Thursday, November 11, 2010

Interview with blogadda

Here is blogadda's interview with me. Apparently I am known outside of my cubicle. Warning : The post contains partial frontal nudity.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

A Traveler's guide to Philadelphia

I often receive emails from distant acquaintances who have decided to travel to Philadelphia on vacation and have come to know, probably from another distant acquaintance, that I live there. The email will usually be very effusive. More effusive than this person ever was in real life with me. And it will usually go something like, "Hiiiiiii!!!! gawker, do you remember me, we were cellmates in prison, I was the one who snitched on you and let the warden know about your plan to escape through the washbasin. Anyways, I am traveling to Philadelphia this summer. If I were visiting you in Philadelphia, which I'm not, where in Philadelphia would you take me to?"

The problem is, it is somewhat difficult to come up with a Philly itinerary on the spur of the moment. Some have chosen the production of tourist brochures as a career choice and I am not one of them. However, since Philadelphia appears to be quite a popular destination among Indians and since I happen to live in its vicinity, I took it upon myself to compile a list of what Philadelphia has to offer. Let us begin in the suburbs.

Valley Forge Historic Park

About 10 to 15 miles north-west of Philadelphia lies Valley Forge National Historic Park. Here is where General George Washington camped out with his troops in the winter of 1777 while pondering an attack on Philadelphia, which had been captured by the British and whose residents were now being forced to "smoke fags" and spell color with a "u".

The highlight of your tour of the park will be the hundred or so revolutionary era huts scattered about the park in which the miserable continental army camped out in horrible conditions, all the while, no doubt blaming Mexican immigrants for their plight. Another feature of this park are the massive herds of free-roaming deer who, due to the no-hunting policy instituted within the park, have reciprocated by utilizing every free moment to reproduce.

Of course, the reason the good general and his army had to camp out in this hellhole, however pristine, was something that took place a couple of years before in the city of Philadelphia, specifically, in Independence Hall.

Independence Hall

If you are aware of the existence of Philadelphia without having actually lived here, then the following is probably the extent of your knowledge of this city. Here is where the declaration of Independence was signed in 1776, which propelled the American colonists into a revolutionary war against Great Britain. In this brick building, you will visit the great hall where the actual Declaration of Independence was signed. Here, you will also discover that the great hall that you are standing in might not actually have been the place where the Declaration of Independence was signed. And, the furniture on display in the hall might not have been the furniture from that time. Even the windows you see from inside cannot be seen from outside, which means that even the fucking windows are fake. And the guide providing you with all this information is probably not a guide either but just some homeless guy who wandered inside with the intention of stealing wallets, but after finding out it was full of Indians, abandoned his plan.

Basically, apart from a general GPS proximity to the area, the current Independence Hall probably has no resemblance to the original Independence Hall. Heck, who the fuck knows if there even was an Independence Hall?

But you should go there regardless, because that's Independence Hall, bitches. It's not the building but what it stands for that's important, namely, Big Macs and Walmart. Also, it's got great public restrooms which by itself makes it an excellent tourist destination in Philly. It is also very close to the Liberty Bell.

The Liberty Bell

If Philadelphia were a burger franchise, it would distribute its bell-shaped burgers in a container shaped like a bell by a person wearing a bell for a cap, ringing a bell to let you know your order's ready. So, what is this famous bell that everybody keeps talking about?

The Liberty Bell is a unique relic from the revolutionary era. Its primary claim to fame is the giant crack that festers upon one of its sides. It's secondary claim to fame is that it was rung on July 8 1776 to summon the good citizens of Philadelphia for the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Of course, like every other piece of Philadelphia history, historians doubt that this actually happened. But that doesn't matter. For this bell has The Crack.

The Liberty Bell is the proud owner of the second-most famous crack in the world, the first belonging to Jennifer Lopez. It was a product of amazing 18th century American workmanship that caused it to crack during its very first test-ringing. Even after this debacle, people kept ringing the bell on festive occasions such as George Washington's birthday, Lafayette's return to Philadelphia and Alexander Hamilton's death. Ultimately, the growth of the crack caused the bell to become unusable, after which the primary purpose it served was in drawing tourist money to Philadelphia.

