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Wednesday, March 28, 2007

The Last Day

The day dawned bright and early. The sun was up, the birds were twittering, and the mighty prince unsheathed his sword and... Oops! Wrong place. Let’s begin again.

We were all packed and ready by about 10.30 and were borne to the railway station by our trusty steeds. We stood around our bags, looking like amateur dealers in second-hand luggage. We had an uninspiring breakfast from the railway canteen. I skipped that and had a Frooti (now available in a pet bottle). Puris dripping oil aren't exactly my favourite.

The train journey back home was as eventful as the one to Hyderabad. People kathifying [talking], sleeping, singing, staring out the window at the dismal landscape... Nothing new there. But the card playing epidemic broke out, and every other person seemed to have bits of paper in their ears. I played only Uno, I wasn't interested in the Queens and Hearts.

Since gambling is illegal, and no amount of swearing on dead grandmothers’ graves would convince hard-hearted railway inspectors that we weren’t staking our rings and chains, I was made to keep lookout. A fat guy with a moustache, carrying a briefcase, dressed in khaki, I was told, was the villain. I saw a khaki shirt near the door and warned my friends. They quickly hid their cards, and the uniformed official passed us carrying a broomstick and a bucket, completely oblivious to our innocent expressions. I attempted a quiet exit, but wasn’t very successful. Let us draw a curtain of charity over the unpleasant events that followed immediately after.

Lunch was sponsored by one of the teachers who had accompanied us on the trip. Hyderabad biryanis. Yum!

The train snaked its way through brown hills and desolate mountains, and it grew steadily hotter. The stifling heat didn’t affect the hardcore gamers, and they continued to play with undiminished enthusiasm. The Uno players rested.

An excellent dinner prepared with the greatest of love and care by the extremely competent cooks aboard the train’s pantry saw a few people lying around groaning. I turned veggie, so you can imagine how bad it was.

Before we knew it, it was time for bed. The card players needed to be convinced that it really was dark and there really existed a world outside spades and aces, such as food, drink and sleep.

We slept well, and bad, bad people who call themselves my friends woke me up some time before 7. What’s the point in getting up when there isn’t anything to eat?

The train entered good old Kerala (yay!) in the afternoon, although we were too tired to notice. Our number began going down when the train stopped at stations, replaced by people who hadn’t been on the tour getting on.

AJ’s dad brought lunch for all of us when the train stopped at her station. Her mom had made chapatti and chicken curry! I shall be eternally grateful to him for the first fresh home-cooked meal I had on the trip.

We were really tired by the time we reached home-sweet-home again. I was really glad to see mom standing there, I never realised how much I'd missed her until then. I said my goodbyes to my friends, who gave me strict instructions (orders, really) to show up for the Orthopaedics posting the next day, and telling my mom to make sure I did. That was the last straw. I decided then and there that I wasn’t attending the posting (I have this nasty rebellious streak that is unmasked when people try to order me about). I cut postings the next day, and attended the afternoon practicals session. As it turned out, none of those people turned up even for the practicals. So much for practising what they preach.

Friday, March 23, 2007

On the train to Hyderabad

Day 1. Happy now?

The stupid train had to leave before sun-up (or so it seemed to me, never having been awake before 7 in weeks, no, make that months). I sleepwalked to the station, and nearly had a close encounter of the third kind with a post, which woke me up sufficiently to argue with my dad about my sleep status.

Everyone had brought stuff to eat, and we commenced attack soon after take-off. I mean, soon after the train hooted merrily (aided by us) and left the station, right on time (some fluke, no doubt). The attack was fierce and lasted all of 5 minutes, and amidst occasional flashes and whirrs, no one managed to get in more than a few mouthfuls.

Stopping at stations meant that the parents of hostellers would show up with more food, and the next few minutes would be spent in total silence, occasionally interrupted by ‘ketchuppille?’ [no ketchup?] and ‘thanikkentha ketchuppillenkil irangille?’ [why, does your food stick going down if there's no ketchup?].

You couldn’t walk around the train without tripping over some classmate who was either
a) sleeping, or
b) kathifying [literally, knifing], or
c) playing cards, or
d) enjoying the view, or
e) listening to music, or
f) eating, or
g) performing some miscellaneous activity (meaning I can’t think of anything more).

The more gullible among us fell prey to palm readers and peddlers. The palm reader revealed that she hadd had a difficult life and would soon be taking a trip over water, while the rest of us entertained ourselves with etch-a-sketches and snakes and ladders.

