Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Hello, hello!! Melbourne calling....

She lives in India, Bhopal (north) and has called up her aunt's husband, also in India, Nasik (west). Her aunt (father's sister) and he had visited Melbourne, Australia, the previous year. Notepad and pen in hand, she launches off her questions.

"Uncle, when do you think is the right time to visit Melbourne ?"

"My dear, I'm telling you this, your time to visit Melbourne is NOW! Don't delay!"

She smiles at the childlike excitement in the voice on the phone

"But it must be cold there right now! Isn't it winter in Australia when it is summer for us here in India?"

"No my child, it is now spring there, winter is almost over for them...ah Spring in Melbourne..." a few seconds of silence prompts the 'child', a woman in her mid forties, to wonder if the telephone line has suddenly gone dead.

Just as she is about to hang up and redial her awestruck relative, she hears him sigh....

"Ah....spring in Melbourne", he repeats. " .....gardens, trees, bushes, all blooming.... "

You know, just on hour's drive from the city is this heavenly place, called the Tesselaars Tulip Farm, with more than a million variety of tulips!!"

"But I thought that this kind of farm existed only in Amsterdam?"

"You know, before I visited Melbourne, I thought the same thing. There are many tulip farms around the world. In fact, at Tesselaar's,  I learnt that tulip farming is neither European nor Australian in origin, but actually Turkish!

No my dear, this farm is very much in Australia, and at this time, a sight to see!

It is not just about the flowers, its the whole experience.

For one thing, its a working farm, the owners of which open it up for the public for a whole month (mid Sept to mid Oct) every year!

Then they have all kinds of theme based festivals every weekend , the locals can even take their dogs, there is plenty to eat, drink and picnic among the tulips, and all at a very nominal cost! Do you know, children below 16 years can get in for free!"

"Oh Uncle, that sounds like a must-do! But you know what my husband will say...have we gone across the world, down under, just to see a million flowers?"

"Oye! You tell that husband of your this is no ordinary festival. He will understand when he actually sees them. Does he even know how much a million is, that....?"

"Uncle, please, no jokes about my husband...." she says in pretend annoyance.

She knows that her husband and her aunt's husband rib each other a lot, but share a wonderful, deep bond.

"Oh, all right,", and she can sense him smile as he adds, "but tell him that he will always remember this experience as his most 'colourful' !!. Its a riot of colours as far as the eye can see!!. People keep returning to see it every year..."

Check one: Tesselaar Tulip Festival

"All right, but tell me, what else can we do once we're there?"

"There is so much, where should I begin?"

"Start from what aunt and you did when you landed there. It was the same time last year, wasn't it?"

"Yes, that's right. Well, the first thing we did was to settle into our holiday home.

While there are a number of places available to stay in, from the very hip to the budget ones, I had 'homed' in on a very nice serviced apartment, in South Yarra.

Excellent service with bed and breakfast, and well situated. Once settled, we decided to explore our neighbourhood.

Do you know that Melbourne is close to a river,  the ocean as well as the mountains?"

"All three?"she asks, incredulously.

"Yes, all three. The city is situated along the Yarra river, where we were staying.

There are shops, art galleries, theatres showing plays, even places where one can ski! We saw several signs indicating workshops for kids in dance, theatre, music.....

We also went for a river cruise!  The city looks completely diffferent viewed during a boat ride on the river....."

Check two: River Cruise....she could definitely spend all her days cruising gently along such a river, she thinks....

"....the shops, oh, the kind of shops there....", Uncle is carrying on, " Southgate on Yarra riverfront was where your aunt and I went window shopping...all the international was a sight to know, there is a even a shop where they sell vintage clothing flown in especially from America!

We  picked up some souvenirs from a lovely shop  at Federation Square."

Check three: Window shopping at South gate and shopping at Federation Square! Her itinery is taking shape, now all she has to do is seduce her family.....

Her Uncle's narration continues, " see, your aunt wanted to check out the city and its surroundings thoroughly, and we found there was so much to do!

