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Saturday, February 28, 2009

Testimonial time

At the end of their two years at XLRI, as our seniors leave, to ply their respective trades, we wish them luck and happiness... here's the testimonial I wrote for my committee seniors, for publication in the yearbook...

I wonder… how does one compress a year of fun, learning, hours/days spent in work, minutes of madness, and what not, into one tiny, miniscule page? Thoughts gather in my mind, like leaves in an autumn wind, as I set out to complete this task of writing a note about you folks.

Where shall we begin? When we juniors were a bunch of greenhorns appearing for interviews for the committee? Or shall we jump forward to the post-selection phase, when we were invited to a ‘formal’ dinner with two senior profs from some American university? Of course, decked in our best formals, we reached The Regent, only to find out that our serious, no-nonsense secy, Vaibhav, had master-minded a prank!

We could also describe all those late night meetings, where we were encouraged to give voice to all our ideas, which threatened to gush forth and cause a deluge! But thankfully, Shradha, the voice of pragmatism, always detected a potential pitfall or challenge, allowing us to make things better.

Since Ankit decided to make use of the committee’s expertise and knowledge, to go abroad for a term, we didn’t get to know him too much, except for becoming aware of his brand name – Ghissu J and the fact that he, even when abroad, did his best to help us out.

Ambira, the consultant, who packs a powerful, intelligent brain, behind her beauty, was always at hand to bail us out of tough situations with a smile, and some nice ideas. And Arpan, the silent worker, always spot-on with work, and always game for some fun helped us integrate well into the team, and keep going!

You know, the next year will be tough for us. We’ll have some really large shoes to fill, and it’s a scary thought for us. Without Vaibhav’s focus and direction, and without the rest of you to guide us, we might feel a little lost, on occasion. But then, kudos to you, for setting such an awesome example, that we must live up to.

Of course, we wish we had more of a chance to know you better, work with you, and spend some more fun-filled moments too. We’ll miss you folks, but then, we’ll have with us many memories of the happy times we spent, and hope you do the same.

For all of you, we have nothing but good wishes and smiles, as you embark on your respective journeys through life.

Forrest Gump said, "I don't know if we each have a destiny, or if we're all just floating around accidental - like on a breeze, but I, I think maybe it's both." I can’t help but agree with him, as I write this note.

So, till the time, another such breeze blows us back into each other’s lives, we wish you farewell. Godspeed, seniors!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Travails of a traveller – part iV

Thank you for being a patient reader of all the three earlier parts. Yes, this one has taken a long time in coming, and I can only hope that it will be worth it.


2.00 am – HOORAY! We are at Chandipur. That angelic man who helped us in Balasore has already booked us into a nice, government hotel called Panthaniwas (In Oriya, Pantha means traveller, and niwas means shelter – so literally, a shelter for travellers.). We go to our rooms and freshen up immediately. (Of course, immediately means about 20-25 minutes in case of the female contingent.)


The excitement of being at a beach resort is catching on, and we decide to make a quick reconnaissance of the beach. We walk to the beach, which is nothing but a strip of wet sand. We start walking towards the sea, and walk on for nearly 500 m, into what should have been the sea, experiencing nothing but wet sand, which makes soft, squishy sounds beneath our feet.


Dejected, we turn back, thinking Uncle Murphy has been at it again.


However, the receptionist at the hotel explains that Chandipur is a very unique beach. It is located on a continental shelf, meaning the ‘beach’ stretches for nearly a kilometre into the sea. So, when the tide is out, you can actually walk a kilometre out to sea, without even getting your ankles wet. And during high tide, right at the beginning of the shore, you’d have the water lapping at your ankles.


We are also told that we’d have to wake up at 6 am, because the tide only comes in from 6 am to 9 am. Hence, we decide to crash, and try waking up early next morning.


7.00 am – I am rudely shaken awake, by Amitabh. Some of the others are already up and dressed, whereas the rest are moving around aimlessly, bleary-eyed and sleepy. I give Amitabh a rude shove, and wake up. Even though we’re dog-tired after our earlier (mis)adventures, our excitement gets the better of us, and we walk to the shore.






However, there is no shore left!! The water tugs at our heels, inviting us inwards.  It is an amazing sight, to watch the sun rising over the horizon, and water all around. The gentle breeze caresses us, and the symphony of the waves on the shore is musical.





