Sunday, April 26, 2009

Trafficking in Pune

Ask anyone what he despises most about Pune and the answer would be "Traffic"**.Without intending to sound vainglorious, I am proud of the fact that I have lived in quite a few cities in India. Which brings me to the most common vexing question. Is my dad an armyman? Unfortunately, he isn't. Fortunately, he doesn't work for a bank either. For that matter, none of my parents do.

Getting back to the point, Pune probably has a traffic which is worse than any other city. Personally, the list of things that I dislike (euphemism for hate) about Pune could become endless. However, traffic would definitely qualify for a podium finish. And for a change, roads are not the real problem. In defence of the Pune-ites, it can be said that the roads are definitely narrow in some parts of the town. There are speed breakers which would be best described as blink-and-you-miss and some road dividers that are barely visible. The entire logic of invisible-traffic-controllers seems to be founded on the "shock and awe" doctrine.

Residents of Pune belong to a peaceful race that lives in love and harmony. What gets their adrenaline pumping is the idea of driving on their own roads. For any proud Puneite, any Pune road is like his own backyard. She has her own set of traffic rules and abides by them religiously. When caught in a traffic jam, she is highly likely to mistake the accelerator for the brake and thereby ram her vehicle against the rear of another parked in front of her. This sets off a trigger reaction which actually helps clear the traffic. The casualties are the smaller two wheelers which mostly belong to the student community. Who cares about them anyway?
The two wheelers, on the other hand are no less enterprising. In Pune, you are considered cool if you can squeeze your bike in the space between 2 cars moving parallel on what ideally should have been a one-car-at-a-time road. Narrower the gap, higher is your coolness quotient.The narrowest of gaps have led some bikers to the OTs. Even as the doctors are amputating their legs, they would insist that

1. They still ride better than 90% of the Pune-ites (The scary thing is that they are RIGHT!)
2. There was only one car in front of them

Statistically incorrect it may be, but the fact is that 75% Pune-ites are better than average drivers . To further spice up things, Pune has recently been hit by a gang of girls who love to call themselves the biker-gang, as quoted by Pune Mirror. No, I am not making this up! What do they do? Flout the rules, flaunt your coolness!

The traffic lights in Pune also work according to their own whims and fancies. To the credit of the Puneite, she doesn't care two hoots about the traffic signal. For her, it’s always blaring green. She doesn’t know any
Massa, any Schumacher or lately, any Vettel. For that matter, she would also love to ignore the local mamu (a traffic constable for the uninitiated). Which is where the lady luck betrays her.

The way the traffic constable operates in Pune is no less than the way a secret unit carries out some covert operations on the battlefield. He would be conspicuously missing from the traffic outposts he is supposed to be manning. Be forwarned. He would be lurking around in some corner waiting for you to commit an offence. And if you happen to be sporting a number plate that belongs to some other Indian state, you are doomed.

Mamu: Do you have an NOC (No Objection Certificate)?
She (the qunitessential Tam Brahm driving a santro with a TN number plate): Yes, here it is.
Mamu: License? PUC (Pollution Under Control? Vehicle Papers?
She: Yes, here they are!
Mamu: Voter ID card? Ration card? Employee ID? Medical Insurance Card? Passport? Marriage Certificate?
She: Scavenges through her Luis Vuitton and manages to fish out everything.
(Failure to produce even one single document calls for a heavy penalty as per Pune Traffic norms)
Mamu (exasperated) starts ranting in Marathi: … kutthes?... kartos? ….kutthes-kartos combined?

She:Abuses him in the filthiest of Tamil possible

Mamu(anger oozing out from evey pore of his face):… kutthes?... kartos? ….kutthes-kartos combined?

She: I am sorry. I don’t understand Marathi.
Mamu (with a victorious smile): Techincally speaking you have to shell out some 2000 bucks but we can settle it for 500.
The woman goes on to feign bankruptcy and the deal is finally settled at 300 bucks. The mamu then proceeds to give her a receipt printed on a paper which is the pinkiest pink imaginable. She is free to scoot away breaking all speed barriers before the next mamu intercepts her.

