Sunday, November 21, 2010

Little cubs in safe hands

Watching the otherwise fierce lionesses display such care and tenderness gives me such a good feeling!

(Kenya; source)

(Kenya; source)

(Botswana; source: Punjab Kesari)

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Why displaying desperation for Obama?

For some days now, I've been keenly following the developments related to President Osama's visit to India.

And I don't like the desperation being shown by Indian (and foreign) Sikhs to make the American President visit the Golden Temple during his visit to India. Agreed that's he's the President of the US. Agreed that he's a big shot. Agreed that in the US, Sikhs are frequently mistaken for Muslims. But don't you guys have any self-esteem? The way Sikhs - yes, this includes the highest Sikh bodies in Amritsar - are trying to pull Osama to the Golden Temple smacks of desperation.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

I felt like a coward today. Like a loser. I felt ashamed of myself. And I cried.

I feel ashamed even writing this post. Don't know what's keeping my fingers moving.

"Death stands mute at the doors of the `maut ka kuan' where Dil Fariyad, Afzal Khan and Goutham perform the speed feat on three vehicles. The intuitively perfect calculation of time and speed by these daredevils from Ajmer in Rajasthan will sure keep time waiting for an eternity... To the question of fear of death, Jagdish Raj Sharma, owner of the visiting exhibition said rather philosophically, "Iska naam hi maut ka kuan hai. Maut hamesh hamare saath rahti hai. Vo to ooparvale ki marzi hai ki ham aj bhi zinda hai (The performance is called well of death. Death is alway beside us. However, it is the grace of God that we are still alive)."" - Defying death in `maut ka kuan', The Hindu, Dec'05

An hour back, me and my papa went to the Daresi Ground (Ludhiana) to watch the Dussehra Mela. As we were roaming, we were chatting about the danger and the possibility of a terrorist attack at Daresi Ground. We did a bit of shooting and then we moved on. A little later, we noticed a huge cylindrical chamber, the familiar maut ka kuan. Papa asked me if I wanted to see it. I wasn't that interested, but I said yes.

We both climbed the stairs and reached at that level of the frame where the wooden walls end. Papa and me both noticed that the walls are nearly vertical, and although we've both seen this particular performance at least once previously, we were both a bit surprised at the steepness of the walls.

There were two bikes and four Maruti 800 cars parked at the base, and we started waiting for the show to start. A few minutes later, a young man wearing a reddish shirt - he was probably not over 25 - entered the chamber through a door at the base of the cylinder and revved his bike a few times. The public's eyes got affixed on him. The excitement was increasing. Everyone was waiting for him the climb the walls of this death pit.

And he did. Within seconds he climbed the walls and started circling the near-vertical cylindrical chamber. The breadth and depth of the situation cannot be described in words. No photo, no video, no words have the power to describe the magnitude of risk that the young man took as he circled the circular wall. He continued to circle, even changing his configuration inflight. He rapidly pulled notes from onlookers who offered him bits of money, he freed both of his hands from the bike's steering, he even jiggled the bike - all while performing the already-incredible activity!

My legs started to shake. My eyes became wet. I didn't feel any thrill. No fun. Only sadness for these brave boys who carry their lives on their hands every second while they're performing. I say again, it's their insult to try to describe their magic in words. It can be felt only on watching a show in reality.

The young man finished his performance and climbed down the wall. My heart, which was beating rapidly for the last few minutes, started to come back to normal. Just then, I saw four more men enter the chamber on their bikes, and this group of five men started revving their bikes. I knew that this time they're gonna push even further. The men quickly started circling the chamber. They jiggled, made formations, performed, saluted, took notes, and did everything that they should not have been doing. I tried to hide and stop my tears. I felt helpless. Ashamed. Ashamed that I sometimes find it difficult to get out of a cozy, warm quilt. Well-fed, two phones, three computers, bank accounts, bank balance, credit and debit cards, my own car, I felt very ashamed of myself. As those young men circled the death pit, with their life hung by a fragile thread, I though about myself and felt ashamed.

When the boys finished the performance, I told papa that I'm not feeling good. That I can't, and don't want to see more of it. All these minutes, my papa had been feeling exactly as I had been feeling, and he agreed that we should leave. That the huge amount of concern that spontaneously develops for these men is more than what can be born. See, we can't even bear the concern. And they're doing it.

We climbed down the stairs as the bikes and cars started the composite performance. For the next many minutes, me and papa kept talking of these poor boys who are totally unaware of the magnitude of risk they're taking. Multiple times each day. Multiple days each week. Multiple weeks each year. Multiple places in India and elsewhere. I felt like I'm a loser. What have I done by walking away? I've only proved to myself that I don't even have the courage to watch these men put their lives at stake. What to talk of putting my life at stake? As I was walking away from the cylindrical chamber, I said to myself -"Main to bhagoda ban ke ja raha hu, back into my comfortable world. But that doesn't mean that this show will stop. Even if I won't see it doesn't mean that this cruel show won't continue to happen. The boys don't value their lives. They don't know how to make money, and so they will, again and again, put their young lives at stake. The show must go on.".

