Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The Mahabalipuram Trip

"We're at the bus stand waiting for the bus," I furiously typed the message on my mobile phone, "As soon as it arrives we'll leave without you." After sending it to Sushil, I turned my attention to my breakfast once more.

I, Amit and Shreevallabh were having our breakfast at the Sangeetha Restaurant near the Adyar crossing in Chennai. It was the first Saturday after joining our first job, and we intended to celebrate the completion of our first week as IT professionals with a trip to Mahabalipuram. Six of us were going, including Abhijit and Samiraj, who would be joining us at the bus stand, and Sushil. The only problem was that Sushil had woken up just five minutes ago. To ensure that he did not fall asleep again and reached us as fast as he could, we took turns calling him and SMSing him over our breakfast, all the while lying blatantly about our progress. As a result, he joined us soon after we reached the bus stand. Abhijit and Samiraj were already there, so we proceeded to board a bus and head towards Mahabalipuram.

Mahabalipuram is only 60 km from Chennai, and it wasn't long before we reached there. The journey probably also seemed short and uneventful as we were all sleeping most of the time. On reaching there, we first went to a shop so that Sushil, who had not had any breakfast, could eat something. Then we went to see the five monolithic "Rathas" or small temple-prototypes built by the Pallava rulers largely between the 7th and the 9th century.

Click to enlarge After seeing the Rathas we went to see the Mahishasurmardini cave temple and the lighthouse. There are two lighthouses: one medieval one that used a fire for signaling, and a modern one with a powerful electric beam. From top of the old lighthouse we could see the shore stretched out in front of us beyond the cliffs and boulders that lined the terrain. On looking out far towards the horizon, one could just make out the nuclear power plant at Kalpakkam. Climbing atop the modern lighthouse is not allowed.

It was quite hot, and after having a Kakri (a serpentine cucumber-like fruit) each and a hearty brawl with the old lady selling them, we proceeded towards the other places to be seen. Men selling tiny statues had been pestering us, and one had almost roped in Sushil by reducing the price of his ware from Rs.50 to Rs.15, but finally we decided that even Rs.15 was too high and left.

Click to enlargeThe next place was full of some hillocks and cave-like rock formations. The main attraction here is Krishna’s Butterball, which is a huge round rock perched precariously atop an inclined rocky hillside. I gave my camera to another tourist and all six of us climbed up the hillock to go and pose under the round rock. It was fun, but I must admit that it was a bit scary too. If suddenly that rock decided to roll down, we would become pancakes (like they show in Tom & Jerry). However, the rock stayed exactly as it had stayed for thousands of years and we came down safe and sound again. We were unlucky about the camera though --- when the man returned it to me I found the film compartment door slightly ajar. Our last photo and the next couple of frames were ruined.

Then we went to see the carved rock called “Arjuna’s Penance”. It is a large rock lying on the roadside with a lot of figures sculpted on it. It shows Arjuna, a hero from the epic Mahabharata during his penance. It was lunch time and we were feeling as if we were doing penance ourselves, so we went to have lunch at a typical Tamil restaurant.

The food was of course typically Tamil. There was rice and five different kinds of sambhar, chutney and papad. There was also curd, buttermilk and a sweet, and some things that I have forgotten. The rice was served on banana leaves. The taste was good, but then, you don’t bother about the taste when you are eating five kinds of sambhar in one meal.

After lunch we walked to the shore Temple. This is the only historical temple in Mahabalipuram that is not monolithic. It is set directly on the beach, and is in a bad shape due to the corrosion caused by the sea water, wind and sand. Luckily it was not damaged by the Tsunami of December 2004. Our legs were very tired by this time, and we just rested there and chatted for a long, long time. The wind was intoxicating, and due to a full stomach, we just felt like sleeping. However, we had another important activity to finish: something for which we had been carrying our clothes since the morning.

