Thursday, February 26, 2009

Friends... who? where? when?

It’s exam time again, so as has been my habit I have come up with another useless, thoughtless post.

Are friends really what we think friends are? With the possible exception of a parent-offspring relationship, isn’t it always the case in any relationship when we ask (usually subconsciously), “What’s in it for me?” If we analyze carefully, our closest friends are generally those with whom we have some business (not necessarily monetary) and from whom we can gain something. While I was scathingly sceptical when DD said this a couple of weeks ago, I am beginning to see his point. His opinion was, “You call a person your friend when you have some purpose or business with him/her. There are no friends, just collaborators.” I do not at all agree with what he said but the question still arose in my mind, “How many of all those whom I consider as friends are actually going to stand by me when the need comes? What purpose am I serving them? Only time will tell.” Meanwhile, I shall remain the same, dumb, unexploitative person.

In a way, friendship is a crude form of a savings account. You help out a person so that one day he/she would also help you out when you need it. In fact, in most cases, he/she is obliged to do so unless it is one of those sly foxes who forget you once the job is done.

It is not like it is a bad thing. To have some amount of selfishness, is in my opinion, not wrong at all. When opportunity comes knocking, there are no friends or foes, just competitors. So think about it. Are you a friend or a collaborator?

I would like to end with the thought that the term ‘true friend’ is misplaced. What is a true friend supposed to mean? All those qualities which we expect from a ‘true friend’ should be there in a friend itself, otherwise he/she is not a friend at all.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

A fiery V-Day

I spent Valentine’s Day 2009 in the most unique fashion – roaming about coal fields in the Jharia area. We saw coal burning by itself beneath the ground. What a waste of resources. ‘Burning desires of love’ is how a friend described it. The place is high on the list of places where I would never take a girl out for a date, other notable locations on the list being a five-star restaurant (unless she is paying), a lion’s den, and Jupiter. Seriously, the sight was straight out of one of those sci-fi Hollywood movies where the characters land on a deserted alien planet or one of those which show what the Earth would look like after doom’s day.

Smoke was billowing out of the cracks in the ground as if the Earth was having a humongous cigar. And they talk about reducing greenhouse gases. Hell would not look much different. There were abandoned homes all around, what with all the pollution and walls collapsing because of subsidence and mine fires, the place was absolutely inhabitable.

After our return, it took me about an hour to get all the coal dust off me. Had a three hour nap after that, my first during the day in several years. This is one Valentine’s Day I shall remember for a long time. At least I had a hands-on experience of how bad the situation in the mines in Jharia really is. Otherwise, I would have just lazed around in my room wondering why my love life is blank while everyone else is all mushy-mushy today. It’s a ploy to make all single people feel like jerks. What is someone who does not have a Valentine supposed to do? I have a feeling all the protests against V-day has some of its roots in this fact. After all, why would someone protest if he had someone by his/her side who really loved him/her? Think about it.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Dastaan-e-Gangtok

First of all, I must apologize for the huge delay, because the trip in question happened way back in the end of November. However, due to foreseen avoidable circumstances, this blog has been dormant for a while. But as they say: “Better late than never”. So here goes.

A few minor details before we get down to the actual trip.

Q. Where did we go?  
A. Sikkim, Darjeeling.

Q. When?
A. Nov 26 – Dec 02, 2008 A.D.

Q. How many people went?  
A. TEN.

Q. Who went?
A. 10 sample pieces from ISM University. 5 were females and 5 were males. 

The Cast
Starring: Everyone below 
(As Saffrondude mentioned in one of his blogs, I do not know whether it is ethical to mention anyone’s names without asking them, so I don’t)

DD aka ‘the cowboy’ [aka=also known as]
Su & Su
What's in a name? 
Wiz
Alwin
Ritz
A Nishachar Prani (NP)
Swat Cat (SC). 
Yours truly, Sid.

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STOP RIGHT THERE! I know what you are thinking. 5 boys, 5 girls... hmmm... daal mein kuch kala hai!

So, let’s break it up here before you start imagining things, though I must admit some fools had actually paired us all up, but that does not count, does it? I shall repeat the same clich├ęd phrase: “We are friends only.”

Anyway, getting back to the actual trip, we left Dhanbad on the evening of November 26 for Burdwan from where we had a connecting train to New Jalpaiguri. Now, one of the benefits of travelling with girls is that you never have to worry about food, like in this case they had brought some parathas and stuff from their hostel. How considerate. We had about two hours to spend at Burdwan so some of us went to Big Bazaar and bought a smiley ball. 

In the train, We made sure that people near us also stayed awake while we played cards and had impromptu photo sessions in crazy poses. 


From NJP, we took an SUV for Gangtok after about an hour of negotiations over the prices. This journey was full of people throwing up at every turn and jerk. Only half the contingent was unaffected by it. Anyway, four hours later we were in Gangtok occupying four hotel rooms in what I must mention was an excellent hotel at a reasonable price. Special thanks from all of us to Zico for booking it for us.  


