Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Goa’s Enchanting Monsoons

I love the monsoons. The landscape is marked by verdant hills, lush green fields and numerous streams. The air is fresh and everything is clean. I know the continuous showers dampen your spirits and keep you indoors for days on end. But if you enjoy playing in the water like children and don’t give a damn to getting wet, the rainy season can be fun. So I decided to explore Goa during this ‘off’ season.

Starting near to home, I went to the Rassaim waterfall following a few days of heavy rains. It involved a trek through some thick vegetation and wading through a fast flowing stream. There are two waterfalls in the vicinity. The first one is a small stream rushing down a steep rock face. The small pond at the foot of the falls feels like a cold water Jacuzzi. The adventurous few can try climbing halfway up the falls. One must exercise caution though, as the rocks can get slippery. The other larger waterfall is formed by stream plunging down about 40 feet. The pool here is larger and more suited for some light splashing around. You can also sit near the falls and enjoy the strong breeze due the waterfall. The thick forest around gives a sense of solitude. An amazing place to spend a Sunday afternoon.

Next I visited the hill at Paroda, Quepem. There is a road leading to the temple at the top of the hill. It was raining very heavily when we arrived. The hill is quite high and we could see the clouds below us. I felt like I was at a hill station. The view point offered a lovely view of the thick forest and green paddy fields below us. On clear weather days, one can see the Arabian Sea far off to the west. A good sunset point!

I also went on a north Goa trip with my friends. We visited the Arambol beach. The beach was deserted except for a few fishermen. We trekked to the top of the adjacent a hill and were treated to an amazing view of the coastline. As we made our way down the other side, we caught sight of the famous fresh water lake of Arambol. It is amazing to have a fresh water lake barely 200 meters from the sea. The lake is one place safe for bathing as there are no underwater currents there. We took a dip in the lake and checked out the stream that fed the lake. The waves slamming against the rocks painted an amazing picture as we walked back along the beach.

In the evening we visted Morjim beach. It was raining heavily. Still we decided to go out and enjoy! We tried hard to play football on the beach. But the strong winds kept blowing the ball of course. Soon the rain and wind subsided and we had great time playing beach football on a totally deserted beach. After a while we saw the rains coming, literally. It quite a sight to see the sheet of rain coming from the sea. We all ran back to our car, as we were not in the mood to get wet again.

The next day we visited Baga beach. Again we were greeted by rain and gale force winds. It was quite astounding and a little disturbing to see people bathing in the sea. I don’t understand how tourists find such a rough sea inviting. We walked around the beach for a while and decided to head off to Aguada fort. There were quite a few tourists here. After checking out the fort we headed to the cliff near the light house. Here the winds were so strong that we just could not face the seaward direction. The rain drops were moving in a horizontal direction. When the winds subsided we climbed down to the sea below. The rocks and the rough white sea against the back drop of a green hill makes up a lovely scenery. I had trekked from Aguada to Sinquerim beach along this hill a couple of years back. One of the best treks I have ever done.

This past Sunday I went to a couple of water falls in Cotigao Wildlife Sanctuary. I would have never found these places if YHAI hadn’t organised the trip. The first waterfall was called Kuskem waterfall. It is some distance in the forest from the village. But the trek through thick vegetation was worth it. The waterfall is a treat to watch. The stream falls of vertically from a height of about 100 feet. You can stand right under the falls and have the water beating down you back like numerous hammers! Next we went to Bhamand Pudo. This one is right by the road. The water cascades down in two steps. The pool at the base is ideal for bathing. A cool place to hang out. I’ll give the coordinates of both the water falls. Thanks to Alroy for marking the spots with his Nokia N82. Kuskem coordinates: 15.0075N, 74.2071E. Bhaman Pudo: 15.0598N, 74.1594E

One should also check out the hill at mobor. You get a nice view of the River Sal and its plains. So there you are, there is more to Goa than the common notion of booze, beaches and babes. Hopefully I’ll be back soon to explore the rest of this paradise called Goa.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Kambaqt ishq – Kambaqht movie

I know I had promised Himesh bhai that my blog would have only His movies’ reviews. But I have to make an exception for the masterpiece ‘Kambaqth Ishq’ maybe because the copyrighted himesh dialogue ‘back off’ was used in one scene. My friends and I decided, much against expert opinion, to watch this movie in the theatre. I was hoping that Akshay Kumar’s farting spree - which included farts like Welcome, Singh is King, Tashaan, and CCTC - would come to an end, whereas Kareena’s striping spree would continue.

