Smokin’ Beauty

Driving through one of the tunnels up the smokey valleys in North Carolina, I realized that I had failed to update my blog for the past two years. I felt scared that my sense of vocabulary had gone downhill and that I did not care for blogging anymore. The bitter truth being I had unashamedly not made any time to write up any blogs over the past years. My life had changed, I have done a good amount of traveling over the past two years. I could at least care to blog about one of the best hiking trips that I have taken in a long time.

My wife Madhu and I were determined to take a break and travel to some place that offered a “natural” respite (note the pun) . The USA has a lot of wonderful exotic places blessed with natural sights . The ones that fit my billing are the state and national parks.  After debating and deliberating over issues of time , money, season and accessibility, we decided to take a week’s trip to the Smoky Mountain National Park. This would be our third major trip this year after Colorado and San Diego. I did not quite know that this was America’s most visited national park.

Madhu had finished her Phd qualifiers and we were so excited.  We decided to lodge on the Tennessee side of the mountains . The Smokey mountain stretch actually straddles across the border between Tennessee and North Carolina. The flight tickets were a little expensive . We had pre-booked our stay in a condo located in a golf resort, thanks to a smoking deal on Hotwire.com.

Day 1, August 10

It was Saturday, it was hot and humid as usual in Houston. The flight trip was pleasant  but had its own hassles. We took a one stop flight through Charlotte. We arrived at the Knoxville airport around 1 pm. Though we were staying close to the mountains ,we had to have a vehicle to take us to different routes ,trail heads and if needed, across the state border also. We rented an economy size Toyota Yaris and we were pretty content . We did not want to spend too much money on a rented car and the smaller the better.

We reached our condo in about 1.5 hours. The commute to our condo winded through the foothills of the mountains . The condo was located in Gatlinburg.  Of course , the advertisement on the condo’s website was ” Discover the breathtaking blue mist of the surrounding mountains, enjoy the splendor”. The place expectedly did not look  as spectacular as was described . But the location was nice and pleasant. We had the condo to ourselves . It resembled our apartment, but much more furnished. The condo was fully equipped with a kitchen, vessels , furniture, bed etc. But the best deal was they had a laundry unit in house which we made the best use of .

Our condo

Our condo

One thing we were warned about was the lack of vegetarian food in the whole town. It was of course to be expected in the middle of a mountain valley but we could not come to grip with it on our first day . It was pouring cats and dogs as we reached the condo . We could not find a single restaurant or a fast food place close to us. The car took quite a hit in the rain and the tire sensor came on .  Fortunately, after getting thumped by rain, we noticed a small gas station and a little deli place wedged in.  It was also a small convenience store and was gracious enough to offer us a custom veggie sandwich. Our course we cannot complain about the food . We have more restrictions within a veggie diet ( no onions, no tomatoes , no lettuce ..OK..go to hell). Living in the US for past six years had not yet changed my vegetarianism and my parents are proud of it.

After gulping down the sandwich, we came to the conclusion that food was going to be an enemy in this trip. So we purchased a stock of cereals, cereal bars, chips , apples , dry  fruits etc. The menu next day was already planned with the inclement weather being a deciding factor.

Something was needed to be done about our car. The tire sensor was not an easy fix. So here we were , traveling all the way back to the airport to exchange our car in the midst of a heavy downpour. We reached our condo back again at about 9 pm. It was a nightmare of a first day for a trip. Luckily for us, better days were in store .

Day 2 , Monday.

After hours of reading reviews the previous night , we decided to visit the Cades Cove . It is an isolated valley , a very popular destination for visitors to the park.  The cove has a lot of history to it and is known for its beautiful landscapes. We started at 7 am and we reached the park in a few minutes. The cove was a driven trail passing through the beautiful Cades Cove loop road, a 11 mile one way loop.  The 2000ft elevated cove had hosted a lot of ancient historic settlers who built their own cabins, churches ,barns and mills. We visited the John Oliver cabin, a primitive church and the Elijah Oliver place.

Cades cove map

Cades cove map

Not quite the road to perdition

Not quite the road to perdition

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More than the buildings themselves ,what captured us the most was that the forested place was a step back in time. There was so much scenery, history, wildlife, and character in just a small area of the park . But having said that , it was not fall season yet, so we could not notice any beautiful colors that was supposed to make this place so picturesque.

Now to the wildlife. We did spot a black bear on a tree top , intimidated by about 300 visitors surrounding it . The park rangers carefully expedited people more enthused to settle all day watching the bear. The bear was rattle up the tree all day long. We also did see some deers running across the forest .

Spot the wild bear !

Spot the wild bear !

Most people did not leave their cars around the cove. This was something that we avoided doing .  We decided to take a 4.5 mile up and down hike to a celebrated water fall in the cove. The Abrams Falls hike trail started at stop 10 of the cove. The trail weaved up and down the ridges, along beautiful creeks amongst forested land , tall trees ( did not know which species) . The total hike was about 300 foot up . Our legs were rusty considering that it was our first hike after a long time. To make things interesting, we came to an insane realization that we had not carried any food with us for the hike and had left everything in the car. It was stupidity but  it was a challenge to survive the 3.5 hour hike without food and we decided to test the worthiness of the exercise.

Green all around

Green all around

Creeks and streams !

Creeks and streams !

After huffing and puffing, we finally reached there in about 1:30 mins .  We were greeted to a 20 foot water falls . Though not very tall, it was surprising to learn that this was the most voluminous falls in the whole smoky mountain park. It would be  unfair to criticize the hype surrounding the falls considering the background landscape, the scenery and the hike . Plus it got us going for more challenging hikes on the trip. It was understandable to see no one swimming in the falls as it was gushing with rapid water and it would be a dangerous task. But the most distinct thing that you notice in the USA is that there is hardly anyone taking a shower in any waterfall compared to the land of the Ganges from where I come from.  That left us a little embarrassed and precluded us from taking a shower in the falls.