We visited libraries (I tell you, I have never seen so many in a single city!), museums, saw some aboriginal carvings, even went to a circus, and an over 100 year old market called the Queen Victoria market, which is an open air one.

One can find anything from food to clothes to gifts to candles here.....I took so many photographs...."

"But how did you know where to go and what to do?" she asks

"Oh, there are so many Visitor Information Centres all over the city. We simply visited the nearest one, explained our interests, and then they helped us plan our itinery . They were very friendly and helpful.

That goes for all the local people we interacted with. Very well behaved, smiling and helpful."

Of course, my best moment in the city was when I went to visit the holiest of places, for me......the Melbourne Cricket Ground!

You know what the Australians call it? The 'G'!!

I had to pinch myself to really believe I was here....for a moment I closed my eyes and tried to imagine Sir Donald Bradman playing here, and me watching him...."

Check four: Melbourne Cricket Ground.....that would interest her husband more than anything else, she thinks...

"For you youngsters, there are many all night pubs and cafes, along the riverfront. That is the beauty of Melbourne. It is a city for all ages, for families wishing to holiday together...its cosmopolitan, as well as laid back...."

"Ok, got that. Uncle, Now, is there something in or near Melbourne that would excite my little Tanu?"

"Of course! ...So many. You see, to the east of Melbourne lie the Dandenong Mountain Ranges. It takes just an hour to reach them from the city.


Worried that her aunt's husband would decide to launch into yet another silent rhapsody, she quickly interjects,

"What can one do in Dandenong?"

"Ah, what can one not do there, my dear......when I went there with your aunt, we were transported into a land of  a picture perfect forest land, with lakes, rivers, ferns, humongous trees, bright feathered birds, quaint villages, and the sweetest train ride ever!!"

Her eyes have become misty, as her mind throws up visions of a forest like she had seen in the Steven Spielberg movie, "Avatar'.....but then she jerks back to the conversation.

"Train ride?! Into the mountains? Are you serious??"

"Yes, you heard right! Train ride. Its called the Puffing Billy, and is a century old one pulled by a steam engine!"

His voice is now dreamy.

"We went on it twice. The first time your aunt and I travelled first class on the "Steam and Cuisine Luncheon Train" upto Lakeside Station in Emerald Lake Park.

We had a good hour to explore before the train headed back. We saw families fishing, boating, walking, eating and just taking in the beauty of the place....."

That would make her seven year old daughter Tanu very happy, she thinks.

"The second time", her uncle is saying,  "we went right up to the destination station, Gembrook. The train rode through thick Australian bush.

Do you know that each and every person who works for the Puffing Billy is a volunteer?!"

"Really?" That was such a passionate thing to do, she thinks, to work as a volunteer on a steam train.

Now they are silent together, she with him on his mental twists and turns on the storybook train....

Her mind goes back to her childhood, of getting coal in one's eyes and lungs, of unmidfully sticking her head out of the train window, of hearing the chugging of the train coaches and the shrill whistle of the engine.....this was something the family would love!

Check five: Puffing Billy to Dandenong

Pulling herself out of her reverie, she asks,

"Uncle, what about the ocean? You said that Melbourne is close to the ocean too."

'Yes, dear, the Indian Ocean lies to the south-east of the city.

In fact, one of the first things that your aunt and I did was to drive along the Great Ocean Road. Do you know, it was built by soldiers in the early twentieth century, and is almost 240 kilometres long?

The coastline offers a visual treat, and there are so many villages along the way, from quaint fishing villages to ones with art galleries, shopping malls, Victorian era buildings...

The local people recommend Torquay, which is just at the beginning of the Great Ocean Road, and has one of the best surfing beaches in Australia, called Bells Beach."

Check Six: Surfing (or trying to) at Bells Beach...her teenage son Aadarsh, who had declared he was too old to holiday with the family, could be lured by this prospect.....

".....and they have these rocks called the twelve Apostles, fascinating rock formations that rise out of the need plenty of time to drive down the Great Ocean Road.....and...."

