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The elephants ain’t got Jesus…

April 5, 2010 1 comment

Caesar and the rest of the conquering types must be so glad they didn’t have someone like me gumming up the works with long articles to read just as they’re getting ready to go out and do their bit to reduce the human population by massacring a few thousand soldiers. I haven’t written anything in ages, so quit complaining and read along, will ya?!

Thought I’d ramble on inconsequentially about the thoroughly enjoyable birthday weekend trip the girls and I took to the Orange County Resort on the Kabini river near Mysore. The trip worked out perfectly. The place was *AMAZING*. The cottage we stayed in had a courtyard pool was simply awesome and as expected, the kids and adults had a BLAST.

We had an elephant interaction event on the second day. The elephant was a ponderous looking 47 year old female who is counted as part of the resort staff :). And befitting her status as member of the staff, she gets a big barn alongside the staff quarters, in the same compound :). We first had a ride on the elephant, which was a fun experience. Since we were four on the elephant, with me sitting on the tail end of the beast, I had very little space on the cushion on top of the elephant. I was forced to sit half on the cushion and half on the backbone/tail-end of the elephant. I was shocked at how very unlike a limo-ride it was. First – the hair is poky and not fun when wearing shorts. Second, the elephantine backbone has a mind of its own and moves in mysterious ways its wonders to perform. Sitting on it was ticklish in the extreme. I tried taking Jesus’ excellent advice and turned the other cheek – and then the other. It was of no use. Obviously not in tune with Jesus’ teachings, these elephants. I was laughing uncontrollably all the while – and the elephant, sensing something on its rear-end, and unable to appreciate my mirth, kept swatting me with its tail. Quite a sting it packed, I can tell you from experience!!. After the ride, the elephant, monosyllabic mahout and us, all trudged to the river, where the elephant just plonked itself into the water and proceeded to wallow in the shallows and cool off, glad no doubt to be rid of my annoying presence on its back. After a few minutes of this, the mahout suggested I take Akshara and sit on its back. Seeing that he was armed with a sharp looking instrument, I did as instructed – and the damn pachyderm, without giving me as much as a gentle warning, got sweet revenge by filling its trunk with water and soaking me to the BONE with the filthy muck in which it had just frolicked!! . And having relished the experience, proceeded to do this three more times. By the time we were done, I admitted defeat – and Akshara bawled her lungs out in fright. Alekhya, the daredevil in the family, went next and thoroughly enjoyed getting soaked with water and slush. Definitely the highlight of her trip!

We took the boat safari in the evening – lot of fun, but all we saw were bored looking elephants (probably envying their captive sister who managed to soak humans for fun) and a few grazing deer. The resort guys have a good scam going. First they build the suspense up when you reach by having their walkie-talkies crackle incomprehensibly. They look up at you with a grave expression and say things like – “ooh, excuse me sir. I’m getting alerts about a Tiger/crocodile/leopard sighting.” (What he forgot to mention was that this was a Tigger doll that some kid had taken along on the safari). This gets one all excited and the next thing you know, you’re signing up for the safari, convinced that you’re going to spot a tiger or leopard, secretly hoping that you can watch it feasting on one of the plump and overfed tourists from one of the other resorts in the vicinity. With this happy thought in mind, we boarded the boat and off we went. We saw some “spotted deer” on the way – i.e. deer that have been spotted many times, love being spotted and will continue being spotted and are hence called spotted deer. Explains why there is no such thing as a “spotted tiger” – nobody has spotted one! We saw a herd of elephants grazing absent-mindedly. The best part was a teeny tiny tot that was part of the herd. Barely a few months old, the little critter kept hiding between his/her parents’ legs and for their part, they were fiercely protective of his/her super-natural cuteness and didn’t let us take too long a look at him/her. It was a wonderful scene to see them enjoying their food in the wild. Sort of made us feel very happy to see animals in the wild. All’s well with the world and all that, if you know what I mean. But we did not see any tigers. There was this one time when the (spotted) guide on our boat sat upright in his seat and said in a hoarse whisper – “Did you hear that?!!!”. “What?”, I asked, rather cluelessly. “That was the roar of a (unspotted) tiger”, he said, resorting to that dramatic stage whisper again. The rest of the tourist herd looked suitably impressed. I didn’t dare tell them that it was actually my stomach rumbling in anticipation of the evening meal – much like the tiger’s stomach upon sighting that oft-spotted-deer.