The highest point was right before the movie started because everything went downhill from the beginning itself. To call the wedding party melee as donkey stuff would be an insult to donkeys. And when you thought things couldn’t get worse, there were jokes like an actor trying to make a joke of the words ‘suar’, sue and ‘suee’ (needle) sounding the same. Another joke was when Akshay shouts that he wants imported anaesthesia instead of local anaesthesia.

The movie hit new lows with each scene, and so did kareena’s neck line. The only thing going high was amrita’s hem line. In today’s materialistic films, it was ironical to see serious shortage of dress material. The film was trying really hard to make people laugh. One should watch the scene where Akshay is searched for drugs. Disgusting. I can’t imagine any right minded person enjoying such stuff. Kareena kept giving slutty looks throughout the movie. The songs fared no better. There was just noise. But then that helped them blend with the movie which also was noise.

The director seemed to have forgotten the old adage, once in a hole, stop digging! He tried desperately to spice up a weak script with words like bitch and bastard at regular intervals. The dry scenes were flooded with people in minimal clothing. Okay the blonds were usually attractive, but how can you keep staring for hours at a string of skimpily dressed babes on a big screen?

For those who like some story and logic, I am afraid they too will be disappointed. The story is the same old ‘guy gal hate each other and then fall in love’. Game set match to Cliché. The movie bordered on a porno flick in the sense the only aim of the movie was to show skin. To hell with a storyline. Logic too took a serious beating in some scenes, like when gangsters couldn’t catch kareena and amrita running away on foot. The locales of some scenes were great though. And I think that was the only high point of this tamasha.

About the guest stars. Stallone does well with his growling and dishum dishum. Denise was lukewarm, or maybe she was hot but kareena had stolen all the thunder and heat by then. The movie ends as expected with an ending that might have been happy or sad. I don’t know which because I didn’t find any story. I feel we should have been awarded a certificate of appreciation for our courage and determination to sit through 3rd degree torture on a Saturday night.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Are we also criminals?

The other day I was pulled over at Panjim by a traffic cop for not wearing the seat belt. He asked for my license and enquired whether the car belonged to me. I replied affirmative. He told me that I had committed an offense by not wearing a seat belt. My mind started racing. What was the fine gonna be? Should I try to bribe him and get of lightly? Or should I pay the full amount? I decided to go with the flow. He didn’t seem to be interested in a bribe and proceeded to write a receipt. It turned out to be Rs 100.

I began thinking about my attitude to the whole incident. Would I have bribed him if it had meant a lesser fine? Bribing traffic cops is very common. But in doing so aren’t we cheating? Aren’t we stealing from our own country? The money given as bribe goes straight into the cop’s pocket. So in order to save some money we are ready to ignore our moral values. Now if you consider a rupee saved is a rupee earned, does bribing amount to stealing? Just because no one will catch us, we are ready to steal. So how are we different from thieves? And spare a thought for the honest officers who always issue receipts and the honest traffic rule violators who always pay the full fine. Both these honest parties are at a loss. Their crime? They are honest. Is this how we reward honesty?

I always felt thoughts are as important as deeds. In Christianity, having evil thoughts and intentions is also a sin. In short, most of the general public has the same mindset as a thief when it comes to bribing. Besides, there are other instances when we are ready to resort to unlawful behaviour when we are sure we will not be caught. I the feel, the only difference between us and criminals is that we lack the courage to do such things when there is a good chance of being caught and the result being public defamation and maybe even a jail sentence.

Another instance of bribery, albeit on a much smaller scale, commonly observed is in public buses. The conductor charges you less than the fare and doesn’t issue a ticket. Both you and the conductor are happy. It is a win-win deal. But doesn’t this amount to stealing from the corporation that runs the buses? And what about the honest conductors and commuters?

Take another example. Mob mentality. Violent protests are commonplace in our country. You see a huge mob going on a rampage destroying lives and property. Now the people of the mob draw courage from the fact that they are part of a huge group and the odds of being caught are negligible. So then we have normal people behaving like hooligans. Why? Just because they know they will not get caught. I know psychologists will have other reasons for mob mentality. But this is definitely one of the main reasons.