**Information Source: Pg 24 of Pune Mirror. The same page that carries "ask the sexpert" column. Period.
PS: For those who were tempted by the title of the post into reading this,my apologies :)
PPS: The stress on one particular gender is not at all coincidental. It has been done based on prior experience and some relevant research. However, it is open to argument.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Vasota - Done and Dusted!

This is what the victory board perched atop Vasota proudly proclaims. Before commenting on the importance of the entire comment, let me translate it into english for the convenience of people who fumble with Hindi. "Not only is it very difficult to get to the top of the Vasota peak, it is nearly impossible. Only the toughest of the characters have managed to reach here and read this board (Shivaji included)".

Trekking in the summers won't make it to the list of the "100 most crazy ideas of the last decade" but still would finish pretty close.

For all those who are contemplating a trek to Vasota in the near future, the following digest should serve you handy.
Wake up very early in the morning - as soon as your flatmate wakes you up. If your flatmate oversleeps, then the two of you would do well to not interact for the next few days. If you are living alone, which is more because nobody wants to share an accomodation with you, forget about being a part of any such trekking expeditions. Try as much as you can, people will still find ways to somehow unintentionally forget you on the D day. The entire trek is fraught with dangers and challenges.

Challenge 1
-Marathi: It's always a safe practice to have someone in the group who understands and converses well in the local dialect - Marathi. The peculiar thing about Maharashtra is the similarity between the n
ames of places. Just to ensure that you are going to the right place, always remember to suffix the name of the place you intend to go to with the names of a few famous landmarks in and around that place. In case of Vasota, you should phrase your question somewhat like this "Which bus goes to Bamnoli? Base camp to Vasota? Vasota - trek. Vasota - tiger, squirrel, wild dogs etc etc". And finally, "Vasota - Shivaji!!". If this doesn't work, be sure that no such place exists on the map.
The Next Challenge: Finding the bus that can take you to the village of Bamnoli from Satara. By the time you reach Satara, you would have realised that Marathi is not afterall the dialect of the masses. It can be described as a mix between Cherokee, Edo, Faroese,Mari and the likes. All this means that you can now only converse in sign language.
Bus drivers, plying on these rural routes are gifted with a practical sense of humour. They will always drop you off at a strategic point which is purportedly 1
0 minutes away from the actual destination. However, an hour later, you are still walking and have lost half the group to heat stroke. The only way to avoid such a catastrophe is to take a private vehicle.
However, be forewarned. For the person sitting next to the driver will realise pretty soon that the gear always comes perilously close to the crotch each time the driver changes gears. So, take suitable p
recautions (fans of cricket will better appreciate).
Having succesfully negotiated th
e gears, you get down at Bamnoli and take a launch from Bamnoli to the base camp of Met Indavli - the gateway to Vasota.
Opportunity to travel by a launch is something that hardly any other trek affords. What took us totally
by surprise was the presence of a watch tower along the reservoir coast. The intention is to help visitors spot the wild animals that come to the reservoir to quench their thirst. My analysis (based on experience) says that the closest that you can come to a wild animal would be a buffalo.