I feel so sorry for them. And it can't be described. It can only be felt if you know what can go wrong and what its consequences are gonna be. Those who don't understand engineering and physics have no fucking idea that these boys are putting life, LIFE at stake. And that there are SO MANY things that can go wrong.

One breakdown, or one mistake, and life shall painfully leave the shattered bodies. And how much do they get? A few hundred rupees? Just that? Yeah, that's what they get for this feat that only they can pull off.

This guy on YouTube probably watched a real performance. His words echo the sentiment that's in my heart at this moment:

"No halmet ho jackets just regular clothes no safety no training no timings just practise. THIS IS REAL STUNT. REAL DARE DEVILS"

Yes. That's what they are. REAL DARE DEVILS. But they're also the unsung heroes of the Third World. They won't get coverage on Discovery Channel. Documentaries won't be made on them. They won't get sponsors or co-sponsors. They don't have companies insuring their life. They don't have branded teams getting media coverage. Their families are as poor as they are. They don't have a medical team ready with first aid. They don't have money to pay for medication. Nobody's gonna pay for their treatment. They don't have those assurances that allow the rich to take more risk. They don't have any safety equipment. They have nearly zero money in their pockets but infinite courage and infinite energy. And a desire to earn a buck or two. They sport real smiles as they fearlessly circle the death pit. Smiles that feel like swords piercing through my heart. Smiles that make me realize that there's so much wrong in this world. That make me wonder why these boys are unfortunate. I'm unable to look at the smile of the man in the Maruti 800 in the photo above. I can't bear his fearless smile. It feels like a slap. Their families are not aware that each day, their sons, brothers, husbands and lovers beat death in a match against the relentless laws of physics. These men are not aware what friction or gravitation is. Or what force or momentum means. They use their gut, and their gut alone to pull incredible tricks. And amidst all the malls, the cars, the India Shining, the blitz, the development, the GDP growth, the Chandrayaan, and the news stories about the Arrival of India, these fearless, low-paid warriors will continue to beat death and entertain crowds for decades to come.

UPDATE [25-NOV-15]: A video on FB of this.

Friday, September 24, 2010

From divide and rule to divide and sell

Whenever I read news stories saying that the US has struck a deal to sell so many fighter jets to a country, because of apparent threat to that country (from its neighbors, etc.), I feel sad. Because in many of such cases, the so-called threat has been created by the US itself.

(source: Emirates 24|7)

The brilliant strategy followed by "America" can be summarized as follows: Create widespread belief that a particular nation is rogue and thus too dangerous, and then sell tens of billions worth of military equipment to that nation's neighbors. It's in the interest of the US to create controlled tension between different nations of the world, because it gets strong pretext to sell military equipment to the threatened nations. It's annoying to see the US express its desire to see issues between India and Pakistan get resolved, and then see it sell or attempt to sell military equipment to both the nations, further escalating the tension between the nations (culminating in an arms race, fueled both by one-upmanship and by "America").

It looks like a modern form of divide and rule - I call it divide and sell.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Institutions that work - Supreme Court of India

I've been keenly reading judgments given by Supreme Court of India for many years now. A little bit surprisingly, I've almost always agreed with its rulings (except on the matter of reservation in education and employment opportunities). I like that the Court thinks sensibly. Its observations and informed, rational and wise. It is one of the few institutions in India to be proud of.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

My feelings on transporting an accident victim to a hospital (2)

After over a year, tonight I got the third opportunity to help an accident-victim. It's past midnight now, and about half hour back I was in my car with my buddy Vinayak, driving on the Ferozepur Road in Ludhiana. We were heading back home, the weather was good and the drive was smooth when Vinayak - who was probably looking at the right half of the road - suddenly uttered "Gaya! Gaya!" and within a second there were sparks on the road in front of us. A speeding car had rammed into a scooter, on which a boy and his mother were going back to their home (this car fled the scene).

Sensing that a serious accident had happened, we wasted no time and stopped my car right next to the semi-conscious lady. She had injuries on her face, nose, neck and chest, was bleeding profusely and seemed to have great difficulty breathing (blood was flowing out of her nose). With the help of some people who had stopped at the scene, we quickly loaded the victim on the back seat of the car, jumped in, and rushed to the nearby Raghunath Hospital (as requested by the lady's son). After handing over the victim to the emergency services personnel at the hospital, we left the scene.

Although what happened is unfortunate, I have satisfaction that I contributed to save a life, again. My plan of going where I (and Vinayak) had gone was unconfirmed initially, but it seems like it's fortunate that we went (although the Butterfly Effect says that if I had not gone to that place, the configuration of the road would have probably been very different, and the accident might not have happened at all).

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Contra - my all-time favorite video game!