Finally there !

Finally there

It left us most satisfying to reach and enjoy mother nature . The falls had its own beautiful charm and more importantly  it was located  in the most peaceful of surroundings. The mist created by the falls had a wonderful air-conditioning effect.

We hiked back to our car and completed the rest of the cove road loop.  It was already around 4:30 and was time to grab our long awaited lunch snack.

Our final session of the day was to visit the picturesque spot right at the Tennessee North Carolina border. Being one of the most visited overlooks along the border, the New found Gap Road ( road that connects TN and NC) had outstanding views of the smoky mountains. There was a sign that distinguished the Tennessee side from the NC side.  It was an amazing place to take a break.

TN- NC borderline

TN- NC borderline

We decided to end our day by taking a drive to the highest point in the smoky mountain park. It is the highest point in Tennessee and had a famous observatory. The cliff was supposed to offer a 360 deg spectacular view of the mountains for visitors prepared to do a 0.5 mile climb up the dome.  The place received a precipitation of 82 inches a year and was unpredictably cloudy through the year. We decided to take a risk and climb up. Unfortunately it started pouring down again and we could not see a thing at the top of the dome. It was a disappointing end to our eventful 2nd day . But it was worth the wait .

The view from the 6000 foot high dome was a bummer

The view from the 6000 foot high dome was a bummer

Day 3, Tuesday

We were pretty tired and a 5 am alarm was blaring through my ears . It was not until 8 am that we were able to get a start from our condo. But since we had already purchased cereals , it was easy enough to grab and take off.  Our plan for the day was to first head to the Mountain Farm Museum and Oconaluftee Visitor Center located near Cherokee , NC. It was a pretty morning drive and we hit the visitor center in an hour . We decided not to walk both the trails near the center but instead chose to take a look around the mountain farm museum.

The  place included farm buildings, most dating around 1900, that created an effect of an open air museum.  We explored a  farmhouse, barn, apple house, a butcher shop, and a working blacksmith shop to get a sense of how families may have lived 100 years ago. The structures were old and provided good history lessons but it was our cup of tea. We spent no more than an hour at this place.

On our way back about half a mile from the visitor center was an old mill, the Mingus Mill  that uses a hydraulic turbine to feed the corn mill. I was told that this mill was built in 1886 and it was fascinating to get a look at the old place. Unfortunately it was not operational at the time , so we could not see it pelting out corns.  But I could capture the magical power of renewable energy right here at an old dilapidated mill .

mingus_mill3

Mingus Mill

We then headed to our second major hike of the trip  but the second shortest . It was a 2.6 mile short walk to Laurel Falls which seemed to be a popular destination. It was not very steep, an easy hike for little kids and it was not the greatest challenge to hike to. But the falls was beautiful and worth the walk.  The falls seemed to be a fair resemblance of the comparatively thin streams of water down the rocks everywhere in the Smokies  rather than the gushing water that has made the Niagara so famous.  But yet it represented the wilderness of the mountains and was pretty in its own way. The rocks though were slick with algae and some places seem to be very wet.  We spent about an hour and half enjoying the beauty of nature and even grabbed our lunch here. This was a little different from the deserted Abram falls as more kids seemed to be enjoying the waters. It was a good place to relax and head back.

Laurel Falls

Laurel Falls

On our way back to the condo, we decided to drive around the Roaring Fork Motor trail, a beautiful 6 mile driving trail . It offered amazing views of mountain creeks and streams . It was a one way road all along and had precious beautiful greenery all around.  Trees surrounded the trail and provided shades that reminded me of the Theosophical society in India.  There were two trail heads starting from this place , the trails to the rainbow falls and the grotto falls . We ended our day with this majestic drive and felt very pleased about our decision to visit the Smokies.

Not the best picture of the majestic trail

Not the best picture of the majestic trail

Day 4, Wednesday

This day made our trip and was easily the best.  Not that it started raining early in the morning deterred any of our plans . We planned to do our longest hike on this day . After a previous day of relative relaxation , we were set to hike a round trip of 11 miles up Mount Leconte though one of the most famous trails, the Alum Cave Bluff.  Numerous reviews had given the trail a moderate difficulty rating but a fascinating experience.  The estimated time was 3.5 hours up and 3 hours down. After getting an early dose of coffee, we started for the trails . The trail head was located close to the North Carolina border. We parked our cars and started our hike through a grassy patch. Early signs were that the path was soggy and posed potential slips.  At around 2 miles ,we came across the Arch rock, where a set of tunneled stairways under an arch aided our passage through the rocks.

Through the Arch Rock

Through the Arch Rock

Soggy and mossy

Soggy and mossy

There were plenty of thrills along the trails , boulders and slippery steps made it mandatory to exercise extreme caution.  There was a constant drizzle leading to moss on the rocks everywhere. There were short creeks all along the path.  At about 2.5 miles, we came to a beautiful place , the Alum cave. Its not a cave per say but an overhanging rock. We took our little snack break and were one of the few hardy souls who decided to go ahead and climb up Mt. Leconte.

On the way to the summit

On the way to the summit

It was another 3.5 miles from this point. The trail began to climb more steeply beyond the cave. There were cables to help as hand rails and we were nervously climbing up using the aid of these.  Some of the points were teetering close to the edge and I would never have the guts to look down.  There were bountiful scenic overlooks , all jaw dropping  impressive. It became cloudy and murky. One thing I noted was everyone except us had a hiking stick . If only  the flat plains of Texas motivated us to hike and invest in those sticks. I kept thinking about how lucky and blessed  I was to visit such places and have the physical capability to enjoy the tough climbs.