While visiting the Liberty Bell, you need to make sure that you are standing on the crack side of the bell. You see, the crack is only visible from one side. This is very important. If you visit the Liberty Bell but do not get to see its famous crack, it would be akin to traveling to New York and failing to get a blow job from a crack whore under the Brooklyn Bridge. Why, if you fail to see the fucking crack, you might as well not visit the damn thing at all, and merely get drunk at the Triumph Brewery instead.

The Triumph Brewery

Regardless of whether you visit the Liberty Bell or not, you should still visit the Triumph Brewery in Old City. Here, on the banks of the Delaware river (which you cannot see from the brewery per se) you will be able to sample the best of Philadelphia's microbrews. However, if you are planning to eat here, it would help if you are a person of small appetite. While I would not say that the portions have been specifically designed to fit comfortably inside a 5 year old's belly, well, why not, I would indeed say that. But the good news is, this area is well-endowed with other eating joints that are sure to satisfy the palate of every ethnicity. So drink your fill here and for lunch, go someplace else, say, the Reading Terminal Market.

The Reading Terminal Market

If the city of Philadelphia were a brothel, the Reading Terminal Market would be its flagship whore. The Reading Terminal Market is located right next door to the Market East train station in Central Philly.The history of this market can be traced back to mid-19th century Philadelphia when there used to be a number of open-air markets serving the city. After these open-air markets became dirty and unhygienic, city officials decided to bring all that dirt and lack of hygiene indoors and that is how the Reading Terminal Market came into existence.

The market has a number of shops selling all kinds of stuff, from produce to books to hippy alternative medicine to pigs feet to bluefish collars and parrotfish cheeks. While browsing through the market, the slightly depressing thought might pass through your mind that somewhere in the ocean, collarless bluefish are pointing and laughing at cheekless parrotfish. Dismiss it. Remind yourself of all those brainless humans who have it worse. The market is also chock-full of eating joints that offer the cuisine of a multitude of nationalities and ethnicities. Be aware that being violently hungry is a necessary condition for visiting the Reading Terminal Market. Going there on a full stomach would be akin to watching a pornographic movie after masturbating twice in rapid succession. It simply serves no purpose.

Since this place is usually packed to the brim, following a few simple rules of navigation would make your life a lot easier. Most importantly, if you're in a crowd of people that appears not to have moved at all within the last ten minutes, it is highly likely that you're standing in a line of some sort. It is then time to gently start nudging people aside, accompanied, if necessary with the threat of physical violence and move along.

Also, when you are moving from point A to point B, forget about the crow and how it prefers to fly in a straight line. A crow faces very little traffic in the air. You, on the other hand, will. So another rule of navigation in Reading Market is, always travel the perimeter route, which is usually less trafficked. The reason for that being the occasional garbage piles and the stink of death. But if you are from India, you should have little trouble dealing with it.

There are a number of such pockets of death scattered about the market where you might suddenly experience an overwhelming desire to faint. Just keep moving, and it will be replaced by pleasanter smells. The key is to keep moving.

Now, since I am a paranoid Indian from a country where being paranoid is necessary for staying alive and in good financial health, every time I am in a crowd, I keep checking my wallet. In Reading Terminal Market, despite the crowd, there is very little need to do so. Most of the people here are hungry and are searching for food. They have no use for wallets. However, if you are carrying a sandwich in your pocket, it might be worthwhile to check up on it periodically.

And as far as possible, try not to carry a frying pan with you. The temptation to hit people with it will be too strong to overcome.

Although the Reading Market gives you a large number of eating options, one of the best ones is the Rib Stand that sells fully cooked baby back and beef short ribs. Here, you will find heaven in the short term. And for adult beverages, you may check out the beer garden in the center of the market.

