train, I'll have that much more reason to sit at the window and gaze.

Monday, June 12, 2006


It's that time in the four-year cycle when life gets compressed into a "sphere of 8 inches diameter", and I realise how distantly removed I have got from the beautiful game. Well, not that I ever was who could be called a 'die-hard' fan of the game, but I still do remember Eric Cantona's farewell season at the EPL so many years ago. Maybe the EPL's (which is easily the most visible league) exhaustive schedule got to me, or maybe it was because I lost touch with friends who watched the game, but I do believe my distancing from the game was also due in part to the fact that football demands a high degree of association from the viewer unlike any other sport. It's quite impossible to remain passionately neutral about the game, which is so hugely participative by nature, and simply enjoy the different flavours that different teams bring to the table. Iam yet to come across a football fan who didn't have a favourite club/country he swore by and a villainous club/country he swore at. And when it comes to an event like the World Cup, having a 'favourite team' becomes all the more of a necessity. Otherwise, you just aren't connecting with the billions of blood-thirsty fans all over the globe.

Thus, shaking the footballing cobwebs away, here's how an ignoramus selects in 20 minutes the 'Team' to root for in the Tournament!

First, you need to select a team which you are confident would make it past the group stages. After all, you dont want to be feeling empty and without purpose at the end of the first fortnight itself. Also, it pays to cheer for an underdog, since the thrill of winning gets heightened while the despair of defeat can feel less bitter.

These preconditions automatically take care of 20 odd teams of the 32 participating, and of the remaining......

Germany - hmm...The home team has enough support (and pressure) behind it as it is.

England - Any side which declares itself incapable of winning if it misses one of its key players isn't worth cheering for.

Argentina - Too much of a big gun for me to back.

Holland - hmm...Too many folk's dark horse/favourite, so it aint gonna be mine!

Italy - There was a time when I used to support the original 'Men in Blue' for the sole reason that they were reviled by everyone else I knew. But yeah, their strong-arm defensive tactics can leave even their strongest of neutral supporters hesitant after sometime.

Brazil - Tournament favourites. Out of the question!

France - I hated Barthez and Blanc's bald-plate kissing act last time around, and I find that one of them is still on the scene!

Spain - The perennial under-achievers, can I really trust them to get any far in this tournament?

Portugal - Hasnt their Golden Generation become just the Old Generation right now?

and so....

The Czech Republic - I loved the attacking, free-flowing display they put up at the last European Championships, they have a lot of flair for a European team, they are favourites to make it to the knock-out stages from GroupE along with Italy, and if they manage to put one over the Azurri, should be able to avoid Brazil in the second round,....and not too many people give them a chance to begin with.
hmm....yup, I think I just got a team for myself!

So for everybody, it's 'Joga Bonita' for the next one month!...and for me, it's "Go, Baros!...Go, Koller!...Go, Nedved!...Go, Poborsky!"....err, is he still playing?

Thursday, May 25, 2006

American Idle Musings

All hail the newly crowned American Idol, Taylor Hicks!....Soul Patrol and all!!

Finally, the curtain comes down on one of the more insipid seasons of the show.

I wonder how far Taylor would have gone in the competition if he didnt have that God-given silver mop of hair? He's a good performer, true,....with a distinctive voice, funky(?) dance steps, honky-tonking on his harmonica, entertainer. Yet, he rarely came across as original or being completely himself during the season. It was like he was putting on a show all the time.....hmm, which I guess is what American Idol is all about, and hence, the result. And Iam not even sure if 'Soul' is a great description of his music. Leave that to the Aretha Franklins, please!

The look on Chris Daughtry's face when he learnt he had been eliminated was one of the moments of this season! After all, it was Katherine McPhee with him in the bottom two, and this was after a pathetic performance from the McPhee-ver girl, even by her own low standards. People didn't want to see an all-male top three, that was obvious. Whether the result is to be blamed on the voters or the producers, is debatable. Either way, Katherine's feminity won the day for her.

Was Kelly Pickler really as brainless a bimbo as she was made out to be on stage?...or was it all part of a carefully devised 'image makeover'?...I wonder.

Apparently, musical ability does count to a certain extent in this 'personality contest'. How else do you explain someone like Elliot Yamin making it to the final three?...Someone who had nothing to offer but a voice with a unique timbre and some real 'Soul' in it. My faith in the American audience has been an extent.

Iam yet to understand what was great about Taylor's rendition of Elvis' 'In the Ghetto'. I thought he failed miserably to capture the essence of a brilliant track, and one of my personal favourites. But he got a unanimous vote of approval from the judges (even from Simon, which was a big letdown) and I guess this was the moment when he became a front-frunner for the tournament.

It was interesting to see Chris Daughtry's transformation during the course of the season - from an 'out-and-out rocker' to a 'I-can-dabble-in-all-kinds-of-music' type. Iam naturally suspicious of any guy announcing himself as a hard-core rockstar on American Idol. If he meant what he said, he wouldn't be on Idol in the first place. The fact is, a true rocker is the antithesis of what the show stands for.

And it was strange to see no black Americans in the last four weeks of the show. Did age go against the precociously talented Paris?...or did the audience finally tire of her 'Minnie Mouse' speaking voice? I wonder how many African Americans actually watch the show and what their voting patterns are? It might give some interesting insights into the American psyche....err, yes, Freakonomics is still too fresh in my mind.

Overall, Season5 did have its moments, few and far-between, but it never came close to the previous season. Sigh!...Where were the Carrie Underwoods and Bo Bices this time around?