At one point, there were multiple trails crossing paths and left us confusing.  The trail did not seem to end even though it indicated 0.3 miles to the top.  We then came to a bifurcation and were exhausted.  We decided not to take to the hill tops because it was murky and not a thing was visible. Instead we decided to visit the alternate path to the Leconte lodge, We could not believe what we saw. Here at about 6500 ft was a lodging area that had a small cafe . I was salivating at the hot cocoa that they had . We decided to grab some cookies and eat our apples. Our Lays chips could never have tasted that better.  We were hungry and lunch at the exclusive summit shop was deserving.

Climbing down felt as though we were in zero gravity.  It was amazing how fast we could descent the 11.5 mile trail . We did not even rest at the cave and instead decided to take a bit of a run . The momentum pushed us down . We enjoyed passing through the arch rock tunnel again and we reached our cars roughly 6 hours after we started.  It was a remarkable feeling of satisfaction, relief and happiness.

To end the day on a rewarding note and pat ourselves on the back, we decided to have an early dinner at the best Italian restaurant in Gatlinburg.  It even has the name “Best Italian Cafe and pizzeria “. Pizza never tasted so good anywhere else . It was a humdinger of a day and I did not know when my eyes closed that night.

Day 5, Thursday

We were done with about 60% of the trip. The shoulders were paining , legs weary but the Alum cave hike was to stay etched in our minds. We had done some 10 mile hikes in Texas but those were pretty flat and not as challenging.

We woke up late and prepared ourselves for rafting on the Pigeon rivers of Tennessee.  I grabbed coffee at a little unique place . It was a 100 sq.ft book shop that sold organic coffees.  It was rustic and provided a good coffee.  I enjoyed it .

The  dams for rafting were opened on Tuesday and Thursday and  the increased chances of rapids made rafting more exciting on these days. We reached the rafting company place in about 30 mins.  Our rafting trip was going to be a mix of class 3 , class 4 and class 2 rapids. This was our first time white water rafting and we were excited to say the least. We had a 1 hour safety tour and our guide stirred up some tension by mentioning that many people fell off the raft . Though we were to be assisted with personal flotation devices (PFD) , it was still a scary thought of being washed away by class 4 rapids. But it did not take any of the excitement away as our adrenaline were pumping hard. It was a 15 min bus journey to the river. There were 6 poeple in our group apart from the guide. Only my wife and I did not know swimming. It was an 1.5 hour adventure on the raft with the paddle, PFD and helmet. The rafting trip started in Hartford , TN.  The experience had everything . Big waves , big drops, water gushing into our raft, The flow in the river was about 3000 cubic foot per sec as mentioned by our enthusiastic guide. We bumped our way, floating with the current. I was constantly hearing our guide shout ” Here comes a Class 4 ! ” . What a thrill ! We finally pulled out of the river and made our way back to the condo. It was another memorable experience in what had proven to be an entertaining trip so far.

Upper Pigeon River

We still had 2 days left and were left wondering what else was there to do in the city. There were hundreds of trails to be hiked and we were not in the physical shape to hike 11 miles all days. The hikes also took quite a lot of workout and we were looking for a relaxing end to our trip.

After hours of pondering over a visit to America’s largest private home that warranted a $50 prohibitive entry fee, we decided to check out the Biltmore Estate. A sprawling 1.4 million sq.ft house built by Vanderbilt, it was the royal place of US . It could have made a good competitor to Westminster Abbey.  We did the self guided tour and did not do the audio tour. The house was super huge, with gardens , winery and the biggest mansion that I have seen. The place gets a whopping 1 million visitors a year . The estate was gorgeous, planned and constructed by visionary architects.  It was quite a show of affluence of resources, assets and status. There were 33 master bedrooms dining halls, even bedrooms for servant maids, amazing history behind each room, 7 story high ceilings, indoor bowling alleys and pools.  It was all there in a package. A glance out any of the windows would reveal amazing rolling hills beautifully landscaped along with the smokey mountains as a backdrop.

Vanderbilt estate

Vanderbilt estate

The gardens were sprawling with beautiful flowers and  greenery. Photography was prohibited inside the house . To be frank, we found the place to be expensive and showy. We headed back to the condo.

Day 6 , Friday

It was our last adventurous day before we departed.  We decided to take one last hike to the Grotto Falls .  A lot of visitors to the city had suggested it as it was the only falls where you trot behind the water . The trail began at the Roaring Fork Motor road and was a short round trip hike of 2.6 miles. The climb was gentle and we reached a nice cascade . We could hear the sound of water . The waterfalls was beautiful.  It offered a cool shade and you could feel the water thundering down . We also walked behind the falls and heard the water plunging into the pool below . We spent close to an hour at this place . We once again enjoyed the motor loop of the roaring fork trail on our way back.

Behind Grotto Falls

Behind Grotto Falls

Our next plan was to go to Balsam Mountains , the second highest mountains in NC. To go to the mountains, we traversed the Blue Ridge Parkway . The Parkway runs across North Carolina. The 469 mile two lane winding road was supposed to have 151 bridges, 26 tunnels and 200 outlooks .We did not have to travel the entire length to appreciate it . It was pure nirvana to drive through the mountains.  The speed limit of 45 mph made it dangerous enough to attempt over takes.  We drove through tunnels that we had never experienced in our life before.  We had to switch on the headlights to go through them  and it kind of took away the spooky feeling. One weird thing that we noted was that cars behind me when passing through the tunnel sounded off their honks. I was expecting people next to cuss and show the bird .  Then after reading about the honking, I realized that it was tradition to create a domino effect of honks . It was fun all the way. There were countless places that held amazing views, flora and fauna. The overlooks made us stop each time to look at the picturesque valleys and mountains . We even spotted the cousin brother of the  giant antelope on the road . It’s a challenge to put words to the feeling of driving along the parkway.

The antelope

Antelope family ??

