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11 Jun 2012

Rentals Anyone?

Is it better to rent a house or own one? It seems like a pretty straightforward question. Own one, of course! Why would anyone want to rent a house when they can own one? Well, maybe if you are like Jack Reacher from Lee Child's Reacher series, then you would rather rent a house. Reacher liked to be on the move and did not want the feeling of having roots at any one place. It sort of makes sense, come to think of it. 

So, it really comes down to what kind of a person you are and how you like to live your life. Most people like the stability of having roots while some enjoy the high of being a few feet above the ground. Usually the younger you are, the less concerned you are about having roots. As you get older, you start thinking about where you want to retire. You want a place where you can spend days doing nothing more than laying back and enjoying the quiet. Strangely, in my case, it has been the opposite. It's not that I'm terribly old but slightly older than what I need to be allowed to call myself young. 

I grew up dreaming of owning a house. I nurtured the fantasy until I bought an apartment a few years ago. It was not exactly the stuff of my dreams but I loved it. When I banked the last of my mortgage payments, I retired the dream, leaving an empty space where bricks, mortar and splotches of colour had been metamorphosing during my entire childhood. I, however, did not feel the sheer joy that accompanies dreams coming true. The burst of glitter and the background music did not quite happen. It was not that I was not happy but I did not feel the rush I expected to. Is it because I do not spend too much time there anymore? 

When my job took me overseas, I experienced a whole new world. From a developing country to a developed country, the leap was huge. It was not so much the glamour that money held but the scent of freedom that grabbed me. I travelled to as many places as I could during my first year. By the end of that year, I was smitten. This is what I wanted to do. Travel, travel and more travel. When people asked me if I was going to buy a house here, I did not quite get it. Why would I buy one when I could keep moving? I could move states or I could move countries, as my fancy took me. If I wanted to, I could just move houses because I wanted one with a better view from the balcony or had a bigger swimming pool. I could change my mind about what suburb I wanted to live in. There was so much freedom in renting a unit than there was in owning a house. The owner would worry about the registration and taxes, the renovations and insurance. All I needed was my suitcase and identity points to bunk where I wanted to. The smell of freedom had engulfed me to that extent. Jack Reacher, I feel you! 

That is not to say that I do not like the idea of roots. I am happy to be tied loosely to my roots, as long as I can keep flying high for as long as I want to. Tomorrow, I may decide to cut the chord and fly away or turn off the hot air and glide down. I will cross that bridge when I come to it. Yes, it makes sense to me now. Why would people rather rent than own? It is because it gives life the flavour that the consistency of everyday broth lacks. Did I mention it is cheaper to pay rents than make mortgage payments? It may not be so, in the long run but, not knowing what tomorrow holds, it might just be worthwhile. 

4 Jun 2012

Getting Things Done

Working on a schedule can be both a good thing and bad. I am currently reading a book called Getting Things Done by Allen David. I started reading it with reluctance but as I flipped through the pages, I found that he actually makes sense. It helped that some of his ideas were already part of my daily routine. When a popular book says the best way to do something is the way you do it, you do not put the book down because you already know the best methods but you keep on reading. We all love to be flattered. Who does not like compliments?

From reading 5 pages on the train to another 15 during lunch, I have intensified my reading. As I read on, I found areas where my methods had gone slack from my younger days. Things that used to work really well back then would work now too, but I had taken a lazy route on some of those. The book is helping me get back on track. So far, I have not hit a spot where he has said something which indicates I am doing something wrong. He goes on to tell me to keep going down the path I am on but to focus. I suppose it is easier to follow something when you are already on to it.

Reading the book has not only been insightful but confidence building, for me. It has been a pleasure knowing my methods are not only great but there are thousands of people out there who are reading about it and it is helping them. The first day I took it to work, a senior manager at work saw the book on my desk and told me how much he loved it. He said he had read it twice and thought it was fabulous. That was another important lesson I learnt, thanks to the book, but outside of the book. If only I had stuck to being myself and not tried to fit into mediocrity, I would have continued to be great. I tried too hard, I nearly failed and then I settled uncomfortably into mediocrity. 

That needs to be changed. The book is helping me do that. Of all self-help books I have read, this is one of the two most inspirational ones. The other one was just the opposite. It told me I was doing everything wrong. It taught me how to get it right. In their own way, both books have been a great influence on me. The other book is called Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart by Gordon Livingston. While GTD is a book my husband forced me to read, TSOTLS was a Christmas gift from my best friend that I forced myself to read because he gave it to me. Two of the greatest books I have ever read. I do not usually go back to books that I have read once... not for reference at least but I keep going back to these.

From scraping the crudeness that has crept into my methods and working a finesse into it, I have also been adopting the techniques in my life outside work. I did it once to combat a difficult emotional situation. I am doing it again now to cope with stress. Luckily for me, the husband has been with me on it. He, initially, humoured me because it was in the book he suggested I read. He had not quite implemented the methods in his life but I was making him do it. Now, he does it willing. He sees how it is working. He is pleased at how much less stress I am under, these days.

For someone who has the type of personality that thinks it is okay to take the trash out any time before the garbage truck comes and does not have to be done first thing in the morning, sticking to a time-boxed schedule is not quite easy. It is easy enough when I have to do that at work but so hard in the outside world. There are so many distractions and numerous things that need to get done. Hard is not impossible. Right?

This morning, I am working to a schedule that will get me to work at least an hour earlier than normal. This is to be my new practice. I am a bit concerned about staying within my time boundaries. a part of the mind was worried about the alarm going off. Yeah, right. I thought setting an alarm would take my mind off having to worry whether it was time yet but I was anxious of the dreaded bell ringing. I only hope it gets better with time. I am sure it will. I have done it before. I can do it again.

31 May 2012

Paleo: My Attempt At The Caveman’s Diet

Diets were never my thing. I found the very idea appalling! How could someone follow a certain pattern of eating? What if I felt like eating a specific food on a certain day? I have cravings all the time. One day I feel like chicken and on another, I feel like chocolate. There may be diets that allow chicken but what about chocolate? The general idea of working with an eating schedule was never going to stick with me.

When the doctor said I needed to lose weight, to ease the pressure on my knees, I said WTF. How was I going to lose weight without working out? I could barely walk! Then, my husband said the dreaded word. DIET. I did not buy it. What diet on earth could make me lighter without exercise? There was no way in hell I was going to subject my taste buds to granola bars and oat meals day after day! The very thought of eating less started to make my stomach tingle with hunger. Diets are not my thing. He shoved a book on Paleo diet in my face and insisted I take a look.

The only thing more painful than following a diet is reading 90 pages on why I should. I grudgingly agreed to diet, without bothering to look at the book. I had to do what I had to do. Either I was going to die of starvation or I would lose enough weight to get back on my feet. If I lived, I decided, I would trash the “meal plan” and celebrate with a buffet at Max Brenner.

The first day went by without much of a hassle. It was his idea, so the husband cooked. He was trying really hard to help me stick to this diet. I missed rice but I survived. By the evening of the second day, I felt malnourished. I was starving and I was craving for real food. The husband was out when I came home from work. I threw my handbag on the floor and ran to the kitchen. I dug in the fridge and found 2 thin slices of steak from the previous week. I quickly cooked them and gorged them down as if they would disappear if I waited any longer. Then, I went looking for something sweet. Half a packet of Oreos later, I started feeling guilty. I had not even survived two full days of my diet. How was I going to last 8 weeks?

Surprisingly, that was the last day I gave in to such weakness. Once a day, I would crave to eat something but I would stick to my diet. On the odd occasion, when I felt like cheating on the diet, I would buy my husband the snack and take a bite out of it. The husband was doing his best to make the food look delectable. He decided that larger portions would help cope with my hunger. I came to acknowledge that he was a rather amazing cook. I successfully managed to get through the first week of my first attempt at ‘dieting’ without missing any particular food too much. In fact, by the end of the week I had started to enjoy it so much that I joined in the cooking. Some of the stuff we cooked was fun and everything was so easy to cook.

We never had to throw away anything we made but I wondered how long I could hold off on the cravings. The diet was primarily meat, eggs and lots of greens, with a bit of fruits and nuts. Grains and diary were a big NO. From a magazine I read recently, I found out that Paleo stood for Palaeolithic and the diet itself was based on the caveman’s diet back in the years. Apparently, this is one of the hot diets of recent times. That was encouraging. Suddenly my Paleo diet was ‘cool’.