Note : The Rib stand does not have a place to sit and eat. Therefore, you will have to hijack the seating space of some other eating establishment. To avoid finding yourself in an awkward situation with the management of said establishment, make sure that it has a sufficiently eclectic menu so that your foreign foodstuffs may blend in.

In the unlikely event that nothing in Reading Terminal Market appeals to the gourmet in you, you have a final option to fall back on. The mighty South Philly cheesesteak.

The Mighty South Philly Cheesesteak

The mighty South Philly Cheesesteak inhabits the southern end of the city of Philadelphia. It may also be found hanging around in various other pockets of the city, but in order to experience the racially pure version, you will have to travel to South Philly.

You have a couple of choices : Pat's King of Steaks or Geno's steaks. These two restaurants are located on the same street, facing each other. Rumor is, they have a long history of rivalry that includes steak fights where foot-soldiers from each establishment battle each other with hunks of raw rib-eye and survivors feast on the spoils of victory all night until the breaking light of dawn.

I recommend you try both. Like this guy did.

The fact of the matter is, until you've tasted a Philly cheesesteak, you haven't really experienced Philadelphia. Or a clogged artery.

Thursday, March 25, 2010


Standing on the pavement outside the Bank of Maharashtra, I was gazing at a shack on the opposite side of the road, called "Narasimha snacks and real estate" and trying to imagine what the payroll at this establishment would look like - Cook, realtor, waiter, appraiser, tableboy, mortgage agent - when one of those Pune Municipal Corporation tow trucks pulled up to the curb and began loading up two-wheelers that had violated the perimeter of the two meter wide strip on the pavement allocated for parking purposes.

Immediately, bank customers started to fly out of the building, most of them women, most of whom were already zipping open their purses for the expeditious disbursal of bribe money. The truck driver watched the moneyed mob approach with a look of open disapproval on his face, shook his head to frantic pleadings for mercy in a glorious display of honesty and impeccable work ethic and drove off. Drove off slowly. Very slowly. Slow enough for the delinquent two-wheeler rider with the amplest of proportions to be able to keep up with him comfortably by trotting alongside. After reaching the other end of the strip mall, he stopped. I was not able to see what was transpiring but apparently business was conducted that was deemed satisfactory by all parties involved. Two wheelers were unloaded from the truck, purses were no doubt made lighter to the tune of a couple hundred rupees and everybody disappeared from the premises including the honesty and the impeccable work ethic.

A little old man with two teeth, wearing a Sherlock Holmes cap, who'd been observing the scene at my side, spoke up.

"Sala police, why do they have to do that, why do they have to keep troubling the public with their nonsense?", he said.

"They're just doing their job, uncle", I said.

"What job? When there is a crime, they take thirty minutes to arrive and thirty days to tell you they cannot do anything. But for taking our two-wheelers, they are always ready", said the old man.

"Mmmhm", I said.

"They are here to save, but all they do now is eat our money. Instead of Rakshak, they have become Bhakshak", continued the old man.

"Bhakshak instead of Rakshak", he repeated, obviously liking his idiomatic creation.

"Yes", I said.

"They are very naughty fellows, very naughty", said the old man, switching to English. From the expression on his face, it was clear that he had very little patience with naughtiness.

"You are correct, uncle", I replied.

The old man then took out a pouch of tobacco, a vial of lime and began mixing together the contents of both in his palm in a pensive manner.

"No one does farming anymore", he said, abruptly changing the topic. "Who is going to farm now?"

The old man continued to till the field of tobacco in his palm. Finally, gathering up the tobacco-lime mixture, he stuffed it into his mouth. The puzzle of the two teeth was finally solved.

"My bus is here", he said.

And then, he was gone.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Adventures in Pune traffic and clubbing

A friend called me up. Let's go clubbing, he said. Thousand Oaks? Thousand Oaks it was.

I would drive to his house, from where we would take his car to the pub. It was time to bring out the old two-wheeler.

The last time I rode a two-wheeler in Pune was six years ago. My dad was therefore concerned about my ability to stay upright in Pune traffic.