Her mind is now furiously calculating....visas, tickets, airfares, staying costs, eating costs, travelling costs....

Her aunt's husband's is now saying,  "You know, you can see the city from a hot air balloon as well!"

She is amused at how like her teenage son he sounds right now!

"Your aunt and I were taken up in this hot air balloon in the wee hours of the morning to catch the sunrise over the city! Your aunt tells me it was the most romantic ride she's ever taken with me!

People even hire helicopters, and old vintage planes, and new ones to fly to islands, along the Great Ocean Road, to catch the breathtaking scene from the air."

"Is there anything that you wanted to, but couldn't do?"

"Plenty, my dear. We realised we did not have enough time for a Tree Top Tour, around three hours from Melbourne, at the Great Otway national Park. It is an almost 2 kilometere walk on the tree tops in the Forest. Maybe we will also visit Tasmania the next time we are here, as the ship leaves from Melbourne

We also could not make it to Swamp Wallaby, that is just 90 kilometeres south of Melbourne. I'm told one can see the Eastern Grey Kangaroo there as well. We plan to visit there on our next trip."

Check Seven: Swamp Wallaby....spotting a kangaroo was a must do on a visit to Australia!

"Uncle, that's a lot to do for the entire family, thank you so much! Now, I can't wait to get started on the mission, "Visit Melbourne". I want us all to experience each and every thing that you have described....." she smiles into the phone, thinking that maybe one visit wasn't going to be enough.

She can sense him smiling back, with his parting shot, "Just tell them, like I told you, "your time to visit Melbourne is NOW!"

Saturday, 7 July 2012

The Monsoon Traveller.....……(written while listening to strains of Khwabon ke Parinday/Der Lagi Lekin-Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara )

It’s that time of the year when walls, buildings, markets, people, (most) gadgets start to annoy and coalesce into a list of 100 extremely avoidable and irritating things…..

Nature’s loud, noisy signals have a Pied Piper kind of effect, luring the monsoon traveller to use any means to get away….

Paying heed, she tosses deadlines and projects over her shoulder, and strides out with just her purse, the car keys, and a CD of monsoony tunes…..

The rain and wind are executing a perfect ‘jugalbandi’, with one picking up automatically where the other drops off……

The traveler knows exactly where to go, and has no recollection whatsoever of the numerous paths she takes until she reaches it, an almost uninhabited expanse of green ….

On a sunny day, the place reveals itself as a stunning combination of mountains and sea for miles, she can barely see a few metres ahead of her

The road now has trees on either side that spread out their branches to form a tunnel over it, and resembles an artist’s palette, with pink, orange and purple flowers of the bougainvillea, gulmohar and jacaranda trees  hiding the grey tar from view…….

The sky is similarly obscured by the tree branches that are almost interlocking with the force of the wind, seeming anguished at being shorn of their colorful load…..

As she emerges out of the tree lined tunnel, she sees bits of mountains on her left that look like they're floating on clouds, while on her right is a vast expanse of emerald green paddy fields, each plant expanding its height and width to the maximum to receive heaven’s blessings....

By now, the rain drops have merged into a steady seamless and voluminous outpouring, forcing the monsoon traveler to look for a shoulder on the flower strewn road, and stop….the music from the CD player seems unnatural..she switches it off, and sits silently, absorbing the ‘ragas’ and ‘sargams’ of Nature….the wind orchestrating the movements of the pouring water with such beauty and ease....

Smooth as silk while falling gracefully in thick sheets, the water displays greater ferocity after hitting the ground, hurriedly flowing over impervious land and filling up nooks and crannies, and gushing down slopes. Its stops by at old haunts: pools, ponds and hollows, adding freshness to the older, silting lot, then races on to keep its date with the rivers and the sea in the distance...

Remaining in the car seems restricting...she gets out impatiently and starts walking away from it into the pouring rain, wanting to make as much distance from it and her, …..within minutes the rain has swallowed it, leaving her wondering if she actually rode it….