It's surprising that even though video games have advanced so much in the last 20 years, Contra continues to rule my mind, as ever :)

Contra promotional flyer

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Defence spending vs. healthcare/medical spending

On the nights of 30th and 31st August, 2010, I spent a few hours at the Apollo hospital in Ludhiana, as a close relative who, unfortunately, is gravely ill, is admitted there.

I've been to hospitals many times, and a thought that invariably comes to my mind whenever I'm inside a hospital is that it's very, very important to make disproportionately large investments to enable research that leads humans to advancements in health-related diagnosis and treatment.

So when I read statements such as these:

"Even in an age of austerity America still towers above all-comers in military power, as well it should given its annual defence spending of $700 billion, almost as much as the rest of the world put together..." - After Iraq, The Economist, Aug'10

I feel sad. The world needs to spend the most on issues that help us all, and less on human-obliterating bombspain rays and other "futuristic" weapons.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Sick of American journalists' ignorance... denial?

"...false belief in weapons of mass-destruction led the United States to a trillion-dollar war." - Building a Nation of Know-Nothings, NYT, Aug'10

I'm sick of reading supposedly-factual news articles and opinion columns written by American journalists in "highly regarded" publications such as The New York Times, in which these journalists routinely claim that WMDs in Iraq was a mistake by the US!


Grow up, kids. Even a chaiwalla in India probably knows by now that American claims of presence of WMDs in Iraq were all blatant, fabricated lies! Lies with a clear purpose, these were projected as truth by the USA as a pretext to bleed, conquer and leech Iraq.

And what about the mother-of-all-lies - the link between Al-Qaida and Iraq that the US created like a genius? My fingers are burning... I don't have the capacity to write!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Does the US-given designation of "State Sponsors of Terrorism" apply to the US itself?

Just noticed this - the map on the Wikipedia article for "State Sponsors of Terrorism" has the US colored. Does this please US-haters, by indicating indirectly that the US too is a sponsor of terrorism?

Funnily, these countries have been listed by the US

Friday, August 20, 2010

Four learnings from the Landmark Education session I attended on Tuesday, 17-Aug-10

Background: I'm an Aug'06 graduate of The Landmark Forum by Landmark Education.
  1. Stand in the future and live your present from the future: Stand in the future that you want to achieve, and let it empower you and give you happiness and a sense of fulfillment. Then work your present according to that future. The past is exactly that - past. The present is not supposed to be operated according to the past, but according to the future that you desire and have targeted
  2. Targets must be specific: Unless targets are specific and unambiguous, one won't achieve them. "I wanna lose as much weight as possible, as soon as possible." is a BS target. "I wanna lose 5 kg in the next 50 days." is a specific target. "I wanna get rich." is not a BS target; it's a CowShit target. "I wanna earn INR 1 crore in the next 1 year." is a specific target
  3. Targets should be realistic: Setting lofty-but-achievable targets is different from dreaming wildly. "I wanna earn 1 crore in the next 24 hours." is an unrealistic target for me (at present), although it can be a realistic target for someone who currently earns proportionally. "I wanna earn USD 1 million in the next 5 years." is a realistic target
  4. Work on the goals, not on the stories ("I want X but Y"): The Ys are all stories made up by us and assumed to be true, while the Xs are the goals. We convince ourselves that the Ys are true, and that our lack of success in achieving the Xs is justifiably attributable to the presence of Ys, and that these Ys result in our inability in achieving the Xs. We keep thinking about and working on the Ys, whereas we should be concentrating our energy and time on the Xs

My thoughts on Indian female drivers

The outrageous "hit, kill and flee" incident at Chandigarh presents an opportunity to pen my views about the driving of Indian female drivers. These are based on the many years for which I've been driving both two-wheelers and cars in various North-Indian cities.

My views can appropriately be segregated into two buckets - the first called G (for females aged >=16 and <30), and the second called W (for ages >=30). Females <16 years old are out of scope.
  • G: I don't just distrust the driving of most Indian females, and I also fear it, and I plead not guilty to the accusation of being a sexist. I not only have little confidence in the driving of most Indian female drivers from set G, I also get extra cautious when I am driving around one. However, there exists a small subset of G - about 5% of the full set - which does possess good driving skills. The remainder ~95% can be attributed with dangerous/pointless/random turns, frequent collisions, mid-road car stoppages, sudden braking, unneeded honking, etc. I have been victim of the oft-careless driving by set G drivers - in 2004 I was hit, hard, by a car driven by two young girls, who didn't bother to stop to say sorry!
  • W: The proportion of good drivers in W, in my opinion, is only ~2%. Frankly, I'm tired of the troubles created by this set! The drivers in this set generally appear clueless. No more to say...
Update (10-Jul-11): As if this was not already known to every guy (and the ladies too, although they wouldn't admit it), a study by the University of Michigan proves beyond doubt that female drivers indeed cause more accidents than male drivers.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

On atheism, god, life, intelligent life, and the existence of this universe (and more)

Those among us who don't believe in the existence of an omnipotent and omnipresent god (myself included) cite science as one of the reasons for their disbelief. Since god is typically associated with magical/supernatural phenomenon, scientists routinely deny the possibility of presence of god.