Blue Ridge Parkway

Blue Ridge Parkway

Unfortunately, the road to the Balsam mountain was closed . We were very disappointed but we returned the same way though the scenic overlooks. Our final visiting point of the trip was the Mingo Falls. Located on the way to Cherokee, it was one of the most remotely located waterfalls off of New Found Gap road. It was only a 0.4 mile climb through the steps to the falls. When we reached the falls, we were pleasantly surprised. It was beautiful though not spectacular. It’s natural cascading shape drew us into a spell. It was pure white water that more resembled an abisheka for the Hindu Gods. We sat on the rocks at the foot of the falls. We dipped our foot and the water was cold . It was nature at its furious best.

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Day 7 , Saturday

We decided to take a break from adventures of hiking and rafting .  We decided to walk through downtown.

We rode the $1 trolley from the Gatlinburg city hall to downtown. Using the trolley system was one of the easiest ways to get around town. We roamed past a buzzing downtown, strolling up and down the streets through the bustling restaurants, shops past Ripley’s Believe it or Not, the Guinness World Record exhibits etc. We also took the sky lift line that goes up and above the city. It was a scenic view on top of the city. I was holding on to my sandals from falling off the creek. It was an entertaining ride.

Sky lift to the top

Sky lift to the top

Day 8 ,Sunday

We packed off and headed back to hot and hotter Houston. It was a memorable journey, one worth blogging about .

The Free Rider

I had just got my metro card refilled and was all set to tap it against the small machine on the bus. I was told by the bus driver politely that it was a free Friday and that I did not need to pay for my ride. I was a happy man and I was quickly  scooting down across to one of the available seats. I was watching the others board one by one and I could see that each and everyone of those people had a smile on their faces and were thanking the driver profusely for their free rides for the day.

I wanted to ponder more on this through my 30 min journey and I was wondering why a cut of $3.25 for the ride could bring such a reaction on their faces. Is it because of the recession? Is it because they found the $3.25 to be too high? Is it because they could save that money for a coffee at some place? No. It was not the question of money. It was more about the kind gesture in return for so many people riding the bus. It was about the Metro calling for more people to take the safer and much cleaner transport on their way to work. It was not a marketing gimmick but it was a something that signaled as “Hey, the city runs buses for you. Don’t worry about driving your car ! ”  I continued to think of various other small gestures that could put a smile on people’s faces.

Working in downtown has its own pluses and minuses. For one, you can never escape the innumerable hobos on the street who have been deeply affected by these days of cost cutting. They are people who have gone down below the poverty line and who cannot afford a morning breakfast or a early morning ride on the bus. Some have lost their jobs, some have never been employed, some have been left down by their families and some have stayed poor all along. If you were walking or driving on your way to work, you could spot a large number of these people.While some office goers do not bother to hand over a penny to these poor people, some stop in their car and raise down their windows and offer some money. My very first experience was an unforgettable one. I was stopped by one of them on a wheelchair crying for money. All I had was $1.25 and I just offered what I had. I was totally surprised by the broad smile on his face. He said “God bless you my kid ” and I was off the blocks.It now made perfect sense to me. That $1.25 would not get him above the poverty line . But more important to him was my gesture that put that smile on his face.

Similarly, I could put my self in the same position as the people on that bus or the hobo . I had on various occasions found this to be true at my work. Whenever I got the appreciation of a job well done from my supervisor or my boss ,however small that that job might be, I felt the happiest I had ever been in my life. All the money that I make or the annual bonuses or raises was being washed away at that particular moment. Its the moment when you know that someone recognizes you and you feel as if you are adding value to this world.

Lets think back on our life. Lets think of people who have had positive influences on us. The influence is usually due to giving care to people who are not related to you in any way . Lets put a smile on that face by doing petty things that remain etched in memory.

Old is Gold or …..?

It was one of those mornings when I woke up groggily trying to rush through my natural daily routines ready to take the bus to my office. I could hear my mom screaming “kaapi aari porudhu da…seekram va” (The coffee is hot ..come fast) .I was too busy in the loo sleeping . Then I got up on my feet to the washbasin and noticed the now very old big tube of toothpaste . Next to it was the new Pepsodent with a shiny cover. Even though individuals grow or mature, there are still a few things that always remain from your childhood cheekiness or naughtiness as you call it. One of them for me is to shove away any old stuff and open the new ones. It’s applicable for anything from water cans or shaving razors or books.

This new new glittering cylindrical tube of toothpaste seemed so attractive to me . I  made just one small attempt to retrieve what was remaining in the smaller tube . I tried to squeeze it and nothing came out. The pressure that I applied was predictably less so that it would convince me to go for the new one. I was left in daze when my dad came in and squeezed out almost a big chunk of the white creamy paste out of the old one.This was a probably too  trivial an  incident to be ashamed of but it sure made me think .

The other day, I was going in search of an electrical engineering text book . I was looking online and also traversed through different stores to find that elusive book written by a very famous author in the 60’s.  After I had given up as I could not find it anywhere, I was astonished when my old uncle dusted up the book from his dilapidated shelf and gave it to me for reference. He would not let me take it away, he would just sit there and make sure I return it back to him.  The book was a golden treasure to me. Something that I had been in pursuit of all the while and I had no idea that the old man would have it in his shelf guarding it as an angel.

These were probably two of the many instances that showcased and possibly hurt me in the way that my attitude had changed over the period of time. It reflects the way the society has changed and how I have been washed away by the wave of change from being a conservationist to  a capitalist.

One of the things that immediately sprang to my head was my childhood days when my granpa used to teach me to optimize and always remain possessive of my old things . I still can ascertain that in many orthodox old families, people would emphasize the importance of keeping your old stuff with care and passion. To cherish your possessions is something that was practiced over a long period of time in those days . It was the old conservationist attitude that stood them in good stead and one of the many reasons why life was always simple. My uncle still tells me that he possesses two his bullets (the motor bikes) that he bought in 1970.  I cannot imagine people now trying to save their old cars and automobiles from getting out to the market for scraps. FUELLED BY MEMORIES

People often confuse conservatism with stinginess, resistance to change and refusal to adapt. If you pose the question, “what is the ultimate goal in ones life ??”, you would get a variety of answers.   For some people it is material possessions, such as a large house with all the latest luxuries, a fast car, or a well-paid job. For others, it is reputation, good looks, power, excitement or adventure. But these things must not be mixed up with the desire to cherish the old. Training your mind in this attitude to embrace the fact that “old is gold” will certainly extend simplicity in life.

