The Ringside View

My attempts at writing have always been stacked up in old diaries and scraps of yellowing paper.Time,neglect and phylum insecta however, always ensured that the gibberish i scrawled, never would see the prying gaze of an alien eye.Years later, i still scribble once in a while - this time in word documents stored in some obscure folder somewhere in the innards of my C drive.I am unearthing some of them and opening them up for the interested.To get what i call - The Ringside view.

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Location: Bangalore, Karnataka, India

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Last Christmas - Part 1

Down here in the Isles, there are dull days and then there are duller days. Clouds loom; the wind blows at a couple of knots and you’re generally dressed like you are headed on an expedition to the Artic. Stores in the city centre are displaying their autumn winter collection and you’re sill struggling to wonder how any amount of fashion can make you look smart in a skullcap.

But the script is not entirely one of gloom and lack of sunshine I should say. Every now and again, the BBC forecasts bright sunshine and clear skies with the same amount of enthusiasm as the arrival of Santa Claus, reindeer et al. And on that odd sunny day, you must be a darn fool if you don’t rip off your T shirt, put on your army dungarees and head to Hyde Park glasses of lager in hand. To lie around and do nothing in general, lest you ask ‘For what?’. But all said and done, along with your sunscreen lotion, you might be well advised to stuff your slinger bag with a foldable umbrella as well. Just in case.


Anyways, December last year was not one of those sunny bohemian days. Ever since we got onto Expedia and got conned into buying the most expensive air tickets to Zurich, the weather had progressively deteriorated. We cared not for the weather as much as we did about every other bloke who claimed he managed to get return tickets for as much as we paid one way. We’re going Swiss Air we tried consoling ourselves; but resisting the urge to shoot the one who clicked the confirmation button on that Expedia deal was still considerably difficult.

But the week leading up to the Swiss land trip ended up turning more dramatic than we would have liked. Weather turned bad to rubbish. Visibility from poor to ‘am I blind?’ types. Flights were getting cancelled helter-skelter. Talk shows on BBC1 were discussing the woes of not having additional runways in Heathrow. And finally, when it reached a stage, where you could hardly see your colleague sitting next to you in office (mild exaggeration), we knew things were turning tragic. Buying expensive tickets and feeling cheated is one thing. But buying expensive tickets and not getting to go even, is god level sadness.


Two days prior to Christmas. Phone rings.

“Hello Guls. You ok mate”

“What ok. Did you see the weather forecast?”

“No”, I mumbled fearing what but the worst. If we had hoped for things to clear out in the lead up to Christmas, we were grossly mistaken. The forecast predicted that visibility was bound to deteriorate to the most superlative form of poor known to man, on the day we were to be strapped snug on our Swiss Air flight. I looked out of the office window. It almost seemed like we were acting in some bloody cloud scene for a mythological flick on Doordarshan.

“BBC is all shit”, Guls continued optimistically.” We will check I could hear him clicking away at the other end. But when he concluded that all of them are shit, I knew no one was telling a story any different. We were damned; no questions asked. All those BBC coffee table discussions were right. Heathrow should fuckin have more runways. And the Kyoto protocol should be signed by all. If needed at gunpoint. And if none of the above, then Swiss air pilots should have IR vision to navigate flights through black nothingness. Please.


Sunday, November 18, 2007

The weather man up there is a sadist

The clouds rolled in from the west; from the east; from a hundred different directions – dark and vicious. And when they collided with one another, a great rumbling happened. Why does the great rumbling happen when two fluffy blobs of cotton clouds collide, I ruminated? Wind swept scraps of paper and sent them twirling into the sky like confetti. Tree branches swayed like possessed dancers. And then it rained. Big, fat drops pounding into the dry earth, whipping up that sweet smell of wet sand. I peered out of the window. The kids playing cricket had disbanded their stone slab wicket and run for cover. The banana seller was frantically pulling a blue polythene cover over his cart. The boys from the dhobi ghat scampered making vain attempts at saving their just dried clothes from the clothesline. It was sudden. One drop followed another in a rapid free fall. In a few minutes, the flat in front of me had turned colour. Damp dark patches conquering the wall space in a hurry. Small puddles formed on the ground. And then they merged in magnetic alacrity with other small puddles; becoming bigger pools of water. Mother was asleep; after endless hours in the kitchen. I seized the opportunity to tiptoe to the kitchen for hidden treasures. Why does she always keep the green box with the goodies in it on the top shelf, I wonder?

I tiptoed many more times. Treading the tightrope that separated calculated risk from sure shot hara-kiri. And through all the misadventures, it had continued raining. The storm drains in the distance were overflowing. Muddy water was gushing down like in Noah’s times. The rain showed a few promising signs of petering down giving the neighborhood brats an opportunity to vet their maritime skills. Paper boats were gliding downstream one after the other like in the Pirates of the Caribbean. Everything was beginning to look washed and new. Father would be back from work at five. And just when it seemed like a well timed shower, at ten minutes to five it started all over again. Why can it not wait a bit, I cringed and wondered. Why can it not stop for a while, just so that father can walk back home from the bus stop. So that I don’t have to go, one umbrella aloft, another one in hand, because father had not bothered taking one to office again. And this, despite his perpetual paranoia for impending thunderstorms. But it is all mere wishful thinking. The rain kept penciling down in sheer dissent.