"Why don't you take a rickshaw, instead?", dad suggested. "Our old Kinetic Honda is very unstable, as it is".

"Dad, what are you talking about", I said. "There's a brand new Kinetic Zoom in our driveway".

"That's actually the Kinetic Honda", replied my dad. "I gave it a fresh coat of paint and attached a Kinetic Zoom sticker to it".

"What? That's our old scooter?" I was unconvinced. To verify my dad's claim, I climbed onto it and tried to kick back the stand. It was fucking stiff. Stiff as dead guy boner. Definitely 20 year old Kinetic Honda stiff.

But I had decided that I needed wheels of my own for the duration of my trip, so my dad finally handed over the keys.

Our Kinetic Honda is a masterpiece of Japanese engineering. At least, it was that 20 years ago when it was manufactured. Now, it is a great example of how a bunch of free-floating automobile parts can stay together purely through Newtonian forces of attraction.

Problem one was apparent the moment I turned on the headlights. Through some weird optical calisthenics, the light from the bulb, instead of illuminating the path ahead of me, was shining back at me through the speedometer dial.

The second problem was petrol consumption. This particular scooter burns a whopping one percent of petrol it consumes and releases the rest back into the care of Mother Nature.

The third problem was Pune traffic. Now, I know from old experience that the correct way to drive in Pune is to bid adieu to common sense and every natural reflex you possess and drive not IN, but directly AT traffic. When you do that, like the Red Sea at Moses' command, it shall part. That is, as long as you keep ignoring that tiny little terrified voice inside your head, requesting you to kindly not do that please. However, a decade in the US appears to have corrupted my Pune-traffic navigation skillset.

Although the traffic in Pune has increased, to be fair, a number of new roads have also been built. Where previously stood irrigation canals and wilderness, there are now roads that were built on top of those canals. The problem is, the trees that grew on the banks of those canals continue to exist. So as you are driving your two-wheeler on one of these roads, you should not be surprised if you suddenly find yourself clasped in a tight embrace with the trunk of one of these buggers. Growing, not in the middle of the road on the divider, but in the middle of the fucking left lane. The good news is, as you look up into the branches of the tree, you will discover that you are part of an entire community of Pune tree-dwellers who have arrived at the conclusion that life on a tree is far less hazardous than that on a two-wheeler.

Then, there are the newly built paths designated "bicycle cum homeless" that have been built to accommodate either bicyclists or the homeless, depending on who stakes claim to the path first.

Another huge improvement is the disappearance of pig-horns. These were powerful road-clearing devices popular in the 90s, devised for emergencies whereby the deployment of one would not only cause the two-wheeler rider in front of you to offer you the right of way, but also get him to crash into the sidewalk through the pure terror of being pursued by a feral beast. These now appear to have been replaced by the "baby-cry" horn which replicates the sound of a baby as it howls for food. These are however no less disconcerting because they make you fear for your safety, followed as you are, by a hungry baby on a Hero Honda who may or may not be conversant with traffic rules.

However, the biggest issue with Pune traffic now is the pollution, which is especially problematic if you're riding a two-wheeler. I do not know how two-wheeler riders manage to not get asphyxiated as they wait at traffic signals. Hitler would have adored Pune traffic (/end of tasteless Holocaust gas chamber joke).

An interesting aspect of Pune traffic are the confrontations. They usually occur at traffic signals, when the aggrieved party pulls up to the allegedly guilty party from behind and proceeds to inquire as to the legitimacy of one of his prior actions. The funny thing is, as long as the traffic light is red, the argument is quite peaceful, convivial even.

"Hello sir, do you realize that you did not have the right to cut me off back there?", says the miffed scooter rider.

"Oh hello, I'm sorry, but I own a car and as you can see, it outweighs your scooter by as many as 500 kilos, so quite obviously, I shall always have the right of way with you", explains the car driver quite patiently.

But after the light turns green and the threat of violent physical altercation has passed, that is when vocal belligerence begins.