As we cooked, we tried to understand the effects of the various flavours on the food and appreciated the different smells. We did not just watch but learned from Masterchef every evening. It was all fun but was it working? The increased portions were worrying me. I was not starved any more but was I losing weight? That was the real test. Gingerly, I stepped on the weighing machine on Day 7 of my diet. It took me a bit to realize that I actually weighed lesser. That was the fastest I had lost weight, without any workout. That clinched the deal. No matter what, I was going to stick to this diet! The husband is, obviously, very happy.

I still have a long way to go but it is not so hard anymore. Once this is done, Max Brenner awaits me. Dieting may never have been on my bucket list but I can add it on, now and mark it done. Been there done that. Woot!

29 May 2012

Want Nespresso, BYO Coffee Pods

We got new coffee machines in the office last week. I quickly skimmed through the announcement, only picking up that we had new coffee machines and that we had to bring our own pods. I found it a bit ridiculous. Why were they investing on a new machine and scrimping on the beans? It seemed like the term 'cutting corners' was getting a new meaning altogether. Having never really used the old machine (I hate powdered milk), I decided it was not my place to comment. Someone out there must have thought we deserved something better and got half of what (s)he deserved.

The new machine arrived on the floor below ours and there was a bit of a hula-hoop that I did not quite get. I went back to read the email. If everyone was excited about a machine when they had to bring their own beans, there has got to be something I missed. It was a Nespresso machine! Whoever convinced the powers-that-be surely deserves a medal. 

So, we all went to check it out. There was a little poster that explained how to make your first coffee. Cute. There was a big glass bowl next to the machine for the used pods. The machine is a pretty little thing that makes one coffee per pod (or capsule, as the website calls it). The milk holding containers barely make a coffee or two. You can make all the usual (and more) varieties of coffee with the press of a button. If you are one of those who never tires from too many options, there are 16 flavours or Grands Crus to choose from. At 60c a capsule, i.e. a cuppa, it is cheaper than the $3.50 - $5 coffees most people were getting from the cafes every morning. 

Well, that explained the excitement of the new coffee machine. I watched the grand opening of their store at the mall a few weeks ago and boy, was it flash! It is the new big thing in the coffee world. 

Suddenly something strange is happening all around me. In the last 1 week, I have had at least 3 emails from individuals selling coffee capsules! Everyone was selling Nespresso capsules at a dollar a piece, making a 40% profit. I am speechless. I could not help but wonder if there were more people selling that coffee than drinking it. Why would I pay a dollar for one capsule when I could get a box of 10 for 6? Maybe, they were trying to sell single capsules to coffee newbies or those that wanted to just 'give it a shot'? It is quite the win-win situation, isn't it? When a colleague mentioned that in the team meeting on the first day, I marveled at his ability to turn any situation into a profitable business. Obviously, he is not alone. While he did not actually implement the idea, the others have definitely turned it into a business.

The competition has been worth following. The first email that went out merely mentioned coffee pods being sold for $1, with 4 different Grand Crus being available. Then somebody sent out an email saying they were selling all 16 Grand Crus for the same price. Before long, another email followed, offering coffee-flavoured choccies at 60c each. Whose turn is it next? I wondered for a second if I sold coffee pods for 90c, I would make a profit. Maybe not. People would rather pay a dollar than dig out small change. Who thinks about the extra 40c they have to pay when it is only a dollar? That seems to be the logic used here. 

I do not know if the coffee-pod/capsule businesses are thriving. I have no clue who is leading the competition. What I do realize that all those researches on employee incentives that insist that more money does not mean happiness are bang on the money (no pun intended). Most people would rather overpay  for good coffee than drink the free watery liquid that passes off for coffee. And everyone hates loose change.

I've been putting off trying one myself. Over the next few days, I must give each of the flavours a try. After all, it's a short walk from my desk and I am saving $2 for every dollar I spend on the expensive capsules. With that, I find myself sucked into the abysmal trap of wanting all the fancy things that the Joneses are drinking. Oh well, it is only coffee. I am only going to try it once. Ok, sixteen times. At least. 

16 May 2012

The Morning Sun

I lift my face to catch the rays of the morning sun, like a child on the beach trying to catch the spray. It’s a wonderful feeling on a cold Autumn morning. The warmth of the sun chases away the gnawing cold of early dawn. I say to myself, "The sun is here to brighten my day and it is going to be a beautiful one."

When you are sitting down with a cuppa and the mood is lightened by such sentiments, the world becomes a happy place to be in. The black spots on the white sheet that is the mind, become grey and then disappear. Thus armed with a clean slate inside my head, I start to prepare for my day.

I begin by checking the weather forecast for the weekend. I woke up this morning, wanting to lie on the sand and read a book under the sun. A day at the beach seems like a good way to spend this Saturday or Sunday. I am praying for at least one sunny day. Unfortunately, it is not to be. The weather Gods are clearly not fans of mine. After 3 glorious days of sunshine, albeit with a bit of cool wind, the rest of the week and the weekend is expected to be cloudy, with possible showers. Bummer! Well, I will check again on Friday. I do not always rely on the weatherman's prediction for the weekend, this early in the week. In any case, I have a few other things on my list that would cover the weekend, in the event of rain. Now, I need to find something to occupy the weeknights, leading up to a weekend of Paniyiri Greek Festival and a possible day at the coast.

You noticed how I started by planning my weekend first, did you? Yes, I do that a lot. I work my way backwards from where I want to be. A friend of mine would be amused that I would go straight to the bottom of his email first and then start reading it from the top. Why not? Most people do not start off emails with words like 'love' or 'care' but almost everyone signs of their emails with endearing emotions - 'Take care', 'Speak soon', 'Love', 'Hugs & Kisses', etc. Even if it just a happy smiley, it is a happy ending. Unless you were expecting bad news, you can almost always be certain that the best part of the letter is at the bottom of it. On a more serious plane, if I was reading an email at work that expected me to solve a problem, I would still like to start from the bottom of the email trail and gather as much background information I can before I sink my teeth into the real issue. It has worked well for me every single time.

Go on. Try it. Next time you read an email, go to the bottom first and find out whether it is good news or bad. Then start reading from the top. If you are a smart-ass, you will probably try reading the email backwards altogether. That is funny but believe me, it will get you nowhere.

I digress. My weekend planned, I set off to work out what my day should look like. This is easy. I have to block off the time I will be at work and leave the rest of the day for other activities. Being fairly immobile, thanks to a bum knee, the 'other things' category has limited options. The office work sorts itself out by the number of tasks and hand and prioritisation that has been done when the task landed in the mailbox. There! All done and set to go.

All it took was that little burst of sunshine to kick start my day. The glorious morning sun is surely a blessing, no less!

(Dear Sun, I just want you to know that I wish you were not such a late riser these days. You showed up minutes after I woke up, today. I'm just saying...)

(Dear Sun, I'm sorry I wrote that previous line. My morning cuppa was upset for not getting credit for kick-starting my day and all that. All good now)

14 May 2012

Down On My Knees

Chicken pox kept me away from school for a month. I was only 6 then and I remember hating it. I'd always been a healthy kid. It felt like I was being punished for never having fallen sick and I was making up for the all earlier years in one shot. I hated missing school more than anything else.

Decades later, the chicken pox had relegated to dark corners of my mind. While I sympathized with others who fell sick or got injured, I stayed away from anything remotely requiring medical attention. How I managed it is beyond me but I took it for granted. I had abused my body with junk food, no food, erratic workouts for years and all I needed to fix myself up was 2 days in bed, recharging. It is amazing how self-healing the human body is.

Cut to 2012.

It all started with a back-ache that I ignored for as long as I could. It was just sleeping on the couch. Or maybe the bad posture at work. It was going to be fine. I just needed to stop doing those things. I would. It went on this way until I landed flat on my back, on the carpet one fine Sunday morning, unable to perform normal physical activities like getting up, sitting or standing without my back complaining. With much reluctance and driven by panic, I saw a doctor. "Weak muscles", he rued. He was happy to prescribe medicines but I brushed it off saying I wouldn't do it if I didn't have to. He wrote me a letter to get a core strength assessment by a physio and handed me a sheet detailing some stretches I could do, to strengthen the lower back muscles.

