25-Apr-2006

KR Hills trekking

KR Hills is a nice scenic spot near Shimoga. It is apparently a popular tourist destination. Especially if you go by the number of tourists who manage to make their way from nearby areas to the place

We set off from Bangalore on Saturday morning with CARE Adventures. As expected, the bus was filled with software engineers. Software engineers are an interesting bunch of people, especially if you see them as a sample in a socio-psychological experiment. They spend all day in office in artificial light, stale air-conditioned air and interacting with other s/w engineers. Not surprisingly as a community they end up with a sense of humour on par with the principal characters of a David Dhawan movie. The entire 12 hours we traveled in the bus was a non-stop riot of jokes that made you want to pull your ears out and stuff them into your bag.

The bus journey from Bangalore took about 6 hours. On the way we stopped for breakfast at the A1 Plaza built by Reliance – a handy outlet that serves very limited variety of food but prides itself on hygiene levels. The next break had a more local flavour, with tender coconuts and the like. We reached KR Hills and checked into some rooms for a quick wash. After that we were off on the ‘trek’.

The trek turned out to be a walk. The trail was bursting with tourists. The women wore bright sarees and high heels. The children were not treading carefully on the ledges but running forward. All of us, on the other hand, were dressed like people in the brochure for a Himalayan trek and consequently provided some light entertainment to the tourists.

We reached a reasonably high point after an hour of brisk walking. There was a gentle breeze, the sun was not so hot and overall the walk seemed worth it. Then three of us walked to a very nice point from where there was a spectacular view of the setting sun. The sun glowed a fiery yellowish-orange and even as we watched, the colour began to gradually turn more sober, rising up from the bottom till the whole ball was a dull but strong orange. The nearby clouds began to look gray and the valley, which spread out before us, glistened for a while before settling down to a verdant calm.

By this time the rest our gang was nowhere to be found and we made our way back to the rooms. There we found everyone gathered at a table ready to gulp cups and cups of hot tea and pakoras. Gleefully we followed suit. As night fell, the power went off. So for a couple of hours some of us waited in the dark as most of the S/W engineers went off to do a complete makeover in the dark. Presumably even this little bit of exposure to other people makes them suddenly realise that this is the time to flash that expensive make up and clothes.

Well past our original schedule we arrived at our campsites and lit a cheerful fire. Before the raucous singing could begin and drown out the sounds of the night, the rain gods rescued us. Everyone jumped into the tents. There was a brief respite in the rain while we ate and then it began to pour again. Water began to seep through the thermocol floor of the tent. Luckily it stopped before it could soak the sleeping bag in which I was huddled.

There is something to be said about waking up and walking to the edge of the cliff where your tent is pitched and seeing the mist rise slowly from the valley. Enthralled, we sat and gaped for a while before getting ready for the day’s trek. That day was to be entirely downhill and through a nice forest cover – enough to keep out the sun but not so much that you would be in close contact with lurking snakes.

Thanks to the rain, the weather was excellent and we made good progress. Our trekking guide, G, had made up his mind long ago that the best way of dealing with the laggards was to ignore them and pick them up on the way back in case they did not make it to the waterfall we were planning to reach. G was a short and wiry guy who lived on nicotine. Every time we took a break, he would pull out a cigarette and go about aiding his already blackened teeth into permanent decay. G had no clue how to get the S/W guys to stick to the schedule and following his new plan of action began marking elaborate signs on the ground for the others whenever we had to make a detour. At some point G gave up even on that and decided that if it were meant to be, the gods would find a way to get the entire group to the waterfall. Mercifully, everyone reached.

The braver people managed to get into the waterfall and shiver away for ten minutes before getting out. Most just sat around and felt the cool spray of the gushing water on their faces. After all the walking, the sight of the lush green trees, sparkling water and dry rocks on which you could perch was very calming. Soon it was time to leave and a longish bumpy ride back in a jeep brought us back to the rooms.

The return journey to Bangalore began little later than scheduled. Since I had to catch a train G got worried and began to handle the situation in his usual style - avoiding direct eye contact with me, urging the driver to go fast and smoking gloriously. It was entertaining for a while but when it looked like we would all ram into some oncoming vehicle thanks to a charged up driver, I told him that my train was later than he thought. Immediately he called for a tea break and began to smoke in relief.