"Gandu, I will hit your face so hard, you will bleed out of your anus", says the car driver as he speeds ahead.

"I will fucking rape your mother and tell the police your dad did it, madarchod", yells the scooter rider as he waves his fist at the car while simultaneously utilizing it as a shield against cross traffic.

That is Pune traffic.

Braving all this and more, I drove to my friend's place, from where we drove to Thousand Oaks in his car.

We appeared to be early. The place was virtually empty and we got two good seats near the bar, right in front of the TV playing the Mumbai-Bangalore IPL match.

Thousand Oaks has these small circular barstools, kind of like humongous mushrooms that barely accommodate one of your buttocks at a time. And they are so low that when you sit on one, you have to make sure you don't bump your knee into your jaw.

I ordered a bottle of Kingfisher beer, which seems to be pretty much the only beer available in Pune pubs. Seriously, I've had it with Kingfisher. A girl next to us was drinking something from a pitcher that looked kind of interesting. I decided to try and find out what it was.

As the saying goes, the way to a woman's pitcher is through her heart. My wife's voice inside my head said to me, "Okay, you may proceed. But make it fast".

I smiled at the girl. She smiled back.

"What is that stuff that you're drinking?", I asked her.

"Long Island iced tea", she replied.

"Oh okay, so am I", I said.

"No, you're not", said my wife's voice. "We're done here".

So I turned back to my beer.

On the other side, there was a guy entertaining a couple of ladies. Every 5 minutes, he would get a call on his cellphone and scamper out to take it. I've made this general observation in Pune that people never seem to reject cellphone calls. Doesn't matter how pressing the business they are currently attending to, a cellphone call HAS to be accepted.

For example, I'll be in my therapist's office (yes, my Pune guy) telling him, "So Doctor, I have all these heads that I..", and then he receives a phone call. He says to me, "Hold that thought", proceeds to accept it and tells the person on the line, "No, sister, that's the chilli pickle. The lime pickle is in the jar next to it", without being unduly concerned about the heads I'm referring to.

I have been informed by a number of people that pubs in Pune appear to be stuck in a musical time warp. Thousand Oaks was no exception. The DJ began with a Guns n Roses song. Following that up with a Pink Floyd number. Then, another Guns n Roses number, that was then followed by something from Metallica's black album. As the musical timeline progressed from 1996 to 1997, the crowd got even wilder till finally at 1998, they were partying like it was 1999. From my conversation with one such reveller, I came to know that he was celebrating because "who knows what's gonna happen when the clock strikes 2000".

At 11:30 the party ended, as is mandated by Pune Municipal Corporation decree and we all filed out.

But that night, I couldn't sleep because I couldn't stop worrying about the upcoming Y2K problem.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Hiking up Mt. Whatsitsface

I woke up at 4:30 AM yesterday. Partly because my body continues to be unaware of its exact whereabouts, whether it's the US, India or the mid-Atlantic ridge. Also, in part because I was planning on hiking up Mt Whatsitsface that morning.

I was in Girivan, a private hill station near Pune with my family where my sister has built a bungalow at the base of Mt. Whatsitsface, a mountain that rises up above the rest of the village to a height of, let's say, a thousand feet, give or take five hundred. Historically, it was named Mt. Whatsitsface in the 2010s after numerous inquiries with regard to its name yielded no answers.

So there I was, standing outside the house at 6:00 in the morning, waiting for the caretaker Prabhakar, who was also going to be my guide, to show up. Apparently I needed a guide because otherwise I would fall off the mountain and die. It was still dark and I waited patiently, listening to morning sounds. And smelling morning smells. I decided to perform a few push-ups to kill time. I managed to do 30, give or take 25. Then it was back to waiting. Just then, I heard somebody running hard. Really hard. I guessed it was Prabhakar, really really eager to take me up the mountain of his ancestors.

It turned out to be a little brown dog, who appeared to be running for his life. After making a sharp right and squatting underneath the gate, he entered our garden and stood there with terror in his eyes. I could empathize because once, I used to be little and brown. And on occasion, I've had to run for my life. Thinking quickly, I gestured towards the back of the garden where I knew was a secret exit into the woods. Without pausing to bark his thanks at me, the dog ran out back.

