Thursday, December 30, 2010

A Tale Of Four Cities

At this time of the year, my traditional post is one of the year’s round up of music. There will be a gap in that pattern this time. Last year, I was extremely disappointed with the quality of music being dished out. While this year has been marginally better, I haven’t been able to motivate myself to go through the painstaking exercise of chalking out my favourites.

I did, however, make a second trip to India in two years. Do give me my bravery award, for making the jump across the ocean with a toddler with such frequency. While last year was all about the one year old getting to see everyone and enjoy his share of religious ceremonies, this year was all about weddings. When weddings happen in close family, there is work, there is pressure along with any enjoyment that comes along.

Two of the three weddings were in Mumbai, while the third was in Baroda, which entailed going in a baraat from Surat. For one of the Mumbai weddings, the reception was in Sriharikota (yes, the place they launch rockets from) and we traveled – packing bag, baggage and baby. Here are some impressions from the cities this India trip covered

How transformed can a city be within a year? The answer is – clearly a lot when it is Mumbai. Andheri, my home for as long as I can remember, again bears no resemblance to the place I have grown up in. The Metro construction has picked up pace in the past year. The extent is such that it is impossible to know when a particular street is coming up, for taking a turn. From Lokhandwala to Juhu, traffic has deteriorated furthermore, however improbable it may have seemed last year. Cool cabs were extremely hard to find this time, and so the intake of fumes was constant. Double-decker buses were hard to spot, and I have been told that is a deliberate move. We also completed what we did not manage last year – made a touristy visit to the Bandra-Worli sealink. Given that we did it one way gave us a good perspective on how much time it actually saves by going over the sea. Very impressive work.

Surat is a city close to my heart. My vacations were spent there, most of my family functions have happened there and vestiges of my childhood can be traced to the small bylanes crowded with two wheelers and cows. By some coincidence, me and my cousin were there minus wife and kids, and it almost felt like a blast from the past – before we had significant others and kids. Most of our dealings with Surat then were with the old city, before the expansions on the other side of the Tapi river had picked steam. In many ways, going back to the old city, and the waadi is like traveling back in time once you cross the bridge. The feeling was nice, nostalgic, and a distinct reminder on how much we have changed and moved away from it.

I went there once in 1995, right after my twelfth standard exams, for a tour of the South. I remember it being really hot. That’s about it. No other pleasant memory came to mind. This time though, we were greeted with some gentle breeze from the ocean (I was told our hotel was pretty close to the beach) and rain. This was absolutely the best weather I got all trip long. The city was crowded, shop-keepers in several places had a penchant for spelling Biryani as Briyani (twice is coincidence, four times is a pattern), and I had to constantly remind myself to stop talking in Hindi, especially when the shop-keeper is trying to tell me how much I owe in Tamil.

The groom’s parents (from a close family wedding) were employed in Sriharikota, hence the trip to the God-forsaken part of the country. I guess if you are to launch rockets and maintain high security, it makes sense to have it in a place that is God-forsaken. Interesting place – I got reminded of the IIT campus in Powai, which I had the opportunity to visit frequently, since one of my closest friends studied there. In fact, we stayed in a hostel reserved for visiting ISRO employees. The bare bones place was frequented by cockroaches and rats that ate through AC wiring. Clearly, mad-cap scientists do not expect much in terms of luxury J Aarush was mighty pleased at being able to see so many cows, sheep and monkeys. I don’t suppose I can simulate that environment for him in Sammamish.

This turned out to be the most un-Indian of India trips, with practically no home food, no TV, no friends and certainly no relaxation. You can eat only so much food at weddings, and if you are me, there is only so much hard core South Indian food that you can take J The wedding expenses are insane, and the money spent on clothes you are not likely to wear more than two three times is mind-boggling. With the Bollywoodisation of weddings, I also got to participate in the sangeet of my cousin’s wedding. A hired choreographer, who surely must justify his salary by teaching people like me with two left feet how to dance, had me and my wife and a couple of other married couples dancing to ‘Zor ka jhatka’. While the dance itself looked like a bunch of kindergarten kids doing uncoordinated steps, we have a fan in Aarush. He has clearly inherited his father’s wit, because he keeps asking me to play the video by saying ‘more sazaa’.

On the bright side, the trip was extremely beneficial for Aarush. He has fully internalized the value of an audience and maximized it by winning hearts and minds while there. By the end of the trip, he would not eat food unless there were a bunch of people around to cheer him while he did it. How I envy those couples in India who have so many helping hands when bringing up kids. The exposure to so many new things and new people meant good things for him. We have brought back a naughtier, fiestier, masti-er, talkative version of the toddler we took there. That being said, people in India, please stop getting married. I really would like to avoid making one more trip next year!