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Technorati Tags: Bangalore
Technorati Tags: Bangalore
The villager announced himself owner of the land and member of the panchayat. His face showed defiance and its impotence before government. He is strong from toil and from decent nourishment—uncommon for village-folks. He hadn’t come to fight. He asked the government officer to tell us to give jobs to all the youngsters in the surrounding villages. The officer explained how jobs are given, of merit, need, and qualification. The owner said the Deputy Commissioner had promised that all the villagers would get jobs when they acquired the land. He demanded a job for his son. What is his education? High school. I laughed. He protested tamely: what more can a villager study? I said I laughed because we hadn’t laid a brick and already we were talking about jobs. He was silent. All were silent.
It was a beautiful day. A cool December breeze played about this high ground, the sun shone bright in the early-morning hour. We had set out before dawn from Bangalore and arrived in three hours, enjoying a smooth drive. The pooje went exceedingly well; the poojari is apparently the favorite of film-stars Ambarish and Vishnuvardhan. The beautiful location captivated the whole party. It rolls down to the river which was dry when I first saw it; now in December we saw it full and in lazy flow. The man from the architects said we should build a resort by the river. The contractor suggested we build a guest-house overlooking it.
I wondered before this villager, he in a blue-check sarong, I wearing blue jeans, if we are worthy of his land which we now possess for no great effort but merely because of a shift in economic policy. His land has been taken away from him and sold to us. He would know its every inch, as did his father before him. He would know each undulation, every furrow, where water reached, where water didn’t reach, the whole nature of the ground, the character of its trees, all of which are beyond us. We will have a factory and a garden there. We will improve the supply chain and recruit and motivate people. We will install machines, jigs and fixtures. And accountants. The scent of the land before rain, the turning of the land with the seasons, the coming and going of crops, the ox and the plough, the surprised snake slithering away at the feet, pesky birds, good monsoons, drought, healthy crops, worms, plant diseases, husk in the wind, lunch come from home taken in the shade of the tree, the harvest festival: no one will ever experience this land as he did.
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As he preached, swamiji often withdrew from talking, closed his eyes and took deep breaths. A profound peace came upon his face when he did that and compounded his radiance. Now we were down in the audience, in communion, and his peace descended on us. He said the things we’ve heard in other sermons but they came home with fresh power. His eyes shone. When he smiled, which he did when he spoke in jest, lines appeared and settled easy on his face—a picture of peace. Two hours went like two minutes.
They are fond of dogs in my neighborhood. Most houses sport at least one, some even more: big ones, small ones, some long and short with belly close to ground, tall great-danes, shepherd-dogs, black and beige labradors, various hounds. Golden retrievers brushed silken and shining. My neighbors are rich, with children in the United States or United Kingdom or Singapore. Dogs give and take love in place of their children. Their masters have also adopted dogs outside their gates—street dogs, a dog per house before some houses, two or three before other houses. Dogs behind the gate eat factory-made dog-food; dogs outside eat leftovers from dining tables. An old lady whose daughter lives in Singapore walks nightly to her street-corner and empties a pot for a pack that has claimed the territory. When I first saw, so many dogs ran at her heels and devoured what she poured. Nowadays they start walking with her, then drop out one by one until a surely starved finalist reaches the street-corner to eat her charity.
In the middle of night they rise up in orchestral chorus, and bark and bay, high and low, for many minutes; when sleep is all but destroyed, they fall silent. Early morning, the labrador pup in the front house yelps continuously and draws out any vestige of sleep. Behind our home, their dog is always chained in their backyard; his constant complaining nags more us than them. Sometimes, from a close distance, a melancholic one wails in such lamentation for God knows what, he submerges the neighborhood in depression. Just now, a man walked his untrained dog without a leash on our street; his dog attacked the labrador; soon other dogs arrived and each attacked each—their bark and snarl tore the silence in my study.
Someone once tried to get the city corporation to take away the street dogs. The neighborhood reacted swiftly and put collars on all of them. The dogs are here to stay. I’d miss them if they go—I think. Up where my street bends left, a thin one with white streaks on a black coat trots up when I approach. He walks close by my heels for some time, always looking up at me, unnerving me with human-like expressions changing from questioning to conversational; when the next one’s territory comes up, he returns to his base back in the middle of the street. On First Main, a black fellow looks nervously, but gains courage and growls showing sharp teeth when the small brown pet behind the gate runs up barking fearfully: fearful because he sounds like he’ll tear his throat, and because he runs full speed slipping and sliding until he is one inch from the bars and it appears he might break his snout. Both of them will not make friends with me. The big pack at First Cross looked downright nasty when I was new and when I walked Duke past them. Duke died last month; now they lie and only lift a brow and register my lone passage.
It Is alright. In this neat place with its two gardens and its lovely houses, I have grown to accept these chaps. I haven’t heard so far that any of them bit a human, however seriously they snap their teeth at each other.