After about 10 seconds, I heard some more running and three large white dogs appeared with the demeanor of people looking for a little brown dog. I stood there with a look on my face that said I hadn't seen a little brown dog and even if I had, you are too big to fit underneath the gate anyways, so eat me. They left, still looking.

I continued to wait. Finally, I saw Prabhakar in the distance, carrying what appeared to be an immensely long bamboo pole. It appeared that the plan was to pole-vault me onto the top of the mountain. As he opened the gate, I said to him, "Good morning Prabhakar, not to rain on your parade here, but I forgot to bring my blow-absorbent clothing and helmet."

"What?", he said.

"You know", I said and pointed at the bamboo pole.

"That's for the Gudi", said Prabhakar. "It's Gudi Padva today".

"Ah, yes", I said, realizing that today was indeed the Maharashtrian new year.

"Let me just get the Gudi up and then we'll leave", said Prabhakar.

"Okay", I said, hoping he wouldn't ask for help, thereby exposing the fraudulence of my Hindu affiliations.

Luckily, he was an expert at Gudi installation and did not require any assistance. After putting up the Gudi (which kind of resembles a broom all dressed up to be married to a mop from a wealthy family) and banging out milk from a coconut, he offered me a piece of its flesh as prasad which I gratefully accepted since I hadn't had any dinner the previous night. We then set off on our expedition.

The road up the mountain passed by Prabhakar's house, where he picked up his cellphone, no doubt to be able to phone in an emergency response team after I were to disappear off the side of the mountain. The road then turned into a footpath, began its ascent up the mountainside and got much steeper. Prabhakar, who is a wiry little guy, was making good time. Actually, much better time than I was because I was basically standing still, having propped myself against a tree and wiping my forehead.

"Hoy, Prabhakar", I yelled. "Can we go a bit slower?"

"Okay", he yelled back. I couldn't even see him.

"You know, it's just that I'm doing this for the first time in my life", I lied, hoping God wouldn't exact vengeance upon my mendacity by deleting all my hiking blog posts.

As I caught up with him, I asked him the question that had been constantly preying upon my mind.

"By the way Prabhakar, what is the name of this mountain that we are climbing?", I said.

"The mountain itself has no name, but this gap that we are climbing up to is called 'Waghjaichi Khinda'", he replied.

Waghjai can be loosely translated into Marathi as "Tiger goes".

"Why Waghjai?", I asked him, hoping to hear it's because tigers never went there.

"It's called that after the temple of Goddess Waghjai on top of the mountain", replied Prabhakar.

"Ah", I said. So that was that.

The path then grew even steeper, with leaves and small stones appearing on it, causing me to slip quite a bit. In addition, I was carrying a water bottle that was grossly impeding my efforts to grab on to the ground as I fell.

"Very dangerous section, this is", I said to Prabhakar, who, it appeared, was texting on his cellphone as he climbed.

"Here, give me that water bottle", he said, astutely realizing the issue.

I gratefully handed it over to him.

"Thanks", I said. "It's just that my shoes, you know, they aren't really meant for hiking", I said, pointing to my Timberland hiking boots. "They don't grip the ground as well as your....err....leather dress shoes".

After continuing to climb some more, we finally reached the flat top of Waghjai gap. There was a rather splendid view of the Mulshi valley with tiny hamlets clustered near the bottom of the mountain and Mulshi lake and dam farther along to the right. I could also see Sinhagad fort dimly outlined against the sky on the left. And on the other side, the twin forts of Lohagad-Visapur.

As I was wandering around, I saw a path going up the side of the mountain. I squinted at it because it was really hard to make out in the distance. What was worse was that I was standing five feet away from it.

"Is that the way up?", I asked Prabhakar.

"Yes", he replied.

"Okay then, I think we've climbed enough for today", I said. "Splendid view here, really splendid", I added and made to turn back.