We reached Bangalore at a reasonable hour and went our separate ways. I had taken a sum total of twelve photos to record this experience. The s/w guys sent the entire group their snaps the next day. Which was probably the only good thing about the group since they had taken 185 snaps and some of them were really terrific. Well, nice trek, nice snaps and Ok crowd. 2 out of 3 ain’t bad



Review - The alchemy of Desire

Let me start on a defensive note. I borrowed this book mistaking Tarun Tejpal for Aniruddha Bahal. I had enjoyed Bahal's Bunker 13 and decided this had to be good. By the time I realised my error, I had started to read the book and the book seemed reasonably promising. Sadly I had not read the many reviews that had apparently trashed this book.
The book’s front flap indicates that the book is about the lives of young Indian couples in today's day and age. I think most readers would differ. Especially when they come to the historical bits. But wait, I am running ahead. The story starts off with the protagonist and his wife breaking up inspite of the great sexual chemistry they have. The book traces the lives of the two for a while. Then comes the twist in the tale and the couple breaks up and the book goes downhill from thereon. The first half is so realistic that you are waiting for a really strong reason for the break up. Which does not happen. The silly story ladled out makes you wonder if Tejpal overdosed on Hollywood movies about enchanting India and Maharajahs and slaves and princesses before writing the second half. You stop caring about the couple and by the time the time you reach the end of the book, you begin to skim and indifferently finish the book.
Note to myself: Aniruddha Bahal is not Tarun Tejpal. Remember.

Review - Humko Deewana Kar Gaye

I was reading the Box Office verdicts for various movies and was pleasantly surprised to note that 'Humko Deewana Kar Gaye'(HDKG) had a good opening. This is the first movie I have seen on a 'First day First show' mode and I naturally feel quite maternal about the movie.
Last weekend after much protesting by Z, we all landed up at the theatre. Everyone agreed that when five people are in a boisterous mood, one must ignore good stuff and stick to the kind of movies that makes you aspire to high levels of wit.
HDKG did not fail to amuse. As S put it, Akshay Kumar and Katrina Kaif look like Ken and Barbie. They both obviously go to the gym. And when they are not in there, they must be at some beauty parlour. Bipasha Basu also looks like a regular at all these places. The one person who does not is Anil Kapoor and not surprisingly he looks like someone exploded dynamite near his face. However, he realises this towards the end and successfully draws attention away from his face by wearing golden shoes for the last half-hour of the movie.
To begin at the beginning. Akshya Kumar (AK) has something to do with automobiles. This is good because the producer a recovers a healthy part of the movie's budget through in-movie product placement of Toyota Corollas. AK is engaged to Bipasha Basu (Bips). Bips is a fashion designer who is keen on having a good professional career and hence refuses to let AK kiss her because she wants to postpone having a child. (Hey before we get judgmental about how young minds watching such movies will get the whole process of having a kid wrong let us remember that most religions advocate that at least a few characters were born through Immaculate Conception). AK is sent to Canada for something to do with cars and there he meets Katrina (Kats). Kats is the quintessential Bollywood rich girl who spends all her time shopping. AK still frustrated about not being kissed by Bips, spends the next two hours romancing Kats and trying to get her to kiss him. This process is involves a series of boring scenes with clichéd characters speaking inane dialogues.
Sample:
Kats: So I will see you at 6 tomorrow
AK: No.
Kats: Why?
AK: Because I will be there at 5.30
Kats: He he he (Laughing like the tinkling of a thousand glasses. All empty)
Audience: Gag
After two hours of such dialogues, circumstances force the duo apart, providing the audience some relief. Kats is scheduled to marry her rich fiancé Anil Kapoor in Mumbai. AK and Bips have also now come back to Mumbai. Their paths cross at Kats wedding function. And here is where the director makes the leap from boring to tedious. Even a retarded six-year-old just being started on a diet of Hindi movies knows that Kats and AK have to get together in the end. So the director keeps us on tenterhooks as Kats gets married to Anil Kapoor (gulp) and gets into the nuptial chambers (gulp gulp). However all is well that ends well. In a scene lifted straight out of Crash, AK manages to save Kats from burning to death in a car (How? How? How did she get there from the hotel?). Like a true Bollywood..oops..Bharatiya Nari, Kats still does not take matters into her hands and waits for pati dev to do something. Anil Kapoor realises that the longer the climax prolongs, the longer the audience gets to watch his golden shoes and proceeds to break Kats' Mangal Sutra and says 'They are made for each other'. Bips not to be outdone finally marks her presence on the screen by coming up with the silliest comment ever 'No. They are mad for each other'.
The end.

