29 November 2007

Last in the boat race

One of the important things of writing is the parts you omit. There is a tendency with writers to write everything. People don't have time for essays. This I have learned in a hard way. All my articles - longer than 2000 words, have not been well received. Now I make a point to limit my articles for 1500 words.

I have found that articles on a single theme won't sell much; where as a group of anecdotes make an interesting article. This is because reader has a better chance of liking any one of the anecdote.

Following article is a single theme article. I tried to make it as interesting as possible. It is a daunting task; need to avoid this kind of articles in future. You can also read it on daiji here.

Last in the boat race
Some people know how they are going to die. I am one of them. That is one thing I share with Owen Meany and Sandra Bullock – premonition!

My death will be in water. Every time I was in the water something ominous had happened. One time my Jet-Ski toppled in mid sea; I was hanging there till rescue team saved me and wife.

God saved me all these days. Some day he will get bored, he would say: Lets try something different this time! That would be my end.

Mississippi Masala
I am yet to see the places Sha-Rukh-Khan roamed in Kal Ho Na Ho or more inflammable Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna. Unfortunately there are some highly unromantic places in US. One of them is Mississippi. I know, because I was there!

More than 50% of Mississippi is forest that means every now and then you meet deer, raccoons and other rodents on your way to office. Long boring highways, houses miles apart - a place for hermits and artists! That’s how Mississippi has managed to produce Mark twain, John Grisham and Elvis!

These boring long days made me crave for any gatherings or outings. Gatherings were rare though, I was the first one on the venue when there was one. There was an official email for canoeing – I missed it. The mail got lost among the hundreds of unwanted mails I receive everyday!

Jesus loves you
I receive nearly 200 mails a day. Almost 99% percent of them are not related to me in anyway. Most of them are spam, promotions, deals, forwards which I had already read long back. If I read all these mails I won’t be able to do anything else.

That day, I saw a mail with subject JESUS LOVES YOU. I also receive mails from fanatics! Inside there were 10 reasons why Jesus loved me. The mail also highlighted the point that sinners were his favorites!

At the bottom there was a strict instruction to forward the mail to 10 more people in 5 minutes or something ominous would happen. I wonder what kind of morons generate these mail chains - deleted the mail. That’s when I saw the canoe mail. I was the last one to register for the canoe venture, it was in the afternoon.

Land of no-network
When I reached the river (it was a tributary) no one was there except for an old man.
“What’s your name?” he asked. He was clearly irritated by my delay.
“Tony Montana” – I wanted to say, but was afraid he won’t catch the joke; told my name.

"You are late, your team has left half hour back" he said.
"You can not take cell and camera" he further informed. That is why there are no - tourists grinning besides medieval monuments - kind of pictures in this article! The idea of being “disconnected” with the rest of the world scared me.

My grand father never used a cell.
"Grandpa you need a cell" I used to tell him.
"I don't need one;” he would say “most of my friends are at a place where there is no network coverage".

That was long back. He was a no-gadget person. He was content without a cell and email id. He was a happy man. Some time back he has joined his friends - at the place with no-network!

I was excited, jumped into the canoe. Wife, Reema took the back seat; started rowing instantly. Few meters in water realized that I was unaware of the duration,
"How long is this trip?" asked the old man.
"You will get an END sign in two hours!"

"What?!!" but then the canoe had already gained speed by the current.

Mission Impossible
What surprised me was that the river was real and wild. It was not a man made canal as I was expecting.

"You said it is a 10 minutes trip"
"That’s what I thought”. There is a boat ride near Manasa, Mangalore – I was expecting something similar.

It was our first canoe experience.

"What are we going to do for two hours?” she was scared “Let’s abort this - Control ALT Del" last sentence was the result of too much exposure to - virtual world!

"There is NO Control Alt Del. Welcome to real world!" I said.

Mystic River
The water was surprisingly cold and muddy. The surrounding forest was dense; our team was no where in the vicinity. There was an eerie noise of unknown creatures of the wild. It was creepy.