(Photos may be viewed here)

Daily Dossier 
(Disclaimer: You may skip this section, if you are not interested in the intricate details of our trip)

Day 1 basically passed by in settling down and exploring the areas around our hotel. M.G. Marg was all we could visit. Nice clean, wide roads with souvenir shops all around. We took a shortcut to M.G. Marg, which was about 2 km long and had an average upward inclination of about 45 degrees. 
Su spent the evening arranging for passes for all of us to Nathula through his contacts in the army.

Day 2
Places Visited: Nathula (Altitude:14200 feet), Baba Mandir(Altitude:13000 feet), Tsomgo/Tchangu lake. 

How often do you get the chance to visit the Indo-Chinese border and shake hands with a real life Chinese soldier (who, I thought looked really sly). Well, that's what we did when we visited Nathula, with the Indian Army's checkpost not too far off. We also had the privilege of meeting a few of our brave jawans protecting our borders. We even had snacks and some coffee at the place at Cafe 14000, bought some souvenirs and received a certificate of our visit to that height. It is going to take up a position of eminence in my CV ;). There was however not too much of snow up there. Blame it on global warming or perhaps we were about two weeks early. This was of course part of the famed 'Silk Route'. Nathula now serves as a passage to cross-border trade between the two countries. So, this is where all the cheap Chinese items come through. The road to Nathula was in a terrible condition. On the other side of the border, however, the road was awesome even comparable to some of our best highways- an indication that we just don't spend enough on infrastructure. 

While descending, we were stuck in a traffic jam (imagine that 14000 feet up). Cars had simply ceased to move. So, we came out of our vehicle and had a photo shoot with a beautiful backdrop. A descent of 1000 feet and we reached Baba Mandir, dedicated to a soldier who had drowned and then apparently reappeared in front of some of the soldiers of his regiment. Cafe 13000, situated here, made a lot of profit on this day because ten spendthrift people visited them.

Our next stop was Tchangu lake, where we did nothing more than dip our fingers in the freezing water. DD bought a cowboy hat from a nearby market. We could not go anywhere else as it gets really foggy in the evenings in the hills.

After dinner, we had a minor skirmish over where we would be going in the next two days after NP had sprained her ankle. Wiz was really interested in going to the monastries and learning about the village life of the local people after he had a chat with the bartender at the restaurant. SC hated Gangtok for no apparent reason, others were giving their own preferences while I recorded the entire 'fight'. There was this place called Yumthang where no one really wanted to go but there seemed to be no other place to visit. Darjeeling was discussed and then cancelled because of the Gorkhaland issue. Finally, a consensus was reached that we would travel in and around Gangtok the next day and decide on the future later. Talk about an unplanned trip!

Day 3
Places Visited: Jhakri Falls, Lingdum Monastery, Tashi View Point, Hanuman Tok Mandir.

Jhakri Falls was, in my view, the place we enjoyed ourselves the most during the entire trip. The usual photo sessions notwithstanding, we had a lot of fun near the waterfall (the water was really cold, mind you). We also had a go with the traditional attire of the region, those funny Pseudo-chinese suits looking good on some of us while the rest looked like jokers. Next, we visited Lingdum monastery, a very peaceful place with really friendly llamas. We got a nice insight into the lives of these devout followers of Buddha. What's more, I got to use their bathrooms, which were remarkably similar to the ones at our hostels. Tashi View Point had a beautiful view of Kanchenjunga and other peaks nearby.

We returned to Gangtok by sunset and spent the evening at M.G.Marg. And then out of the blue came the proposal from the girls that lets go to a disc.

Questions which cropped in my mind the moment I heard this: WHY? Did Gangtok even have a discotheque? Do these people want to get drunk? Is it safe here?

After quite some amount of deliberation, it was decided that we would actually go but no one would drink. We managed to book two cars to wait for us for our return to the hotel. I could tell that none of us were sure whether we were doing the right thing but went ahead anyway. We went inside unsure what to expect here and found a really really tiny dance floor and the air was suffocatingly smoky. Nevertheless, the girls wanted to dance so we joined them more as pseudo bouncers than anything else. There were also complementary drinks and we went for juices and cold drinks. However, DD passed a glass of whiskey to NP who almost drank it up.


The curious incident of the white t-shirt

While all this was happening, a person wearing a white shirt asked Alwin, who incidentally was also wearing white, to join him. Alwin politely declined the offer but the other guy continued to pursue, disappointment ripe in his face at being refused. That was when another guy, incidentally in white too, came to Alwin's rescue. As it turned out, white indicated that you are gay and are looking for a partner, which explained the poor fellow's repeated insisence on a "date". The second guy in white was a "hero" for Alwin, whom he'll probably be indebted to for the rest of his life. ;)

I had thought that this would be the day I would remember as the day I had bath in the girls' bathroom, but after what happened in the disc, it is the day on which Alwin had a tryst with homosexuality.

