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18 May 2011

Aankhon Ki Masti

Movie: Umrao Jaan
Singer: Asha Bhosle

In aankhon ki masti ke, aah aah aah aah
In aankhon ki masti ke mastaane hazaaron hain
Mastaane hazaaron hain
In aankhon se vaabasta
In aankhon se vaabasta afsaane hazaaron hain
Afsaane hazaaron hain
In aankhon ki masti ke
Ek tum hi nahin tanha, aah aah
Ek tum hi nahin tanha ulfat mein meri rusva
Ulfat mein meri rusva
Is shaher mein tum jaise
Is shaher mein tum jaise deewaane hazaaron hain
Deewaane hazaaron hain
In aankhon ki masti ke mastaane hazaaron hain
In aankhon ki masti ke, aah aah aah
Ek sirf humi mai ko, ek sirf humi
Ek sirf humi mai ko aankhon se pilaate hain
Aankhon se pilaate hain
Kehne ko to duniya mein
Kehne ko to duniya mein maikhaane hazaaron hain
Maikhaane hazaaron hain
In aankhon ki masti ke mastaane hazaaron hain
In aankhon ki masti ke
Is shamm-e-faroza ko, aah aah
Is shamm-e-faroza ko aandhi se darraate ho
Aandhi se darraate ho
Is shamm-e-faroza ke
Is shamm-e-faroza ke parvaane hazaaron hain
Parvaane hazaaron hain
In aankhon ki masti ke mastaane hazaaron hain
In aankhon se vaabasta afsaane hazaaron hain
Afsaane hazaaron hain
In aankhon ki masti ke

9 May 2011

Wander & Wonder

What do you like to do when you are in a new place? Are you there as a traveller or a tourist? A tourist is there for pleasure and just that. The experience is what life has inevitably thrown at the tourist. A traveller, on the other hand, is there first for the experience - the reason for arrival may be any, even not self-induced. A tourist fits into the realm of a definition of a traveller but not the other way round.

Having heard one too many times about quiet holidays and stinky crowds, I was quite surprised to meet a vacationer who loved to see cities - the bigger the better. It cleared a mental block, the myth that everyone on holiday is running from city life. He insisted that cities did not necessarily mean crowds. He visited places during the off-season, thereby avoiding the swarm. 

As I trawl through scores of travelogues, I notice the subtle differences in preferences. From a broad view of classifying travellers as tourists and travellers, then further as those who like to do touristy things or not or a bit of both, now I find that the list can be endless. The choices available to a traveller are far too many and permutations of those selections belie any earlier belief that one travelogue can cater to all. 

Why did you make the trip? How did you make the trip? What kind of places do you like to stay at? What do you like to see and do? Who do you like to go with? Do you like it planned or spur-of-the-moment? Long or short duration? How do you like to commute once there? How do you plan your budget? 

Give it a shot, try answering those questions. You will realize that for each question you answered, there are a subset of questions that follow. As those are answered, there are further subsets. You tick off multiple answers, for the sake of flexibility, and find yourself presented with a subset for the areas shaded with multiple colours (picture Venn Diagrams). What's more? That was not even the exhaustive list of questions, merely the ones off the top of my head.

As this realization struck, another questions jumped out at me. How do travel-writers write those guides that get so popular, without being too generic? Turns out that rule #1 of travel writing is finding different angles. Apparently, you should be able to find atleast 20 that are unique and worthy. Then you pick your best few angles and write a few pieces. Some sell, some don't. And you thought travel writing was easy? All you had to do was vomit your trip details on a page and clap the dust off your palms? There is an eye-opener.

All this is just what I have gleamed in 10 months and 4 countries of travelling. A little voice in my head says to me that there will be a lot more clearing mental blocks and sponging off dark spots before I am able to absorb enough to give some back. Disheartening but challenging. As the Aussies say, I will "see how I go".

3 May 2011

The Girl On The Train

She was already there when I entered the train, occupying the entire square of 4 seats to the left of the door. Dressed in a pair of dark blue skinny jeans, a chocolate brown singlet (that I later found was open at the back, save for 4 buttons that held it up), a coffee brown scarf and dark brown boots, she was reading. Her handbag and shopping were strewn on the aisle seat while she sat at the window seat, her legs crossed at the ankle across the space over the aisle seat in front of her. Occasionally, she operated a little square gadget that might have been a calculator, mobile or a music device. She held a pen in her hand and noticing that the book was fairly bulky, I decided that she might be studying rather than reading.

She looked so much at ease that I could not resist trying the act myself. I did not have as many bags as her. Definitely no suitcase to place on the floor, occupying the only free space between the two double-seats that she had got comfortable in. I merely placed my backpack on the seat next to me (aisle, it was), placed my feet on the window seat in front of me (in case somebody would like to occupy the other aisle seat) and started reading my own little book. Soon, I got engrossed in Paulo Coelho's pilgrimage to find a sword. 

As is evident, I did not have the same cool attitude as Shelly (we'll just call her that, for the sake of the blog). Now and then, I looked up from my book. I could not help stealing a glance at her, I tried to imagine her story. She sat as if she was unaware of her surroundings but I was pretty sure that she was alert. This was confirmed by the slightest hint of a smile that appeared at the corner of her lips when the driver announced the wrong station and quickly corrected himself. My smile stopped half-way as my mind worked overtime, trying to capture everything about this girl who fascinated me simply by her demeanour. 