Then we have road rage. Incessant honking, rude facial expressions, obscene words and hand gestures are a common site on Indian roads. Why are people so rude on the road? Agreed driving is quite stressful. But you don’t see people abusing loudly when someone cuts the line at a post office or someone stamps your foot in the bus. Why? Again I feel it because of the ‘pay back’ factor. On the road there are no repercussion for bad behaviour. You just drive of, never to see the other party again. But at the post office or in the bus, you have to be in the vicinity of same people for at least a few minutes. So shame and guilt as a result of your abusive behaviour may force you to hold yourself back when offended.

Even brilliant minds are not free from this scourge. Take the ‘guest register’ at the I.I.Sc. mess. Here there is a system wherein non members can take meals at the mess by making entries in the guest register and paying the dues at the month’s end. It used to be a voluntary exercise until the authorities realised hardly anyone was making entries. How could mature and educated people think that they could save some money by cheating the mess contactor? And mind you I found the rates very reasonable for Bangalore. Again I feel it is the ‘I can get away with this misdeed’ factor.

So here we are then, lay ‘innocent’ people with a criminal mentality. We look down on the criminals who have been caught. But in reality, how different are we? It is just that we are lucky to be coward enough not to act on our evil thoughts. Jesus said, only a faultless person can cast a stone on a condemned sinner. It is time we clean up our thinking. Good words and deeds will automatically follow.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Train Journey – A colourful experience!

Tooot! “Train number seven three zero nine has arrived on platform one.” comes the announcement and everyone rushes to board the train. A train journey is an intriguing experience. You come across all kinds of people as you journey to your destination. I have traveled many times on the Goa-Bangalore route and have had some interesting experiences.

I have generally traveled alone. My usual routine when I travel in trains is to put my luggage under the seat, plug in my earphones and begin reading a book or observing people around me. Then someone or the other in the compartment asks me whether I am traveling alone. I answer affirmative and I am requested to exchange seats with their friend who happens to be seating somewhere else. This goes on until I can’t be moved anymore. So finally I am settled. Now I see who my co passengers at my final resting place are.

Train passengers include the whole mix of young and old, men and women. The men usually are quiet and dwell in their own thoughts. Some of the more voluble ones will pass expert comments on all subjects ranging from politics to sports and maybe sometimes even on the masala used in the biryani. There are some who go to the top bunk and sleep all the time. And once there was this hep group of drunken men who made quite a racket all through the night. Loud music and dancing marked the beginning of their trip to Goa. I guess they were warming up to the place.

Then there are the ladies, whose tongues and lips never stop moving. You will hear discussions about everything under the sun. Sometimes it is a saahs bahu serial right in front of you. That’s when I turn up the volume of my earphones and bury my face deeper into the book. And all the gossip is carried out over a spread of chewda, chips, biscuits, bread etc etc. Ah, here is a tribe that certainly believes in ‘live to eat’ and talk.

And finally we have the kids who are usually whiny while traveling. These little pests can make your life miserable by playing with the switches or climbing all around or throwing stuff at you or generally just crying loudly. That’s when I go and sit by the door. Here you find the style gurus, adjusting their hair and clothes for hours in front of the mirror. I wonder who the hell they try to impress. When the train stops at a station, I check the passenger list for girls in the eligible age group traveling alone. I have never been that lucky so far except for Jab We Met. How to know if a girl is traveling alone? Check if her PNR matches any of the other occupants in the carriage.

Oh and we have visitors too. The ‘chai and caffee’ guys who come every 5 minutes and try to pass off mildly flavoured water as tea or coffee. The food vendors who sell some suspicious looking eatables. The Ticket collector who come in, looking important. This guy gets major bhav from people traveling on RAC or wait listed tickets. You should see how the ladies try to get his sympathy.

The one thing I truly detest about trains is the absence of dustbins and sewage tanks. The entire railway track is treated as a dumping ground for anything and everything. I hope the Railways would at least have one dustbin for every bogie. Another uncommon but disgusting custom is that of keeping footwear above the fans. Supposedly the footwear is safe up there. But what about the fact that the fan will circulate the stink from your shoes around the compartment?

All in all, a train journey is a wonderful experience. I especially enjoy the countryside, where you still see the rural way of life. I enjoy the pitch dark nights. I enjoy the clean unpolluted air in my face. I enjoy the rhythmic swaying of the train. I enjoy the toooot!