"I am scared, let’s go back!" Reema said.
"You can not go back! We can not row upstream"

There were no sign posts, no volunteers. We didn't have a cell. We were alone in the wilderness.

Canoe was moving zigzag.

"Let’s figure out, how this stupid canoe works first!" it took us some time to figure that out.

Made in China
The scenery was beautiful. The kinds of you see in movies. I was so used to movie life I never thought these things existed in real life. It was like Animal planet, only you are on the other side.

There was a fallen tree, across the river.

"What do we do now?"
"We need to get down and manually push the canoe across"

It was deep; getting down was not an option.

"We need to climb the tree, and pass the canoe across"
"I can not do that"
"That’s the only way"
This whole exercise took half hour.

There were more fallen tree ahead, somehow we dodged around. Just when I thought we would pull this thing - saw a snake on one of the branches of a fallen tree.

"Snake!" she shrieked.
"Sit tight and maintain the balance;” I said “hey this is not a real snake"
"What do you mean?"
"There is a MADE IN CHINA sticker on its tail! Guess, this is a part of whole adventure."

Careful what you are wishing for!
I don’t know how long we were rowing. We had started around 1 PM. It was definitely more than 2 hours. I had lost track of time. Moving in the wild is scary – especially when you don’t know the destination.

Canoes don’t move smoothly in a straight line as they show in the sports channels. You need to have strong arms to manage them.

Now I was on the back seat, sometime back canoe had made a 180 degree turn!

“Do we have steep falls as they show in the movies?”

I didn’t bother to answer this question. Canoe was moving gracefully, for a moment I thought we made it. It was peaceful and silent. Some of the trees were precariously bent towards the water. Little turtles dived to oblivion as our canoe barged alarmingly close. It was really beautiful. It was like trance.

I was late, when I heard the piercing roar of the fall. We fell with a big arc and a huge splash.

The last thought before entering water was - Is this chaos because of not forwarding the Jesus-loves-you mail?

Being there
Water was cold. We were safe since we had life jackets. We lost hold of the Canoe. It was moving wild and away, oars were missing.

"Are you okay?"
"No" that means she was ok.
"For the records - the answer to your question is - Yes. We do have falls as they show in the movies. Careful what you are wishing for! Let’s move to the bank now"

We were drenched and shivering. Somewhere I had read that the important thing you do when you are lost is to reflect sunlight using a mirror. So that planes hovering above can track you. I wonder how practical this is.

Canoe got stuck in water-weeds along with the oars at some distance.
"We need to swim till the canoe"
"I am scared"
"Don't worry you will not drown, you have a life jacket"

I swam till the canoe. There was water in it; it was heavy and immovable from the weeds. It took a long time to drain the water.

We reached the destination around 7.00PM, four hours later than expected. There was the same old man (he reached there by land) waiting for us. Our team had already left; no one waited for us.

"We were about to send a rescue team" he said.
"Guess we saved your efforts"

"The whole experience itself terrifying; why you need to have rubber snakes to scare the rowers?" Reema asked the old man.

"There are no rubber snakes, lady; you must have seen a real one"

Then she realized the truth.
"Somebody is going to miss the dinner today!”. I was expecting this.
"Let’s get out from here" I said.
"The creep will sleep on the couch!” I was expecting this too.

Life, as usual

Wise Man
It took me two days to come out of the trauma. I was like a zombie. Some of my friends told me later, those were the only two days they had seen me NORMAL!

My manager caught me in the cafeteria. I was sad about this guy, for not waiting after the canoeing.

"I knew you will do it!” he said “Fantabulous show” this is all jargon. I don’t like people who use ‘fantabulous’ in day to day conversation. It sounds pompous, especially when you can use either fantastic or fabulous (that’s where the word has come from) for the same effect.

During my younger days, there were kids getting euphoric by maiming frogs and killing lizards. I used to wonder what would become of them in the coming years. Now I know - they become managers!

"Are you interested in our next venture, scuba diving?" he asked.
Once again water!

