Monday, October 19, 2009

The fr(l)ight journey

First of all, I would like to thank my friend, M Arun Kumar (MAK), a very important member of the G gang, for having agreed to do an illustration for this blog post.  We have known each other for close to ten years (right from our undergraduate days), and knowing his penchant for line drawings, I had no hesitation when I was thinking of an illustration for this post.  Thanks for your time, MAK!

Driving on Indian roads can be quite a challenge, and if you are sitting in a crammed up small car, the effort required to sit in the car can be Herculean. Irrespective of the type of roads, be it good or bad, broad or narrow, smooth or rough, sitting in the car is one of the most difficult tasks, if you consider the minuscule leg movement space. The driver is driving the car at a brake neck speed, and the oncoming traffic whizzes past you, and in the meanwhile, if you miraculously fall asleep, you have no choice but to get disturbed. The worst part is, you have nobody to blame. By the time you reach the destination, it is as though you are lucky to have arrived without a broken limb.

Illustration by MAK

There is another kind of torture that exceeds the one described above. To be honest, it doesn't even beg comparisons. The flight journey in the economy class section of the Lufthansa can be the worst experience ever. I think there is no other form of travel that can beat this experience. OK, the rates are economical, with minimal concessional rates offered to the travelers, at a very big cost of convenience. Shashi Tharoor had tweeted something about traveling in the cattle class. I think Lufthansa should have him as the brand ambassador for its fleet of planes. If anybody raises any objection to this arrangement, then even he should be made to travel in the economy class. All the furor would subside then. Even now, there is a perception amidst friends and relatives that Lufthansa is the most convenient mode of travel, and that they have a very expensive pricing policy. It is not very uncommon to hear, "It is very difficult to get a ticket in Lufthansa. It is too comfortable and pricey." I would feel like shouting back at the top of my voice, "NOOOOO. It maybe expensive, but you can be rest assured that it is far from comfortable." Lufthansa is the kind of airline that compromises on nothing but comfort.

So, why this critical evaluation of the German carrier? The leg space is of the order of a few nanometers. You stretch your legs a bit, and you are well on your way in annoying the passenger in front of you. To top it, if the good Samaritan in front of you tries to take advantage of the minuscule comfort provided by reclining a few centimeters, then your legs are doomed for the rest of the journey. You should not get alarmed if your legs take gargantuan proportions, and in a way, it will swell up to take the form of elephant legs. So, you should generate quite a bit of guts to inform the guy in front of you, "Sir, can you please get back to your original position. I know you are trying to exercise some comfort, but it is causing a great discomfort to my physical well being. Please try to understand. I am not blaming you at all, for you are well within your right to do this." He might growl, or he might really be a good guy (depending on your luck) and pull back the seat to its original position. This is one of the reasons why I do not exercise the option of reclining and adjusting my seat. And, even if you do try to recline for a few minutes, the hostess will take that precise moment to arrive with pathetic refreshments, and sound out the message "Please get your seats back to your normal position. Refreshments are being served" Whether you like it or not, you have to come out of your "for a few seconds" comfort zone. The less said about the Asian vegetarian meals, the better. Let us not even get into that, for it can be a blog post by itself. I remember Yadu telling me during one of our flight journeys together, "Maga, idhanna nam naayi kooda thinnalla" (Maga, even our dogs won't eat this).   Coming to the 22 micrometer(yes, that's what it looks like from your seat) television screens, they are placed in such an obscure corner that you would require more than an eagle's eye to catch what's playing on the screen.  But, during my previous travel, I was really glad that the microscopic television set was fit in an obscure corner.  Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi, a Hindi movie that easily fits in the top 5 worst movies of film history, was being played and I wouldn't have watched that movie even if it was played on a big screen, let alone the micro screen.  It was a classic combination of a worst movie by a worst film maker in a pathetic airline.

Long flight journeys are physically and mentally tiring, but in a Lufthansa flight, every aspect of tiredness is magnified by a million times.

So, ultimately, the catch line for Lufthansa should actually have been

There's no better way to fly!

Friday, October 09, 2009

Diwali wishes!

My last year's India trip definitely does not feel like a year ago. I had planned my trip in such a way that it coincided with Diwali, and it was well and truly worth it. Here goes some pictures from Diwali 2008 (all pictures taken in Malleswaram, Bangalore) and of course, wishing everyone a very happy Diwali 2009.