"What's the matter? Don't you wish to visit the temple of the Goddess and offer your prayers?", said Prabhakar, visibly surprised.

"Well, it's just that I have problems with that path", I said, pointing at the thin, barely visible line on the mountainside. "It looks kind of slippery and there's very little to hang on to. Also, it's a direct fall to the bottom of the valley. And, I have height sickness", I added, just to round everything up nicely.

Prabhakar seemed unconvinced. "You know, a lot of 60 year olds have hiked that path".

"Well, I am almost 60", I replied. I am indeed closer to 60 than I am to 0.

"60 year old women", he added.

"Oh", I said. There really was nothing I could say to that.

"But I guess we can turn back if you want", said Prabhakar.

"I would like that", I said.

So, we turned back.

The hike back down was much more difficult than the hike up. I asked Prabhakar to let me go first. "Just so if I fall, I don't take you with me and you can save your own life", I explained. He seemed to appreciate my concern for his safety.

When we reached the section with leaves and stones, Prabhakar offered me the use of his stick. I declined.

"When I fall, I usually like to grab on to air and I won't be able to do that if I'm holding a stick", I explained.

As we were climbing down, I asked Prabhakar, "Has anybody ever fallen off this path"? It seemed unlikely that no one had because it wasn't a very easy hiking trail.

"No", he replied. "Not to my knowledge. In fact, even 60 year old women have made this hike with relative comfort", he added.

"Yes, you told me about the 60 year old women", I said to him, "but thanks for reminding me".

After fifteen more minutes of easier descending, we were back in the village. After paying him for his services, I told him that I'd be back and this time, we would go right up to the top and the temple of the Goddess. What I didn't tell him was that I'd also be bringing a 60 year old woman with me.

You know, because I'm really skeptical about that whole 60 year old woman business.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

The Flight

So here I am, back in the mother country after a hiatus of four years. I was told by a number of people to look forward to a lot of change. Lord, there were changes, and how. The most important change for me was, no more free booze on trans-Atlantic flights. What? This doesn't make any sense! I know a number of people who keep flying across the Atlantic just for the free booze. Me, for one. In this depressed economy, why would airlines risk losing this valuable segment of their clientele for some trivial savings in alcohol?

So since I knew I would be paying for booze anyways, I decided to start imbibing in the airport itself. Newark airport is an alcoholic's paradise. From the security check-in right up to the gates, I passed a number of fine drinking establishments, beginning with the Heineken lounge, which was full of people graphically demonstrating their enthusiasm for this rather ordinary beverage in outlandish ways irritating to the average person, and culminating in the Sam Adams lounge, where people were drinking Sam Adams. And lounging. This way of life looked good to me, so I jumped right into it.

The barmaid turned out to be very friendly. I ordered a Boston Lager, paid her in cash and began looking for a seat near a power outlet. The barmaid yelled after me.

"Are you in loaf?"

She had a pronounced Spanish accent.

"Excuse me?", I said, stopping in my tracks.

"I said, are you in loaf?", she repeated.

"What? Why are you asking me that?", I said.

While she disappeared momentarily to tend to another customer, I gave the guy at the next seat a puzzled glance.

"Has she asked you if you're in love?", I said.

"No", he replied.

"Why's she asking me that, then?", I said.

"Maybe she wants to lay you right here on the counter", he replied.

I started thinking, perhaps it would be a good time to be running for my life. Before I could do that, the lady returned.

"Hey, come on, are you in loaf?", she said.

"Why do you keep asking me that?", I said.

"Here, you gave me an extra twenty dollar bill", she said. "You got to be in loaf".

I grabbed the cash and found a seat.

For the next three hours, I proceeded to do Jim Koch proud. In fact, I'm pretty sure I did his father, grandfather and two uncles on his wife's side proud as well. With the entire line of heavenly Kochs bestowing upon me the golden shower of their pride, I went to the gate and boarded the plane.