A thought just crossed my mind - isn't the very existence of
  1. The universe
  2. Life on earth
  3. Intelligent life, in the form of human beings
magical enough or supernatural enough to make the (possible) existence of a god less magical and less unbelievable?

Should (or shouldn't) the skeptics, including me, look at the world around us, the life in little babies and chicks and puppies, and the intelligent life in homo sapiens as a real-life demonstration of the supernatural, right in front of us, making the very thought of the existence of an all-powerful entity more believable?

Thursday, July 15, 2010

In India, Dabur doesn't sell many 'flavors' of Vatika Enriched Hair Oil that are available abroad... Sad!

I remember that when I was in South Africa, and one day we went to Fordsburg, I was surprised to see some flavors of Dabur Vatika Enriched Hail Oil that I had never seen in India. Presence of Arabic language on the bottles instantly indicated to me that these had been - presumably illegally - imported/smuggled from the UAE.

Four flavors of Vatika available at DXB and Fordsburg, but not India

Fine, but why doesn't Dabur - an Indian company - sell these in its home country? Despite my close to 2 years of experience in the Market Research and Business/Strategic Consulting fields, I'm unable to think of the reason why Dabur doesn't.

Anyways, I bought one bottle of the Cactus flavor from Fordsburg and happily use it these days :)

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

I don't like the word 'Commonwealth'. It constantly reminds me of the devastating British rule in India

The media in India might have gone crazy about the 2010 Commonwealth Games to be held in Delhi, but I don't like this very word 'Commonwealth'. To me, it's a reminder of the atrocities committed by the British on innocent, powerless Indians. The very group Commonwealth of Nations is a constant reminder of the British Empire, and the sufferings given to millions and millions of people all over the world. My mind doesn't want to adopt this word. I'm least willing to read news stories about the Queen's Baton reaching somewhere, or articles telling me that Queen Elizabeth II is the Head of the Commonwealth.

Fifty-four countries still headed by the British Queen (even if ceremonially)?

Thanks, but no thanks. Give me a Head of the Commonwealth from Bangladesh or Botswana or Cameroon or Ghana or India or Nigeria or Pakistan please (or from any other Third World country).

A related Facebook post by me is here [alternative].

A representative of British atrocities in India (source)

Heat makes me go crazy!

I've observed this about myself for many years now - heat makes me go crazy! It makes me needlessly angry and perpetually annoyed, and makes me bark at others for no apparent reason. This observation about myself finally got set in stone over the last couple of weeks, with high temperatures and zero rain experienced in Ludhiana (Punjab, India). I barked at everyone and I was annoyed most of the time and I didn't feel like working till the noon, and my behavior would change dramatically as the dusk grew and the temperature fell.

Screenshot from 'A Few Good Men'

I need to take note of this fact-about-myself in the future. I need to ensure that I keep myself cool during the hottest days in India (or elsewhere), and don't let my composure or productivity fall.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

What frigging right does the US have to impose sanctions on another country (outside of the UN)?

When I read news stories such as this, this, this, this, this, and this, my blood boils and turns into lava.

Can someone please explain to me what fugging right does the US have to unilaterally impose sanctions on another sovereign state? Why are these sanctions passed as "laws" in the US Congress, instead of the UN headquarters? Who the hell is this Barack Obama dude?

Laughably, how in the frigging hell can the United States pass a law in its (troubled) homeland which bars other countries from exporting refined petroleum to Iran (among other things)? And why are these "other countries" so impotent as to accept these laws and sanctions? Why is the UN impotent as well?

No matter how much I try, I fail to understand (and tolerate) this.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

France has no right to ban Muslim veil... (and thoughts on Britain and Spain)

...claiming that the scarf is symbolic of suppression of females (and other blah blah blah). What about those Muslim girls or women who want to wear the veil? Will they have to carry a legal document certifying that they're absolutely okay about wearing a veil? Is France regulating what Muslim women can or cannot wear?

IMHO, and ironically, it's anti-democratic to not allow Muslim ladies to wear the Islamic veil. When did the intent of secularism change from respecting the harmless beliefs of different religions' individuals, to imposing your own views of the world on everyone - including on those who probably oppose it?