Too weak to resist the lure of the water, we wade in.


stepping into the sea



Some members of the gang (including yours truly) are somewhat reluctant to venture ‘too far’. But then, being called a ‘wimp’ or a ‘sissy’ can really stretch you beyond your limits. That’s what happens, and we go on ahead. And then, it becomes a riot! Pulling people into the water, dunking them, splashing around like a bunch of kids, is what we’re doing.





this is approx half-way inside


To be honest, it is a pretty uncanny feeling to be standing nearly half a kilometre from ‘safety’ right in the middle of the water. (Unfortunately, we have kept our cameras on the shore, to prevent damage to them.)


After an hour or so of fun, we get back to the hotel to bathe, and get some (much-needed) breakfast. Then, it’s time to pack our stuff and push off.





Before that, after my bath, I inadvertently end up applying jasmine oil (UGH!!) to my hair. Yikes!!


posing on the beachhealth-conscious!more posing  


After breakfast, we sneak away for a few minutes to click some pictures, while the rest of the members finish with their packing. We also find the time to sip some sweet coconut water.


after the water subsides, this is what remainsWe then decide to go back and see what remains on the beach after the water has subsided. Surprise, surprise!!


There are kids playing cricket at a place, where an hour ago, we were considering playing water polo.


Heck!! There’s even a man on a scooter. But he ‘scoots’ away before I can click him.





10.15 am - Since it’s still pretty early, there’s no point turning back for Jamshedpur. So, a decision is made, to move to ‘Panchlingeshwar’ – a temple dedicated to Lord Shiva. It is supposedly an hour’s drive to reach there. Before that, we are told that we must visit Mirzapur – the place of confluence of the River Budhabalanga with the Bay of Bengal.


It sounds interesting, but only till we get there. As soon as we reach Mirzapur, the overpowering smell of fish hits us, attacking our olfactory systems with a vengeance. For connoisseurs of fish, there are fish of every conceivable shape, colour, and size. But, we’re all almost universally turning one single colour – BLUE because of the lack of oxygen reaching our systems.


We see fishing trawlers being built, but hardly register anything else, thanks to that fishy smell.


12.00 pm – After an agonisingly rough ride, we finally make it to Panchlingeshwar. However, we are rather disillusioned to find that to get to the temple, we’ll have to climb some 200-odd steep steps.


We debate about whether we want to go up or not. Eventually, we decide to give it a shot. More than the temple itself, there’s the lure of a waterfall in the jungle beyond, which acts as the decisive factor for us. So, here we go again!


1.00 pm – Whew! After climbing some 100-odd steps we have now reached a point where people are queuing up to pay obeisance to what seems to be a stream of water. It must be ‘holy’ water because people are drinking it, and filling it up in bottles. Since Amitabh and I don’t quite believe in the conventional concept of God, we debate a lot, before eventually queuing up (purely out of curiousity).


Since the line seems too long, we eventually drop out, and I casually saunter upstream. To my shock and surprise, the water is flowing through a ‘dam’ of paper plates, empty Pepsi bottles, tetrapacks, and other assorted garbage. Talk about dumb faith!!


We express our views about how faith leads people to do silly things, and then decide to pursue the quest for the missing waterfall again.


1.30 pm – We’ve just been told that the waterfall is another two kilometres away, in the jungle, and we’ll need to hire a guide to take us through. I couldn’t care less!! To hell with the waterfall… let’s chuck it, is my line of thought.


Fortunately, ‘groupthink’ kicks in, and everyone agrees to go back. We stop for tea and snacks at the eateries just outside Panchlingeshwar, and then bundle into the cars for the ride back to XLRI.


4.00 pm – I’m tired… I’m hungry… and I’m bored… And these people are preventing me from cracking any more PJs. How do they expect me to survive? Anyway, we’ve had a pretty tough time with those damned waterfalls, but still, I don’t quite want to go back to the academic rigmarole. I wish we had just a few more days before life goes back to the normal humdrum. *sigh*


9.30 pm – We reach back into those hallowed portals. After a long argument with the drivers, we settle their (inflated) dues, and go back, to regale all and sundry with our adventures. There have been some amazing memories forged during this time, and we’ve all got to know each other better.