Balancing herself on the mud ridges between neat rectangles filled with ankle high paddy plants, she bends low to pluck out a rain drenched bright green, exhilarated stalk....

The coconut trees on either side of the rectangular parcels of land sway their arm-like branches in mock anger, the wind no match for their tensile trunks…..the green coconuts too look complacent, while the brown ones get ready to make the downward plunge at each gust!

As the rain turns from sheets to drops again, the monsoon traveler's eyes make out a lone mud house in the distance, with its roof of overlapping mouldy blackish green clay tiles, the continuous pattern broken by a small space on each sloping side by a sheer Perspex one to let in natural light….

Up close, the house discloses a pond on one side. The pond water accepts the falling bulbous drops unconditionally, rippling with pleasure every now and then, nudging the joyous, nodding lilies, who play co-host to the bombarding raindrops, deftly allowing them to slide off their glazed sides….

The reverie of the traveler is broken with the sudden opening of the single door of the house…a hand, belonging to the wearer of a colourful printed sari beckons her to come and sit out the rain in the spacious and clean verandah, and disappears, to emerge a few seconds later with a small steel glass with a steaming hot….

The two women sit side by side, nursing their glasses, sipping and gazing, no words exchanged, no words needed…..the rain slows down to a drizzle, but neither is in a hurry…

Suddenly, the wearer of the bright printed sari nudges the monsoon traveler and points at a now visible rain tree….two golden orioles are engaged in a perfectly executed though swift rain dance, making it almost impossible to follow them, their golden yellow standing out against the washed green of the tree…..a disgruntled roller bird sits on a nearby branch, all puffed up, not amused by the frivolity in his neighbourhood….

The monsoon traveler sits for hours, spellbound, in that verandah, long after the rain has ceased, ….her companion has left to light the cooking fire…

The sound of her own voice surprises her, as she breaks into a wordless song, a conversation between her and the elements, just like every other being around her……

Friday, 27 April 2012

O Chetan!...Letter of despair, outrage...and envy!

(this post is written purely in jest, and if you read it carefully, you will find that I am laughing at myself, and not at Mr. Bhagat, and am envying the fact that he is so loved and widely read by all classes and sections of society, including my family members.....writing is all about reaching out, and today with an astounding readership, he has managed to do just that, whatever his critics might say)

Dear Mr. Bhagat (may I call you Chetan?)

Your next book is out, and none of mine are.

This is an honest, open letter telling you about my (until now) closed feelings concerning your writing.

I heard that you are quoted as one of the most influential figures in the world. Don't ask me where I got this statistic from---maybe I heard it on the radio...but I smirked to myself (hah!) as I set out to test this fact.

To my utter and horrific surprise, my grocer's college going son has heard of you and has recently bought your first book Five Point Someone! He, who comes from a family where no one has ever read more than the printed price labels in their grocery store! He says it was referred to him by his friend who told him English is not so difficult after all. And how would he know?!

Why am I sooooo worked up, you ask? Well, I cannot tell a story in five points like you (isn't that what the book is about?), so bear with me. You may have to allow for certain creative detours, a bit of analysis (heard of those things?) as well. Promise that you'll stay on and not leave midway? All right, here I go.

Recently, my cousin called to tell me of her ordeal. She used to work for a women's magazine and got laid off some months ago. Two weeks ago, she managed to get a part time job as writer for a social networking website, and do you know the brief her employers gave her? Exactly that, i.e., be brief, to the point, and forget about fancy writing! Of all the nerve!

Let me tell you that she is extremely well read, has been a student of Literature, studied at the best schools and colleges in the world, and can throw in words, phrases, puns, and other such things like other people do frisbees (the good ones, I mean, the ones that are good at throwing and catching frisbees.....I get my point, don't you?).

I'll have you know that she and I have (she more than I) been taught English by the British themselves, with a few Irish and Germans thrown in (read 'Nuns'), who helped us pick our books with care ("English is best written by British authors"), and even had us write reviews about those that we had read, which they rated ("five on ten is the highest this class will ever get from me"). 