Updates (19-Jul-10 and 27-Jul-10):
  1. French ban on the veil - a garment purportedly supported by Islam - will do more harm to the image of the Western world in general, and France in particular
  2. I support the rejection of a ban of the Islamic veil in Britain (link 1, link 2), for the reason they've cited - tolerance
  3. A funny part of France's ban and Spain's consideration of a ban on the veil is that these guys call the veil degrading to women. First, is France/Spain to decide whether those Muslim women feel degraded with the veil, and liberated without it? Second, what irks me is that for some odd reason, wearing extra clothes has come to be regarded as degrading, while a public show of nudity by French and Spanish females (see here, here, here, and here) is not-degrading, is not sexual-objectification of females, is not corrupting the youth, and is instead a demonstration of liberated, modern women? Tough to digest
  4. What about the prostitution industry of France? Is that not degrading to women? WTF!
  5. The ban on veil has less to do with liberating women, and more with reinforcing the stereotype of Muslims as backward

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

A sweet puppy died today :(

This female dog had given birth to three puppies a few days back, and the puppies soon became notorious for their "getting between the legs" behavior. They were playful (too playful actually), would jump around (displaying their infinite energy), and would get between your legs, scaring you.

Just last night I and my brother watched their notoriety, and fed one of them with biscuit.

Today morning when I woke up and went out to open and then close the main gate, I saw one of the three puppies lying dead on the side of the road. Such a sad sight it is. Reminded me of how it was jumping last night. I felt more sad when our maid told us that she had seen and heard this puppy taking "lambe lambe saans" (long breaths) this morning.

Poor little puppy. Feel sad for him. Its mother came to it, and licked it, perhaps wondering why it wasn't moving. Its brother is not jumping around (I'm surprised at how calmly and sadly it's sitting under my car this morning, as if mourning its brother's loss). The third pup is nowhere to be seen.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Me vs. Shrinking Trousers. Fight!

I've finally gotten SICK of my shrinking trousers (a euphemism for my bulging tummy) laughing embarrassingly at me ("Hey Jack, you can't wear us anymore!"). In the past ~2 years, I've seen at least 5 trousers go waste because they no longer fit! Ditto with at least 3 jeans. What the fugging hell is going on? Where's that conviction that I'm never gonna get fat?

I don't wanna look like a pregnant woman, for heaven's sake! (source)

Okay, I gotto halt and reverse this downhill slide. The next update to this post will be on 2-Jul-10. Hoping to lose 2 inches by then.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Real men don't wear pink

Okay, I know this makes me appear like a fuddy-duddy, but I'm clear about this one - real men don't wear pink.

A loser (source)

Brian McFadden may have backtracked from his statement by calling it a 'joke', but I'm never gonna approve men wearing pink. Ever.

PS: Real Men Wear Pink on Urban Dictionary. A nice read.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Thoughts on visiting a country again

Sometime during the six months of my stay in South Africa, I had a brief discussion with a colleague on "tourists who are second-or-more time visitors to a country". I questioned - huh, why would someone want to visit an already-visited-once country again, unless he has already seen every other country that he wants to see in his lifetime? I reasoned - in a utilitarian manner - that once someone has seen/visited a country, it doesn't make sense to spend money again to visit that same country. Instead, it makes more sense to me to see a different/new country when one next goes on a holiday.

That was when I was in Jo'burg. Now I'm in my home country, and I have a slightly different viewpoint on that topic. Do I want to visit South Africa again? Yes. Am I willing to spend money to visit SA, thus making an unvisited country as the opportunity cost? Sure!

Why this change of thought? I seem to have realized one of the reasons why people visit a country again. They come again because they like the place and the place makes them feel good. And seemingly, their primary purpose of doing a holiday is to make themselves feel happy, and not merely to visit a new country.

When I think of SA - especially Johannesburg and Cape Town - I start to feel happy. When I look at photos of SA, I feel so good. Perhaps that's why I too am happily eager/willing to be there again.

Johannesburg at night (source)

There are two learnings that I've got from this change of opinion:
  1. It's okay - and not wrong - if people visit a country again, instead of exploring new parts of the world. They want happiness, which this country is sure to provide
  2. Although I usually have an unassailable opinion about most things, I must remember - as I've also realized at other times - that my opinion can sometimes change. And so the vehemence with which I sometimes voice my opinion might get invalidated later, when my viewpoint changes

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Web counter replaced to StatCounter

I've replaced the hit counter on this blog, from Tiny Counter to StatCounter - the former's counter didn't show up quite often. I've started the count of StatCounter's counter at 9,638 - the latest count displayed by Tiny Counter's counter for this blog.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Just Promoted

Yes, the title is inspired by the 2007 Bollywood movie 'Just Married'. Happy to be writing that I've been promoted from Analyst to Senior Analyst ("Associate") at Grail Research India (on 30-Apr-10). It was a good feeling calling up the family to inform them, updating my profiles on Google, Orkut, Blogger, LinkedIn, and GrailWiki, as well as tweeting about this and writing this blog post.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Yearning to fly again...

"When once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return." - Leonardo da Vinci

Emirates A340 taking-off from Johannesburg (source)

Gulf Air A330 taking-off from Beirut (source)

Wanna fly again :(

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Adieu Africa, good bye Johannesburg !