 

Waiting for the moment !

Driving down from the park and ride bus stop to my house is an interesting experience by itself.  Located in one of the corners of the outskirts of Houston, the road stretch  from the park and ride looks like a path to imaginary heaven.  With trees on both sides and a single narrow lane crippled with a speed limit of 30mph, it has both its pleasures as well as the discomforts. I was returning to my house down that boulevard , engulfed in my own thoughts. Afterall , I was hoping to catch the highlights of  one of my favourite cricket matches of all time . A certain Mr. Cricket had made me even more intolerant and restless to go home and switch on the sports channel. 

I heaved a big sigh of relief when I completed the turn at the end of that road and caught the main road to my house. Suddenly there was a huge back up of traffic and all vehicles caught astray, piling up one behind the other and all three lanes blocked .The first thing that was taught to me after staying 3years in the US is that whenever you have chunks of cars pooled one behind the other, it calls for a major accident and you can expect the fire engines, cop cars and ambulances to either whizz by or to be  already there monitoring the spot.

This situation here totally belied my conjecture. There was a certain school bus standing there, with the door ajar, a stop sign hanging from the door, school kids dropping off after a week of hard work and studies. To a layman , on his first experience on the US roads , this might have been a total shock and curiousness filled with impatience to watch the entire traffic hit a block in the form of a school bus . The event would have been symbolic of similar road jams in Indian cities but for a different reason. It indicates an all too familiar wait for a VIP to zoom across with his sirens on , being showered upon by the wraths and curses of millions of netizens .

But all of this made sense to me . In the US, school buses are specialized buses. They’re painted bright yellow, tagged “SCHOOL BUS” front and rear, and are equipped with flashing red lights on the front and rear near the top along with a Stop sign deployedwhenever the door is opened. It’s the law in every state that all traffic must come to a full stop whenever the lights are flashing and / or the stop sign is deployed. No car can come closer than a certain feet to the bus, and no car can pass the bus. The safety zone for the bus extends all the way from one side of the road to the other side, so cars in both directions must stop. This is to insure that any children that need to cross the street can do so safely.American school children are aware of this law and the drivers do obey this law. As a result, it’s not uncommon for a child to get off the bus and immediately cross the road in front of it without looking. 

I cannot help stopping my thoughts wander to one of the most torrid and heart breaking scene I have witnessed  in Chennai, India . A school kid had barely managed to get down the bus and started her walk to her home when the same school bus which just dropped her rammed into her unmercifully . I was standing in awe on a bicycle , shell shocked and taken aback. This was yet another case of myraids of unabashed and ungrateful driving by the school bus drivers , ridiculously careless and  knocking down poor kids on the road.  Flip down the pages of any local newspaper and u will come across numerous cases of driver negligences and fatal accidents like this. 

No wonder India is still a developing nation. Going by the stats, school bus accidents constitute the largest share, 23 %of deaths in India. Road safety enforcements always remain poor with no one to question the drivers qualifications. Compare this to the US, violations of these rules leads to a report of the license plate number of the bus and the driver is henceforth doomed in his life.

This blog is not to intended to lament on yet another of those reasons why India will take several eons to catch the US in some domains. But it certainly made me forget Mr Cricket for a moment and watch the young kids return home to their moms safe and secure .

A Trip Down Childhood Lane

Born as the only infant
I cried tat very instant
I was inducted into this world with a name
and that I did not like it was a shame..

When I could barely open my eyes
for they evoked frequent cries,
the second city I saw was Mumbai
those were not the days of Hyundai
Dad used to go to office in an electric train
leaving me crying in the old terrain
I was not old enough to go to school
but only fit enough to drool
all I remember was sayin a bye from the balcony
when all I had was mom as a company..

One day,I locked my mom in the bathroom
and was happily toddling in the bedroom,
her shouts went in vain
which did not register in my mid brain
she managed to get a rescue
but I did not find anything askew..

Another day I toddled into an open drain
only for my parents to search for me in pain
An old man gave me back to them
and it was the end of the mayhem…

Thats all I remember with Mumbai
in the days of no Hyundai..

Dad got transferred to a bank in a village
and it was the advent of my schoolage
Every school had a name
This one was so lame
I found school to be a prison
where my moods would dampen
my teacher was in crabby mood
and my classmates so rude…

I was so scared of Lenin, the boy
who used to ruin my joy
He mocked and teased me
and my classteacher appeased me…

Riding in bullock carts
was how I used to depart
the bullocks used to stare
and I gave them back a glare..

For one day I had a terrible experience with a bull
when it rammed straight into me to the full
I felt its horns pierce my heart
and it made me fart
but this time my mom came to the rescue
when everything was askew…

That is all I remember with the old village
where I used to feel like a hostage…

My dad got transferred to singara Chennai
and I was still a vennai
I entered my first grade
and my first ever exam saw me get an F grade
This time I was scared of a teacher
for she used to be a screecher….

I went to school by a rickshaw
and the roads were a seesaw
I used to throw up everyday
for that could give me an excuse for a sickday….

Then I got transferred to a new school
and I no more used to drool
This time primary school was fun
where my first bits of education began
each day started with a prayer
and we once had our chiefguest,a mayor…

I went to school with a heavy bag on my back,
And lunch box and snack.
I sat in the class and toiled
And learnt about millipedes that coiled..