The First Frontier - Met Indavli:
To the credit of the forest office, it must be said that the tents erected at Met Indavli are really huge and for the most part-comfortable. These mega tents can provide sh
elter to around 20 people at one go. Huge signboards alert you to the presence of Royal Bengal Tigers (No, I am not making this up!), leopards, jackals, bears and some other wild species. However, even spotting spotting a giant (just for nomenclature) squirrel is a luxury. I am somehow tempted to believe that all this is a part of some cheap publicity gimmick.
The Final Frontier:-Vasota: For the ones who are physically fit and fighting, the climb should take close to 1 hour.For those who are not, the climb takes another half an hour. To our credit, we completed the trek in a little over 2 hours. At the top there is a temple dedicated to Lord Shivaji. Then there are a few rocks here and there which once belonged to Shivaji. Ofcourse, there is an orange flag which was once held aloft by Shivaji. Technically speaking, the remnants of what were once the great Maratha forts do not really deserve to be called the ruins.They are the nothings. Everything is left to your imagination. Just when you marvel at the sight of a wall which definitely must have been Shivaji's fort, you are told that the wall had been erected only a few years back by the forest department. Hopes dashed, it's time for the been-there-done-that photo sessions. This provides you the opportunity to pose with the flag in all kinds of obscene poses, including the flag dance which is a modified version of the pole dance.
The descent is a cakewalk compared to the
ascent. Steaming hot food awaits you at the base camp. For those who are religiously non -veg, nothing can get more vegetarian than this. Be prepared to swallow your egos and behave as if the food tastes like manna from heaven, for, that would form the sum and substance of the dinner conversation of the vegetarians.
Banish all grand plans of star gazing, sitting out under the stars in the open making pseudo intellectual
conversations, relating ghost storie
s and indulging in other kind of social activities You would be too dog tired at the end of it to do anything but hit the sheets .. err.. the dirty mattresses. Wake up very early next morning to watch the awe inspiring sunrise. [Pic Courtesy: Yours truly :)]

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Straight from the horse's mouth

Having somehow successfully completed what is rated by many as a difficult trek in the Sahayadris - Harishchandragadh, I believe I have arrived there. Plus, Harishchandragadh being a night trek, i think i have now become a true trekking veteran. So here is a compilation of a few do's and dont's which every novice and a not-so-novice trekker should take care of before embarking on a trek.

1. First and foremost: Ask yourself the question: Is it really worthwhile going all the way up a rocky mountain? To help you answer this question, there is a whole set of sub-questions:
a. Have you slept really well over the last week or so? You will be losing on some precious sleep during the trek. If you have already answered NO to this question, please ditch your trekking plans and instead go to a beach. Trust me, any beach, however shady/dirty it might be, Rocks!
b. Do you think you don't really need those exotic Reebok sneakers that you recently purchased at a flat 40% discount? Okay, so you are actually bored of them.? Go to the next question.
c. If you cannot make it to college/office tomorrow, will there be a good samaritan who will fill in for you? If your answer to this question is a YES, be sure (s)he is going to screw you up very soon.
d. Do you have a life insurance? Better get one soon!
e. Is there someone in your trekking group who is outrageously insisting that you have to come along on the trek? If YES, even a scatterbrained can smell something fishy.

If you are still intent on reading this post, here's the remainder of the advisory.
2. When the group is really large, it inadvertently always breaks up into smaller groups.
a.Do a headcount for each of the groups. Stick to the one with the highest number. Aliens, by virtue of being super-human and hyper-intelligent, swoop down on the smaller groups. The same doesn't necessarily hold true for the animals.
b. While walking in a file (remember the tracks are too narrow for you to walk alongside your best friend), avoid leading the file and also avoid being at the end . Aliens and animals alike, have a penchant for the first and the last. Any normal Hollywood/Bollywood flick should tell you why.

3. Always dramatise and overdo. Pretend to be in pain and act as if you are suffering a lot because of the arduous climb. Someone is bound to have pity on you and offer to carry your rucksack. Immediately offload. People change their minds relatively quick during a trek.
4. You will come across numerous short cuts which apparently cut down the time of ascent. However, bear in mind that people have fallen off crevices and lost their lives while navigating such short cuts.
5. Walk as fast as the slowest member in the group. (S)he is just being street smart and saving on some energy. The more vibrant and active members of the group are known to suffer from heat strokes and dehydration at the end of it.
6. Without intending to sound a chauvinist, the female race seems to have the sensible-trek-genes in abundance. They scout for the safest, no-thrills no-frills route. So, if possible, have atleast one female in the group. What it additionally does is, it raises the overall compassion-quotient of the entire group. This translates into frequent pitstops, loads of food and water break, by-passing of the difficult stretches of the climb and in some rare cases, leaving the trek unfinished. Which is actually good for everyone!
7. During a night trek, carry the most powerful torch possible. Snakes and insects are creepier than you can imagine. Insects, unlike animals, always have nefarious motives. The best way to deal with them is to stomp on them or bludgeon them to death with your torch. So, if you happen to be an entophile, better not go on a night trek.
8. The view from top is absolutely breath taking and awe inspiring. But that feeling is momentary. Once the novelty wears off, you can comprehend how difficult the descent is going to be for someone whose limbs refuse to move and whose energy has been totally sapped. People have been known to suffer from the NDEs (Near Death Experience for the uninitiated) after reaching the peaks. And some went into eternal meditation mode . Do you think its worth the risk?