The train entered Tamil Nadu by evening, and the view from the windows grew more depressing. The houses (huts, really) were placed so close together that would drive any claustrophobic into a panic attack.

At night, our noses were assaulted by the overwhelming odour of Eucalyptus. Looking around for the source (an escaped koala bear), we could only see a guy selling roses. Completely baffled, we assumed someone had a cold, when the rose guy came closer, and the smell grew stronger. He’d dipped the roses in Eucalyptus oil! Someone made the brilliant observation that he didn’t know roses could smell this bad.

The next insult to our olfactory epithelium was the smell of fermented carbohydrates. My friend sniffed the guys nearest to us, (unjustly) assuming them to have broken rules. It was actually a lady selling sapota (chikku). She got thrown out by a violent Naxalite aort of guy a few minutes later.

Some harebrained idiot (who I shall debrain as soon as I find out his identity) said there was some rule that the lights had to be switched off by 10. We ran around like headless chickens trying to get berths next to friends. Having accomplished this major task, the lights were switched off and we began. ‘I’m not the least bit sleepy, are you?’ ‘Of course not.’ We continued until someone from the lower berth threatened to throw a shoe at me. Spoilsport.

It got really cold at night, and when I woke up the next day, the bed sheet I’d been using as a pillow was wound around my feet. I have no memory of doing that. Everyone else was up before 7 (how on earth do they do that?) and they wouldn’t let me sleep any more. I languished in bed berth until I gained sufficient orientation in space and time to remember where I had put my toothbrush, and then hopped down.

We’d crossed over to Andhra Pradesh in the middle of the night, and the stops at the various stations were marked with announcements in a language that seemed to end every word in ‘lu’.

We saw lots of cotton fields. Those people should be worried about the boll weevil.

Chilli was also very common. If only our Geography classes at school had been conducted as an all India tour...

Just before we entered Hyderabad, we got a magnificent glimpse of the Hussain-Sagar lake, the largest man-made lake in… Somewhere. We tumbled out of the train at Hyderabad Central, and were whisked away to our hotel in a wannabe tourist bus. And you know what happened next.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

4th day – Birla Mandir, Golconda Fort, Charminar

Stop mooning about day 1. I’ll do it when I want to.

Most of the day was spent sightseeing. The first sight we went to see was the Birla Mandir, a (supposedly) beautiful temple dedicated to the goddess Lakshmi, if I’m not mistaken. Gold (yeah, aurum) and marble (mere calcium carbonate), apparently. I didn’t see anything remotely like gold, but the marble part is true. We didn’t see any structure that wasn’t made of marble. Prayer was the last thing on our minds. Who would feel like praying after climbing up millions of steps, then depositing our cell phones and cameras with someone who looked like he couldn't wait to pawn them, then clambering up another million steps, only to be met by a surly (and burly) security guard carrying an unfriendly rifle?

The sanctum sanctorum wasn’t as well-defined as it is in our mallu temples. We stood for an hour in the queue to get a peep at the deity, who was also made of marble. The view was amazing, although it was sadly lacking in greenery. Views (in my book) should feature lots of green stuff; beautiful buildings and huge artificial lakes are optional. At the end of the queue the priest touched a crown to our heads (silver, not gold), and we shuffled out.

The next problem was, we couldn’t find the exit. Asking the gun-wielding guard wasn’t a good idea (his expression wasn't very encouraging). I heard a very short lady dressed in a weird dress (a kameez, a dupatta and an ugly full skirt) ask him for directions to the exit, and our minds thanked her, while wondering about her odd attire. We began to follow her, and I couldn’t help remarking, ‘Ithu enthu vesham?’ [What sort of an outfit is that?] and other comments about her ridiculous fashion sense. (Bad habit, I know. People's weird clothes always arouse my scorn. Not that my clothes are perfect. But, you know. Yeah.) It was about 5 seconds later that she turned round and told her companions (who were walking behind us) ‘Itha purathekkulla vazhi’ [this is the way out] in fluent Thirontharam Malayalam.I think I passed out, because the next thing I remember is waiting on the roadside for our bus.

A few of the girls got mehendi designs on their palms, but it turned out to be some kinda foul-smelling ink. Now I consider the herbal smell of mehendi to be one of its star attractions, so, no. Some of the guys got ‘tattooed’ too. Next stop, Golconda Fort.