11-Apr-2006

Salman Can

Salman Khan has broken his silence in the black buck case. Defending his actions, the actor claimed that he had really been aiming at the director of the movie, Hum Saath Saath Hain, which was being shot – ha ha no pun intended – at that time. When incredulous media persons asked him if he was sure, Salman retorted ‘Dude. Have you seen the movie?’

Renowned psychologists have admitted that Salman could have possibly been suffering from a reverse Dick Cheney syndrome where you mistake animals for people and shoot them by mistake.

Salman further claimed that he could not see why killing people would pose a problem. Infact this notion was reinforced when he did actually manage to kill someone later on. The public may recollect the time he got away with running over a person in front of a bakery shop in Mumbai. “I would have been more careful if I knew the damn black buck would get in the way”, he was quoted as saying.

Police personnel when contacted admitted that Salman had a point given the mounting number of suspects who get away with killing people.

10-Apr-2006

Review of 'The Name of the Rose' - Umberto Eco


To use a cliché, this book is the educated man’s ‘Angels and Demons’. It is set in 13th century Europe and centres around the mysterious killings of monks in an abbey. An English ex-inquisitor and his novice come down to the abbey to investigate the murders. As the duo set about playing Holmes and Watson, the reader is treated to a rich background on the state of Christianity at that point, the factionalism in the Church and the politics of Europe. There are also lots of interesting diversions into topics as varied as ‘what is religion’, ‘who is a heretic’ and ‘what is love’.

The book runs its course through a one-week period. This is an important point in the abbey’s life because a meeting between emissaries of the materially inclined Pope and one of the Franciscan brothers who has been preaching poverty, has been set up. The meeting is important, as it will define the very sphere of influence of the Pope. The abbey itself is neutral ground but the murders will cast a shadow over the Abbot’s authority to manage the abbey. A shadow that everyone can do without at that crucial period. The abbey also has its own mysteries, especially the famous library, which harbours various books that are not permitted to be seen without permission. (The description of what the books contain alone will get any avid reader thirsting for such a library). The library becomes a central point, holding the key to the murders. Eventually the murders are solved, but at a great cost. Meanwhile, the meeting between the two adversaries maps out the political course of history as the book ends.

The book is one of those where you need to get past the first fifty pages. Then it takes some shape and becomes very interesting. You are eager to get to the end to see what is driving those murders but you also want to be patient enough to allow the author his pontifications on various topics and detailing of history.

This is also the kind of book where you are kicking yourself hard for not having paid enough attention to European history during high school. It would have definitely enhanced one’s appreciation of the book. However, not having the benefit of such knowledge does not in anyway detract the pleasure of reading the book.

Not a book to be read in one sitting. But definitely a good read.

Review - How Opal got kissed, got wild and got a life


I picked up this book randomly at a book fair. The choice was limited but being a book lover I could not bear the thought of not buying even a single book in a discount sale. It seems now that the choice was not so bad after all.
The book is about an ABCD high school student, Opal Mehta, who is keen on getting into Harvard. Her typically Indian parents have been planning for her admission into Harvard from the day Opal was born. When unforeseen circumstances change the parameters on which Opal would be judged for her Harvard admission, the unbeatable Mehtas draw up a fresh plan of action. The book narrates incidents pertaining to this new plan and predictably ends with Opal getting into Harvard.
The book is a nice breezy read. It falls under the category of Chick-Lits and sounds like any other popular one. Which is a big success in itself since the story does not stand out like a half-baked painful crossover saga which is what one would have expected. Instead it reads like the story of a normal ABCD kid about to enter college in a country which is home though most of its citizens may not appreciate Diwali or Biriyani. Expectedly the book does have its cliches and stereotypes. Reserve it for a day when you are in the mood to watch ‘Clueless’ or ‘Legally blonde’.