Day 4

The morning was spent deciding on and convincing Wiz that we are going to Darjeeling, and we finally actually bid adieu to Gangtok and set off for Darjeeling. On our way, we had decided to go rafting, which was an awesome adventure. Although the rapids weren't really very dangerous, they did get our adrenaline running. The water splashing in your face, wetting your clothes, the sudden dives of the raft, the entire 8 km downstream ride made it one of the most memorable times. The joy was slightly marred when Alwin and Wiz jumped in to the water with the two cameras we had. 

Once out of the water we were all freezing and couldn't wait to get to Darjeeling but there was a shocker in store for us. Our SUV had broken down and would go no further. The driver was ready to return only Rs. 500, while the driver of the only other empty vehicle, a jeep, we had managed to find in that area demanded Rs.900. There was a huge row in the middle of nowhere and only when it started getting dark were we forced to submit. The jeep ride to Darjeeling was torcherous and everyone except me and DD had fallen asleep out of tiredness. 

At Darjeeling, we found that everything had already closed down because of the curfew-like situation there. We needed to find a bakery because the next day was Swat Cat's birthday and we were lucky to actually find one about to pull the shutters down. After this, we found a hotel and immediately settled down for the night.
  
Day 5

We woke up at 4 o' clock (not kidding at all) and set off for Tiger Hill. The sight of the sun's orange rays reflecting from Kanchenjunga was out of this world. We celebrated Swat's birthday here to the astonishment of some tourists with all the cake smearing on her face. Some firangees took our photos as well. And Su dropped his cell phone in a dirty drain. 
In Darjeeling we also visited Batasia Loop, Rock Garden, a tea garden and a monastery. 

This was the last day of our trip and we had to catch a train from NJP in the evening which meant our stay at Darjeeling was really short. Once on the train, we were told that the train had changed its route from that very day and would not be going to Burdwan at all. How can a train change its route??? Why did they issue us tickets to Burdwan then? Anyway, circumstances forced us to reach Kolkata and that meant all ten of us went to my home, had baths etc. before catching a train back to Dhanbad. In between, we had lunch at Pizza Hut where Swat gave her birthday treat. 

I guess I have over-wriiten a bit...

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Let me now delve into few of the interesting aspects of our trip, which had more to do with our madness than the places we visited.

 The Songs
Now, in between all these wonderful places that we visited, I also came to learn the hard way, the awesome memory girls have because of the sheer number of songs they know. The attack (if I may call it so) was relentless with one song starting before the previous one ends. There was no escaping it as these sessions happened in the car. I did not even know there existed so many songs and the ones that I did know a little bit about, the lyrics were beyond me. Man, they knew millions of songs entirely by heart. The Nishachar Prani mentioned earlier really came into her own in the evenings while she slept through most of our travels during the day, only waking up when we reached some destination. Wiz slept through most of these sessions while DD bore it bravely. Alwin was even more clueless than me (if that is possible), mainly because he is ashamed of speaking in Hindi. The male Su used to join in once in a while. After the first couple of days, I had the realisation that 'If you can't beat them, join them.' And I too started humming with the tunes, not entirely sure what the next word in the song really is.  

 The Photo Sessions
Our trip was also remarkable because we went around clicking anywhere and everywhere and unlike previous holidays that I have been to, this had more people than sceneries. At the end of it, I believe we had more than 1300 photos, well short of our planned mark of 2000 because of the rafting mishap. An interesting point to note here is that people enjoyed making horns behind each other's heads with their fingers. I am assuming here that they do not know the significance of the horns. So lets get enlightened. For starters, it has nothing to do with the devil. In fact, whenever we make the sign of horns behind a boy's head, we are unwittingly referring to their virility. This is why Vikings wore horned helmets and if I may add, it is also the source of the word 'horny' used so often today. I am not sure what it means when the same is done behind a girl though, which happened on many occassions too.

(N.B. The source of this fact is unreliable, but is true to the best of my knowledge.)

 G.S.T.= Time decided + 30 minutes (at least)
We boys also had first hand experience with what I now call the Girls' Standard Time. I, for one, had never been privy to this concept, but now I know what to expect and I arrange my daily schedules accordingly whenever there is something in which the fairer sex is involved. (For those rare females who are punctual, I salute you and request you to not take this to your heart.)

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THANK YOU
This truly was one of the most memorable trips that I have ever been on and its memories will be cherished forever.  I was initially unsure whether I would be compatible with the girls who went along because it one thing to know each other well, quite another to spend a week together. But, in hindsight, their presence made it all the more lively and enjoyable. Without them I don't think we would have gone to the disc nor ventured out for rafting.  A big THANK YOU to all the nine friends, who made it so remarkable that even three months down the line I keep going through all the photos of the trip every few days.  

(Photos may be viewed here)