After we got back, there was the evening festivities to look forward to. At 7:30 every alternate day, the resort has a “tribal dance”. An event aimed squarely at those either white in the skin or those a little soft in the head. A bunch of morose looking blokes gathered around a fire, squatting and muttering amongst themselves. We were all seated around tables in the open, being plied liberally with beer and fried stuff of indeterminate, but tasty origin. The lake/river shimmered nicely in the full moon. All in all, a pleasant scene. Suddenly one of the blokes called for our attention. Introduced himself as a tribal – a “Kaadu Kuruba” he said. Said his brethren were going to entertain us with a few tribal dances. Rambled on in broken English for a few minutes, liberally using the phrase “very spiritual dance” many times during his monologue. He had a knack for the dog and pony show. Really knew how to use the term “spiritual dance” whenever the audience’s enthusiasm was flagging. The dudes gathered around the fire. One of them started beating the drum and the other played a musical instrument that seemed to have passed its use-by date several decades ago, putting out a particularly mournful tune that had me wishing I was in the jaws of a crocodile. The blokes linked hands and started shaking their legs, moving around the fire in circles as they hooted, made guttural sounds and seemed to shout what unmistakably sounded like “Aaaaiii-Yaaaayyiiii-YYYooooo” said in a mocking tone. This being done and photographs clicked by some of the more gullible tourists, the talking tribal elder came up and again said a lot about spiritual dancing. Full of spirit he was, I could tell (and smell). The second dance began – and what do you know… I couldn’t tell one spiritual dance from the others. Same sound, same moves, same whistling and shouting. These spiritual dances are subtle in their differences. I couldn’t tell what these differences were. I guess the spirit wasn’t with me. The talking man did some more talking and the message was the same – spiritual dance, blah blah, spiritual dance, yakety-yak, spiritual-dance, hey-nonynony, thank the Gods for future years. And… you guessed it. Same dance, same song, same spirituality. Mysterious. Baffling. I looked at the note on my table. It read “Please refrain from giving money to the tribals because it may offend their sentiments, If you wish to help them, please hand over the notes (preferably in crisp $100 bills) to the manager of the resort”. Nice eh? OK – I jest about the $100 bills, but the rest is true.

Sheesh – I pick nits a little too liberally. The whole experience was fantastic. The boat ride, sans tiger sightings, was awesome. The elephant encounter was worth the price of admission. The pool in the room was PHEW! AWESOME. The whole resort is beautifully landscaped and perfect to the last detail. There was a reading room next to the water that was serene. Water all around, birds chirping, the distant sound of resident naturalists bull-shitting about tribal living to foreign tourists. Perfect. The only jarring note as we sat there was this guy yaking away on his cell phone about God-knows-what. Felt like clobbering him on the head and feeding him to the nearest (un-spotted) tiger or leopard.

The food!!!! It was simply amazing. Every meal was a humongous spread of cuisine from every part of India and outside. The local cuisine was particularly amazing. Meat, vegetables and dessert cooked in the local style, an array of dishes from various parts of India, Pasta made to order, fresh fish, the list goes on. This was the best part of the whole experience. I must have undoubtedly gained a few pounds on this trip. I saw the resident elephant eyeing my round shape with undisguised envy on the last day as she sulked ashamedly about not tucking into enough of the fatty foods on offer. Taking notes, she was…I could tell.

There is an emerging class of resorts in India that can compare with any around the world. This was one of them. The service was impeccable. Cleanliness and attention to detail on par with any other place I’ve seen. Absolutely fantastic. Definitely two thumbs up.

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Categories: Uncategorized

Holy Pumpkins!!

November 3, 2009 2 comments

Time to fess up. Yes, I’ve been promiscuous. I’ve been seduced by a few beauties, developed an intimacy with them with a just vague understanding of what they’re all about and then discarded them in an egregious embrace of the use-and-throw culture we all know and universally seem to love. Not a single attempt to understand, to discover the inner meaning, to build a lasting relationship. Sigh… there’ll be hell to pay (and enter, endure?) at the pearly gates, I’m sure.

OK – I’ve titillated your imagination enough – I’m talking about *words* you filthy-minded louts!! I’ve used words without really understanding them, is what I’m saying :-). But… strike one word from this list of one night stands! For I now finally know what the word “surreal” means. I’ve used surreal without ever realizing what surreal means – rather surreal that a self-confessed word-nerd can confess to such a terrible crime, right?

It’s the experience of witnessing Halloween in India that finally cleared a few of the cobwebs from the largely empty upper chamber. Whodathunkit!! Halloween in India?! Yes sir – as the brothers Merriam or even Noah Webster might have said, the event was certainly “marked by the intense irrational reality of a dream”. Surreal, you might say, if you’re fond of condensing a sentence into one word. I certainly did say that. But more on that a little later.

For those unfamiliar with Bangalore – a quick 360 degree view: There’s a south (that I identify myself with) populated with dosa devotees, a nerdy north (mistakenly) laying claim to a truer-bluer-than-thou Bangalore-ness over the south, a west I have very little idea about and an east increasingly populated with those reversing the go-west-young-man mantra on its axis. Hardened dosa-lover though I am, I’ve headed east and now live among these erstwhile denizens of San Jose, Sunnyvale and other surrounding towns and a select few like myself from places like Boston on the other coast, who didn’t go far enough west when we were young men and women.