I once let my friend to copy
and things turned sloppy
Me and my friend were reprimanded
and a sincere apology was demanded…

When my teacher did lesson 4
I felt like dropping on the floor
Eagerly waiting for the moment till the bell
freedom i could smell…

I used to play cricket on the streets
where I proudly achieved several feats
In doing so I was bitten by a little pomeranian,with all its might
that made me run out of sight
I had to get 4 injections
luckily not in my stomach section…

 My childhood was queer with twists and turns
As everyone of us sometimes learns
I can never believe that those days are over
For they always bowl me over ….

Door to the Darshan

I had once been to one of the parties organised by my apartment complex here and one of the hot topics in discussion was about superbowl . While I have barely watched a full game of NFL , I still used to come across some of the commercial ads( atleast in the newschannels)  that made the grand finale, the SUPERBOWL the most viewed event across the globe.

On that day when the talks about the commercials were doing the rounds, my memory was spiralling backwards towards the 1996 Cricket World Cup back home  in India. My family was still in the pre-cable days.  One channel. One news, one version only. Cricket matches with only 2 cameras covering all the action. Commentary in Hindi( used to freak me out)  “Aur char run!”. and rarely sometimes I dare say in English.  What used to frustrate and irritate us was the commercials between each over of the matches . When the bowler had started his run up for second ball of the over ( first ball bowled long back) , the sight of  ” I am a complan boy” used to make me go crazy and made me crash the hell out of the idiot  box. Then came the interruption for the news . I used to go nuts when the announcement showed up and made me question the necessity for national news (looks so silly now!) .

But right now, in the world of ubiquitous commercialism ( facebook, orkut, youtube, twitter) and gung ho craziness for the NFL ads , it makes me feel like I am missing the grand old channel of India.   The incessant ads between the matches had actually registered and become impinged in my mind that I need them now to act as a catalyst of change.

It makes me think back and relive the enjoyable moments that I have had because of this one single channel.  The first thing that showed up in the channel daily was a time clock.. I used to get crazy over its tickings that culminated in the sweet music of the DD’s montage and the Vande Matram song. Then came the clip of “Ek Anek aur Ekta”, a video that was  all about giving a positive and powerful message to the whole nation , “United we Stand, Divided we Fall”. How we can create wonders by forgeting about the cast, creed and color of a man. It was so stunningly true and inspirational.

Then there was this “Mile sur Mera tumhara” ( the old version that was far far better) that addressed more on the unity of the nation. I used to memorise the song and wait for the moment where Narendra Hirwani used to run and the mahout who was so expressive in his lines !

Cometh the afternoon , I used to run from school with bated breath to watch ” Swabhimaan” , a hindi soap dubbed in tamil that made me glued to the box. Then came the little show ” small wonder” that was so funny and was a hit among the young kids.  I also remember “Vikram Aur Betaal”  that used to scare the shit out of me. The betal that was carried by the king felt as though it was mocking at me!

Then came “Surabhi” at 9:30 which had a title music which makes me cry now. It was a  TV show hosted by Renuka Shahane and the other guy whom I dont know. It was all about finding the treasures of talent hidden from ordinary people . In between the serial was the Amul ad that showcased what the real taste of India was. Then there was “Super hit Muqabala”, “Shriman Shrimati” , “All the Best” etc etc.

The best of the lot was again a hindi soap that used to go for eons of years .Even the dinosaurs could have seen it. “Junoon” was a major hit among all the families of India ( I dare say) and brought about the first cases of addiction.

One special mention shall be given to the various tamil dramas ( small stage acting) that included the amazing humourists like Crazy Mohan, SV Sekhar  and YG Mahendar . They all made my life so joyful .

I can go raving  about millions of soap operas and documentaries  that made watching Doordarshan an out of the world experience for its class , quality and pleasure. These shows were simple and one could really associate their life with it . When I watched those shows, it felt like it was a reflection of life.

For the readers sake, here is the list of the other shows I immensely enjoyed watching and never missed.

1) Chitrahaar 2) Giant Robot ( when I was a kid) 3. Mahabarath 4) Kanoon 5) rangoli 6) The BQC quiz by Barry O brian

Some of the ads that make me nostalgic are 1) Bajaj 2) Ariel 3) Lifebuoy 4) Titan 5) Digjam 6) Vicks action 500 7) Gold Spot

A la Cart

I had the wierdest of dreams yesterday, one which created a sense of dejavu but still did not make any sense to me initially. Here I am living in the US, the mose advanced nation in the world, the most sophisticated tech savvy place in the world.Cars are ubiquiotus,transportation is as simple as it could get. Yet, I had this dream ,the dream where I was traveling by a bullock cart with my
mom.We were sitting in the front and the cart was trodding along at less than a snails pace, the
poor old bull,whipped and whacked with a small string like object. It was very funny and was
one of the most unlikliest dreams that I coudl have gotten.
But yet suddenly,it made all the sense when I equated it to reality. Yes, some 18 years ago,
when I was precisely 5 years old,I was indeed commuting to my school in bullock carts!I was in
my kindergardens then, in a small village called Mannarkudi.The population of place was then
around 10000.The nearest railway station was some 15kms away. . will you believe, in those late 80’s,the
only form of commutations in that village were bullock carts and buses. Being an agricutural town, the economy was mainly based on income from agriculture.So you an sight oxes and bulls ploughing their way at every nook and corner of this place.
We lived in one corner house , a typical village house. We used to call it ” kook gramam” .It was a fairly small house and the roof was so low that even an average person ahd to bend over and enter. I studied in one famous school there ( not sure how many schools were there :P) and the school started at 9AM sharp.It was not a light year distance
away but still warranted some means of transport. The bullock cart guy came at 7:30 each day and the bell of the cart used to make me crazy . Unfortunately I did not like the poor guy who used to take me on that cart.I did not liek the shcool either. I still remember myself kicking hard on the turf,tryin every means to throw up what ever I ate that morning so that I could pretend I was sick .But I failed miserably at doing this though it worked intially. Eventually I was pushed into the cart by the big arms of the guy. I used to cry for soemtime and then as the school drew nearer, I went quiet.The sight of the bull used to terrorise me so badly that it I sat facing the opposite side of the cart.The cart was cushioned with bamboo strips and the cart used to be so slow that sometimes I used to reach only at the neck of the time.
It is hard for myself to believe that I actually remmeber so much of the past when I was only 5 years old but that particualr dream gave me a sentimental yearning and a wishful desire to return back to my child hood days.