The beach was neither deserted, nor too crowded. It was cleaner than the beaches of Chennai. The day had turned cloudy when we reached there. We chose a dry spot near the water and got into our bathing clothes. Then we went for a dip in the sea. None of us knew swimming properly, so we bathed in waist deep water. It was my first (and till date only) sea bathing experience and I can’t say I enjoyed it very much. Firstly the salt water kept getting into my mouth. Secondly the salt water kept getting into my eyes and it hurt a lot. Thirdly the water also carried sand into my mouth and eyes. And most importantly, there were quite strong waves that kept coming and knocking me head over heels. Since I don’t know swimming, and I had left my glasses on the shore, it was scaring me. After completing our bath, we got dressed on the beach. This was a BIG mistake. We should have looked for some rocky place first. I don’t know about others, but the sand on the beach got on my wet feet, and then from there it reached each and every corner of my body inside my clothing, and I felt as if I was wearing a sandpaper suit. I was rubbed raw by the time I reached home. That was not the end of our miseries. Washing those clothes proved to be a bigger problem than we had imagined, and I and Amit took turns rinsing them again and again to wash away the grains of sand.

Anyway, after we had dressed, Shreevallabh took a ride on a horse, and then we walked among the souvenir shops. There were stone figures and beautiful sea shells. The prices were exorbitant due to the presence of foreign tourists. We bought a few small items and came to the bus stand. There we visited a temple (a functional one, not a historical ruin) and then boarded a bus for Chennai. The return journey was bad. I slept for some time and when I woke up I found that the bus was so crowded that there wasn’t place even to stand. When our stop came we somehow squeezed out, and went home tired.

Thus our first trip from Chennai was a grand success and it went a long way in strengthening the bond that the six of us share to this day. Before the trip we were a group of six strangers each of who knew at most another member in the group. After the trip we were six friends who stayed together in most activities most of the time throughout our stay in Chennai. The other trip that we had planned during our two month stay didn’t work out properly, but I’ll tell that story some other day.

(Photos courtesy Wikipedia. The photos that I took are not with me currently.)

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Rainy Day

When I woke up at six this morning, it was almost dark as night outside although the sun was up and running long ago. It had rained last evening, and evidently more was in the offing. I quickly got ready for office (finishing my breakfast with leftover khichudi from last night) but before I could set out, the rain started. And did it rain! It was still raining cats and dogs one hour after it started, and it was accompanied by a mild storm and loud claps of thunder. As I waited for the downpour to cease a little, I remembered the rainy days of my childhood.

The house in Hooghly where I spent my early childhood was a big old house with a large central courtyard and open verandahs on all sides. When it rained, all these verandahs were washed with rain and it was very dangerous to travel from one room to another. However, since our house was quite high, and there was a pond next to it, there was never any water logging. For me, the rainy days meant staying in one of the rooms as much as possible. My mother and grandmother had to go to the kitchen through the wet verandahs, of course, but that was least of my concerns. So I don’t have any special rainy memories of this period.

A rainy day in my maternal grandparents’ house in Salt Lake was a different matter altogether. Here when it rained hard and long enough, the roads would have knee deep water and there would be a few inches of water in the driveway as well. I made paper boats and floated them out in the driveway. So whenever it rained, I prayed for lots of it, so that it would be worthwhile.

But the first time I saw really bad water logging was in Allahabad. After the first summer there, one night it rained hard, and in the morning there was knee deep water in our garden. There were frogs jumping around the house. The park across the road had transformed into a pond. Obviously this meant no school for me. This was of course an extreme case. On other days when it rained not-so-hard, I would pray for the maximum rain to occur in the one hour prior to the start of school, so that a holiday would be declared. This happened at least once a year. Actually the declaration of holiday depended on the number of students already in the school: if majority had already reached, there was no point in giving the day off. On the other hand if only a few had come then they would be sent back home. I never saw two consecutive holidays because of rain; it was just not allowed to happen. So even if it rained harder on the second day than the first day, the school would remain open. Sometimes it would rain hard after school started and the school grounds would be flooded. As children we were fascinated by the huge earthworms that came out of the ground and we crowded around the puddles formed to get a better view. Once during such an engrossing observation session another boy pushed me into a puddle and I had to walk around with one side of my body wet and covered in mud for the rest of the day.

Once it rained during the day and many localities were flooded. While returning we had to pass through a place where there was waist deep water (waist deep for an adult; for us it would have reached above the waist). Our tempo stopped in that water and refused to start again. The driver had to get down and push it out. It was my father’s weekly off that day. He had to go and “rescue” my sister before her school became inaccessible by car.