It's 12:53 AM of the 3rd of April, 2010 here, right now. It's cold tonight. There's light breeze. The building diagonally opposite to my home is illuminated just the way it was on 8th of October, 2009. The roads are empty too, just like they were back then. How am I feeling? I'm cold, feelingless and sad. Jo'burg feels like it's a part of me. These roads, these walls, the flowers, the air here, I've fallen in love with these. I was looking at the road right in front of Berkeley Square. It's wet and it looks good. No voices can be heard, except the ones in my home. The home is illuminated... nearly all the lights are on. It's so quiet outside. I went out on a drive tonight, but couldn't go far because the car was out of fuel. Money, battery, memory and now fuel too. Whenever something good is gonna happen, something finishes. But I felt good that I could see that well-lit area tonight. I want to go out on a long drive tonight. I'll probably get the car refueled and go on a drive. It's my last night in Jo'burg, so I should go. Don't know when I'll come back here. Maybe months, maybe years, and maybe even decades. Don't know. Am sad. I had some very good times here. It has changed me quite a lot. I'm remembering the days before I came here... so many times I went back to Ludhiana, to get the clearance certificate. There was excitement, there was eagerness. Tonight I'm calm and composed. I cried a few hours back. Bitterly. I'm done with my packing. My luggage is ~4 kg above 30 kg limit. Yesterday I was remembering some huge mistakes that I did in life. I have so many things still to do. I wanna do helicopter ride, I couldn't see Soweto. But I had some lovely time at Dullstroom, Drakensberg, Hazyview, Graskop and Cape Town. I have learnt a lot here. I'm already so sleepy. How am I gonna go on a drive, I wonder? Tomorrow at this time I'll be in the flight, somewhere over Africa. I still remember the first tourist place I visited - Rhino & Lion Nature Reserve - on 10th October last year. A smile comes to my face whenever I think about it. The roads were new, the place was new. I would feel so good looking at hills and mountains around.

Sorry for the break. It's 2:24 AM now. I'm just back from a drive along Jo'burg's skyline. There's a particular road on the way back from the airport, on the right side of which Jo'burg's beautiful skyline can be seen at night. I've been to O.R. Tambo airport at least 10 times now, and each time on the way back to home, I get speechless when I look at Jo'burg's skyline. I loved watching it today. We took a wrong turn, which lead us into Hillbrow, perhaps the most dangerous area of Jo'burg. We didn't have a GPS, and we reached very close to the Hillbrow Tower. I had gotten quite alert and scared as we went deeper into Hillbrow. There were a few guys on the road. Ultimately we managed to get out of the area. But I am happy because I've been gazing at the Hillbrow Tower for 6 months now, and today I got so close to it.

I'm sleepy again. But I don't wanna sleep.

I'm remembering the first flight which brought me to Jo'burg. I remember very clearly that as we were nearing Johannesburg, I could start seeing orange colored lights on the ground. We had guessed that this should be Johannesburg. That feeling of new and unknown was something I can probably never forget. I don't think I will ever get that feeling ever again, because Johannesburg was the first time I came to an all new world. I remember clearly how I was feeling while inside the taxi which took me to home. I was looking at shops all around me, and thinking that I'm in an all new world. It can't be described in words. It just can't be described. It can only be felt. And it's entrenched in me. Every time I think of it, I feel good. I still remember the first time I entered the home. The first time I was looking out of my room's window. It was so quiet that night. A few cars passed every few mintues. It was an all new world then.

Whenever I think of the word 'Johannesburg', I feel good. Don't know why. I feel so proud. So connected. I want to keep writing. But sooner or later I'll have to press the 'Publish Post' button. But I'm feeling good as I write this post. Soon I'll sleep for the last time at 302, Riviera Mansions. Shit. It's such a bad feeling. Really, am I sleeping here for the last time? Let me click a few photos which'll make me smile, later. Feels almost like my college days. Tomorrow night's sleep? In A340. The night after that? ATS Greens. Lot of movement. Where is peace?

I'll miss you, Johannesburg. A lot. Don't know why I'm in so much love.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

God proposes, Man disposes!

Even as I write this, I can't believe that this has actually happened.

We were at the Drakensberg mountains a couple of weeks back, hiking our way to the top of a peak. We were a group of ~25-30 people (five of us from India, and the rest from other parts of the world), among whom were two pretty young ladies on a holiday to South Africa - one a Canadian named Annie, and the other from Colombia. The latter's name was Anna Maria, and one of my friends (with all respect due to my good friend, let's call him Faggot for this post) started circling around her as soon as we started our gruesome hike to the top, helping her in clicking her own photos, crossing the river, etc. After hours of diligent work, they only became what can be called one step behind friends (Event1). The day passed soon, and we came back to our camp. We headed back for Johannesburg the next day, and their story ended here, seemingly.