When Shakespeare, Milton and Keats got too much for us, we were advised to relax with the writings of P G Wodehouse (What's that you're asking? Who is he? You don't know P.G. Wodehouse??), who wrote things like,

"The..... was a tubby little chap who looked as if he had been poured into his clothes and had forgotten to say 'when'!".....from his book "Very Good Jeeves."

Got it? The humour, I mean...see, that's one of my points. 

People, most people, like the grocer's college going son, just don't get it, the subtle humour, and ask stupid questions like 'what?', when they really should be asking 'when?" What's that? Its utter rubbish, you say?

Mr. Bhagat, you do know that English was brought to India by the British, and was supposed to be spoken, read, and written in a particular way? 

Writers were supposed to laboriously go through tomes of classics and poems (because we had never ever seen a Daffodil in our lives, and we took a long time to understand when 'when' didn't mean when!). 

No one could just get up and decide to become a writer!

We were supposed to write about the grocer, his family, their daily doings and the goings on in their lives, (and not for him) from an expert observer's point of view, as a skilled craftsman, who would dig out a worthy word for every activity, every nuance....e.g., 

"Suddenly overcome with lassitude and ennui, the immensely banal and prosaic nature of his work struck him like a bolt of lightning, and he wondered what would ensue if he simply threw off the yoke of generations, and declared a sa famille( that's French...writers in English have to know a bit of French, its the rule!) his prurient thoughts!"

See?  Such labour, such effort, finding uncommon words and elevating (I could have used 'lifting' here, but I didn' that's what writing, real writing is all about!) an ordinary existence and sentence to one worthy of being in a book.......See?

And all was so well in our world of words, that we never realised when (and here I mean the normal 'when')  it ceased to exist outside our minds.

You, an IT (tech) guy, just kind of stole up upon us, and literally wrote us 'discerning' folks off! 

Do you know how many people, especially techies, dream of writing books that earn a bomb, and retiring thereafter? I know, I live in a place that is swarming with them. 

Their point is (and that's the annoying thing about them; they always talk, without fail, in points!), if you can do it, so can they! You've gone and given hope to people who have probably read just one book in all their lives----yours! Imagine!

So dear Chetan, sorry, Mr. Bhagat, its time we (as in 'wordy' writers), woke up from this ennui, this lassitude, or even this langour, this tediuosness....what's that you say? Can't I use simple words? Oh, all right....

Its time we woke up from this boredom (simple enough?), brought upon by a certain jobless state, where people like us, a diminishing band, are reduced to being 'brief', and to practicing our craft in secret.....

How, you ask? Oh, don't tell anyone, but we send mails to each other with beautifully concocted, embroidered, delicately and strategically placed words here and there, that only we understand and that other people call funny.......last time I sent one, two people actually read it (one was my husband who I forced it upon!)

So, my last point is (you're still there, I hope), tell me, no teach me, how to unlearn, simplify....tell me how to write for the grocer's, the mason's, the......the......heck, even my own nephew has read you! Tell me, how do you write for such a wide range of readers?

For, you see, in all our learning the language and the craft, we forgot to pay attention to a small, though vital detail....we completely overlooked the reader! 

(I tell  you, my nephew, who has read your books, wouldn't have spent more than a few seconds on this piece of can you see how serious this is?).

So dear Mr. Bhagat, astute businessman-cum-writer that you are, would you please share your secret (how you know exactly what my grocer's college going son and nephew are interested in), so that I may be as widely read as you, and perhaps even replace you as one of the most influential persons in the world (in case you decide to take a vacation from writing)? Please?

Hey Chetan, er, Mr Bhagat? What are you taking those notes for? What?? You've got an idea for your next book after reading my post? You're going to write about would-be writers? Hey, what's going on in that clever mind of yours? Remember, you got that idea here....remember, you'll have to pay me royalty...come back, listen, let's work this out...hey!