Once I started the stretches and the back was beginning to feel OK, I forgot all about the doctor and his physio recommendation. I ignored the niggly sensation in my knees for weeks and waved off the protests during my Krav Maga kicks. I continued to ignore it even after I started to feel like I was going to buckle whenever I walked. I should have at least hooked up to the internet to see if it needed attention but I didn't. I was in denial. It was going to be ok. That was until I carried a heavy bag and walked for about 3 kilometres one evening, while on holidays. Soon, the happy vacation turned into a series of stretches, ice-packs, ultrasound and I was pretty much under house-arrest.

By now I had been suffering all sorts of aches for 2 months and I was aware of my weak muscles. The least I could offer my body was a little rest. For someone who has mis-treated the body for over 30 years, it was a concept hard to grasp. Two weeks into the treatment, throwing all caution to the wind, I headed back overseas and started work. Over the next 2 weeks, I was brought down by my knees once again. It was back to square one. Ice-packs, taped knees, ultrasound, rest. The works. Serves me right for not doing the "rest" thing the first time around. Lesson learned. Right?

I'm just back from another horribly expensive physio session (that my insurance barely covers) and feeling better. All thanks to the massage, ultra-sound and knee-taping (ugh) by my Kiwi physio, who told me she had her first physio appointment at the age of 8. The restlessness that comes with feeling slightly more mobile is back. I want to be out and about, doing all the things I would normally be doing. The only thing that is stopping me from caving in, is knowing how crippled I have been over the weekend... after I had started to walk a little just the week before.

The chicken pox phase jumps to the forefront, from the dark hollows of my mind. It's like a headless villain stepping out of the shadows, in a long black cape. Yet again, is this life making me pay for the score and something years of good health I have had? It's been over 3 months since the first signs of the weak muscles appeared and started giving me grief. I can't wait to feel "normal" again!

I feel exactly like I did when I was 6 years old. I was forced to stay in the bedroom so I would not spread the germs around, only being allowed to get out if I needed to use the bathroom. Mum brought me food and water but I was kept away from the outside world. This time, I'm older and the room is a house, but the feeling is all the same. I am counting down minutes to get back to the outside world... to run and to dance... to kick some groin in Krav class... and to grab that elusive P3 patch... and do all those crazy things on my list...

22 Feb 2012

No Points For Loyalty

I have been loyal to the Indian Cricket Team since the first match at the Boxing Day series. It is true that I have had my share of rants and flashed anger but I did say, back in the days of the Test Series, that if I could afford it, I'd be at every single one of the stadiums to cheer them. In fact, I would have loved to be at the SCG (Sydney), Adelaide Oval, WACA (Perth), MCG (Melbourne) throughout the series. When the ODI started, that is just what I have done. 

I was at the MCG a couple of matches ago, cheering every odd 4 or difficult 6, as I watched us lose. When the team arrived at the Gabba and played the Aussies, I was there, knowing there was way too much pressure than our boys might be able to handle. I enjoyed the first session of the match until they threw it away in the slog overs of our bowling and sealed the deal with the first over of our batting. Gambhir, who was playing well until then, was either too caught up in his rift with Dhoni on who should get the credit for the earlier win/draw or just plain careless. Sachin may be playing alright but he hasn't been sticking around long enough on the field to make a difference, in the entire series.

Yesterday's match was no different. I entered the stadium as we faced the first ball, and by the time I was seated, we had lost one wicket. Sehwag's non-performance in this entire tour has been apparent to all but him. Sitting him out in the last two matches has been a very good call by Dhoni. With Dhoni out of the picture, his rotation concept was flung out the window and Sehwag brought in, along with the other 2 top order batsmen. A lot was riding on the man, who also replaced Dhoni as captain of the Indian cricket team. He failed us miserably. 

The top order batsmen started off well. Sachin was putting on his class act, until he was struck by a stroke of bad luck. Why does that happen whenever he's giving us a good game? Gambhir threw away his wicket too early, yet again. This was his one chance to prove to Dhoni, and whoever else cared, that he could win matches for India too. He could have got all the credit he needed but he chose to waste his one opportunity to get us those 4 points on the Tally Board. He should've have learnt from Sunday's match that the key was to stay on the field. He simply didn't wait to settle in, before flailing his bat about. 

The Kohli-Raina partnership started slow and steady but was looking good until Raina played a careless shot that sent him back to the pavilion. The match started to lean heavily on Kohli's shoulders after that. Unfortunately, he didn't last too much longer either. He was our highest scorer but that wasn't even enough to grant us a less disgraceful loss. A couple of easy catches dropped by SL man Chandimal had saved him earlier but if he expected the luck to carry him through to the end, he was asking for too much. Sehwag sent Pathan in to bat, before Patel and Ashwin, to hitch the runs up a few notches. The man tried but there was not much he could do, with little support from his partners. Patel walked away with a single digit score. Ashwin was looking good with the bat for a few minutes, only to join the ranks of the failures sooner than we could have afforded. A couple of Dhoni's classic sixes would have helped us greatly. The man was sorely missed on the field.

The bowlers had given away too many runs in the first session. Expecting them to salvage that in the batting arena was taking optimism to another level. In a blink, we lost Vinay Kumar. Yadav did well to take a couple of dot balls and let Pathan face the ball in a last ditch effort to close the gap. The first of those balls spelt doom for us. He was caught by the bowler Malinga. 

Sri Lanka was clearly the better team in this match. Their batsmen had taken knocked up 289 runs. In spite of a few fielding glitches, their bowlers served them well too. Kulasekara was truly deserving of the Best Player of The Match award, having claimed 3 key wickets, including Sachin Tendulkar's. 

With that, the noose around the Indian team's necks have been tightened. A win in this match would have increased their chances of reaching the finals. The loss meant that it can be any team at the finals, depending on how each of the next few matches play out. India has slipped from the top to the bottom place at the Points Table in just 2 games. We will have to win both matches coming up and pray that Sri Lanka will lose at least one, to make it to the finals. It is not impossible but not one bit easy either, given how quickly we buckle under pressure. 

21 Feb 2012

Alone At The Movies

A couple of years ago I would never watch a movie by myself. The very idea was appalling. Having to watch a movie alone meant that you had no one to go out with. In other words, it meant that you had no friends. If you've lived for a quarter century and had no friends, there was something seriously wrong with you. If you've lived in the same city during most of those years, and had no friends, you really need to be worried. In other words, if you went to watch a movie alone, it was time to stop and review your life.

One day, when I was alone at home and bored, I did it. The walk to the cinema felt like an adventure. Once there, I felt everyone's eyes on me. The voice in my head responded to each one of them with, "Yeah, I'm here by myself. Do you have a problem with that?" There was excitement coursing through me as I got down the stairs after the film ended, and walked home. I sent a text to my husband and called mum to tell them what I had done. I wrote to my best friend that I had been to the movies by myself. At twenty-something, going to the movies alone should not have been something to get so worked up about but it was. 

Now, if I had had no one to share that with, I would have been miserable. It goes back to the same theory about not having friends. You might as well be the protagonist in one of those romantic films, looking desperately for the right guy/girl to come along and growing miserable while you wait. Friendship is to us what falling in love is to the Western world. 

One fine winter morning, I arrived in Australia to start a new life. One of the biggest things about this new beginning was being alone. I had no friends. I knew no one. I assumed that I would make lots of friends at work. Everywhere I had worked so far, people had loved me. Imagine my horror upon finding that was not to be the case. While people would be friendly, making friends was not as easy as I thought it would be. I joined classes and I spoke with strangers. I remained alone. Everyone was nice but I had no friends.

I realized that I was on my own and I had better make the best of it. Staying home, reading books was one thing but I could not stay locked inside for ever. I had to get out if I wanted to make friends. Initially, I whinged to my best friend about not being able to make any new friends. He said to give it time, "Within a year, you will have lots of friends to go out with". I was horrified! Was I going to be alone for a year? 

I started going out by myself. I found that I enjoyed it. Being alone meant that I got to meet with lots of strangers. I could have conversations with people who shared similar tastes as mine and come away without any obligations. I didn't know the names of most people I spoke and a lot of times I didn't know what they did. It was just two people or a group of people exchanging a few sentences. It was almost always happy conversations. There were no emotions involved, no expectations. This was the a new kind of friendship altogether. The free games by the city council on Thursday nights were my favourites. I could play Chess, Scrabble, Jinga and I could watch others play. I didn't have to know anyone. I had a whole bunch of new friends every week. We played, we laughed, we had so much fun. Being alone and meeting new people was such an amazing endeavour. I began to enjoy it immensely. 