I have owned several raincoats throughout my childhood. They were all mackintosh style one-piece plastic raincoats with matching caps. I particularly remember a plain sky blue one and another pink one with white flowers all over it. After I passed class X, I started going to school on my bicycle. My parents bought me a lovely dark blue two piece raincoat for wearing while cycling in the rain. It had a jacket and a pair of trousers. It gave complete protection from the rain (though it’s a different matter altogether that the amount I perspired while inside it made me just as wet). I took it to school with me on Teachers’ Day, and left my bag unattended in the class for a few minutes. Someone simply vanished with it and I never saw that raincoat again. I was so mortified by this loss that I turned down repeated offers for its replacement from my parents. For the rest of my school life I cycled in the rain while holding an umbrella in my hand. This was difficult, and my legs got drenched thoroughly, but I had made up my mind not to buy another raincoat.

Rainy days in college were boring, for now we did not have to wait for the authorities to declare it a rainy day. If nobody turned up, it would be a holiday. Also, waterlogged Salt Lake lanes are much less enjoyable once you grow past the paper boat floating age. But I remember the first day in college. It was raining like anything when we came out in the evening, and when other guys were thinking what to do, I just hitched a ride in the car that had come to take the girls to their hostel as I stayed near to their hostel. This caused a lot of commotion among the hostel dwellers, who did not know me yet. Another memorable day was in my final year, when I had to go to Sealdah on a rainy day for some urgent work. That day there was so much rain that a bus got submerged on the road in Ultadanga and the passengers had to be rescued. I was lucky though, my bus traveled only through waist deep water and I had to walk only through knee deep water. That day I saw Kolkata at her worst.

Rainy days are most enjoyable when we are staying in our house in Hooghly. There is a pond right next to our garden, and when the water level increases during the monsoon, frogs and crabs (and sometimes snakes) come into our garden. Frogs can jump, so they often come into the house, but they have to be chased out again since we don’t eat frogs. The crabs in the garden serve a better purpose as they can be caught and cooked. If the rain stops for some time in the evening, one of us would go out and buy “telaybhaja” (vegetables dipped in batter and deep fried) and eat them with “muri” (puffed rice) and hot tea. And we would have a nice "adda" (chit-chat) session with the background music of frog croaks and cricket chirps from the garden. On opening a window and switching off the lights, we could see fireflies flying around the garden (I sometimes caught one, but always released it later). The whole atmosphere is indescribably enjoyable. In our house, lunch on a rainy day always means “khichudi” (rice and pulses cooked together) and some fried stuff to go with it.

Now I have a job. No more luxury of a “Rainy Day” holiday (even if we get one due to excessive rain, we’ll have to make up for it during a weekend). Those carefree times will never come back, so the only way to relive those rainy days of yore is by reminiscing about them. That’s what I was doing through this post.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Glimpses of Nature

Hopefully my workload will go down next week, and so will this temperature-humidity combination. Till then I am posting a few photos I took during the trip to my aunt's house in Asansol last weekend. Clicking on a photo will take you to a bigger version of that photo in my Flickr album in a new browser window.

Palm Silhouette
The Palm Tree: Taken just after Sunset at the Asansol Ramakrishna Mission

Mother and Child
Mother and child drops on a lotus leaf... around the same time, same place. Had to use the flash, but I would have loved to take this photo in natural light.

Meditative Crow
A meditative crow at the Belur railway station. He had just missed his chance to grab the paper bag we threw away after finishing the samosas, and was planning the next course of action.

Yellow Lily

A yellow lily at a friend's place. Since I had to be out in the sun for some other work, I decided to make the best use of it. The shadow at the bottom right is me.

All these were taken with my Sony CyberShot DSC W5. My father bought a new camera and I chose the Canon Powershot A540 for him. It's a lovely camera, though I'm yet to explore all its features. Here's a photo taken by that camera at my home in Salt lake to conclude the post. This flower is known as Kanchan in Bengali, and its scientific name is Bauhinia Acuminata.

Kanchan (Bauhinia Acuminata)
Have a nice weekend ahead!