Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Too busy to blog right now

Day after day the same thing. I reach office before 8:30 am, take training from the onsite team till 10:30. Then create the documentation for that training. Attend a few meetings. In the evening, when people are just starting to leave office one by one, another training session starts. That is supposed to be from 6:30 pm to 8:30 pm, but usually starts after 7:30 and continues after 9:00. Then I return home and sleep early after a hasty dinner of whatever is available, for next morning the same schedule will be repeated.

And after all this the auto drivers expect us to put up with their bad behaviour and whims?

Sunday, May 13, 2007

The Human Time-table

I and my sister were desperately looking for a time-table that shows local train timings. We walked all over the Howrah station, but in vain. All the visible time-tables showed the long distance train timings. Even the book stores did not have local train time tables. Then I thought, let’s go and ask a ticket collector who is a bit free.

Several ticket collectors were standing near the gate, and we chose one gentleman among them who seemed to be taking his work a little less seriously. He was wearing the standard black coat, and his mouth was full of pan (or tobacco maybe).

“Where can I find a local train time table?” I asked him.

He couldn’t speak because of the pan, but he thumped his chest twice to indicate that he could serve as the time table.

My next question was, “Could you please tell us when the Belur Math Local leaves Howrah in the morning?”

He promptly searched his pocket and produced his receipt booklet, the one that he uses while taking fines from the passengers traveling without tickets. I was alarmed. He opened the booklet to its last few pages. Four digit numbers were scribbled all over these pages in tiny handwriting. They were written in all possible angles, and there were no letters or train names. Just those numbers, which as I soon realized, were train timings.

He flipped through a couple of pages and pointed to a corner of the third. There, in little figures the following was written:


With a small grunt he indicated that these were the timings of our train. We quickly made a mental note of the figures and thanked him. He gave a little nod and another grunt, and was back at his work once more. We turned away and started walking towards the platform.

“How the hell does he remember which timings are for which train?” asked my sister before bursting into laughter. “If I had not seen that train leave at 10:10 a little while ago, I would not have believed he was right”, she added.

“He is a funny character all right,” I said, “He is acting as the time-table without speaking a word. I will write a blog post about him.”

And here it is.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

A Tiny Tagore Translation

A tiny poem by Rabindranath Tagore (I forgot the name of the poem) was going round and round in my head for the past few days. Here is its translation by me.

When the storm comes rushing into the spring fest,
The buds are not scared by it, young leaves laugh in jest.
Only the withered leaf knows the storm’s character;
The storm is but his liberator, what does he have to fear?

That's all I could write today, on his 146th birthday, owing to the tremendous workload at the office. Hopefully a proper post will follow soon.

Friday, May 04, 2007


A pleasant shower a couple of days ago gave Kolkata some temporary relief from the stifling heat of the past few days. Summers in Kolkata are usually like this: a few days of sweltering heat followed by a thunderstorm that brings down the temperature.

It is not the same way everywhere in India. North Indians are usually not so lucky.

Kolkata lies almost exactly on the Tropic of Cancer, and predictably has a climate which is best described as “Tropical”. The temperature usually rises up to around 40 degrees Celsius and this is accompanied by a very high relative humidity. The result is very uncomfortable. Often after walking a short distance or traveling by a crowded bus one will find their clothes soaked in sweat. However, a few days of this heat is usually interrupted by a thundershower and things are pretty much bearable after that.

Nights are usually cool, and though the Bay of Bengal is far away, a southerly sea breeze is felt. The daytimes are problematic; with power cuts and mosquitoes and irritating skin rashes due to the heat, everyone’s temper is perennially on the edge. This is especially felt in the evening buses and trains, where quarrels break out at the drop of a hat. After a hot day in office, everyone needs some way to vent their irritation.