There were days when there were no games and there was not much happening where I could meet new people. I didn't want to go home and be alone. I decided the best thing to do was go to the cinema. That was an activity that didn't need any company. I could go by myself, choose a movie on the spot and watch it. I had the company of all the others at the cinema while, at the same time, I was by myself. It was like having the best of both worlds. Soon, it became the thing I did when I had nothing else to do. 

I bought a membership card at the cinema in town and it became my best friend. When I was sick, I could catch a movie. When I was alone and depressed, I would check out a new film. When there was a good movie playing, I could just hit it. When I felt like doing something and there was nothing else, I would head off to the nearest movie theatre. I am hardly ever disappointed. It's an escape and an entertainment. Now, I average at about a film a week. It has been over a year and I have plenty of friends. That means I don't always go by myself but there are days when I do just that. The time I spend by myself is my friend too. 

20 Feb 2012

CB Series 2012: Match 7 - AusVInd

I couldn't sleep on Saturday. I dreamt of cricket, the stadium and cheering all night. I woke up in the morning, anxious about how the day would play out. It was an important match for us. A win would drive our stake firmly into the ground. A loss would make the last couple of wins disappear. 

The day really started when I got on that bus to the city, filled with people in blue team jerseys and paint on their faces. I could barely wait to reach the shuttle and when I did, I found myself furiously texting my friend asking if she could get there any sooner. We strolled around a bit, checking out tents, taking random pictures and finally joined the lines at the gates to arrive at our seats in time for the first ball.

The numbers were much bigger than I expected. Unlike at the MCG, there were as many, if not more, Aussie fans as there were Indians. From caps, bandannas, jerseys to costumes, there was blue, green and yellow all around me. I felt like a seven year old at an annual fair. I could not contain my excitement as V pointed out the various cartoon characters to me. By the time we got in, Australia had won the toss and decided to bat. We decided to find our seats first, and come back for the beer later. Once we got to our seats, on a top row, bang in the middle of two aisles, we were kicking ourselves for not buying the beer first. 

The weather was perfect for cricket and both teams were fighting for their place on the board. It was going to be a great game!

When Australia and India play, it does not matter who wins the toss. India always choses to chase while the Aussies like to start with their bats. It works well for both teams.  

The first few overs were great for the Indians. We managed to restrict the runs. Wade was scoring a run here and a run there, struggling to get any big ones. When Warner got to bat, he flung the ball around a bit. The Indians seemed unfazed but we needed his wicket sooner than later. I sat there, willing someone to get Warner. Soon enough Zaheer Khan claimed Warner, with a catch from Sachin Tendulkar. It was perfect. Ricky Ponting came in next and couldn't do much for his team. After a few lame attempts to score runs, he was sent back to the pavilion. 

Next to arrive was Forrest. He is a big guy. There was no doubt he was going to get a boundary or two before long. Wade was still failing to do much. A little while later, Wade was put out of his misery and Mike Hussey walked in. The Hussey-Forrest partnership did well for the Aussies. After they had been on the field together for about an hour, the scoreboard was not looking great for India. We badly needed a wicket. It didn't matter which one but the partnership had to be broken. 

Suddenly, there was a loud appeal and Mike Hussey was out. Or was he? The umpires weren't sure either, so the third umpire was called upon. A couple of replays didn't really tell us what the result would be. So, we waited. A big red OUT appeared on the screen and Mike Hussey started to walk towards the pavilion. The Indian audience at the stadium screamed with joy. The cheering went on non-stop till we saw one of the ground umpires running towards Hussey. We saw Hussey walk back. Something wasn't right. Then, the big screen said NOT OUT in bright green. The Aussie crowd went crazy. Not surprisingly, they yelled louder than the Indians just had. Nobody knew what was going on. We saw Dhoni speaking with the umpires. Somebody joked that the third umpire must have hit the wrong button. Whatever had happened, Dhoni's men had to concede that it was not out.

The match resumed. A couple of balls later, it was announced at the stadium that the third umpire had indeed hit the wrong button. How hilarious! Someone on Facebook quoted Ravi Shastry as saying that the man had one job to do all day, which was to hit the button and he gets the wrong one! 

The Indians were unfettered. Pathan came in and within the next few minutes took both wickets - Hussey and Forrest. He was the hero in the Indian army at that moment. The rest of the match played out pretty well. The Indians tried their best to restrict the Aussies and the latters trying their best to up the score. At the 45th over, the scoreboard looked like either team could take this match away. Then, the last two overs happened. Those few minutes tilted the game entirely in the direction of the Aussies. Dan Christian and David Hussey sent the balls flying, into fours and sixes. The target score for the defending team was beyond reach by the time they were finished. The difficult score was 250 but at 280, the Aussies looked damn good right then.

The second half of the session didn't offer much entertainment. The top order batsmen in the Indian team didn't wait to settle in. Trying to score some big ones right from the word go, they fell like a pack of cards, leaving Dhoni to score the entire 200 runs by himself. He did his best to keep his cool and bridge the gap. It was only a matter of time before he knew that he had to unleash his energy and start going for the big ones. One of those shots turned unlucky for him and he was gone. When that happened, the Aussies had pretty much won the match. The lower order batsmen took a few fours and ran between the wickets as best as they could. There was only so much they could do. The gap got wider and wider till it cracked. India lost the match without even a total of 200. 

There is no doubt the better team had won. It was another disgraceful defeat for India. Another battle lost without putting up a fight. Now, with Dhoni banned from the next ODI, what will happen to the India's place on the Points Table? Will we make it to the finals?

18 Feb 2012

Bring In The New

The company was replacing an old piece of machinery with not a new piece of the same machine but a whole new deal. It meant that the staff who knew the operations of the current machine had to start at the beginning of the learning curve when the new one comes in. Needless to say, there was a fair amount of resistance to the change. The management won the argument, if there ever was one, and the shipment arrived at the door one fine morning.

As production had to go on, the old working systems were kept running while the new one was being installed. It took twice as much space to run the factory this way and slightly more expensive but the deal had been signed. The traders from the supplier's factory arrived with boxes of the various parts of equipment, expecting help from us to configure it according to our needs. Some experienced workers were yanked off the floor to assist with setting up the system. The less experienced staff were left fiddling with running the operations of the shop.

The old men did not want to leave their familiar environment and the young boys, excited about the new toy, were not allowed anywhere near it. "You lack the skills to help with the fitting", they were told. Hanging about the older rusty tools made the young crowd restless while their counterparts poking around with the mass of shiny metal parts upstairs were wavering. For a while, everyone on both floors was an unhappy person. Everyone felt like an apprentice.

In time, people accepted their roles grudgingly and the noise from the two systems banging about became the way of life. Occasionally, one of the newbies downstairs would be called upstairs, to move something here or explain something there and they would go back. The couple of times I went upstairs, I came down charged up.

The big machine came with a lot of little attachments on the side. None of it was free but, for some reason, the management had decided that it would be useful to buy the extra stuff too. As they were fitted, which was rather quick, they were brought downstairs to start operations. They came with the promise to function without any hitches, hence not in need of much attention. In reality, that was not the case and before long, we were juggling too many things on our floor. The people that were upstairs were not coming back.

One day, the area I was working in got called to bring a box back from upstairs. It was acknowledged that it would be heavy and clunky but also came with the promise of easy maintenance and a possible upgrade. We were sceptical but also eager to see what it was like.

The first thing we learned, upon opening the box, was that it was not going to plug into our existing set-up. It had to sit by the side and drone on by itself. Considering that we merely had to keep an eye on it to make sure it was picking up the right materials and thrashing out the stuff that we could sell, we were not too concerned.

The next morning, two technicians and two negotiators were sent to acquire the working knowledge of the new box from the suppliers. The surprises never seemed to end. The training was much harder than we anticipated. As one of our trainers constantly repeated, the devil was in the details. There were more details than we could assimilate each day. While the sellers knew their product very well, they had no idea about what we were doing. Trying to understand their apparatus in our environment was a Herculean task, made harder by the differences between the two parties. We spoke different languages and lived in different cultures. Not literally, of course, but it might as well have been.

We flung balls at them from all sides and they batted as best as they could. A few words were exchanged in frustration, when things didn't go very well. Eventually, the handover was complete and we went back to our respective offices. The new machine was placed in a little corner, eating away resources and churning out objects that we never had time to look at. The marketing guys would pick it up and sort it out. Many days went by before any one of us had a chance to see what was going on there.