We had to get off at the next station, to transfer to a bus that would take us to the city. She surprised me with a restlessness that was obvious without being overtly so. She walked towards her bus, asked a few questions and got in. While she was loading her luggage, I got into the bus and found myself a seat not too far from the door but not right next to it. She moved into the first seat and this time, I was not surprised because I had learnt by now that she was one of those people who were constantly in a hurry for no particular reason.

I went back to my book and got off at my stop. I forgot about her as I made my next plans for the evening. The weather was perfect for a day out. I was not ready to go home. That was more pressing than a girl on the train. I never found out her story but the spell was broken the moment the veil of the classy confidence shifted to bare one of slight arrogance.

Sweet Heavens

I was at Max Brenner the other day, digging into the most heavenly piece of chocolate I have ever had. Chocolate Souffle. Soft yummy crumbs hiding a gooey mass of melted chocolate inside. I was not even embarassed or ashamed at the "Mmm Mmm" noises I was making. 

As I waited for my chocolate souffle, I looked at all the people queued up. For that sinful taste that brings joy like no other, everybody is willing to wait many minutes in the queue and then some more for the order to be bought.

Once I got over my trance at being in a place meant for chocolate lovers, I still hung about the place trying to think of what I might want to order the next time I was there. As I observed what the other tables were laden with, I realized that some of this was easy to make. The Choco-Pizza for instance. It was a pizza base like any other, except that it was lathered generously with melted chocolate and pecans, then covered with cornflakes and topped with a few slices of banana, more melted chocolate. Maybe marshmallows too. Yumm! How different is this from my toasted bread with spoonsful of nutella loaded onto it? 

Who is complaining? As long as there is lots and lots of chocolate, we will go there, pay lots of money and sin. Next time I am there, I would love to try the chocolate dip. A cupful of melted chocolate. That is it. My mouth is already watering. Mmmm. Mmmm.

Max Brenner had one hell of a get-rich-quick idea. Make the most of the weakness that cripples almost all of humanity. Chocolate. Mmm. Mmm.

Not sure if I am the only one who was bothered by the blatant abuse of spellings and grammar at the store but it sure as hell was a thorn in my arm. Some of the names on the menu were cheesy too, so I stuck to the description, which were... Mmmmm... Mmmmm..

Obama Says Osama Is No More

Osama Bin Laden is dead. This was not how I heard the news. I turned on the television, hoping to find something to watch that would help kill my time. The news was on. The news reader was stating, quite nonchalantly, that there were concerns of retaliation due to the killing of Osama Bin Laden in a fire fight with the US forces. I frowned and checked myself from switching channels.

He was dead? Wow! That is good news, I suppose.

She finished the bit she was on and a good 15 minutes later, she said, "For those of you who just joined us...", Osama Bin Laden was killed by the US military. The US President Barack Obama's announcement was rather lengthy but quite powerful. There was no emotion in his voice or on his face. Like a good orator, he hit all the right notes, said all the right things to touch the the diverse assortment of people he was addressing. He took full responsibility for the operation, inserting the word "I" in appropriate places. Some day in the future, during election campaigns and other publicity drives, snippets of this speech and video will be used, no doubt.

All the world dignitaries who were asked to comment agreed that it was a victory against terrorism and, at the same time, insisted that the war was not over yet. Obama also asserted that this was not an anti-Muslim crusade. He categorically stated that while Bin Laden had made this a war sound like it was for the Muslims, not all Muslims were terrorists or in support of his cause. It was a very positive and a much-needed statement at a time as this.

One of the voices I heard on the news hit the nail on the head when he said that even some of the Muslims who were in favour of Bin Laden's cries against the dictatorship of the West, merely supported his expression against the oppression by the West but not necessarily Bin Laden or his methods. 

This is one of those times when everyone seems to stand in agreement. The joy is for the death of the man who engineered the 9/11 World Twin Tower attacks. The war against terrorism is still one that needs to be fought. There are a lot of questions raised about the attacks, about Pakistan's involvement (or the lack of it) in the intelligence, the US helicopter that conveniently developed a snag & exploded after the attack etc. For the moment, the questions are still second to the triumphant sentiments over the killing of Osama and his sons. Ground Zero is milling with people celebrating the historical moment.

Osama Bin Laden was a name unheard of until the September 11 attacks in the United States. Once it was made public, he became the name and face of terrorism. That might be part of the reason the forces that killed him are rushing to clarify that the death of this one man is not the death of terrorism. Suspecting retaliation from the Al-Qaeda, security has been beefed up in the US. The Australian government has, on their travel advice, upped the risk factor and asked travellers to be more cautious than ever.

When the US told us Osama was a terrorist, we hated him. Now they say they have killed him, we rejoice. They have given us another name - the 2nd in command of the Al Qaeda - Ayman Al Zawahari. It is easier to hate an enemy who has a name and delight when he has gone down. They know that. The name Osama was known to them months before the 9/11 attacks and before they told us. So was Zawahari. 

The social media is, as is the norm today, inundated with this news. So is the blog world. The print and electronic media, of course. Following close on the heels of the news of Gaddafi's son being killed in an airstrike in Libya, this is the second good-prevails-evil news over the same weekend. Just before that, the media was all agog over the wedding of Prince William with Catherine (Kate) Middleton, now the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. Is this all for real or are we in a fairy tale right now? The hero, of course, is the United States. For it is success and dark news that imprint on the mind deeper than a happy story in an expensive white gown.