"No “I said
"..and why not?"
"I am afraid of sharks!"
"There are no sharks where we are going; although there was a shark incident in 1967"
"I am sure there will be one waiting for me, if I ever go there!"

A date with the almighty
When I entered the church it was empty and peaceful. I like the resonance when it is empty.
"God" I prayed “I will not say what Amitabh had said long back - AAJ KUSH THO BAHUT HOGE TUM. I simply want say - THANK YOU."


"Now give me a signal - that you heard my prayer. Some kind of chanting bells or a strong gale or falling flowers from the altar"

More silence.

Outside the church met a beggar.
"Sir, care to share a few cents" I was baffled by this sophisticated beggar. He was surprisingly well attired for a beggar. I got suspicious.

"God, are you testing me in the form of this beggar?"
"Pardon me Sir?"
"I am not talking to you!"

"What was your highest tip?" later asked him.
He told me.

"Here is that amount “gave him some bills “..And one dollar more!"
"You are a generous man" he was surprised.
"I am not generous; I simply don't take my chances with God!"

01 November 2007

Once upon a time in America

When I first wrote this article it was around 4000 words; a close friend upon reviewing informed me that it is un-publishable. Later I reedited it to 1500 words. Sometimes it is not what you write; instead what you don’t write matters. You can also read it here

"Life is much too important a thing ever to talk seriously about it." – Oscar Wilde

I once tried to calm down a barking dog which promptly bit a small chunk of flesh from my left hand. What pained me more is not the wound instead the lack of truth in the saying - BARKING DOG NEVER BITES. I wonder who makes these sayings without testing them thoroughly.

This simple incident changed my view towards the barking dogs. I realized that in real life there are dogs (even today) unaware of this saying!

Life is full of simple incidents which make a larger impact as a whole. Such an incident changed my view towards Money. During my student days, a librarian caught me returning a delayed book.
“You are late; you have 50 paisa fine!” he said. “I don’t have 50 paisa “I replied.

Those were NOT my grand father’s days were you could buy one “mudo” rice for 50 paisa. In fact 50 paisa was nothing, if you offer 50 paisa to a beggar, he would instantly throw it back on your face!
“Do you really don’t have 50 paisa?” he asked again. “I don’t have mister”
“Don’t raise your voice – beggar prince!”

Then he obliged himself with such an outrageous laugh, even now I feel difficult to sleep sometime. This trivial incident made a larger impact on my future than Pope John Paul’s visit to Mangalore!

This happened long time back; Even now I carry fairly large amount of cash for the fear that someone would laugh at me for not having sufficient funds.
Book 1 – A simple life

Power of Money
In those days (probably even now) there was more respect for guys working in super markets of Middle East than ones working for ISRO! I could not join ISRO because even though I had the imagination required for space odysseys – I lacked the technical expertise. Since I was working in India, I was a constant target for neighbors ridicule.
“So you didn’t get a Dubai opportunity?” somebody would ask with pseudo concern; as if I had some unpronounceable terminal disease and my days are numbered.

People ignored me till I made some money. I would walk in a gathering, where nobody would notice me. I was a - INVISIBLE MAN.

Finding Neverland
Whenever my friends traveled abroad I was the guy who used to drop them at airport. Just before entering the airport – they would promise me to take abroad as soon as they land in foreign land. And promptly forget the promise once inside the airport!

I used to watch the colorful environment of airports with wide eyes by see-through glasses; Groups of airhostesses giggling around with well ironed attire, indifferent towards less mortals. Software engineers with suits engrossed in their laptops. I used to wonder – what kind of mission critical code demands their attention even in busy non-work-friendly airport terminals.

“Sir, you are very close to the window” security guy would caution me; forcing me to come out of Neverland.

Ghost of the past
In between I went to Bahrain and started working there. Even though I was doing well, this American ghost or the ghost who wanted me to go to America haunted me all the time. Finally it succeeded.