We bought water melon on the way to the fort. Mmm…

The fort is best admired at night, but that was obviously out of the question. It was built on a hill, from above downwards. The king who lived there had 360 wives (and 360 mothers-in-law, who he probably executed), according to the nasal tour guide (some relative of Himesh Reshammiya, no doubt, although he didn’t acknowledge the relationship). We climbed and climbed and climbed, accompanied by the weirdo, who gave us remarkably stupid info regarding the fort, the king, his wives, his army, his minister and life in general. I understood every single word he said, but put together it didn’t make any sense. He should have spoken in Hindi, instead of doing horrible things to English. *shudder*

The highest I climbed was only slightly below the topmost part of the fort. The wind was windy, and the heat was less hot. The view was totally awesome, but again, no green. Andhra Pradesh is one desolate place. If you're from AP, come to Kerala. You'll know what I mean when I say I missed the greenery.

The long climb down was made easier by my sandals losing a vital connection, thus maintaining constant direct contact between my right foot and the stone steps. The plantar surface of my toes had attained a beautiful erythematous appearance by the time I reached the bus. I also needed a crutch, but couldn't find one. Ow!

At the entrance of the fort, I saw a foreigner guy standing in the portico, apparently listening to his guide clapping his hands and moving towards the sound. Poor blind guy, I thought, noting his walking stick and dark glasses. Well, it turned out he was getting a taste of the acoustics there. I tried clapping in the middle of the courtyard, and could hear it resonate weirdly. That was an unexpected cool.

Charminar was a beautiful dancer with whom the king held secret liaisons with, in spite of having 360 wives (information courtesy afore-mentioned guide). Reliable sources say different. I’m having serious doubts regarding the accuracy of his other statements.

The climb up the Charminar’s minaret was markedly unpleasant. I’ve always hated narrow spiral staircases. And the view from the top of the tower was no consolation. It sucked. Plus John had found it necessary to proclaim to the world that he loves Michelle by inscribing it on the walls. John, and a lot of other irresponsible creeps who consider historical monuments to be their personal notice board.

The climb down was even worse. Fortunately, I didn’t trip over the broken strap (remember my broken shoe?) and die an ignominious death. The Charminar area has a very famous bangle market, and we decided to check the validity of the statement. It was more than true, and everyone ended up buying a lot of bangles, except for me. I was more concerned with finding a shoe store. I found one, and walked away a lot taller. :)

By then, we were starving, and decided to try the kebab place we had seen on our way to the Charminar. The kebab was excellent, and the prices were very reasonable. Yum!

Another round of shopping, this time in the city (same place whose delights we hadn’t fully discovered the previous day) and I missed a whole lot of bargains. No words can express my disappointment at that. :(

We skipped dinner, and saw Guru instead. We got back to the room around midnight, and began packing. I stuffed everything into my bag, giving it odd bulges in places. The I found that I had packed my toothbrush at the very bottom, and had to take everything out and do it all over again. I somehow got it done by one, and then, off to Never Never Land. I was too tired to do anything else. Going without dinner isn’t very energising.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Day 3 - Ramoji Film City

Day 3 at Ramoji film city. Day 1 can wait.

I bought a hat at the entrance for 65 bucks. You can see me wearing it in most snaps. Reminds me of Linux, by the way. Since I am not in love, having the sun in my eyes is not a very pleasurable sensation. Even if I were, how could having UV rays scorching my retina be pleasant?

Ramoji Film City was something of a disappointment. Probably because I was expecting something really classy, like Disneyland, perhaps. They have spent a lot of money on it, but obviously money can’t buy good judgement. (Like my friend's neighbour who built a huge house for an obscene amount of money, and then gave it a bright yellow and purple gate.)

The artwork could have used more skill. Maybe not Renoir, but the graffiti on our desks at college looked like museum pieces compared to the ‘art’ there.

I wonder how they managed to find so many klutzes. I saw at least 30 dancers, and together they had about 60 left feet. Astounding!

I also gained valuable insight into human nature (Miss Marple, take a bow!). I saw all these people standing in a huge queue. No one had any idea what the queue was for. Curiosity (the same thing that killed the cat) got the better of me, and I joined the line. When I reached the end of the queue, they bundled me into a ‘ride around the world’. This was about 10 minutes after we had entered, and I still had delusions of Disneyland, and thought, ‘Cool!’ Shock and horror, we were lead through a maze where they had dressed up puppets waving at us. My God!