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

When the Maestro went for Visa

I was feeling a little apprehensive as I boarded the bus to Chennai. I was going for my Visa Interview. The last formality before I depart in pursuit of the American Dream. Although everyone says it is a very easy and hassle free process, I was a little tensed as I had read about a third of the applicants get rejected for various reasons. A kannada movie was screened to keep the passengers entertained. Ah, I like the energy in these movies. They can really revive drooping spirits. I began to feel calm and positive. I began thinking of the most likely questions the Visa Officer would ask me. I thought about the reply to the question of why I would want to return to India. And the answer was in front of me. I love India and its movies. Maybe I could do a few PP dance steps to prove my point to the VO.

I reached Chennai. The city of my dreams. The land of Rajnikanth. As usual the auto drivers tried to fleece us. I guess it is in their genes to be so annoying. But the moment I told him that I was a big fan of Rajnikanth and would like to see his house, he became all friendly and cheerful. I noticed all men (and some women?) had nice thick moustaches walking around with confidence. And I had shaved mine so that I looked like my photo in the passport. I missed my moustache and the confidence it gave me. But I had other confidence boosters to help me with the Visa process.

We checked in a hotel very close to the consulate. Just a tip to the readers planning to go to Chennai for Visa. Please check all the hotels and lodges on Peters Road, not just the one the auto guy takes you to. Our hotel, the orchid inn, wasn’t very good and the receptionist behaved as though he owned the world. I switched on the TV and flipped through the channels. Every channel was Tamil, Telugu, or Kannada. What a city! No English or Hindi channels? Then the 31st channel changed everything. There was Shaktimaan fighting the bad guys with his awesome powers. I took it as a good omen. The first Hindi channel I came across in Chennai had Shaktiman. I also felt more confident about the interview. If Mukesh Khanna can wear tight clothes and fight the baddies, surely I could tackle a visa interview, with loose clothes! For the record the channel was Star Utsav at 6:30 on Sunday evening.

The next morning dawned bright and clear, hot and humid. Typical Chennai weather I guess. As I was walking to the consulate I kept thinking if I had done everything and taken all my documents needed for the visa interview. Oh no! I had forgotten to use deodorant. Oh crap, now I would ‘make sweat’ in front of the first American I would meet. I joined the long queue outside the consulate. There were people from all walks of life waiting to be permitted to live the American dream. I stood in the line thinking, not about what lay ahead of me inside the consulate, but how I was a sitting duck for terrorists wanting to attack the consulate. Any drive by shooting or grenade attack would have had me! Finally I reached inside. Safe! There was a security check, much more thorough than the ones we have at the malls and railway stations. I went to a document submission counter. The guy there was a pain. He kept asking me different documents and then by the time I had fished them out from my enormous file, he used to say he doesn’t need them. I guess he was checking how efficiently I had arranged my papers.

And then the climax, the interview. I was happy it was a lady as I could turn on the Charm de Daniel! Don’t know if that exists though.

Me: Good morning ma’am.
VO: Good morning. Documents and passport please.
[I handed them over and she began reading something on the computer. ]
VO: Is your father still in Kuwait? (On reading I was born in Kuwait I guess.)
Me: No ma’am he retired a few years back.
VO: Where are your brothers working?
Me: One is working ............ and the other is working ...........
VO: Could I see your GRE score card please?
[I handed it over. My GRE score sheet is in a bad condition.]
VO: Why is it in such a condition?
Me: (with a bright smile) It had got wet in the mail.
VO: How come?
Me: My score card had arrived during the rainy season when it rains heavily in Goa.
VO: Oh, you are fro Goa! Why did you come here then?
Me: I was in Bangalore for the past year and a half and the VFS site had mentioned that we have to choose the consulate depending on the last 6 months residency.
VO: OK Daniel, you are approved for the US visa
ME: Thank you ma’am!

So that was the end of the visa process. The whole thing lasted less than an hour, 30 min in the line outside, 2 min security check, 10 min document check, 5 min interview line, 3 min interview. I went out and hugged my mom. All the other parents there began asking me questions like reporters. I felt like a star. After taking a few quick questions we hailed a limousine, those yellow 3 wheelers, and went to our hotel room. I thank God for making the whole process so easy and tension free.

Questions are welcome in the comments section.

Full process in brief
1) Receive I-20 from university
2) Pay money at HDFC bank (Rs 7300/-)
3) Book visa date
4) Pay sevis fee ($ 200/-)
5) Fill all DS forms
6) Get financial documents ready
7) Visa interview

Chennai sight seeing

St George's Cathedral

Corporation building