bullock cart

I had the wierdest of dreams yesterday, one which created a sense of dejavu but still did not make any sense to me initially. Here I am living in the US, the most advanced nation in the world and the most sophisticated tech savvy place. Cars are ubiquitous,transportation is as simple as it can get. Yet, I had this dream ,the dream in which I was traveling by a bullock cart with my mom.We were sitting in the front and the cart was trotting along at less than a snails pace, the poor old bull,whipped and whacked with a  string like object. It was very funny and  one of the most unlikeliest dreams that I could have gotten. But yet suddenly,it made all the sense when I equated it to reality.

Yes, some 18 years ago, when I was precisely 5 years old,I was indeed commuting to my school in bullock carts! I was in my kindergartens then, in a small village called Mannarkudi.The population of place was then around 10000.The nearest railway station was some 15km away. Will you believe, in those late 80’s,the only form of transportation in this village were bullock carts and buses. Being an agricultural town, the economy was mainly based on income from agriculture.So  sighting oxes and bulls ploughing their way at every nook and corner of this place was not uncommon.

We lived in one corner house , a typical village house. We used to call the place a  ” kook gramam” .It was a fairly small house and the roof was so low that even a person of average height had to bend over and enter. I studied in one famous school there ( not sure how many schools were there ) and the school started at 9AM sharp.It was not a light year distance away but still warranted some means of transport.

The bullock cart guy came at 7:30 AM each day and the sound of the bell of the cart used to make me crazy . Unfortunately I did not like the poor guy who used to take me on that cart.I did not like the school either. I still remember myself kicking hard on the turf,trying every means to throw up what ever I ate that morning so that I could pretend I was sick . But I failed miserably at doing this. Inevitably I was pushed into the cart by the big arms of the guy I hated the most. The sight of the bull used to terrorise me so badly that I sat facing the opposite side of the cart. The cart used to be so slow that sometimes I used to reach only at the nick of the time.I used to cry for sometime and then as the school drew nearer, I went quiet.

Things have changed drastically since then and  the small village has now changed so much that I would not be able to even recognise the place and the school if at all I go there . But this particular dream gave me a sentimental yearning and a wishful desire to return back to my child hood days.

Do you know who I am ??

VIP

People, its time for the next edition. Of late, yours truly has been hearing a lot about blog writing and its styles. Some people have requested the author to be more humourous and motivational. Some have been critical of the predictable style of writing. The writer is very apreciative of the comments and suggestions and is very welcome to any advises in this regard. But on a personal note, this blogger wants only one thing primarily, to put across his point of views. The quintessential things about blog writing is to speak your mind , put your perspectives in an original and refreshing manner and opine honestly. Whether it is funny or it is serious or it is inspirational does not really matter. Well again, its the authors view and the junta may beg to differ.

Not to dwell too much on blogging, lets get back to our new post. Again, too many news coverages to digest. The spectacular solar eclipse, reports of continuing attacks on Indians in the land of joeys, the release of much hyped HP6 and of course the Tiger missing the cut for only the third time in his career ! Wait, have we missed something?? Some hoopla about some ex-president frisked away at an Indian airport?? Here we go, yet another occurence of disgruntled hypocritical Indian bureaucrats ! Nothing is very unpredictable to the Indian people . India is one land where its proud and faithful netizens are subjected to continous squirming and cribbing by disgruntled Government officials who apparently seem to be very meticulous when it comes to going by the book !

According to the media reports, the great former president Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam was subjected to a security search and even asked to take his shoes off by the airline staff just as he was about to board an aircraft; he was made to stand in line with other passengers. Both the houses of the Indian Parliment has erupted in protest against the airlines and have been hugely appalled by the treatment meted out to a former first man , who is hugely respected the world over. Politicians seem to think that there are a certain set of protocols to be followed and recognised the world over. They cannot take it when the Very Very Special persons of the Indian democracy are treated like the ordinary juntas.

Right from watching sports matches to observing traffic rules to standing in queues (from temples to supermarkets to cinemas) to travelling in business classes , Indian has exceptions for all VIP’s . Every sense of the word “democracy” is blighted by this insanely previliged treatment for a seemingly special class of human beings. In this beautiful land of rich cultural heritages and natural divinity, money is everything. The preamble of our consitution states that “WE, THE PEOPLE OF INDIA, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a SOVEREIGN SOCIALIST SECULAR DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC and to secure to all its citizens EQUALITY .. ..” . The word equality is a myth in this country ruled by ostentatious and diplomats. India has rituals of extreme importance when it comes to issues of VIP’s .

It was seemingly an ‘insult’ to the national pride and humiliation to the great man . It was indeed the humbleness and the stature of the great scientist that he did not comment on the issue and it was not a problem at all to him. But to the higher hypocrats, its a much debatable issue, maybe one more addition to their vote bank kitty ! Had it been an ordinary passenger on board who had been mishandled or even thrown out, we would have had no great fuss and probably the issue would have been sitting in one bottom corner of a tea shop local tabloid. After all , security checks are meant for people who appear as a danger to the society and they normally do not have much money and power !

It is time for India to act on issues like poverty, controlling the population and literacy than to keep drooling and dwelling on routine security checks that for once included a VIP . To end on a lighter note, a former US president was caught by the members of the press once for not wearing a seat belt when he was ‘driving slowly’ in a truck inside his own ranch ! The White house seceratary had to explain on his behalf . What a stark contrast between the most powerful wealthy nation in the world and the largest democracy in the world!!