My advisory doesn't end here. However if I have still not managed to dissuade you from embarking on some trek, then nothing else in this world can. So. MAY THE FORCES BE WITH YOU. Do leave behind a comment if you manage to come back alive and in one piece.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Ode to Poker

It's often said that poetry is born out of a sudden spurt of genius. I confirm this to be true. A wholly different and debatable issue could be the quality of poetry produced as result of this sudden burst of 'talent' and 'creativity'. However, I would prefer leaving this issue of quality to the artsy people.
So, here's a hyperbolically exaggerated attempt at poetry; dedicated to that one totally entertaining long night of Poker which brought together seven dementedly bored people under the common umbrella of the crafty and bewitching game :-

The players climbed up the 'mighty' hill,
To test their strategies and skill;
The bugle was sounded at the sight of the moon,
The game wasn't ending anytime soon;

The greatest ever game of card,
Witnessed a battle fierce and hard;
Where every minute seemed like an hour,
Turned into a full fledged Poker war;
Decisions had to be made real quick,
The winner was taking limited risk;
For those who thought it was only ability,
Learnt Poker is more about Probability;

From seven, they were reduced to three,
The winner had them shrouded in total mystery;
And when everyone refused to believe,
He produced the ace up his sleeve;
Battle ended before they could have frowned,
Game over, the king had been crowned;
It was One against 'em All,
And he managed to stand tall;
In this very beautiful game of Poker,
He didn't turn out to be a choker;

Another day might well see a new start ,
Poker after all is Science mixed with art;
The battle was tough, the players all cracking,
A new day, A new winner in the making.

To fellow Poke(r)mons: You all rock! Better luck, next time :)

Monday, November 17, 2008

Baby's Day Out

For all those who think that kids and babies are sweet, think again! Chance is that you never have had the misfortune of having a baby as a co-traveler. Till a couple of weeks back, i thought that babies and kids were the most adorable (not necessarily innocent) things on this earth. No More.
My perspective on kids and babies has changed and changed for the good. On a recent flight to Delhi from Bombay, i had the chance of sitting next to a mother and her baby who must have been a year old or so. The baby i mean. So there she enters the plane and fumbles through the entrance passage.All this while she somehow manages to hold onto her handbag with one hand and the necessary supplies for the baby in the other. The baby meanwhile very acrobatically manages to hold onto her mother's neck and still, as if by some magic, stops short of suffocating her mother to death. By the time the mother-baby pair manage to wriggle past other passengers and make it to the seat next to me, the mother has managed to drop a few of the items she was carrying and the baby is now almost hanging precariously from the mother's neck. It takes them another five minutes before they finally settle down thereby giving me a chance to go through the contents of a baby's basic-survival-kit. This ofcourse includes the milk bottle with milk dripping from all its sides, some white powdery material which i presume were cookies that have been battered by the baby, the quintessential diapers and a few other things with which i still cannot associate a proper name. Then there are the lego bricks which the baby seems to find more appetising than the bruised cookies; A small plastic zoo-set with plastic animals like the lion with the head missing, the elephant with an amputated leg, the camel without its hump and some other animals which had been distorted beyond recognition. My theory is that the baby will definitely grow upto be a hard core non vegetarian and somehow plastic tastes much better than farex. A few minutes into the flight and the baby decides its time to let her frustration out. To ensure that enough people take note of her frustration, she stands erect on her mother's lap and lets out a shriek that would even put Tarzan's call to shame. The mother, who seems well aware of the kid's tactic just gives me an embarassed smile but does nothing else. Once this ceremonial ritual has been completed the baby settles down into her mother's lap and gets back to her business of spilling the farex from the bottle all around in the name of drinking milk. The mother meanwhile keeps coming up with never-heard-of-before games like "Say hi to the uncle sitting next to you", "Try and sit on the lap of uncle sitting next to you", " Try and hit the uncle sitting next to you with lego bricks", "Spill some farex on the uncle's trousers" and several such variations of the game which the baby lapped up with renewed enthusiasm
. In between, the baby would resort to a lot of scheming and trickery. Every time she seemed to be dozing off, i would heave a sigh of relief and the very next moment i would be hit with a barrage of lego bricks followed by the most cruel of giggles you can ever hear. The gentleman within me would immediately respond with a smile, pick up all the lego bricks and hand it back to the mother so that the kid could resume its business. In return for my kindness and my sportsman spirit, the mother would offer me a few of the battered cookies. Every 15 minutes, with clockwork regularity, the baby would start and cry for exactly 2 minutes and 27 seconds. After which, it would giggle loudly and make mocking faces at me for another 45 seconds. It would then get back to playing its cruel games.
I fervently kept praying for the flight to crash or burn out in mid air but my prayers went unanswered. The ordeal lasted exactly two hours and i could not thank my stars enough when we finally separated