Diwali is the festival of lights. No wonder, you see the "Akashdeep" hanging out in abundance!

Flowers are overpriced during festivals, but who cares!

The little fella won't have a tough time selling his earthen ware. Earthen lamps, a common sight during any Indian festival, and during Diwali, you just have to see it to believe it

A neat line of bikes; all are sure shopping in Malleswaram 8th cross

Not very surprising to see the crowded 8th cross street!

The shopping spree continues indefinitely for the next few days

Almost anything and everything available in this little shop

The night is buzzing with activity with the firecrackers lighting up the city in style

A watchful little boy trying his luck with the "Bijli"

Thursday, October 01, 2009

A Tamil Iyer wedding

It is never hard to imagine an Indian wedding, be it the buoyant north Indian type or the conservative south Indian type. An Indian wedding evokes the oohs and the aahs even from the foreign audience. You guys have a grand wedding arrangement, right. I hear it lasts for weeks. The normal cliches are not too uncommon. But then, they have a point. Even a simple Indian wedding is nothing but grand. It lasts for a minimum of two days, and a maximum depending on the time and money that can be spent on the wedding. It is an exercise by itself, rather a really taxing one.

In the non-South weddings, the fun factor is amplified by the jolliness of the event. What I hear from friends, the event is fun filled with a minimum ritualistic approach. But then, India is so diverse that there are a hundred different ways to celebrate a wedding. So, after saying so many things about a restrictive (or conservative, depends on which way you see it) type of wedding, you might not want to read the rest of the post. Anyway, let me oblige you with the unwanted details. First of all, let us be clear with the fact that the wedding takes place on the day of the wedding (OK, at least try to make a decent effort to explain the event). The explanations can't get worse from here after the first statement, so I am assuming that you are going to go the full distance in reading the post.

Pic: Mantras & more mantras

Be it day zero (the day before the wedding) or day one (day of the wedding), one thing is clear. Forget the bride, the bridegroom, the bride's parents, the groom's parents, friends, few (very few) close relatives, and very many (really many) never before seen relatives, the most important figure of the wedding is the priest. Well, actually, there are two priests, one from the bride's side and one from the groom's side. They have developed this wonderful ability to chant the mantras (prayers) at such a rapid pace that you are struggling to keep up with them. The point here is, the groom has a lot of work to do in repeating the mantras recited by the priests. You are seated on the floor with folded legs, and the mind is asking you to get up and run, ignoring everyone around. My father was shifting positions, changing all possible angles with a hope that at least some position would make him feel comfortable. I am sure he never got the comfort level. A wedding event has a hundred different types of eatables, but then, you end up starving the whole morning to abide by the protocols. This part of the ritual is called as the Viradham (fasting), and by the time you try to feast for lunch, your stomach is just an acidic mass rejecting any entry into it.

Pic: Thirupparankundram Kovil (Temple)

The same evening, you have the Mapillai Azhaippu (Baraat), where the bride's family welcomes the groom and the family for the wedding (it is a different matter that irrespective of the invitation, the groom wants to be there for the wedding). This is generally done with everyone going to the temple, and returning back to the marriage hall with massive fanfare. Then there is the Nischyathartham, a formal engagement to confirm the marriage next day. Even if you feel tired at the end of the day, you realize that there is no respite even the following day.

Pic: The "metti"

South Indian marriages generally have the Muhurtham early in the morning. Muhurtham is the time when the wedding is actually solemnized. Just before the Muhurtham, you have another ritual called as Kasi Yatrai. The explanation goes thus - The groom is suddenly scared of the wedding and informs everyone that he is going to Kasi (Varanasi). The bride's father tries to prevent this from happening, and tells the groom, "Please marry my daughter and become a grihasthi (married man)". I can bet on one thing, no groom would want to run away to Kasi at the time of his marriage. I can vouch for that! Then of course, you have the Oonjal (jhoola or the swing) ceremony, followed by many other Mantras chanting session, before you finally get to tie the three knots around the bride's neck.

Pic: Oonjal ceremony

This in no way offers a complete explanation of a Tamil Iyer wedding ritual. You can refer this link for more information (click on this link). This is more or less a light take on what to expect during a wedding. But, to be honest, every ritual has its significance, and it was made sure that we followed every aspect of the ceremony with due diligence and sincerity. At the end of the day, wedding is a once in a lifetime experience.