Saturday, July 26, 2008

Travel Companions

Well, I wont mind some. While time and money are the usual suspects, too many trips have not happened due to the lack of people. And, as I have learnt in the had way, its better to travel alone than to end up with a bunch of people not ready to spend at all, or too worried about the comforts of life.

But that is not what this is about. I remember back in India, when traveling back and forth between my home in Siliguri and my university in Calcutta, we used to scan the reservation charts pasted beside the train doors, and would be excited to find any teenage female names around. It is altogether another story that we would rarely end up talking with them. I am not the most talkative of persons unless I know the people around, and that extends to public transits too.

However, on occasions here, I have ended up having conversations with some bizarre people in plane. I ended up beside a drunk musician from New Orleans when going to Chicago for the first time in the winter of 2004, and it was entertaining, for lack of a better word. Initially what started as his not so polite rant about the airline not allowing to carry his guitar or something, turned into an interesting, albeit slightly incoherent conversation. He talked a lot about New Orleans, and this was well before Katrina. He talked about Jazz music, and asserted that only Chicago and New Orleans has good Jazz - which is probably true. The thing I remember him most for is, however for none of the conversations we had. It was my first time landing in a big city after dark, and the view of Chicago from up there is simply awesome. They always go anticlockwise over the lake and the downtown, and from the left side of the plane, where we fortunately were and he allowed me to look out, you can see the most perfect grid, tiny squares after tiny squares. Then comes the lake and as the plane turns around towards the ultra compact downtown - you can almost identify each individual building. Night landing in Chicago is always spectacular - of course, you have to be sitting at the left side, as the guy told me. Rightly so.

This summer, I was coming back from Phoenix, AZ and the route was already absurd - flying up to Minneapolis, MN and then coming down to Orlando. That is the price you pay when you get a cheap ticket nowadays. We were delayed in Minneapolis, and to avoid weather, they flew all the way southwest toward the the direction of Omaha, NE before continuing southeast. So it added an hour or so more to what was already a needlessly long flight, and I so did not mind too much when the guy next to me started talking. As it turned out, he has spent some time in Bangalore, and written poems about India. It is always fascinating to hear about India from a different perspective, so it was all great till then. However once I said I am a physicist, he started talking about all the conspiracy theories - UFO sightings to his belief that the Pyramids were built by aliens. He suggested me books and websites - it did get boring after a while, but he simply would not stop. I never knew people so passionately believed in those.

The poems were nice though.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

How do you feel when you do something for the last time?

(Disclaimer: This post is by no means influenced by recent observations that most of the posts here are either travelogues or my political rants. They would be back)

A couple of years back, I visited Siliguri, a pretty little town known more as a getway to Darjeeling. This would have been no story, except for the fact that I grew up there and this was perhaps my last trip there for a while. My family moved away from Siliguri since then and there would be no reason for me to go there now, especially when the India trips are usually so hectic.

Growing up in suburbs was fun. We lived away from the town, inside the university campus, in a way isolated from the world. Kids were kids then, and the pleasures of life were simple. After coming back from school - we would circle around the campus in our cycles, talking about immensely forgettable stuff. We played Badminton and Table Tennis with an intensity as if the winner gets to play in the Olympics. There were occasional pranks of course, and flare ups, as all kids do. Growing up introduces its own complexities and we were no exceptions. The random cycling excursions were not so random anymore, and new words like "planned coincidences" started creeping into the vocabulary. It was all nice and clean though, even when the hidden emotional turmoils were not so. The evening outings took new meaning and became more personal than group activities. And they also became an outlet for me to vent my frustration arising from different unrelated reasons. The open roads and presence of very few automobiles meant I can cycle as fast as I wanted, "speed limit" was an unknown phrase then. It was a great way to unwind - too bad I cant try it here.

Eventually, we all moved away from out little world. But we all carried some of it with us, wherever we went. I still prefer living in suburbs compared to a big city, and when very upset, drive to this place just out of Gainesville, which somehow feels far from all civilization, turn of the engine and just wait in the absolute darkness till I feel better. When I went back to Siliguri, I brushed of the accumulated dust of years from my once shiny black cycle and realized it is no good to ride anymore. My sister's cycle still worked, so I took it, rode around all those places which have so many memories associated with them. It was like traveling back in time. I went past my old place, traced and retraced my old routes, stared longingly at empty balconies, received a royal reception at my old primary school, ate a "Singara" at "Savitri Sweets" and finally when it was all done, the enormity of the moment descended on me. This is something I would do never again. I would never ride a cycle through North Bengal University campus. Never again in my life. Not just because I wont probably ever get a chance, but also because it wont mean anything anymore.

The moment has long been gone.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Which began as a very promising summer, turned out to be a majorly disappointing one. May be I would go into all that sometime, or may be not. However, I am back.

Question of the day: Why the nuclear deal is bad for only Muslims, according to a big array of politicians? If it is bad, then it should be bad for everyone, I would think. Why no one has the guts to use that s word, which would be used every time the word Hindu is used in a sentence?