We ended up in gift shop at the end of the ride. Greatly shaken, I almost bought some of that useless stuff. I’m not sure why they had a lot of stuff with pictures of Inca-esque masks and totem poles. Maybe Mr. Ramoji made all his money selling timber in Brazil and is grateful to the natives for using their witchcraft and voodoo to make him RICH. (Bad joke: Why didn't the sardar put any toilets in his new mansion? Because he wanted to be filthy rich.)

The Wild West town would have caused Clint Eastwood to go into fits. Ever played Outlaws? Lucas Arts FPS game. (It had great music, by the way). It reminded me of the game, and the game had faar better graphics. If I hadn’t hung up my Smith & Wesson and turned pacifist... Thank God they didn’t do a pirate ship theme. My timbers couldn’t have stood that much strain all in one day.

Then there was the 'Spirit of Ramoji' show. Awesome! We got to see almost all their (un)skilled dancers at work together. Our energy-driven vocal performance,(a tribute to werewolves at full moon) didn’t quench the (un)enthusiasm of the dancers, so that was the end of that.

The heavily advertised Western stunt show was next. Any paandi movie would have been proud to achieve the level of twists and turns the plotless ‘story’ took. The Chinese hero (wasn’t he wearing a red shirt? Chinese, without a doubt), evidently considered himself a descendant of Tarzan, and he rescued the (again, Chinese) damsel in distress with all the finesse of a drunken ape. The explosives used were highly reminiscent of colour bombs seen exploding in the background of those old Rajnikant songs. KA-BOOM! The cute little kid dancing in the row below us generated more interest than the actual show. But on the whole, it was better than the previous show which we couldn’t endure for more than 7 minutes and 33 seconds.

Later, we went on a few rides. There was one shaped like a pendulum, which turns 360 degrees,and you sit inside it. It didn’t look too scary from below, and the other thrilling stuff behind me had dulled my senses. It wasn’t so bad when it swung forward, but backward is another story. I have a vague memory of screaming for my mother when the thing stopped (as did my heart, brain and other such insignificant systems) upside-down and suspended me some 1000 feet (or so it seemed to me then) from terra firma. I didn’t pass out, thankfully (I’m made of stronger stuff than you, or I, think). Acrophobia is no laughing matter, peoples. I hadn't stopped shaking half an hour later. They had other rides, but somehow, I just didn’t have the energy. Just as well too, becaus a couple of people threw up after the ‘Dragon Twister’, or whatever it was called.

The guided tour of the ‘city’ was in a bus that reminded me of the red buses they show whenever London is mentioned. The guide spoke excellent English. ‘ Govinda chilla-ed Laila Laila phaading his kurta here. The summer camp scene of Kuch Kuch Hota Hai was shotted here.’ Dumb movie, that, come to think of it.

The gardens were beautifully maintained. I guess that’s the only thing I really liked about the place. So-so food at the various restaurants sprinkled all over to relieve visitors of their surplus cash. The remaining notes can be gotten rid of at the overpriced souvenir shops.

The (poor) replica of the Ajanta-Ellora caves was as bad as I expected. Got stuck next to another group of Malayalis. Just my luck. PCP (paapi chellunnidam paathalam) [Where the sinner goes, is hell].

We 'shotted' a lot of snaps standing alongside larger-than-life (that’s what cinema actually is about, isn’t it?) figures (again, poorly reproduced) of characters from Hollywood productions. (Angelina Jolie would probably shoot herself). Thank you for not doing Indy Jones. The cutouts where you can place your head were done with slightly more skill than the rest of the artwork. The stonework was good. Statues, fountains, wall carvings, were all skilfully rendered.

We just wanted to get out of there somehow at the end of the day. My feet were threatening to give notice. We were really tired. Even for shopping! Now that’s what I call exhausted. Being something of a compulsive shopper, in a smart move I’ll regret for a long time, I didn’t carry much cash on the trip, and missed all the bargains. Waaahhh!

Dinner was from a restaurant specializing in Hyderabad biryanis. Yum yum yum. The last thing I remember from the day is seeing a bed coming up to meet me.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Hyderabad trip - Day 2

My trip to Hyderabad. Day 1 was spent languishing in the train. And most of day 2 too. I’ll tell you about it later.

We arrived at Hyderabad, were taken to the hotel in a rusty bus, took a bath, went to Snow World. We had to leave our shoes in the bus, they weren’t permitted inside. Very few people took cameras and cell phones, so we don't have many pictures. The A left her camera at the hotel, mistakenly believing that it could not be operated at extremes of temperature. As a result, there are no pictures of us trying to freeze to death.

