Saturday, July 30, 2005

Farewell Season in Gainesville - A Personal Post

A couple of years back - around this time of the year - eight of us landed in this sleepy university town traveling all the way from Calcutta. We hardly knew each other then - but the common apprehension of landing at a totally alien place meant we would soon be friends. I am reproducing parts (with minor editing) from the mail I wrote immediately after landing here - it sounds so naive now - but somehow I love this mail!

As I said...finally I'm in Florida...after an eventful journey...

It started disastrously at Calcutta airport...when due to carelessness of my travel Indian airlines flight ticket to Delhi got canceled...and that specific flight was I was accommodated in the next flight...which was a good 3 hours later... ( the irony was I who literally set up the group and planned the journey...I was stuck...while others had no problems whatsoever !)...landed at Delhi at 10:00 ( effectively it was my my first experience of flying...and I was so hassled and and worried about how things would go in Delhi...since I was all alone...never really felt that!)...from that point was sheer madness...carrying all those h-u-g-e luggage to domestic to international terminal...then to Air-France counter...and it was late...I checked in at 11:30...for an international flight at 12:35...that was really cutting it too fact I was the last person to be checked in.Immigration and customs didn't pose any problems at could catch up with the others while boarding...we all had separate seats though...mostly window...
once the plane is in the air and settled in a steady no longer feel you are so high up...only during take off and landing...I was getting a queer could these monsters go up so casually (!) ... Bernoulli's theorem and all that...but its tough to convince oneself...
Anyway both the Air-France flights were nice...with good food and better drinks...( in fact in the first one...from Delhi to Paris...I was a bit only went for 'fruit juice please'...but no such inhibitions in the Paris - Atlanta flight...champaign and wines tasted real good with typical continental cuisine...
Paris CDG airport is really vast ( so was Atlanta Hartsfield)...we had a 4 hour stopover...spent our time roaming in duty free shops and drinking a cup of coffee at $ was the first time I spent green bucks! By the way...coffees here tastes horribly bitter...we emptied 5 packs of sugar in Paris...still it was like an ultra strong coffee!! Next time I spent green bucks was in a fast food store here...ordered a 'medium' Sprite...and could not finish even half of it! ( note to myself...NEVER buy anything bigger than 'small' !)
One cant really see anything from thousands of feets above...we could only catch glimpses of Atlantic near the coastline...otherwise it was all cloudy...but did get a beautiful view of Paris...including the Eiffel tower...
The funniest part of the journey was from Atlanta to was cute ATR-72 propeller driven plane...with only 4 sits in a row...and one has to actually board the flight by going down an emergency exit staircase...walking to the plane on the tarmac...and climbing fact our plane was delayed by some technical we all had to deplane after getting ready for take off...and it was a real experience running around the airport in rain...

Anyway - that was it. It was so nice to have those people around in the initial days - when you need people to talk to most. Eventually I did make other friends and drifted apart from some of them due to different reasons - but that remains a sweet memory. And after a couple of years - three of those eight - and incidentally those three I was probably the closest with are leaving Gainesville. The circumstances and reasons vary wildly - I don't even want to go into that - everyone made personal choices or were forced to - but it just feels so weird. I still remember that first evening in Gainesville - and the subsequent days - meeting in front of Century tower - going for lunch together - shopping at Walmart - endless addas and potlucks - playing Dumb Charade and "Killer" - later the unforgettable (for so many reasons though!) Miami trip - it all feels like just yesterday. I wish all of them best and hope we would keep in touch.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

A Quick One: Bankruptcy and Frequent Flier Miles

A CNN report suggests Delta might soon follow United into bankruptcy ( and they are not the only ones - Northwest is making heavy losses - US Airways and ATA has already filed for "chapter 11") - that leaves me worried about my skymiles and mileage plus miles. So I did what I do to dig out any information about anything - a simple google search. The first site I came across strongly advises to use up all my miles and second one claims rather than being a liability - these frequent flier programs are actually hidden assets to the airlines. So what do I do?

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

"Go Baby Go"!

Americans can be surprisingly patriotic at occasions. As Discovery blasted on to the space leaving a cloud of smoke behind - the people gathered there, some camping overnight screamed, clapped and waved American flags. It was more than just a space shuttle launch - it was a symbol of American pride.

This is something makes this country unique. Unlike many other countries - they don't wear their patriotism on their sleeves. In fact most of the times they exhibit a strange ignorance about things happening outside their lives. Not many know much about the outside world - as it was so painfully apparent in last Novembers presidential election. But whenever something happens - a crisis the whole nation magically stands informed and united. Last fall when Florida got ravaged by hurricanes - the loss of human lives were minimal. People were asked to evacuate and everyone did. People were asked to move into the shelter and everyone did. And within hours of the storm passing by - Florida was "open for business". Everybody did what they were supposed to. This is something remarkable about American people - whatever way "we" view them - these people have a tremendous sense of duty. And an equal amount of American pride too. Its tough to see in normal circumstances - but it was clearly visible yesterday when discovery was cheered by the crowd.