Luck had something else in the store, however. Two weeks later, we were at Cape Town, staying at Long Street Backpackers. On the second day of our trip, me and Faggot went to a nearby Internet cafe, to get the photos and videos on our cameras' memory cards burnt to a DVD. And then the height of coincidence happened - there was Anna Maria at the very same time on the very same date in the very same Internet cafe of the very same city (Event2)! As I was busy surfing the Internet (yawn...), my friend struck a conversation with her, and managed to exchange phone numbers. Before parting ways, Anna asked my friend to meet her at the V&A Waterfront, at seven in the evening (Event3)! What more could've Faggot asked for! We left the cafe and came back to our room, and everyone was excited that Faggot was gonna go on a date with a Colombian chick this evening. Luck had something else in the store, however. When the clock struck 19:00 hours, Mr. Faggot was busy gulping Indian food at a restaurant in Cape Town, fully cognizant that Miss Maria had summoned him for a date! It's unbelievable that he screwed up this opportunity-of-a-lifetime... (Event4)

Not the end of the story, however. We were back in Johannesburg on 22-Mar-10, and on Thursday, the height of coincidence happened a second time. Miss Maria SMSed Mr. Faggot that she would be in Johannesburg (Event5) on Friday, and that they should meet up and do something (Event6). We were all dumbstruck at what was going on, and we pushed Faggot to not screw it up this time. Anyways, I slept over the weekend, and on Monday (i.e., today), when I asked another of my friends as to whether Faggot had gone to meet Anna Maria, I was left speechless as I heard that he did not (Event7).

Let me assign a probability each to Event1 through Event7, based on my subjective judgment. Event1= 0.75; Event2= 0.001; Event3= 0.02; Event4= 0.001; Event5= 0.001; Event6= 0.02; Event7= 0.001

Using basic rules of probability, the probability of this chain of events is 0.0000000000000003, meaning that the impossible happened.

I still can't believe that he actually didn't go, twice. I told him just this - dude you'll bitterly, bitterly regret this a few years down the line...

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Carlton Centre, the shame of Africa?

The Carlton Centre - a 50-floors, 223 meters tall skyscraper in the CBD area of Johannesburg - is considered as an object of pride in South Africa. I remember a cheerful man who emphatically uttered "Top of Africa!" at us, as we were about to enter the skyscraper last November. For good reason, as this is the tallest building in whole of the continent of Africa.

Some of the photos I clicked on 7-Nov-09. More here, here, and here

I, however, am of a different opinion, especially after having seen both Dubai and Cairo last December. Buildings (much) taller than the Carlton Centre are commonplace in Dubai - a tiny emirate of UAE. And here we are talking of a large continent with 53 countries, with an area ~7,400 times the area of Dubai (the emirate). The grimness of the situation becomes more clear when one realizes that the Cairo Tower - a mere 187 meter tall tower in Cairo - counts among the tallest structures in Africa, and that the Carlton Centre doesn't count among the 100 tallest buildings in the world.

I would rather call Carlton Centre the shame of Africa, or a reminder for Africa - an engineering and symbolic achievement for sure, but a stark reminder of what all still needs to be done. African people should be proud of it, but whenever they look at this skyscraper, they should also remind themselves that their billion-strong continent has just one of these megastructures...

Monday, March 1, 2010

Remembering the days when I used to play Holi

It's Holi today. And I'm remembering those days when I used to play Holi as a kid, studying in school. A few days before this one-of-the-best festivals, I used to buy a few packets of balloons ("gubbaare"), some amount of dry color ("rang" or "gulaal"), and one or more pichkaris. I also used to buy some amount of semi-permanent colors ("pakke rang"), and sometimes also the large-sized balloons (the ones you inflate with air).

I used to wake early to start filling the balloons (each balloon was precious - I remember counting the balloons to make sure that a packet which claimed 50 balloons indeed had as many), and used to dip them in a bucket full of water (to slow the outward flow of water). After this was done, all of the arsenal was carefully placed just behind the gate (in the behra, or verandah), and I used to venture out of the gate, looking for my prey. I frequently used to team-up with some of my friends, and we used to together attack others.

And it would happen sometimes that we would be hit with eggs or grease, by elder guys on bikes. Sometimes someone would overturn my bucket (and I would do the same sometimes).

I also remember the time when I would come back home, all colored and drenched, and mummy would ask me to rush straight to the bathroom. I remember using shampoo to remove color from my hair.

All that is past now. It's been years since I played Holi this way. I don't even have a picture of me-a-kid playing Holi. And as I sit here at my office in Jo'burg, I'm remembering those beautiful days when I played Holi, and I'm missing them.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

763 meters below the earth...