I had a window seat and sure enough, it turned out to be right slam bang in the geometric center of the wing. There was no way I would be seeing any scenery unless, cross your fingers, the wing were to fall off. But I'd heard disturbing stories about people having faced some difficulty in flying a trans-Atlantic jumbo jetliner with only one intact wing so I uncrossed my fingers.

Continental Airlines has some bizarre food on its Newark-Mumbai flights. It's almost as if the company has no Indian employees and none of its employees have any Indian acquaintances. So when it came to creating a menu for, let's say at a conservative guess, a half-planeful of Indian people, Continental Airlines was nonplussed. So they turned to the Great Gazoogle for advice. Searched for the term "Indian food", randomly paired each search result with an item of American food and voila, there was the menu.

The main course was chicken biryani. With chicken prepared Italian style. There was also salad. With two green chillies that had about as much spice content as a cotton blanket. And there was moong dal. Which appeared to have been sauted in butter with breadcrumbs. And for dessert, there was shrikhand. Followed by fat free plain yogurt. All in all, a strange exotic dinner. No doubt prepared by someone with the head of an Indian, the body of an American and the breasts of Angelina Jolie. I don't know, it's just that studies have concluded that every male thinks about Angelina Jolie's breasts about once every 5 seconds.

I don't know what it is about Indians that makes it extremely difficult for them to stay seated on flights. It's like they are just aching to be liberated from the shackles of relaxed buttock and pain-free lower back. And it's always the guy in front of you. He's either getting up from his seat and looking around, trying to gauge the probability of success of inciting a mass uprising against the pilot's fascist diktat of remaining seated until the fasten seat-belts sign's been turned off, or jabbing his fingers at the LCD, trying to get it to work, even though everybody else's is clearly also showing the same start-up screen. That is why when you have to fart in the plane (and let us not pretend that you don't because that would contradict the very laws of physics), it's a good idea to direct the jet right at the person in front of you. See, you don't know the guy behind you. For all you know, he might be a decent fellow, perhaps even a philanthropist, trying to save the world from AIDS and hunger. He certainly deserves the benefit of doubt. On the other hand, the guy in front of you is definitely a douchebag. He's probably responsible for half the world's AIDS and hunger. So fuck him and let the methane fly.

Despite the unorthodox and slightly nauseating food, I had a great flight. Hey, how could you go wrong with non-stop? Plus, my entire row of seats was unoccupied so I had a considerable amount of leg room to indulge my restless legs syndrome in. And soon, in what appeared to be practically no time whatsoever, the plane was preparing for its final descent, the pilot had turned the fasten seat-belts sign back on and the asshole in front of me was again looking for people to accompany him in playing catch in the aisles.

Mumbai airport was a pleasant surprise. Somebody appears to have finally come to a realization that even though the airport is government property, that in itself does not mandate its resemblance to a government office in appearance. The walls seemed to have been freshly painted, the corridors were lush with carpeting and even the signs requesting travelers not to jump into a cab with a random stranger offering to accompany you to a hotel were far more persuasive, affiliated as they were with an institute of considerably less decrepitude than before.

The other thing I noticed about Mumbai airport is that in order to get to the Baggage Claim from Immigration, everybody and their uncle has to pass through the duty-free store. I guess somebody's been taking lessons from Vegas, eh? This is where sales people accost you and gently explain why, if you were to refrain from purchasing a liter-sized bottle of Chivas Regal for your father, you would be a terrible son and your father would be so ashamed of you as not to include a single item of fakery in his narratives of your exploits to the neighbors. So heck, you purchase two bottles, because the excruciating banality of your life certainly demands fakery in its recounting, plus, they are on sale and come with a free DVD. This DVD contains hilarious real-life footage of people being convinced into purchasing two bottles of Chivas Regal instead of one. Who, for crying out loud, could pass up this offer?

Not you.

And neither could I.

Thursday, January 14, 2010


CNN is calling Port-au-Prince "a mess of bodies, rebar and concrete". Please don't add to the problem by not doing anything. Please help your fellow human. Go here. Donate.

Thank you.