This morning, the thing started to splutter and cough, all of us crowded around it, adding our two pennies worth of knowledge from the handover. None of us knew exactly what to do. Within the next couple of hours, shit hit the fan and everyone was yelling at each other. Some bright kids ran to the store to bring the operations manuals. This is just the beginning.

16 Feb 2012

Chapter 8: Prepare for Arrival

I thought it looked like she was drawing, earlier. I was not sure, peripheral vision and all that. I can see more clearly now and I see a few block diagrams on the page she is currently writing on. With that, I will settle for studying not creative writing.

A funny thing occurred to me just now. The way I am taking pictures on my mobile every now and then, making notes on a sheet of paper, it might appear as if I am doing a recce of the place. I could be up to something illegal, marking out my route, for a later date when I will need to execute my plan. Luckily for me, I am on an aeroplane, flying miles above the earth. In the air, taking pictures and making notes are allowed. Any idea that I may be charting out the route by doing that is too far-fetched to be realistic. There is not much sense I can make, of the route, with the moving clouds and a beautiful sunset, can I?

I have hit the end of this page and I still have to conclude my writing. I am not done yet. What am I going to do? I really should stop writing and pick up the book I have brought with me, to read. It is called A Walk To Remember, by Nicholas Sparks. I have never read anything by this author before but the book has good reviews at the back. It promises to touch my heart too. 

Let me dig in my handbag and see if I have any scraps of paper I can use, to finish off my ramble-on-paper. 

I've found an email that I had printed off earlier in the day. It is the list of things a girlfriend has asked me to do, while I am in Melbourne. This will have to do.

The clouds outside are all grey now, and below us. The horizon is orange, yellow and a shade of blue or green. There are patches of the dark sky blue colour I saw earlier. 

I am on a ship, cruising along the waters, looking out the window of my cabin on the top floor.

I cannot seem to come up with an appropriate ending. Actually, I need to pee. I have been holding myself for a while now. As I said earlier, I could not find the toilets at the airport, then I could not go because the plane was stationery and then the chick came in and started writing right away and then I waited for her to take a break, which she did not... and there is all that coke I have been drinking. That reminds me. My teachers insisted that I should not use too many 'AND's in a single sentence. They said that made the sentence too long and the reader could lose track of all the things that happened from start to end. My sentences tended to be long, even back then, joined by a whole lot of 'AND's. I may have kicked the habit but it crept in there for a little second, didn't it?

Anyway, I had better go soon. They will turn on the seatbelt signs any minute now and then I will have to wait till we land. I don't know that I can hold for that much longer. There will be a queue of people to get out and sometimes people can be so slow. No. I have to go now. 

My hands are hurting like hell. It is not just my fingers any more. My arms and elbows are hurting too. It has been really long since I last wrote. I have been writing for at least 2 hours. 

Okay. I have just been to the toilet and back. The girl, Elle, is quite pleasant. She was nice about having to get up to let me get out. She had her book, sheets, ipod and a few other things on her lap but she did not seem to mind. Her voice sounds very cheerful. She said something to me when I mumbled an apology about making her get up. She also has common sense. She did not buckle up or pull the tray down till I returned. I think I really like this girl. 

The trip to the toilet was an episode, on its own. A woman entered the loo, just before I reached it. She did not come out for a really long time. I was standing at the front of the plane, where every single person on the plane could possibly see me. After a couple of minutes, I started feeling self-conscious. I could not go back, so I just hid behind the metal wall that separates that part of the plane from the rest of the passenger area. The elderly couple in the front seat could still see me. I saw them looking at me once. Our eyes met and we both did not know whether to smile or not. We settled with a half-smile. That made me even more uncomfortable. 

After 5 long minutes, or more (it definitely felt more), my mind started filling with questions. "Did she die in there?" I thought to myself, willing her to come out. What if she had fainted in the toilet? How long should I wait before I raised an alarm? Do any one of the crew members know there is someone in there?

I heard a little girl's voice from inside the loo. Phew! She had a child with her. It made sense that she was taking her time, if she had a child in there. I had not noticed the child when she entered the loo but then, I was behind her on the narrow corridor between the seats. Another few minutes passed by and I began to wonder if she killed the child. Is that why she had taken the kid into the toilet? I could not hear any sounds inside and there were no signs of anyone getting out of the toilet. I nearly looked down to see if there was blood, flowing out from underneath the door. I kicked myself. I watch too many cop shows! Between the desperate need to pee and the various CSI shows I have been watching lately, my mind had lost the capacity to think straight. 

I turned to look at the things around me. There was not much. A little fridge, trash, something behind the curtains and the exit doors on either side of the plane. I peered to read the signs and markings on the doors. There were quite a few symbols marked on each door, indicating the mechanism to release the doors, in the event of an emergency. Mostly, I could not make out much other than turning a lever here and pushing a panel there. I was concentrating so hard I had the urge to try it out, to see if it worked. 

A fleeting thought passed my mind that moment, "What if I opened one of these doors and let a blast of air in, for a brief second?"

As soon as I thought that, I turned back to the toilet door. I really had to pee. I was going crazy here. What was I thinking? I would kill hundreds of people right there, as the aircraft veered out of control and crashed, thanks to one little whim of mine to open an emergency door while we were hundreds of kilometres up in the air. Bizarre things come to mind when the mind is unable to function properly, due to the strong need to expel bodily fluids. That is my defence. Thanks to all those episodes of Air Crash Investigations, at least I know what would happen. That means, I do not have the urge to actually open the door to find out. Hurray!

Does it seem like I watch too much television? 

To cut a long story short, the woman and her child came out of the bathroom, before I did anything that would everyone on the plane. I rushed in and locked myself inside. When the deed was done and I stepped out, someone was waiting at the door. The embarrassment never ends! Why did someone have to be waiting outside? Did I take a long time too?

I am back at my seat now. Elle is back to her writing. I should have been reading but I had to tell the story that I just finished, so here I am, scribbling away some more. I might as well fill up the remaining half of this page before I wind up. 

Elle just spoke to me! She is asking me if I want the lights turned on. I smiled and said no. She said it was nice to see someone other than her writing by hand, she does not see that often. We both agreed that handwriting was a great thing. I really like her. 

That short conversation answers a few questions. She has noticed that I am writing. She did not ask what I was writing about. Either she does not care or she has peeked at my sheets while I was away. No, that can't be. I am sure she is just being polite. It is not as if I asked her what she was writing, even though the question has been eating away at me since I first noticed her writing. 

While I was getting out of the seat, I saw the title of the book she has been referring to. It says something about Melbourne Design and has pictures of what could be the Melbourne CBD. I can't say whether she is from Melbourne or Brisbane or even from other part of the world. She does not have much luggage but I have learned that people check in their bags even on short trips. Maybe her trip is not short. I'll never know.

It is plain grey outside, like a road underneath us. The horizon is orange and gold. I am on a big truck, cruising along the road. Maybe it is a Volvo bus, cool and smooth.

The captain has just asked the cabin crew to "prepare for arrival". I can feel the aircraft lower altitude. My heart is racing. Did I mention how much I love take-off and landing? I am definitely going to stop writing now. I have reached the end of the paper, my arms are hurting, I need to put the tray back on and the flight has nearly ended. All good reasons to stop. 

It has been lovely to write. I enjoyed my flight, thank you very much.

15 Feb 2012

Chapter 7: Sunset and Sunrise

I am going to start writing in small print now. This is the last sheet of paper I've got. I have some more in my suitcase in the overhead compartment but I don't think I will bother with that. It would break my monotony and Elle's writing too. I've already lost a few precious moments pondering over it. Writing in small print has reminded me of the time my friends and I decided to do that for fun, in college. One of our professors used to dictate endless pages of notes in his excruciatingly boring class. We came up with unique ways of amusing ourselves, one of which was to write in really small print and see who would use the least number of pages. Some students even wrote on the margins of the page. Our argument that we were trying to save paper did not quite save us from the professor's wrath, when he got wind of our secret game!

I am trying to slow down but my fingers are trapped in a rhythm. It is going to be hard reading small print that I write at this speed. The words in my head are still flying past, so that is not helping either. Now, I'm going back and forth trying to pick up words that I missed. This is not looking good.

The pilot has just announced that we are "440 miles, that is 750 kilometres, north of Melbourne, coming up over the west of New South Wales". He is saying that we are ahead of schedule by 20 minutes and will arrive in Melbourne at 10 past nine by the local clock. He is now reminding us that we need to move our watches forward by an hour. I would love to pull out my mobile and do that now but I think that might be frowned upon. I don't think I'll change the time on my iPad. It doesn't matter.