This was my idea of summer heat in my childhood. When I was five, my father got transferred to Allahabad in North India. We went there in mid-April and then I came to know what real heat was. As we stepped outside the station, the hot air hit us in the face like the blast from a furnace. Looking back now, I don’t really think the temperature was at its highest, it being only mid-April. However, it was enough to give us a taste of the ‘loo’, the hot dusty wind that blows over the North Indian plains in summer. We traveled home with our heads wrapped up in towels as was advised by some local people.

That first summer was one of the most uncomfortable for us. I hardly remember what I felt, but I clearly remember the discomfort that was faced by my parents and my maternal grandfather who had accompanied us there. The nights were almost as hot as the days. We used to wet the floors of our bedroom to bring the temperature down. There was no perspiration: the weather was bone dry. As the summer progressed the temperature rose well above 40 degrees Celsius. We were told two rules: if you want to stay alive, drink a glass of water before every time you leave home during the daytime, and when the ‘loo’ is blowing, cover your face and head with a towel. In the Allahabad heat you do not sweat, so you really do not realize how much fluid your body is losing. In the humid weather of Kolkata the sweat sticks to your body, but in Allahabad it vaporizes as soon as it comes out, leaving your skin dry. You can die of dehydration before you realize what hit you.

You can die of heatstroke too. Heat deaths occur regularly during the summer months in Northern India. The official figures are often lower than the actual figures. People die on the streets, maybe some labourers who had come from remote villages to work in the city. Their bodies lie unclaimed in the morgue, and then they are dumped on the river bed. Yes, barbaric as it may sound, it is the truth. In the summer of 1995, the temperatures remained 45+ for over twenty days (touching 47 for three days if I remember correctly), and during this period I saw carts full of rotting human corpses being carried towards the river. I have also seen cattle lying dead on the roadside during subsequent summers. It was during this summer that I recorded a temperature or 62 degrees in the sun, and a lump of paraffin wax kept in the sun used to turn to clear liquid in fifteen minutes. We always have to keep candles in the refrigerator during the summer. Candles kept outside the fridge get disfigured. Standing ones bend down, and lying ones get flattened and spread out. And mind it, this happens inside the rooms, not out in the open.

Occasionally dust storms or “Aandhis” do occur, accompanied by light showers that dry up as soon as they fall and emit that wonderful earthly smell. When they occur they slightly lower the temperature. However, they are not as regular and predictable as the thundershowers in Kolkata. The monsoons dry up before they reach Allahabad, and the rains can be expected only after mid August. So spending May, June and July in Allahabad is like spending three months in hell.

Strangely, however, I have come to love both the summer and the winter (which is also quite extreme by Indian standards) of Allahabad. Not that I enjoy being roasted alive very much. No way. Especially since there is no power during the day (and often no power during the night as well) during the summer months. But somehow working in that pure heat gives one a sense of adventure. And as I said before, although much worse for health, that climate is actually much less irritating than the sweat filled Kolkata summers. Besides there used to be that two-month long summer holidays that we had in school!

The Hyderabad summers are very much like the Allahabad ones: dry with temperatures reaching 42+. One funny thing I saw there was how the hill lakes and ponds dried up. However, there we had showers every few days of heat, and that drastically brought the mercury down. And being in South India, Hyderabad gets the monsoon much earlier.

This post would be incomplete if I do not mention about another city. The people of Chennai say they have three seasons in the year: the Hot, the Hotter and the Hottest. I spent two months in the hotter season there. People from all over India dread Chennai for several reasons, and the climate is one of them. However, I feel Chennai has been unfairly criticized over the years. The climate is just as bad in Kolkata. The humidity may be a bit on the higher side, but there is always a strong breeze blowing due to the presence of the sea (this blows sand from the beaches into every nook and cranny of the city). But overall I’ll say the Chennai climate is not unbearable to a person who has spent summers in Kolkata and Allahabad.

Anyway, summer is my least favourite among all the seasons, especially now that I’m out of school and have no vacations. Even then I thought a post was in order, for unless we think of things that we dislike, we really don’t appreciate the things that give us joy.