We waited in line for jackets (pullovers? windbreakers?) mittens and boots. We pulled them on somehow, and learnt a valuable lesson- one size does not fit all.

Once we got inside, we understood how useful useless the gear was. Was it C-O-L-D! I was uspet to find that I had no toes or fingers. The nose? That would be the blue, icy projection just south of the eyes. Some ill-meaning individuals threw snow at my face. I promptly lost my breath and started gasping. Everyone rallied round to blow (cold, natch) air in my face to 'help' me. I scared them all, but finally disappointed them by not dying of hypothermia.

Twin and I got separated from the others and decided to go sledding. They had this huge incline, and you take your sled and climb up the stairs holding it. They make you lie on it, and then push you off. I nearly chickened out just before push off (I’m scared of heights), but finally decided to go through with it. We ended up doing it again. And again. Wheeee...

I think that was when they announced it was going to snow. Total waste, if you ask me. Some bits of ice falling from the ceiling landing in a small circle, the diameter of which was (surprise) equal to that of the propellor they used. I was too busy dodging snowballs to notice.

They had an igloo, and feeling Eskimo-ish, I ventured inside it, only to find myself surrounded by our boys. I scrambled out immediately, but not before some wisecrack got to crack 'Oraalum koodi vannal namukku ivale Panchali aakkamayirunnu' [If one more guy comes in here, we ould have made her Panchali]. Gawd. I found Twin outside the igloo and we had a tearful reunion. Touching.

I wanted to climb the Everest (yeah, the real one, found BANG! in the middle of Andhra Pradesh), until I saw an encouraging sign next to it, 'Climb at your own risk'.

Some helpful individual threw a huge snowball right in my face, and I thought I died this time. I didn’t, and lived to have my revenge. Muhahahahaha.

I dared a friend to touch a metal post with his tongue, but he was way ahead of me on that one. He’d done it once before elsewhere. Oh, well. You can’t have everything.

An enterprising alavalathi [mallu for alavalathi] threw snow at my face, again. I wanted his blood, but the others dragged me off saying it was too cold to stay in any longer. By then, various parts of our body visible outside the gear had turned a delicate shade of blue.

We went out and took off the protective gear, only to find that our worst fears had been confirmed. We had no feet. No toes. No fingers. Thinking we'd thaw ourselves out with a hot coffee before they commenced amputation for frostbite, we moved to the coffee stand. Those Snow World people really knew their business. Outrageous price (10 rupees!) for a cup of ordinary coffee that we can get for 2 bucks at our college canteen! 1500 paise for a stupid cutlet. So I went with my usual 'coffee gives me gastritis, and these grapes are sour' line.

We went outside after rediscovering our extremities and found we had to pay 50 bucks for karting, and 30 for 'Living Dead' (You have to give them marks for originality). I thought I’d go into the horror house after my 4 laps. Beeg mistake. I had to wait in line for hours for my turn at the 'Kart Kave', and by the time I’d finished there, the Living Dead had died for the day night. The ones who tried it said it was really good. R told that people actually do scream shrilly when they're scared to death. The movies aren't exaggerating.

So, karting. A few friends and I felt adventurous. A and R didn't, and they decided to watch us make fools of ourselves. I hadn't driven in quite a while, so I was a bit worried about my steering. With good cause too. I came to an ignominious halt exactly 2 seconds after starting. My steering was always a bit off. Anyway, I completed one lap and as usual, leaned on the accelerator. Then I saw a right turn up ahead in the distance, and thought I’d slow down. Slammed on the brake and Wham! The whole contraption turned around. That was the only time I swore on the entire trip. Bloody thing had no gears. My ingenuity (yeah, modesty is one of my strong points) came to the rescue. I turned the whole thing round. Yay me! And for the first time in my life, I knew what ‘thundering applause’ meant. (Debilitating stage fright keeps me from the stage.) It was exhilarating.

There were some more rides there (things like a 30 foot free fall), but we had to leave by then. I wanted to try the free fall, because the adrenalin rush from the Kart Kave made me feel like I could take on the world single-handedly, and to hell with acrophobia . Well, I am glad I didn't, is all I can say, considering what happened at Ramoji Film City the next day.

We went back to the hotel. We had dinner from a seedy restaurant outside it, alambal [enjoyment?] in the room and went to bed after celebrating a classmate's birthday in the hall. Lucky guy had all his friends around at midnight. I was too sleepy to be jealous, though.