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Ishmael could tell when he needed to go away to sea. I can tell when I need to go away to Singapore: when Apple have released upgrades; when my software is available in new versions; when I’m restless for a bigger bookstore; when my tongue craves chinese-vegetarian; when the soot and sound of Bangalore become intolerably oppressive; when the desire for endless walking in a clean city becomes an ache and an urgency. I must run, fly there. I’m going this weekend.
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We flew into Munich fearing the rain and cold of November. The green has left the leaves and the leaves have left the trees. But the sun shone from Wednesday till we flew out on Friday. We saw mostly the airport and the exhibition, but on the Thursday we went to the gasteig and heard a fusion performance of big-band-jazz and gospel and classical music. They sang in English, and the songs are still in my ears. But I am glad to be home. Europe is not exhilarating in winter, even with christmas lights burning in November.
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On a Church Street pavement, I saw President Musharaff's In the Line of Fire. He released it only a few weeks back. There it was, in budget print, a paperback edition of the subsidized type, selling second-hand. Is it doing so well?
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All this week, sweets given by friends were generous in quantity and rich in variety. Symbols of hope have transformed to celebrations of achievement. So many people have moved into the middle-class; the wealth of the rich has expanded vastly and fast. This Deepavali—our festival of prosperity—a large Indian population is resoundingly announcing the arrival of great wealth. I see from my balcony, a hundred meters beyond the trees, now at night, an impossibly thick cloud of smoke lit by amber electric-lights, rolling slowly and expansively to the sky. The billows are multiplying at the base and widening. The smoke will rise all night, it appears to me.
I ask Sujaya and Yashas to not eat meat and be vegetarian like me. They tell me I am unkind and impolite to say that.
From the air, Bangkok looked a flat plain from horizon to horizon, its wealth showing in stilted expressways and tall buildings that stuck out at us from the plains. From the fringe of the city, rectangular watery aquaculture patches ran for miles up to the sea, not a square meter wasted. Over the Gulf of Thailand we went, crossed a narrow strip of land, and soon dropped below clouds over a completely different terrain by the Andaman Sea: Phuket is a mass of gentle hills, packed together, completely green - many heads with thick curly green hair. The sea, brilliant at noon, pushed into the island forming small and large bays; the land boundary turned and curled abruptly in the stretches that I saw from the air. The spectacle equaled its reputation.
Thais do not raise their voice. Faces drop or turn away in quick response to a frown. They are a healthy, gentle people. The visible economy in Phuket is tourism, with capacity built to take the influx of the high season that lasts from November to March. Now in June, the monsoons have arrived, it is hot still, and taxi drivers, tour operators, masseurs, restaurants, hawkers, small-shops, are all touting aggressively to squeeze some business out of the low season; but they do not push beyond a couple of attempts.
We were there to run the marathon, so we could walk only a little, needing to conserve ourselves. We spent the one day we got after the marathon buying sundry things and in the evening, against the pronouncement of the guidebook that Patong is debased, hopeless, we went there on the recommendation of the young lady at our travel desk. She assured us that Patong has good shopping. The hilly drive from our beach hotel to Patong in the South was a fine experience. We came down a hill to Kamla Beach, on which many fishermen perished in the tsunami. In the town by the beach tourists did not wake up from deep sleep following Christmas revelry of the night before; high waves took them up and away. Now they have many signs identifying evacuation points in the event the tsunami returns. The pain and shock have gone. Our driver asked how many we lost in India. We all lost, he said. Then he was excited at the wave of tourists arriving from India, a major new source. He had seen on television that planeloads of Indian tourists are arriving on direct flights into Bangkok. He had read somewhere that Indian businessmen living in England and America are buying Phuket property. He appeared comfortable with the news.
We were glad we came to Patong. It was only drizzling when we got off the car, so we could walk a little on the long promenade by the beach. On the sidewalks, Indian touts pestered us with garments, tuk-tuk drivers gave no peace; but it was far more exciting than Phuket Town. When rain struck we hurried back to the main street with its open-bars and cafes. Tourist couples sat in them; single male tourists sat with Thai girls. A man stood in the rain on the street and waitresses called him in; he made conspiratorial signs that said he was ￼with someone who would join him soon. We didn’t find the kind of place I wanted: a place with live jazz. In the Thai restaurant we went wet and dripping into, they had a giant screen for football. Switzerland were defeating Togo who had superb attack but no finish. The Westerners and the young Japanese who moderately filled the place all cheered Switzerland and gasped together whenever that favorite was challenged at the goal. Our hearts were bound to Togo.
When we walked back to our taxi, the open-air bars had turned raunchy and the atmosphere of early evening had gone. A drunk tourist danced with a couple of waitresses; he wore no clothes above his waist. Pretty young women with hard faces and vacant eyes sat in small groups on high stools in the open bars. A young tourist walked with an exceptionally beautiful and boldly attired girl, sharing an umbrella, wearing simultaneously the flushed look of one on a first date and the furtive embarrassed look of one in an illicit venture.