And yeah - it was an amazing spectacle even from 10 miles away. The sound came minutes later - when the discovery was already a blob in the sky leaving a smoky trail. My camera with only 3x optical zoom did not do any justice to the scene - but being part of the moment was the most important thing.

Monday, July 25, 2005

All the Best - Discovery!

I think its the dream of every child to be on a space mission ( I'll talk about the "other" dream - being a train driver some other day!) - and watching hours of Star Trek reruns makes it look so easy.But for most us it remains just that - a dream only. Few persons successfully conquered the final frontier and the history is ridden with names of heroic astronauts who didn't quite do it all alive. NASA in spite of its successes has always bogged down by dramatic failures caused by simplest of things. Challenger went into flames minutes after it was launched - and Feynman serving on the inquiry commission so famously explained how it all happened. Then decades later Columbia could not make it safely to home - again caused by something as trivial as a small piece of protective padding falling off. And the smiling pictures of those brave men and women in their orange suits left an indelible impression in the mind.

Years after that tragic event - NASA started gearing up for another launch. And being with a couple of hours driving distance I felt I cannot miss the spectacle. But sadly after negotiating some crazy traffic and reaching at space mountain park, Titusville - just across the river of Cape Canaveral launch pad - found out that the launch is scraped. While it definitely is the right decision - considering that safety is the the most important factor - was disappointing nevertheless. But tomorrow is another day and they are going to try it again. It do leaves a creepy feeling to know that they are going ahead with it in spite of really identifying or fixing the problem which caused the abort first time - I guess they know what they are doing. So I would try to wake up early and be there when Discovery hopefully would light up the skies on its way to the space!

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Another idyllic weekend goes by. Schumacher's demise continues. Lance bids adieu after yet another win. A Tsunami warning which not quite materialises. Cryptic codes staring at me. A bong gathering with food and gossip. More the things change - more they remain the same.

10 questions newcomers ask and the answers they deserve!

Q. What are my chances of getting an aid?
A. None.Zero.If you were that good - you would have received one anyway.

Q. How do I fill up the DS form(s)?
A. Are you illiterate? Cant you read the instructions?

Q. Can you pick me up if I not land in the airport there?
A. Why not.Why dont you ask me to pick you up from your home?

Q. How many bags I should take? (Or BA is allowing an extra bag , can I take one on Delta too?)
A. Do I look like a travel agent/airline official to you?

Q. These are my scores - what are my chances for admit?
A. Oh those are your scores? I thought you copied and pasted the line from somewhere.

Q. I cant find this book in India.Should I must buy it there?
A. Why are you coming here again?

Q. Are the health tests mentioned mandatory?
A. There must be a reason why they took care to prepare the form and send it to you.

Q. I need a veggie , non smoker , non drinker roomie with no late night parties.
A. Just stay at home.

Q. How can I get SSN from here?
A. Let me know if you find a way.It would be so useful.

Q. Will it be a problem if my application reaches after the deadline?
A. Not at all.It just might end up in the waste paper basket.They talked about "deadline" right?

Added later - Q. Do I need to bring a years supply of essentials?
A. If you think you are coming to an uncivilized part of the
world - dont forget a tent.

P.S - If you come across another equally "dumb question" - share it please!

Looking back : My Kolkata Quizzing days.

[Disclaimer: This post is by no means influenced by the anti-parnab campaign going on in the blog-world lately. I only had one occasion to be on a Parnab Quiz - where he did stump me with a "Kolkata Physicist -no connections" question - and overall the quiz was pretty skewed -but I guess it was an "experience" to see the guy doing the entire quiz from his memory!]

Quizzing was a passion from schooldays and it was Siliguri school quiz circuit was an ideal starting ground. One big regret is in spite of winning almost all the major school quizzes - Siliguri Boys' School was never invited to the Bournvita Quiz Contest hosted by Derek - and the Don Bosco team that went from Siliguri was comprehensively beaten by us (Ankan was my most frequent partner in those days - pity he did not quiz at all after his school days) at more than one occasion! Either way the transition from school to college quiz in Kolkata was a little demanding and it was not until a year me (with Arpita) achieved out first win at Calcutta Medical College. It was a typical college quiz - we boarded the metro from Rabindra Sarobar when the quiz should have been underway but still was a couple of hours "early" for the quiz. Cleared the written prelims and none seemed to notice us in the final until we sneaked in a win past the more established teams in the last round! And in this quiz - a guy named Arnab Jyoti Pal came from nowhere and "sat" on our team - that was my first introduction with "loga" as he was known and his gang. This definitely helped in a big way to shape my confidence - and it became a ritual to bunk classes and be there at any college quiz we could find. It was never the lure of the prizes - which was non existent on Kolkata college circuit anyway - but the thrill of quizzing which was the motivating factor. And these were places for "social interaction" too - where you start meeting other members of the circuit - get news about the next quiz - make contacts and all. And Kolkata college quizzes were hardly inter-college in the sense of the term - people from different colleges used to sit in a team - so it was all the more important to make right contacts - after all being part of a good team ensures that you are almost never left out from the finals. And there were people - who were in all probability not college students - but took part nevertheless - like "professional college quizzers"! Richard Mistry (who forever stayed on Hazra Law "campus"), Gautam Bose, Priyanku Mitra, Indranil Choudhury - to name a few of those omnipresent college quizzers - I am sure a lot of us still remember all the stories you got to hear about them! It was the same set of people who went to every college quiz - waited for hours for the quiz to begin - and shared gossips from quiz circuit - resulting in an unique bonhomie!