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Hitchhiker's Guide to Cooking

Fresh out of college life and trying to start living on your own, one is beset with a wide variety of problems and challenges. But every other challenge dwindles in front of the enormity posed by the challenge of cooking your own food. However easy it might sound, the reality is very different. So, for all newbies who are looking to enter into uncharted waters, here are a few tips (based on personal experience) which might stand them in the long run.
1. The most important thing to understand is that whosoever opined "Too many cooks spoil the broth" was an absolute genius.
2. The concept of learning does not hold true while cooking. You might have cooked an awesome curry yesterday. But if you try to replicate your feat , you might as well end up making a puke-inducing curry today. So, your learnings from yesterday don't really count.
3. Pressure can be a big detrimental factor. Ergo, you must know how to soak in the pressure caused by the high hopes people have from you. Promise only what you can deliver; never over-do
4. Always keep a mobile phone handy. You will need to call your mom every two minutes.
5. Knives and strippers ( i prefer calling them strippers rather than peelers) are more dangerous in real life than they actually seem. Unfortunately, they are indispensable.
6. Cooking is NOT in the genes. But, yes, if your mom is actually not so good a cook (no offence intended), then you better not try!
7. There is something called a safety-valve that comes with a pressure cooker. And btw, people have died in the past due to exploding pressure cookers.
8. When you go to shop for groceries, please remember to purchase burnol(an ointment applied to burns and scalds) as well.
9. Vegetable vendors are the smartest people around. Learn to keep them happy or you might end up eating potatoes that were meant for the municipality trucks.
10. Adding more salt than is necessary is blasphemous. A little less salt never killed anyone
11. N course meals (N=2,3,4,5...) sound very exciting and mouth watering. But that is where the excitement stops. A one course meal isn't all that bad.
12. Onions can be very harmful to your eyes. They go much beyond the spects
13. Exotic food tastes much better when eaten at a restaurant. So, why take risk?
14. Washing utensils doesn't come naturally. But, it can be learnt with practice. And, its also the safest option around. Becoming a pressure-cooker-washing-specialist can also earn you a lot of respect, awe and admiration.
14. Maintain a good relation with any one you can think of. This includes your newspaper-man, the security guard of your building, the nagging bai who does your household chores, your neighbour, your office colleague, your cab driver and anyone you can think of. Who knows; you might get a lunch/dinner invitation