The sun is shining bright outside. It is strange to look out and see the sun shining so bright at half past 8 in the night. Even if there is daylight till late in summers, I doubt that the sun is this bright at this hour. The time on clocks and watches is redundant up here in space, isn't it? 

The clouds are a beautiful combination of white, light and dark grey, with shades of pink and orange in the mix. The horizon is layers of blue, green, yellow and orange, just like the pictures in our Physics text books when we learnt about refraction. I should stop writing and take a few pictures of this. Yeah, I do that a lot. The pictures I take on my mobile during flights look alright on the mobile but they never look the same when I put them on the computer. I hate it when that happens but it hasn't stopped me from taking pictures on the mobile anyway. "I can edit them on Picasa", I say to myself each time. It has not happened once.

I'm still dogged by the curiosity as to what Elle's thinking about what I am doing. Surely, it is not usual for the person next to you to be scribing non-stop on a flight? She has switched on her ipod and is listening to music quite loudly. I can hear the beats, even though I can't make out the songs. Oh, she has the flight manual on her lap. I didn't see her pick it up. It must have been when I was admiring the clouds outside. That reminds me. I haven't read the flight safety manual on this flight myself. I must do it as soon as I can. I can't do it right now because if she has picked up the manual in the last few minutes, it will look creepy that I do the same. She will suspect that I am watching her, if she already hasn't.

Hopefully Murphy and his law won't come into play in the next few minutes. The one flight on which I forgot to read the manual (because I was busy writing, may I clarify?), is the one where I hadn't flown in a long time and couldn't remember what to do. What are the odds of that happening? I have spooked myself out now, I had better read the manual. It doesn't matter if she thinks I'm copying her. It is a question of my life. If the plane decides to take a nosedive and I die on this plane, they might find my notes and know what Elle is doing. They will know my last few words but I doubt that I want anyone to read this. Even if I die.

There, I've done it. Relief, at last. Knowing Murphy, he will stay away today. I have no problems with that whatsoever. As far as I am concerned, I can brace myself and do a couple of life-saving manoeuvres if push comes to shove. 

Outside, the sun is setting. On the right side of my view, the sky and clouds are a shade of pinkish grey. Up  ahead, it is a bright yellow shine of the sun, not quite ready to set yet. In some part of the world, people must be beginning to wake up to that light. On my left, it is a dull and depressing grey. The sun has set and night has crept upon the cities there. Come to think of it, I am sitting at the right window seat, which means that I am heading towards that darkness. Of course! It will be night time when we land in Melbourne. It makes perfect sense. Did I just see the sunset and sunrise at the same time? Wow!!

The little sojourn I took to read the manual has dulled my excitement to write. My fingers are hurting more than I am happy about. These must be signs. I had better stop writing once I reach the end of this sheet. I will.

14 Feb 2012

Chapter 6: A Short Detour

I forgot to mention that I brought the food tray down, to use as a table, to write. This was one of those thoughts that slipped past me, as new came tumbling through. It has revisited me now and I can write about it. I am a little worried that while I do that, there will be more ideas that will disappear before I can catch them. I am going to have to let them pass. What I do not know won't hurt me. Right? 

I had the book on my lap and my sheets on the book. From the corner of my eye, I noticed her pull down the food tray from the seat in front of her and use that as a table. I kicked myself gently for not thinking of that earlier. Heck, I have too many things going on in my head to come up with ideas of my own. Anyway, I could not pull the tray down right then, lest she find out that I have been watching her. To save my pride, I forced myself to keep writing on my lap. 

I can not take it any longer. Down comes my tray. Wow. This is comfortable! Except, I should have taken out another fresh sheet of paper from my bag before I did this. I am pretty sure that I would have thought of using the tray as a table and getting all my sheets in order, if I was not so busy multi-tasking. I am observing her, trying to find out more about her, writing about her, looking out the window and watching the scenery change, writing about that, trying to ignore the pain developing in my fingers and moving up to my elbows. Being a writer is not easy, no matter what you are writing. Enough with fighting with myself. Moving on. 

I am thinking the words aloud in my mind and that is slowing me down too. I tried writing faster once or twice but my fingers fly about, making marks on paper which I am quite confident I will not be able to read later. I need to write legibly or this whole exercise will have been in vain. The nagging thought in my head is whether she has noticed that I am writing and whether she is on to the fact that she is the protagonist in this hour of my life. She probably has noticed and surely has no idea about her involvement. Imagine if I had one of my clumsy moments and one of my sheets landed in her lap! She would casually glance at what I am writing and, if I am unlucky enough, make out a sentence or two that I have written about her. That would be embarrassing and hilarious? I feel like laughing out aloud but I can't. 

Gosh, it is amazing how different it is to write than to type. The handwriting, the speed, the fingers hurting because I grip too hard, the pencil lead running out, etc. Not to mention, no smiley faces!

It is still blazing hot outside. It will be 9:30PM when I arrive in Melbourne. They are an hour ahead of Brisbane. The T20 match will be over. I wonder if we won this one at least. I am almost loathe to check. I know I will. I can't resist. I am not expecting us to win this one, given the way we have been playing recently but it will be welcome. Like an oasis in a desert. 

What is with all the desert references today? 

I may not have written in a while but I find that I remember most of the rules my teachers taught me in school. This is a pleasant surprise. The tab before a new para, the double arrowhead for 2 words inserts, that my teachers discouraged in essays but said I could use in casual letters to my friends. I took advantage of that alright. Letters I wrote to my friends, during school holidays, would be filled with arrows and asterisks. Every inch of the "inland letter" would be crammed. I had eventually moved on to writing in paper and stuffing them into envelopes, so I had more space for my news. The inland letters were reserved for short code messages. I always have so much to say. My thoughts would fly quickly, old ones pushing the new ones out of my mind and I had to write fast enough to be able to catch them all as they made their way past the window of my mind's eye. That is exactly the same thing happening to me now!

I keep forgetting that I am writing with a pencil and I can erase. Another of my habits my teachers absolutely hated and I could not stop myself from doing, was 'scratching and rewriting'. I am doing that now, even though I could just as easily erase and write over. I do not think I am going to bother much with that, anyway. It is easier to scratch and move on, at this speed. I am not being marked for this essay. It does not matter whether I score out words or I overwrite them.

13 Feb 2012

Chapter 5: Fast and Furious

The scenery outside has changed now. The floaty, wonderland look has disappeared. I don't see any clouds around me any more. Oh, there they are! We have flown way above the clouds now. Down below me, the clouds form a desert-like appearance. It looks like an expanse of white sand with bluish-grey (or greyish blue) shadows of the little dunes everywhere. It is picturesque in a way that only deserts can be. The sky is a clear blue. It is a dark shade of blue. It looks hot. It is the sun that I can see from the periphery of my window and the flash of blinding white in the horizon that must be giving it that appearance. The air around me looks pretty hot too. The kind of air that one might find in the desert. Is it really hot out there? Isn't it supposed to be cooler as we go higher? I am a little confused by all the science and literature mixing in my head now.

I have always thought sky blue was a pastel colour. I am not sure why I thought that. I guess I just liked that colour better than the other shades when I looked up in the sky. As a kid, I used to want a dress of the pale blue shade of the sky, with white lace. I don't think I ever got one because I wanted the perfect shade or not at all. Even I was never sure what the perfect shade was. I was a strange kid alright. I even used to create my own words and attach meanings to them. I have always visualized words in pictures and colours. Sky blue was a pastel blue with pale edges. It almost sounds like Autism, doesn't it? I am not smart enough, so that can be ruled out.

Ellie, beside me, is scribbling away non-stop. It might appear that I am just looking out the window and thinking strange things but that is not true. I am writing real fast too. I am trying hard to keep up with the speed of my thoughts. She looks as if she has an epic novel in her head and wants to pen it down before she forgets something. I can see her referring to her big book every now and then. If I had not seen earlier that it was a book on Architecture, I would swear that it is a dictionary or a map. She is not quite reading long before she gets back to her writing. A quick peek and she is back to her script. The way she is making those elaborate notes, I am leaning towards project work. She is clearly not writing off the big book. Her body language is screaming to me that the words are dropping off her head on to paper. 