It was a great day today. Today, we went to the Cullinan Diamond Mine to do an underground tour. We were thinking of doing this for many days, and we finally came here today. I was a bit nervous initially about going deep down a live, working mine, and that too to a depth of 763 meters (~2,503 feet). I was not 100% confident about the safety of this tour, but after our guide informed us that there had been only three fatal accidents at this mine since 1903, I felt more assured. After a brief walk on the surface, the guide took us down via the industrial lift, and when we reached down and he opened the gate, I was both delighted and surprised to see this:

It looked like caves, like tunnels, and it felt deep. It took some time for this feeling to get down that we're thousands of feet below the earth's surface, and if something happens, there's probably no rescue.

We stayed there for over 2 hours (mostly walking from one place to the other), watching machines, the ore, the equipment, the workers, etc., accompanied by a super-experienced guide with decades of first-hand experience in coal, diamond, gold, and platinum mining.

It was a nice and memorable experience, good learning, and I'm glad that I went.

Me in the 'Level 763' safety suit, 763 meters deep down

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Will the US bomb Punjab?

I've seen this dream many times - perhaps 3-4 times. Each time I wake up clung tightly to whatever is near me, shivering. Today I woke up about 2-3 minutes back, my arms clung tightly to my sheet. The dream goes this way:
  1. I'm at my home, along with my family
  2. I start seeing black-gray colored fighter jets in the sky outside
  3. We're aware that these are US jets
  4. They're flying too low, with the base of their fuselage open, revealing shining orange missiles (this isn't always seen)
  5. A few of them pass too low - ~2 meters over my home - and I'm looking at them, and just as I'm fearing the worse, I realize that the fighters dropped bombs on my home's roof-top
  6. Simultaneously, other jets bomb the other homes in our colony
  7. There's chaos everywhere. Brick and mortar is falling. There's debris around. There are large holes in the ceilings
  8. After a few minutes, the bombing stops. The jets can no longer be seen in this sky. People start to come out of their homes
  9. The dream usually breaks somewhere here
I don't know why I see this (and other similar dreams) often. Will the US ever actually bomb this part of Punjab?

Monday, February 15, 2010

Self-applause for commendable first-ever-time performance on an ice-skating rink

I'm happy that I performed quite-well at Northgate Mall's ice-skating rink today, especially considering that it was my life's first ever hour of ice-skating... :)

Slight nervousness on watching people flying effortlessly on the rink

I struggled quite a bit initially, but picked up pace soon, and in no time I was swiftly gliding on the rink.

And lo, I'm flying too...

Disclaimer (lolz): I fell down real-hard on the ice multiple times (~7 times in total), to the amusement of many, and had my bones compressed in this process. But never mind...

Update (Early morning, 15-Feb-10):I just went to Bing, and its wallpaper shows ice-skating :)

Saturday, February 13, 2010

A death at Riviera Mansions, Johannesburg, SA

Someone died at Riviera Mansions today. As I had heard during my childhood time about American/European culture, there were few people to be seen (<10).The event was a quiet affair, and unlike in India, no screams could be heard. It was sad to think that someone died, but the event did confirm what I had heard years back.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

A thank-you to Emirates airline!

//All time-values mentioned are local times in respective cities
On 3-Jan-10, EK 511 was to depart from DEL at around 11 AM. However, due to thick fog (and other reasons), the flight couldn't depart until late evening, and this made it impossible for us to board the connecting flight to JNB (EK 765), that departs from DXB at around 2:40 PM. We reached Dubai around 7:30 PM, and were relieved to know that Emirates was going to provide us with overnight stay at a hotel, and that we shall now be boarding EK 765 the next day.

In lieu of the delay and the 'inconvenience' caused to us, what all did Emirates provide us?
  1. Overnight stay at Capitol Hotel (individual rooms for all)
  2. Dinner and breakfast
  3. Transfers from and to the DXB airport
  4. Three minutes of international calling per person
  5. A 24-hour visa for Dubai!!
As I had very freshly been to Dubai on a 4-day holiday, I knew the importance and value of this visa pretty well! This is my golden second chance to see things that I wanted to but couldn't, I thought. I must make the most of it, I told myself. So after enjoying a nice dinner at Capitol, I quickly went to sleep and woke up early the next day and swiftly got ready. As none of my friends had visited Dubai previously, they too were excited about this golden opportunity they had unexpectedly got.

Since EK 765 departs DXB near 2:40 PM, we had about 5 hours to see Dubai. In these five hours, we saw the following (in this order) - Dubaitaxi, Dubai Metro, Mall of the Emirates, Ski Dubai Snow Park, Burj Al Arab, Jumeirah Beach, The Dubai Mall, Burj Dubai (now Burj Khalifa), and of course, Terminal 3 of Dubai International Airport. For me, this opportunity meant that I fulfilled my wishes of traveling third time in the Dubai Metro, and of spending a good amount of time on the Jumeirah Beach - things I had wanted to but couldn't do on my first visit...

There was more to come, for me :). As I was about to board the magnificent A340-500, I was notified that my ticket (and only my ticket) had been upgraded for free to Business Class! I was pleasantly surprised, and had a delightful experience getting a taste of the Business Class journey...

Thank you Emirates!