Why so much publicity son??

MJ

Folks!! Time for another post.This time its gonna be a little shorter. Looks like we are flooded with news again.Not of the least, the majestic and nailbiting swiss victory at wimbledon, the overwhelming memorial forMJ, the usual “oops wall street down again” news and many more. I was debating with my friends for quite a long time about whats going to follow in the blog . And I was left with a feeling that probably the argument can be visualized from both sides. I thought this was going to be a little too cliched but it was time I expressed my views.

Well, the basic source of the debate was the memorial of Micheal Jackson. The apparently ‘sudden’ demise of the king of pop came as a brute shock to evryone. There were scenes of people whining and sobbing on the streets . The memorial was something unprecedented for any individual from the entertainment scene.  It seems the world’s attention has been focused on Michael Jackson’s life, his career, his death, and even a concern over his last will and testament.  Not only the tabloids, but also respected world news coverage have had a heyday over his passing. Well, my questions were, were his talents unmatched? Was he the real king of pop?? Was he not aided by the fact that he was born in a country that had crazy gung ho medias, the paparrazis who go beserk after any page 3 celebrity?? Was there anyone else in the world who could have entertained us equally? All these questions led to what was a very heated discussion.

Micheal was a serious talent. No doubt about that. It was newsworthy. He rose through his sheer talents and its hard for anyone to live up to the hype and expectations. But was he not helped by the fact that he was born in an English speaking nation which had the most followers for the entertainment industry?  He got the richest endorsements ,which are reflected by our insatiable taste for glamour and as exemplified in soap operas and reality shows. To the US , idolization and identification with a superstar personality is not unusual. Sports fans spend billions of dollars each year on jerseys, equipment, and memorabilia of their favorite players and teams. Movie fans, likewise, spend huge amounts of money not only going to movies but dressing, acting, and attempting to look like their favorite stars. And music fans buy albums and videos, download songs, go to concerts, and idolize and identify with their alter egos. It is this marketing and promoting of individuals as gods which has been one of the mian contributing factors for MJ’s rise to an iconic and godly status. Sadly, my point is that the same reach is not present in any other nation.

For example , countries like India and China have a population bigger than the US. But it is very hard to achieve this kind of a reach and publicity in these countries. This is due to various factors like language barriers, differences in wealth of individuals, lack of concerts and shows , the kind of bureaucratic setups and the general lack of regard for entertainment as a “larger than life” symbol. There are so many raw supreme talents in so many different nations who are struggling to make it the next level on to the big stage . There is no mass hysteria and mob phsycology in these places. So even as greatly talented as a  AR Rahman or a Ilayaraja are, they do not enjoy the same king of reverence as a MJ enjoyed. I would go as far to say that AR Rahman was awarded an Oscar not because it was his best composition but because the song catered to a film that was made by a non Indian and because it dealt about the poverty in India. And you do not have the same kind of reality shows or media coverage or an award function as glamorous as the Cannes or the Oscars .

MJ was a deep loss to the music world in terms of his sheer entertainment, his ability to pull crowds and his capabiities to  influence music, lyrics, videos, dancing, stage presentation, and overall showmanship. But to me , there are always many more unnoticed souls in his world who could have given MJ a run for his money.

fear it! the oozing ozzie spirit!

anzac-dvd-title

Hey guys, walkman is back . I know that  it has  taken a long time to add another entry to the crap collection. It really has been a hectic time following all that is making the news. Wimbledon and MJ have grabbed the top attention for the past two weeks. This blog is about a thought that has been captured in my mind for so long but which really blossomed when I was watching the Hewitt Roddick game at Wimbledon. It was a see saw battle in which the real fighting spirit and gutsiness of a former champ was on show.  Eventually, the 2002 champion’s rather surprising dream run ended but not before he had carried on not for the first time the epitome of the famous Ozzie die hard spirit.

I have long been wondering why is it that Australia keeps producing truly outstanding personalities who have an indomitable doggedness in them . Its hard to imagine that a country of its size can be such a developed nation ,one which not only leads the world of sports but is one of the the most equipped in health care, life expectancy, quality-of-life, human development, public education, economic freedom, and the protection of civil rights. From Ian Thorpe to Rod Laver to Margret Court to Cathy Freeman to Donald Bradman to Russel Crowe to Mel Gibson and many more ,  this small commonwealth country has produced so many heroes who have unmatched records and talents. But each and every individual born in this country has a grit, a determination and a courage that is inexpungable. Maybe a typical farmers tenaciousness and utilitarian qualities have been imbibed in them . Or it could be the intrinsic quality of a new born joey .

To me ,each and every Australian victory conveys  in essence  the extraordinary value of human endeavour supported by the spirit of challenge and the willingness to work hard to reach set goals. This spirit is reflected not only in sports, but in other fields as well.Probably this is more pronounced on the field in sports where persistence and dogmatism is the essence of survival. What it tells us is that the Aussies have courted triumph in more than one sport simply because they have put their heart and soul into the preparations for reaching the summit.

An aberration and an exception here and there like the off field acts of the troubled genius Shane Warne or the indespicability of the ‘sledging’ attitude does not truly take away the overall impression that Australia is among the few countries where  supremacy  is an established fact. It is all about building strength ,the valor to fight it out when the chips are down. The Australians have always been sophisticated and well trained when it comes to any occupation . No other country has such a high regard for agriculture and no other nation can match the infrastructure and the equipments that go into the farming sector. Similarly , the Australian sporting academies are so far above the rest that it is hard to perceive the country being kicked out from any premier sporting event in the early stages.

Even the worst of the bush fires , the forest storms or the hurricanes cannot erase the indelible mark that a typical Ozzie charecter portrays. After all its the oozing Ozzie spirit !!

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