With one seat between us, there is not much I can see. I am looking at her through my peripheral vision, too, as I write. That is not helping either. It is the only way I can do this, though. If I stopped to turn and look, I would not only draw her attention but my thoughts would run away before I can put them down. It is hard enough catching up with the writing as I think. It would be near impossible to think, then form the sentences again on to paper. I already feel as if I am missing a few sentences here and there. 

I wonder if she has noticed that I am writing too. If she has, does she have similar questions running through her head as I do? She seems to be concentrating on her work but girls have a way of noticing things, without letting on. I am fairly confident that she is aware that I am writing. It is not clear to me how aware she is. Has she realized that I only started writing a little after she started? Probably not. She might just brush it off as me settling in, before I started to write. Not everyone walks in with a paper and pen in hand and gets down to scribing as soon as their bum hits the seat. Let me see. She knows that I am writing. She does not know that I am writing because of her. She surely does not realize that I am writing about her. 

Now, that would be funny. Imagine if she found that out. She might want to rip my sheets. If she is sufficiently freaked out, she might make some noise and get one of the crew to throw me out. Out of the seat, I mean, not the plane. That would be ridiculous! They would not kill someone for writing that the girl sitting next to me is writing about something. She does not seem to care anyway. I have nothing to worry about, for the moment at least. This is just me playing out weird scenes in my head. I don't think I have anything to worry about at all.

The air-hostesses are wheeling the food and drinks trolley down the aisle now. I used to travel in flights where they serve that stuff for free but, with the cheap flights these days, I have to buy food. Sometimes I do but today I am determined not to. I have eaten at the airport and I have a bottle of Coke Zero with me. 

"Mmmm, the coffee smells great!" 

I had better take a sip of my coke and get some caffeine into my body. The ladies are just one seat away from me now. I'm beginning to feel a little bit of stress. I have not decided whether I will polite refuse to buy anything or ignore them and pretend to be concentrating on my work. I am not good at acting and I really cannot ignore people. What am I going to do?

"No, thank you", I smiled at her. Not much thinking involved there. I did what I would do, inevitably. 

Elle is not buying anything either. She has a bottle of water she has been sipping from. Apparently, she has better dietary habits than I. I bet she did not buy chicken from Red Rooster at the airport either. 

All this movement inside the plane has increased the contents flying through my head. I am writing furiously now. My fingers are beginning to feel the pressure. More and more sentences are flying past, that I can't seem to pick up. It does not appear to be affecting my narrative, so I will let it be. There is no sense in going back to collect those thoughts now. I need fresh paper, quick. There it is!

12 Feb 2012

Chapter 4: Alice In Wonderland

We are flying above the clouds now. Actually, we are flying through the clouds. It is a sort of white all around and a little grey. Every now and then we pass through the clouds. It gets misty and whitish. Of course, we do not feel a thing because we are in a plane but each time we pass through a cloud, I mentally prepare myself to feel cold and wet. My imagination must be working overtime. In reality, I might as well be in a car, driving through mist. It does not feel any different from that. There are no speed-bumps in the sky, if that counts for anything. If there were air pockets, or whatever it is they call those things that rock the plane, they would have made up for the bumps on the road. 

Sometimes it looks as if we will fall off the end of the road - cloud, in this case - if we kept going. Yes, it feels like we are riding on the cloud. I can see clouds splayed below me. We are most likely just flying in air but all of this is getting a bit hard to comprehend. I wonder how fantasy writers write their books. It must suck quite a bit out of them, imaging things and creating scenes in their mind that people must also relate to, even though they do not exist. I can now see why some of the stuff is written so close to reality. It is extremely difficult to completely move away from reality and create something that the readers can relate to. We understand Quidditch because it sounds like cricket and has similar rules. Imagine if Rowling had made up something totally random. Say, she called it Bingaloo and made up new rules to go. Even if the readers did understand it, it might be a little hard to retain as they cut through the book. I feel quite drained myself, when I finish a fantasy novel. Writing it cannot be easy.

I took off on my own train of thoughts there, didn't I? A picture of me sitting inside a train, in a fast moving car, just passed through my head. 

The end that I am worried about falling off of, is quite far. Well, there is no such end really, but it does look like all these clouds end somewhere out there and we will run out of ground to drive on. I can see gaping holes among the clouds now. There are quite a few on my right. Since I do not feel any bumps, I am assuming that there are no potholes where we are driving. The potholes (shall I call them cloudholes?) are quite fascinating themselves. We just passed by one of them quite closely. It looks like there are curtains on both sides of us. I am reminded of Hover Car Racer. Matthew Reilly describes it so well. I am going to steal his imagination here and say, where he had brown and grey hard rocks on either side of the path, we have fluffy white and grey clouds. Our plane is zooming past them, just like his cars. They were racing. We are not.

I might as well be in one of the adventures of The Journey To The Centre Of The Earth series. Yeah, it sure feels like it. It is like the real earth but with a touch of unreality. Does that make sense? I cannot think of a better way to describe it. It is exhilarating! I would do nothing else at this moment than be flying in the sky, in an airbus, experiencing the magic of floating through the clouds!

It is kind of funny but I have flown from the same airport at least 3 times, in the past, but I have never managed to find the toilets. It happened again today and I was forced to wait till I got on the flight. I still have not been, mind you. I saw this girl, Elle, writing and got bitten by the bug myself. The fact that she is on the aisle seat, writing so intently, has further deterred me from going. I have to excuse myself, break her line of thoughts and interrupt her. It just does not feel worthwhile. I would rather let her write. I need to go but I am going to wait for her to take a break from writing, before I do. Either that or I am desperate enough that I cannot not be bothered to be nice. I hope it does not come to the latter, though, because if I made a dash for it and found myself having to wait in line at the bathroom, I will just about burst.

She is writing non-stop. I wonder what it is about. I wonder if she has noticed that I am writing too. Does she think it is a coincidence or does she realize that I am copying her? I wonder if I will ever find answers to these questions. It would be funny if I nudged her and asked her. What would be funnier is if I told her that I was copying what she was writing, or if I actually did that. I don't think that is possible, from this distance. The thought tickles me, though.

11 Feb 2012

Chapter 3: Of Clouds and An Architect

It is imperative that I forget at least one thing when I pack. That is why I make a list. The trouble with a list is that if it is not on the list, it will not go into the bag and consequently, what was forgotten at the time of making the list are items that missed the bag.

Once I, Miss Villager, got on the plane, I reached the point in time where, not only could I not retrieve what I had forgotten to pack but I could not buy them at the airport stores either. Obviously, that is the moment when the things forgotten are finally remembered. I strapped myself into my seat and it hit me all at once. No ear-plugs, no belt for my jeans or my dress and no dongle. All of which were on my mind while making the list but slipped off before they could hit the paper. Fortunately, none of them were so important as to hamper the weekend.

Soon enough, the crew made the usual announcements, asking passengers to turn off their mobile devices, strap on their seatbelts and explained the emergency procedure. I half-listened to what was being said, as I am sure most of us who fly often do, until the speaker said something about it being minutes before the "blast off". That made me sit upright! It was the first time I had heard that term being used for take-off. When I fly international, I see warnings on walls that terms like bomb, blast, etc, are to be avoided in conversations, at an airport. So, hearing the air-hostess (do they still call them that?) say blast-off set off warning bells in my head. Nobody around me appeared to be reacting to it and, of course, it was nothing to get worked up about. I spent the next few seconds running it in my head and wondering if that was a term they used internally, to describe the jet fuel being blasted off and what other terminology was used in their training that was different from what the rest of the world gets to hear. I made a mental note to watch more episodes of Air Crash Investigation in the future, to familiarize myself with the aircraft terminology and inside stories.

As the plane blasted off, I looked out the window. My favourite part of a flight is take-off and landing. I love looking out of the window and watching the changing scenery. The bird's eye view of the earth below is always so lovely. Brissie looked quite good from up above too. The picture of the vast expanse of light and dark shades of green, the dark grey roads, little brown hills, winding river at the bottom and cumulus clouds hovering above them, was marvellous!

As we kept ascending, more and more clouds came into view, blocking the view of the earth below. There seemed to be more clouds in the sky than I had noticed when I was on the ground. The clouds below me were pristine white and appeared to be stationary, while the grey ones above me were moving really fast. It felt strange. Obviously we were moving at the speed of the white clouds and the grey ones were moving at a different speed, so the eye sensed them different. If I put the science asshole aside, the scene that played outside the window was fascinating. As we moved through the clouds, I felt like I was in Wonderland. There were so many fluffy things around me. Every now and then, when we flew right through one, it was like walking through walls, in the Harry Potter stories. The initial excitement over, I decided that I needed to fly more often. Clearly, it had been too long if I felt like this during the first few minutes of a flight that I had taken at least twice in the past.