I moved beyond the college quiz when Landmark started those once in a month sunday early morning quizzes - and the best quizzers in kolkata were all there. Souvik Guha with his nonchalant brilliance, Gautam Ghosh with his arrogance, Mrs.J with her deep knowledge of Indian Mythology, C.P Singh with all his glamour, Tatha with his impeccable knowledge of Hindi Films - and many more who used to dominate the Open quizzes. I also got to know Soubhadra and Sudeep more and more in those days - they were pretty good quizzers on their own rights - but friendships with them extended beyond the quiz circuit. Landmark (and the dingy Apex quiz club at a photographic studio in Gariahat) was the centre of Kolkata quizzing in those days and it was great to be a part of them. Open Quizzes in D.I and Argus were fun too - qualified to semifinals/finals a few times without major success - they were backyards of beer guzzling veteran quizzers - but open quizzes were more than just winning and losing. Being at those grounds with legendary Neil O'Brien or R.M.Sen conducting quizzes - and then heading for a pub after the quiz with the gang - I wont trade those experiences with anything.

Later I was actively involved in resurrecting the J.U Quiz Club (which was later named enquiry) with Paddy, Subho and Arijit - the weekly quiz sessions there resulted in a renewed interest in quizzing among freshers - and for the first time in a few years - JU was again actively represented in different quizzes. Also tried to host the Quiz along with Arpita in the Science Faculty Fest - unfortunately with an ignorant crowd ( quiz is rarely the most popular event in a college fest) and all the attention focused on Choreographed dance or something similar which was supposed to come next - we had to cut short the quizzes abruptly - much to the disappointment of the quizzing fraternity - but we hardly had a choice.

My best quizzing moment came in the CCFC grounds at the "La Femme" Quiz organized on the occasion of Women's day or something - and they had Basu (Arguably one of the best quiz masters in the country then - and it was my first time facing him). It was an open quiz with all questions relating somehow to "women"! The Ju team composed of Venerable Amit Dey (who was at his best quizzing form then), Pritam (A late replacement for my usual teammate Arpita) and yours truely. We qualified pretty strongly - but were languishing at the bottom after halfway through the quiz. Then something happened - in penultimate two rounds - we really got going - and moved upto 3rd. Then came the Basu speed round.And we maxed it - Amit Dey had the microphone and I remember shouting him down for an answer - such was the adrenaline rush at that stage! And then the unthinkable happened. The great Gautam Ghosh and Sanjoy Mukhejee buckled under pressure in their rapid fire round. We did not win it though - but a close second after a such a disastrous start - and Arpita cheering us all the way in the last few rounds - it was so out of the world. I was so proud to be a JU-ite on that day.

If that was the best moment - the crowing glory came just a few months before I left for Florida. I was almost out of quizzing by then - but the JU team composed of Arijit , Amit , Dipyaman (Sayan was a late replacement for him in the actual quiz) and me qualified for the special invitation round of BBC University Challenge India. We went all the way to Delhi - it was an awesome experience to be on the sets with Basu - although quizzically we did not put up that good a show - losing rather tamely to University of Edinburgh. The sad part is I was here when they broadcast it and I have no photos even from the quiz.But still a nice way to end an eventful Kolkata quizzing career.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Its so confusing!

Now dont get confused by that. I am not worried about the fate of the universe or about paying my credit card bills ( Okay - I "am" concerned about them too - but thats not the point!). I just wonder what shape this blog should take. It has to be personal (whats the point of a blog otherwise? we have CNN!) without getting intense. It has to be humorous without getting obscure.It has to be cynical (because I am) without getting raunchy. And a host of other criteria which I cant remember offhand - but pretty sure that they exist. One safe way would be to make it a travel-blog (since I do travel so much) or a photo-blog (as they say - a picture is worth a thousand words!) but that is making things too simpler and probably predictable - which I presume is not a good idea. So here I am - stuck with a "blog" - without having a proper direction. Sounds familiar? You bet it is.