Hopefully, the next trip happens sometime soon…

Friday, February 20, 2009

Travails of a Traveller – Part III

6.00 pm – Bhaskar claims that he can hear water flowing somewhere, and proceeds (yet again) to narrate how he will refresh himself when we get to the waterfall.*

(*content restricted because Bhaskar's fantasies include stripping and lots else…)

We ignore his idea as yet another prank that he's playing. He makes a glum face, and starts walking, sulkily.

The shadows are getting longer and we are beginning to feel hopelessly lost. Bhaskar is suggesting survival techniques that will help us stay alive during the night in the jungle. I ignore him, and wonder if we should have gone left from the fork in the road that we had seen nearly an hour ago. Left with no choice except the gloomy prospect of spending a night in the jungle, we decide to walk on. The gloom in the company is palpable. Puneet's jokes have taken on a morose tone, KC is no longer playing with sticks, Debayan is silently walking ahead, Bhaskar seems to be thinking of survival strategies, Ankur, as usual, is quiet, and I am inwardly fuming.

6.10 pm – And lo and behold! Finally, we see them – our missing comrades. There are relieved faces all around. After the customary hugs and greetings have been exchanged, we look around for the waterfall. (To be more accurate, Bhaskar does.) He curses fluently, as he realizes that the damned waterfall is on the opposite mountain – completely inaccessible. Meanwhile, we flop down onto the nearest available logs or stones, to ease our every weary feet. With no other place left, I collapse onto the cold, leaf-covered forest floor, hoping to laze for as long as I can. Within 5 seconds, I'm back on my aching feet. (That prophet of doom – Bhaskar has just told me that snakes like cold, leaf-covered forest floors. Of course, a prudent person, who values one's posterior, would get up quickly.)

6.30 pm – With some degree of consternation, we realize that our celebrations need to be cut short. Our vehicles are still not here, and night is almost upon us. There is no way for us to contact the drivers. (Yes, all those cellular services who promise you networks that follow you everywhere, are about as real as the Tooth Fairy.) We walk to the nearby forest huts, where we see lights and hear some (drunk) voices.

We meet the Ranger, and ask if we can stay the night. He flatly refuses.

Suddenly, I hear the sound of a wireless set, and that gives me an idea. I request the Ranger to call the check posts on the way, and confirm if our vehicles have passed. He complies, and we get the good news. The vehicles should be reaching us soon.

7.15 pm – Still no sign of the vehicles. It's getting chilly and windy. Some of us have been total duds (like me) and not brought any woolens. We try to take shelter in an unoccupied forest hut, and find a lit lantern there. The results are hilarious, as each one of us tries out the 'watchman-of-a-horror-mansion' routine.

7.45 pm – Whew! Finally, the cars are here, and we bundle up into them, and drive off. Madhu and Mahima are either being kind to me, by taking the rear seat, and making me take the middle, or perhaps they're fed up of my constant grumbling, mumbling, and cursing. (And NO!! I do not take up space equivalent to two seats, it's just that they wanted to sit together and chat.) 

To all those who think it is very exciting to have an off-road drive in the dark, through a jungle, GET REAL!! Since it's already late, we decide to head back to Balasore, grab a quick dinner, and then go on to Chandipur. All of us are so exhausted that within seconds, we are fast asleep.


11.15 pm – We're finally back in Balasore – to a place called Hotel Ambika, where we have an acquaintance, who has been kind enough to keep food prepared for us. The hunger that we had been suffering from can be judged from the fact that even though the food is bland and VEGETARIAN, we leap at it like a pack of hungry wolves.

12.00 am – We are on our way again. As I doze off, the beaches of Chandipur are the last of the images that flash through my mind…

Monday, February 16, 2009

Travails of a Traveller - Part II

The travails continue from

8.00 am - We finally leave, thanks to the girls who kept us waiting. The two vehicles, a Scorpio and a Qualis, are filled with us, and our luggage. Oh boy, we're excited! 

And it is a pleasing thought to breathe the air outside XL, after so long.

Thankfully, both cars have high-end CD players for our
entertainment. So, we plug in our pen-drives, and 'sing' along.

I promptly garner the front seat of the Scorpio, to stretch my ample frame in the comfort of a bucket seat. Ah... sun 'n' sand....