The view inside the plane was less scenic than outside but definitely not less enjoyable. The best part of my seat was not just being at a window seat but having no one next to me. It was a 3-seater and there was a thin girl, dressed in tight jeans, tee-shirt and a loose jacket sitting in the aisle seat. Between us, there was one empty seat. It left me enough room to watch her, without being too obvious about it. I could see her scribbling away in a little notebook. After a short while, she opened the bigger book on her lap and skimmed through the contents before writing in her little book again. While at first, I has assumed she must be writing some sort of literature, off the top of her head, I now knew that she was making notes. So, she was a student. Well, she could have been a teacher too but somehow, she did not strike me as being a teacher. Her body language was more of someone learning something or creating something. If she was not a student, she could be a worker. It was a book on Architecture, so she could have been an architect. She was definitely preparing for something. Maybe an exam, or a class next day or a project. Maybe she was just being studious.

I could not see much else. There may have been a couple of people sitting together in the 3-seater to our left but I do not recall much about them. There were a few people walking around but I did not notice them much at the time, either. For a reason I cannot explain, I was more excited by the girl in the aisle seat (let us call her Ellie), than the view I had just witnessed outside the window. Everything else around me was background. She inspired me to put pencil to paper myself. I took out a couple of sheets from my handbag and started writing.

10 Feb 2012

Chapter 2: Happy Kittens

Once I got off the bus and entered the airport, I headed to the screen which announced flight times and status. I scanned the display for my flight, without really knowing my flight number. I assumed I would be able to figure it out from the airlines and the destination. I was forced to pull out my ticket and get the number, when I could not see my flight on the list. That was a little silly because I should have been able to find out with the logo of the airlines and destination, if only I had been patient enough to wait for all the pages to flash by on the screen. I could not find my flight anyway.

I was not really sure that my cheap, no-frills, flight would fly out of the same airport terminals as the rest. Some cities seem to have a terminal for these carriers, a little distance away from where the 'regular' flights fly. So, I went off to check at the information centre, where a cheerful young woman pointed me to the check-in counters. I was going to tell her that I did not really want to go to the check-in counter but a little voice in my head stopped me. I trawled in the direction she had pointed. On the way, I stopped at the display screen again and this time, found my flight. How funny is that! It was at that point it hit me that I did need to go to the check-in counter, after all. There had been no web check-in for this flight.

I stood in line and got my boarding pass fairly quickly. The girl behind the counter was one happy chick. She had "seen Daniel" that morning, which had made her day, as I heard her say to her friend in the adjacent counter. I have not the faintest clue who Daniel is but obviously he was a guy both girls were drooling over. Good for them. A happy check-in girl makes a happy customer. I got a lovely window seat out front. I could not have asked for a better one myself.

Once the check-in process was complete, the familiarity of the airport started clicking into place, in my head. Most importantly, I remembered that there were more coffee and food shops after the security checks than there were outside. I finished my pre-flight activities first and arrived at the lounge. That was easy enough. Soon, I was standing in the queue at Red Rooster for my chicken and chips, both of which were not too great. I called up a friend I was going to catch up with, during the weekend, and when that was done, settled down to play a game of Monopoly on my iPad. It was going to be at least an hour's wait, if the flight would not be delayed.

Thanks to the people around me and my iPad, I had no trouble killing time at all. The wait was absolutely delightful. That is a good start to a trip, I should say. It made me rethink my decision never to fly out of that airport again. It was definitely worth saving the $30 and the time was well-spent.

I could not finish my game before they called us to board the flight. I hit the PAUSE button on it and moved to line up for boarding. As I stood there, tucking my iPad into my backpack, it dawned on me that I now had 2 mobile devices to turn off now.

"Technology!", I spat and turned both my iPad and mobile phone off, before I chucked both in the bags.

The friend of the happy kitten, from the check-in counter, was at the door, scanning our boarding passes. I should have realized it before but I did not until I saw the girl there - the same staff did both the tasks - handing out the passes and scanning them in later. Well, that  explained why the airlines insisted on closing the check-in counters 45 minutes before boarding time. It was the most obvious thing and yet I missed it.

"Hmm... I need to be more alert!", I thought to myself.

At my turn, the girl, reading out the name of every passenger as she scanned their tickets, said to me, "Thank you, Miss Villager!"

I have known people to mis-pronounce my name and surname before. It happens so often that I expect it now. Yet, she managed to have me in splits. How could she possibly read "villager" out of that? As they say, it takes all kinds to make the world!

9 Feb 2012

Chapter 1: Commute & Conversations

It was a really long journey to the airport, taking over an hour by train, followed by 45 minutes by bus. Thankfully, the bus would drop me right at the airport. All I had to do was step through the door and get in line to pick up my boarding pass. Sometimes I wonder if it is worth going through this, in order to save a few bucks. In exchange for $20 - $30, I was using up 2 hours of my life, to get to the airport. In this instance, flying interstate would take me about the same time as the trip from the city to the airport.

I have always argued that I could read a book while I am on the train and bus, thus it was not a waste of time. I would get some R&R during my journey. Also, reading tends to make the journey seem short. All I had to do was sit there, with my nose in my book, and a little while later, I would arrive at the airport.

The flaw in my theory was that on this particular day, I could not read. I was very anxious. The airlines had stopped allowing online check-ins and insisted on closing the check-in counter 45 minutes prior to boarding time. This meant that I had to be at the airport, latest within an hour of boarding time. Making an allowance for delays and based on the train time tables, the entire journey from city to city (train, bus, flight plus all the wait times) was going to take me 6 hours! That was a really long time, even if I were reading a book. All for $30!

It was too late to change anything and I had to do what I had set out to do. Sitting in the train, unable to read, worried about a zillion things, including whether I would make it in time for check-in, whether the queue would be long, etc, I stared out of the window. I was not really looking at anything outside and there were a number of tunnels along the way, so I occasionally looked around me, inside the train.

At one station, as I watched people board the train, I saw a casually dressed girl, with a pleasant face, walk in. Her attire almost made her a non-entity but yet I had noticed her. I had picked her out of all those people who boarded the train and followed her trip from the door to her seat, with my eyes. In the next few seconds, I had forgotten about her and gone back to stressing about my trip and staring out the window. That was true, until I heard conversation in the carriage that was quiet until then. It was a rather loud male voice followed by a soft female voice.

A guy, seated opposite a girl at the front, was making conversation with her. She seemed to have been listening to music on her iPad and reading or playing but she looked up when he spoke. It was the same girl I had watched earlier. Apparently, the guy had received an iPad as a Christmas present and was excited about it. Soon, the conversation moved on from iPad to iPad games, to Christmas parties and various other events that happened across different states they had both visited over the last year.

It is amazing how a simple comment like, "I have an iPad too!" can turn into a long, incessant conversation. That is just what happened. Without realizing, I had been sucked into the scene that played before my eyes.

I must admit I love eavesdropping on other people's conversations in trains and buses. It keeps my mind occupied and I find it entertaining. Most of the time. So, here I was, listening to a conversation between a girl with a very pleasant face, and an equally pleasant demeanor, and a guy whose mind had not quite caught up with the rest of the body, age-wise. The conversation was rather interesting too. They probably knew I was listening, or were at least aware that one or more people in the train were, but they did not seem particularly bothered by it. A good thing too, that. From them, I heard about different kinds of music, the Big Day Out at the coast that I had read and wondered about, similar events in other parts of the world. I found out where the guy lived and the girl, who they lived with, where they were headed and why. All information that would mean nothing to me once I get off the train and head on my journey but made the journey pleasant, as conversations tend to do.

I did not miss my book for one minute of the journey. I did not even realize how long the train journey had been. As they both got off one station after another, the latter reaching his destination one stop before mine, the carriage got quieter. It hit me then that I still had another 45 minutes of a bus ride, to reach the airport. I figured I might have to read my book after all. Only, I was not particularly enthusiastic about it that afternoon and I did not. I chose to look out the window and get a feel of the route that I had taken so often in the past but never bothered to check out. It was not too bad. Maybe it was worth the trip, after all. I saved 30 bucks and had a new travel experience to write home about.