I applied for H1B, and got it. Contrary to the popular belief I was not lucky; those were the days a fake resume and a little bit of imagination would fetch you H1B. I had both: ample!
Book 2 – Americana

“Are you from India?” Immigration officer asked me. “Yes sir ...land of Buddha and Gandhi” That is NOT what I said. That is what I wanted to say. Instead I said “Yes sir!” “Your stamping is done in Bahrain?”
“Yes Sir!”
“Where is Bahrain?”
“Are you Jok….” gulped my words. You don’t mess with the immigration officers anytime anywhere in the world. They are the last people whom you meet before boarding the flight. Being so near to the plane and not getting a chance to board it - is what makes them dumb-wits and jealous about the passengers!

“Bahrain is near Dubai” I said.
“Where is Dubai?” Can you believe that?!

Back home in Kinnigoli If you ask anyone at 3 AM in the morning about Dubai - he will not only tell you where it is but also enlighten you with exact geographical coordinates, climatic conditions, population, popular tourist places, future metro train schedules, flights starting from various locations, boarding place for desert safari / belli dance and also the SALIK for Jebel Ali road!

Welcome to America
Arriving in America first thing I noticed is that they drive on the wrong side! This was the first taste of many things they do in opposite ways than rest of the world. They drink in Gallons; drive in miles and earn in millions!
They are also little confusing - For example petrol is called GAS here! Helium, Ammonia and carbon dioxide are also called GAS! 101 is one-o-one! They call soccer what we call football back home; and have their own game named “American Football” in which 99% of the time you don’t use foot to pass the ball!

You don’t touch a person, anytime, not while talking or walking along, not with a close friend unless of course you are gay!
Americans love fast food; they are notorious for eating unhealthy food. They like pizza more than the Italians. I have had more burgers in my first month here than in my whole life.

Americans greet everyone, even strangers. In India if you greet a stranger he would become suspicious, defensive and may out right attack you!

The country is so fulfilling most Americans don’t go anywhere outside unless the country sends them to exotic places like Vietnam. This staying at home has made them ignorant of outside world.

In a recent survey 42% of school students could not list a single Asian country! On the contrary I can list more than 100 countries anytime.

First time when I went to a movie with Reema - caught a couple smooching.
“How can they do that?” she asked.
“Are you saying – you don’t know how to do that?!”
Only in America
Only in America you can wear under-wears similar to the national flag. In rest of the world though it’s a crime! Americans have a peculiar curiosity. This same curiosity has taken them to exotic non American places like – rat holes of Vietnam and scorching deserts of Iraq. They want to know each and everything. They are the first to land on the moon. My grand father with his limited education was intelligent enough to predict much before the lunar venture that there would be nothing significant on the moon. He had a 50 paisa wager with some of his more optimistic heavenly friends (all of them are in heaven at the moment). Of course he won the bet and bought one “mudo” rice from that amount!

Refill is free in fast food corners. If you do that in India a species would evolve which would survive only on refills!
In America you can live-in with a person of the opposite sex or the same sex (for that matter) or with a dog under the same roof, without any commitments for ages – without any eyebrows raised!
Some of the things here are unheard in third world countries, like - Diabetic medicine for dogs! I didn’t know till then that even dogs can have diabetes. Lemon scented Toilet paper – does it really matter?
King of my castle
Apart from all this, America is a nice country. It is a country built by immigrants. This is the country of opportunities. People are good. Things are much simpler here, laws are friendly. Many Americans have helped me in my initial days when ever I was in need.

My number of relatives increased (or almost doubled) once I landed in US. From INVISIBLE MAN I have become SHAKTIMAN; Don’t underestimate the power of money (Please read the previous sentence again). Most people preach you all along how bad money is, they are the ones who don’t have it!
Money can’t buy you happiness, but it can by you marijuana! Money can’t buy you health, but it can buy you a healthy nurse!
Over the period, I have found out that Success is not the commodity of a country or a race. These things can give an edge, but end of the day an individual’s efforts and attitude is what matters.