Having spent a large portion of the two years I’ve been back in south Bangalore, I wasn’t quite anticipating that Halloween would be quite the do it turned out to be. In south Bangalore, the few that have heard of Halloween look on it as another evidence of western craziness that should be sniggered at and tolerated. Halloween? Nyet. Not a sign of it anywhere in south Bangalore. I was hence pretty unprepared for the frenzy that Oct. 31st turned out to be, in East Bangalore. The powers-that-be in the apartment complex where I live were obviously better men and women than I. They had anticipated the numbers involved and had organized the event to perfection. The little and not-so-little goons ( and pirates, fairies, princesses, etc.) were segregated by age group and had an age-specific, pre-assigned order in which they would traverse the five apartment towers. The less sporting of residents who wanted out of the madness were given a shot at not being disturbed, by requiring that those residents wanting to hand out candy would advertize their choice by putting up a sign on their doors welcoming trick-o-treaters. There was even a pumpkin-carving contest. Not really sure how that turned out – the local pumpkins are rather small and undernourished compared to the gargantuan specimens that North America seems to produce.

Just how many kids came a-calling? I lost count at about 200 (I’m serious!). They came in droves and droves. I quickly realized that closing the door after each group of kids would be a surefire way to kill my calling-bell. I decided to simply stand outside the door and distribute candy, while eating most of it in a tearing hurry. It was a fantastic social event. The kids had a rollicking time tearing across five towers of apartments with ten floors each. Adults bore it with an admirable, smiling fortitude. And some of us ate more candy than we distributed. In short, a grand old time was had by all. I’m *very* surprised that chocolate makers like Cadbury aren’t pushing to make this an urban-India-wide phenom.

But wait, here comes the gory end. Among the last set of kids to come my way was a LARGE group of teenage girls. All of them funnily enough, dressed in exactly the same way. I foolishly left my foot precariously hanging near my mouth by asking one of them what the costume was all about. “We’re all Bella!”, she said. I should have nodded wisely at this point, handed over the candy and waved goodbye. Instead, the sucker for punishment that I am, I persisted in pushing the size 10 boot firmly down my throat. “Bella??”, I asked, displaying what I thought was an endearing and refreshing inquisitiveness. “From Twilight!!”, she responded, her tone indicating that this should be clear to even the meanest intelligence (i.e. mine). And with more than a touch of insolent impatience, I might add. I was obviously eating up precious candy-collecting minutes  with this display of abject ignorance. The poor girl was struggling – she obviously wanted to kick me in the shin (or maybe higher, you never know) and hotfoot it. One of the other Bellas in the group came to the rescue. With a upward roll of the eyes that only teenage girls seem well-equipped to perform with panache, she swept the crowd onward, saying “Forget it! *He* won’t know”. Surreal? Nope – very painfully real.

Categories: Uncategorized

Sick transit on a glorious Monday (sic)

August 25, 2009 Leave a comment

Well, you’re about to do it again – waste a few minutes of your apparently-not-so-precious time reading the tripe that I put out. Hey, hey, just kidding! Get the mouse pointer away from the back button!!

‘Tis the season folks – of swine flu, that is. If you’ve had to depart from one of India’s airports during the past week, you’ve doubtless seen the upsurge in the number of people wanting to look like “The Phantom”. So it was last Monday when I headed out on a manic itinerary that took 36 hours to get me from BLR to BOS. The airport was awash with masks of all shapes, sizes and hues. It really was quite a tall order to not get caught up in the hysteria, to eschew all human contact altogether and aim for the security line only when no one else is in sight. All this of course, only to sit in a confined space with no ventilation for the better part of two days. Still, I can’t complain – with countless episodes of “The Simpsons” to keep me busy and a super-skinny flu-free and kid-free dude next to me, my seemingly interminable hours of airborne existence were thankfully uneventful.  This weekend, I get to go through the rigmarole in reverse – SFO to BLR. Hope Emirates has reloaded its video collection for the long haul. Swine flu, enjoy your day in the sun. As they said in the (real) old days  – sic transit gloria mundi.

The real find of the trip for me has been Google Voice. Prior to the trip, I was stoked about handing out my Google Voice number to all and sundry and have cool stuff like voicemail available on the cloud, as is de rigueur these days. Little did I realize the comic possibilities of transcribed voicemail messages. The good QA folks at Google haven’t really given this baby a spin with Indian voices, accents and names, I can tell. I may be Guru to you folks. However, Google prefers, for reasons best left unexamined, to call me Andrew, Joe or Lou. In one message, I got a pretty edgy moniker as “Group”. But in the next message, I was brought crashing back to earth when Goog called me a “Girl”.  Pretty humiliating, I can tell you – being rechristened a “Girl” by a nameless (but not voiceless) computer.  

ROTFL? You bet! Here’s an example to get you rolling: I didn’t quite get the drift when, at the end of a long message, a friend seemed to say : There is a little pork I’m going to try and place next to the house. When are you coming over to defend our house?”. Ominous. What’s with the pork, I thought and why place it next to the house when the house needs defending? Live free or die sounds good on a number plate, but I didn’t sign up for this porcine defense. Later, I heard the voicemail on the Google Voice website, where the message was a far more benign: “There is a poker game planned tonight in Raj’s house. When are you coming over to Jatinder’s house?” Go figure…

 

I encourage all my friends to call and call often – and if you’re Indian, Chinese, German, French, Bulgarian, Russian – or in any way blessed with an exotic accent, please, do leave a message. Please.

So folks, If you aren’t on Google voice, you have to sign up quick – before the spoilsports at Google fine-tune, “improve” and take the fun out of transcription.

Categories: Uncategorized