10.00 am - The lack of sleep is starting to get to me. The other folks seem to think of me as the in-house DJ, and just as I slip into the mildest of slumber, someone or the other yells at me to
 change the music, increase the volume, reduce the volume etc. Aargh!!!

1.00 pm - We stop for lunch at a place very optimistically named as 'Hotel Grand'. Rather shabby-looking place, with limited food offerings, and long wait times. And of course, a very grumpy waiter, who seems to think he's doing us all a personal favour by feeding us. You don't believe me, eh? Then see the picture for yourself, and absorb the grandeur. 

Some of the adventurous folks try the 'lassi' on offer, but I ditch it, in favour of a Thums Up. (It turned out to be a rare, smart move from me on this trip. )

1.30 pm - Time to grace the other vehicle - the Qualis with my benign presence. I cajole
 Bhaskar into trading seats with me, and plonk myself into the comfortable rear seat of the Qualis. 

2.30 pm - Er, did I say 'comfortable seat'? I realise the gravity of my error. A bone-jarring, nerve-numbing, posterior-unfriendly ride is what I seem to have conned myself into. Heck!! And the 
driver seems to have a personal vendetta against me! It's a dirt road, and he's leaving 'no stone unturned'... literally!!!

3.00 pm - Lord Murphy (of Murphy's Law fame) seems to be following me around. Our Qualis has a flat tyre. (Yeah, I know I need to trim down some flab, but I assure you, it wasn't because of me!!) Anyway, the tyre is fixed, and we're on our way again. Tra la la..

3.45 pm - Once again, Lord Murphy has the last laugh (or so it seems for now).
Another flat tyre for the Qualis (not me, again!!). I'm almost glad to be out of that damned car but then, we're still 9 km away from our destination - the beautiful waterfall. We walk around the jungle, click a few pics, and then reconcile ourself to our fate. Consequently, we bundle up the girls into the other vehicle, along with Arun (as their protector) and Amitabh (purely because he's the only one of the guys who'd fit in) and the two busted tyres.

These folks are supposed to go on to the waterfall, send the Scorpio back to get the tyres fixed, and then get us picked up. Simple!

Meanwhile, we decide to walk... expecting to meet the Scorpio mid-way to the waterfall.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

'Travails' of a Traveller - Part I

To capitalise on a long weekend, and to get away from academic drudgery, some folks from the PMIR class of 2008-10 undertook a trip to Orissa on Feb 7 and 8. Here's a 'blow-by-blow' account of the happenings, in real-time, starting from Feb 7.

5.30 am - The last four hours have seen a period of rather frenetic activity from the rather lazy, yours truly. For, at the stroke of midnight, as the nation slept, I had my tryst with destiny. I was told by Amitabh (naah, not Mr. Bachchan, silly!) that we, a group of 12-odd folks were leaving for Simlipal at 6 in the morning.

"No, but I have work to finish," protested poor me.
"Awww, crap! Come on, I've already paid your advance," said the man in question.
I whined, "But how will the work get done?"
"I'm sure you'll manage. Moreover, we'll be back by 6 pm on Sunday. Finish it then!"
"Hmmm... but I need a minimum of 7-8 hours to finish."
"So? Spend some today, the rest on Sunday. How can you miss the beaches of Chandipur?"
" any chance, do you mean Chandipur-on-sea?"
"Of course, you DUMB ASS! How many Chandipurs have you heard of?"
"Why didn't you say so earlier, you $%#@? Screw the work, let's go!!"

And to cut a long story short,that's how the 'plan' came into being. So, poor old me has been slogging away to glory, to finish the piece of work that has been stuck like a piece of dry bread down my throat.

Most of my attention is now diverging towards the trip, and I can't help wondering if the big cats (not the 'meow' kind... it's the 'ROARRR' or 'GRRROOOWWWL' variety that I'm talking about) at Simlipal will give us a 'darshan'. Still, the idea of going to a beach after so long, is exciting as hell! Sun and sand, here I come!!

But before that, there's a bloody big load of packing to be done. Clothes, mosquito repellent, toothbrush, toothpaste, soap, a towel, a torch, and trillions of other things. Ugh!

Anyway, time to quit mumbling and grumbling, and get on with the task, for we leave in 15 minutes.

Sun 'n' sand... *sigh*