Our taxi was gone too, we called and the driver asked us to wait ten minutes. Right there a foreigner in an SUV knocked down a foreign biker. The biker was gaunt and wore a polythene raincoat. The SUV driver was large, middle-aged and paunchy. He got off and tried to light a cigarette. Massage girls holding placards with massage written on them and on the back of their orange T-shirts gathered to stare interestedly from their foyer. A concerned but expressionless policeman started to guide two-way traffic on the single available lane. Time passed and the SUV driver had still not lit his cigarette, which hung from his mouth in the drizzle. They wouldn’t talk to each other; they didn’t make any move; no conclusion was apparent even in the end. Finally, the situation not changing, the SUV-driver got back into his car; the biker picked up his bike, distraught and wet through his transparent raincoat, all his attire clinging to him. The SUV sped past the bike and neither looked at the other, nor at the policeman who stood with his back to them.
The national sport appears to be Traditional Thai Massage. Everywhere that is the sign that strikes you and in town, some hotels have massage signs bigger than their name boards.
In the suburbs, realtors are in charge, their large hoardings sell properties on a scale that made me fear for the future of this beautiful island.
On Ranong Street I took delicious lunch at a vegetarian restaurant. They warned me off some dishes crying, too hot! There are several vegetarian restaurants on that street, close to a temple for a vegetarian deity. The deity and his attendants are aggressively postured, their faces fierce. That was a surprise but I later figured that the purpose might be to assert that vegetarians are not necessarily tame. Next door is another temple where you draw a numbered stick from a cylinder, then pick slips off a side shelf from pigeon holes bearing the matching number. The slips tell your fortune in Thai and Chinese; later that evening the bartender in my hotel read mine. I happily learnt my future is secure.
The sunbathers are true Sun-worshippers. Back home, our homage to Him is paid in the gentle dawn with mantras, and by a very few. The rest of us would rather be in shade and most of us don’t know the mantras. These people lay in blistering heat, offering up their UV-filtered flesh. There were so many of them, lying on white sand on unsheltered stretches away from plentiful tall trees that curtained the glittering sea from the lagoon. If they had read my thoughts they would’ve been aghast:
I was standing there praying for rain; for plenty of rain; for so much rain that it would drench this roasting place to the coolness of Bangalore from where I have come. And I stood after dinner alone on the beach fretting that there was cloud over sea and not over land. I returned to my room, wondering whether I can manage the heat on marathon-Sunday. I shut the door and heard water pouring down the tiles in the balcony. I ran there: It was raining, hard.
Again this afternoon, in the restaurant by the lagoon, after an engrossing lunch of rice with thai-green-curry, I looked up. The music had gone from Judy Garland to Norah Jones. The lagoon had changed from a sun-drenched blaze to a rain-battered gray.
I came in at 04:15. The moon hung low and large when I landed thirty minutes before into an airport in slumber. The number of planes and the scale of the airport reflected the size of the Thai economy. Here inside, I saw shop-girls in duty-free shops lazily rapping shelves with feather-dusters, chatting dully, sulkily, looking like they’d rather be home, sleeping. No sales were happening in the few open shops. Now Japanese businessmen from Nissan (stickers on laptop covers) are tapping on sleek ultra-small Panasonic laptops and talking around me. I enjoy the rasping consonants in their speech. Beyond, a gallant Western man is attentive to his pretty Asian companion.
I don’t sleep. I work on my Mac for a while, see the time, and go. The terminal has awoken with gusto. The aisles are teeming with passengers and queues have formed at cash-counters. At my gate, the flight to Singapore appears to be going full. Outside, the world is dry and bright. My holiday has begun.
I'm leaving for Phuket now, with a short stopover at Singapore to pick up some essentials. The weather in Phuket is warmer than in Bangalore. I'll know how it feels to run there soon. Thais are celebrating their king's sixty years rule: all are wearing yellow in his honor. Grand events are planned. The weather guide offers its words of comfort. It appears to be a good time to go there.
This quickly gives way to cooler temperatures and rain showers from late May until November (the monsoon season). Visiting Phuket in the monsoon season has lots of advantages. Temperatures average a comfortable 29/30C (88-90F) and light warm winds make sightseeing tours very pleasant. During the monsoon season, it doesn't rain every day! The usual weather pattern is for short dramatic showers, with plenty of sunshine in between, providing an opportunity to chat with the locals while you're waiting for the rain to pass. June, July and August are particularly pleasant.
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It has been a strange few months this year. I have not traveled and my schedule has revolved round my marathon training. In the weekend, I have had to rest before the long run on Sunday and rest again after the long run. I haven’t seen many people, nor have I done much else than reading and learning some light web stuff.
So I am happy that next week I will go away to Phuket and stay there eleven days. Today, Sujaya picked up Lonely Planet - Thailand for me and promptly claimed it for herself; I am waiting patiently for her to tire of it.
I will make the hotel reservation now.
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