Now, for those who are freshly starting out on their own in the of Pune
1. Spencer's is a nice option to go shopping for your groceries as long as you aren't really looking to buy green vegetables.
2. No one really knows the source of water supplied in the taps at your home. Better be careful!
3. While in Pune, do what the Puneites do. Which is: sit and eat at any place you can think of. This also will save you the trouble of cooking.
4. Pune can be a really boring city if you run out of ideas(although this has got nothing to do with the cooking business)

I don't think a cooking guide of this sort can ever be complete. So, if you happen to read this, please feel free to add/append. All your suggestions are welcome. Also, if you gained anything out of it, please remember to call me home for dinner :)

Sunday, August 24, 2008


Sinhagadh is about 30 minutes drive from the city of Pune if you happen to travel by the same autorickshaw as we did. Besides being outrageously enterprising which meant driving at speeds in excess of 60 kmph on the very unmotorable roads of Pune, he also gave us frequent demonstrations of his ability to keep his vehicle airborne for several seconds at a go.As if this wasn't entertainment enough, he had turned on the music system which kept dishing out long-forgotten Bollywood numbers from the late 80s. So besides the driver himself, we had the melodius Kumar Sanu and Udit Narayan for company throughout the 30 minutes ordeal. By the time we reached the Sinhagadh base camp, we had been mentally wrecked.
Before embarking on this trek, we had consulted a few websites dedicated to trekking in the Sahayadris. And whosoever wrote that the climb should not take more than 45 minutes must have either been heavily doped or must have been totally out of his senses. Even if you discount me, there were still 9 others in my group who could not have made it in 45 minutes. To make matters worse, we decided to take the road less travelled. Consequently, we had to take frequent pit stops on our way to the peak. But this also provided us with the time to reflect on the journey and come up with theories to help people who decide to replicate our feat in future. For those with a financial bent of mind, there are small huts at different points along the ascent which sell nimbu-paani (the desi version of a lemonade). The cost of a glass of lemonade is inversely proportional to the height gained. The higher you get, the smaller is the amount of money you need to shell out for a glass. Second tip would be to never ask a local or someone from the NDA the time it would take to get to the top. For them its always a walk in the park. Plus the sarcastic squirm that comes for free with the reply will make the entire effort of coming all the way to the place an excercise in vain.

Once you have reached the top, the view is a spectacular. Its lush green all around and you can feel yourself walking in the clouds. To add to it, the small huts serving home cooked food. I am not a big foodie and i am not particulalry fond of Marathi food. But the marathi dish called jhunka bhakar (correct me if i am wrong) that we ate in one of the huts had a divine taste.

To go along with it was a red hot chatni which might have been fatal if consumed in moderate quantities. We lived on to tell the tale. And before i forget, we also had the pleasure to of tasting a Japanese desert called Okhabe which is made out of Soyabean and rice.The remnants of what once was Tantia Tope's fortress aren't particularly inviting because there is hardly anything left behind. The only consolation is the fact that you are seeing something that shall forever be a part of history text books.
On our return journey, our team was depleted of 4 members who backed out after the strain of getting to the top proved too much for them. This left us with just 6 people. We decided to take the safest route down. And this might sound chauvinist but we decided to follow a newly married couple (they atleast looked like one) in the hope that the lady would take the easiest route. Luckily, our hunch proved correct and we managed to stalk the couple successfully till the very end. Thereafter, the team was depleted of another four members who went off on their mobikes leaving behind me and a friend to fend for ourselves. The journey back from the basecamp to home was more excruciating than the trek itself. Besides having to change three rickshaws on our way, we had to put up with people who only spoke languages that were alien to us (read: marathi, konkani (i am guessing)). Somehow, we managed to use sign language to communicate with them where a slow nod of the head meant that we were ready to accept whatever price they quoted and a vigorous nod indicated that they should quote a price which is even higher. Any other gesture was taken as a sign of hostility. So we decided to go with the financially unviable but physically safe option of a slow nod of the head.
2 hours and 4 autorickshaws later: broken, bruised,tattered but in one piece; we reached our home safe but not sound.