‘Just take the umbrella and go will you’, mother shouted out from the kitchen. ‘It’s time for your father to be back’.


And I am pretty convinced the weatherman up there, controlling the shower knob has a skewed sense of humour. Who does not like the idea of me tucked up cozy with handfuls of thieved butter biscuits. And so I go through the cold and unwelcome ordeal. Jumping over puddles; making vain attempts at keeping myself dry as every passing automobile plays splash-splash. But when I get back, trouser bottom irritatingly wet and all, it’s all over. The knobs have been turned off. Can’t help but bloody ask – Why does it have to rain at 5 o clock only?


Saturday, November 10, 2007

7:10 to Liverpool Street (Part - 2)

There are more rail maintenance weekends in the UK than maintenance free ones, I tell you. Health & Safety, as Jeremy Clarkson rightly points out, has probably gone to great lengths to ensure that no one will ever die in a rail accident hence forth. But chances are, the odd traveler will still die. Out of the sheer boredom of jumping off trains, getting onto replacement buses and boarding more trains again, all for traveling as little as a hundred miles.

Now let’s get the picture. On a maintenance free weekend (this is assumptive and fictitious. Such weekends do not exist), the logical way of reaching Z from X would be:

X -> Y -> Z

But on a normal weekend (read rail maintenance weekend), your casual pleasure trip would seem as convoluted as this:

X -> W -> V -> U -> ……….. -> A -> Z (Hurray!!!!)

Now if you thought I was exaggerating, then you’re mighty mistaken. When I got a travel itenary printed out along with my 11 pound ticket, I knew things did not look ominous. One look at the itenary and I was already beginning to feel like an Amazing Race participant on AXN. Train ride to neighbouring town Ipswich (40 mins). Hop onto replacement bus service to Marks Tey (40 mins). A train would mysteriously manifest itself in Marks Tey they said and take me to Stratford (58 mins), wherein I would need to go underground to eventually reach Mecca in a shade under 3 hours. I even asked at the counter if I could make a de tour in the middle somewhere so that I can reach Harwich and take the sea route to Southend-on-sea and then make it to London from there;ensuring all modes of transportation are covered as well. But apparently there was maintenance work on the rail route to Harwich. Damn!!!


And considering this journey was happening after an hour of vainly trying to spot the Great Bear and the Orion, I was not obviously in great spirits. And it did not help when one of the fellow star gazers who I had befriended over the long wait, asked for the 17th time that morning – ‘You reckon I got a chance for a coffee in here mate’. ‘Hmmm’, I nodded in a ‘Don’t ask me again’ manner. And for the first time that morning, divine intervention happened with the PA system announcing paninis, sandwiches and coffee at the front end of the train. He rushed off; seeming genuinely pleased at the turn of events. And I was happy coffee happened to him before murder did. The train had picked up speed and grassy knolls were now whistling past in silent early morning splendor.


What seemed most diabolical about the itenary was the journey breaks. They were so planned and timed so as to ensure you would have to change train to bus and train again right in the middle of a short blissful stretch of sleep.

Ipswich happened a few grassy meadows later and very soon I was on a double decker replacement bus, coasting along the A12 to Marks Tey. Now how weird can a place with a name like Marks Tey be. Obviously, it seemed like one of those boring non-descript towns whose claim to fame itself was that replacement bus services to and from Ipswich started and ended here. There was an unfriendly sting in the air by now and a few unruly clouds were already rolling in from across the Channel.


The Stratford bound train seemed strangely empty. I was fairly convinced that we started as a fairly decent crowd back at base camp. And yet there were only two replacement buses awaiting us at Ipswich. And now there seemed even fewer people who had made it to the third leg of the journey. Star gazer friend had made it however, seemingly in better spirits after his early morning caffeine shot. He even sought my advice on whether he should buy his nine year old daughter a mobile phone. ‘Give her a whacking’, I suggested in good earnest. Wonder if he took it.

Stratford an hour later:
Strange as it may seem, many of the flowery skirted Jane Austen type old ladies whom I had thought were lost on the way had resurfaced. I was happy for them, sitting there in their Victorian ways like in a Westend musical. Everyone else looked at everyone else in an empty London sort of way; ears plugged to Sean Kingston singing Beautiful girls or some such thingon their IPods.

10:10. London Liverpool Street. ‘CG, where are you?’, me on the phone.

‘Where are you?’

‘At the station man. You there yet?’ I grumbled.

‘Oh, I am at home da. I was waiting for your call. Will start of right now’.

The freak lives in Hampshire. It was raining outside. The BBC weather forecast was sizing the day up as wet and windy. I sat there for two hours counting the number of whooper burgers that Burger King sold. By the time CG arrived, I had counted 46. I had half a mind to stay till they managed to sell 50. And then of course it would be time for me to catch my return train. Back via Stratford, Marks Tey and Ipswich. What fun.


Sunday, November 04, 2007

7:10 to Liverpool Street

When you are in Britain, the last Sunday of October is a time of great joy. It is when you can wake up at 7 o clock, laugh that hysterical laughter just reserved for very moments such as these, pump your fist a few times; roll the clock back to 6 o clock and go back to sleep. What joy. So it came as an absolute shock to me when I realized that I had a Liverpool Street bound train ticket booked for that very same fateful Sunday. ‘Can I have the earliest possible ticket please’, I had asked like a dumbschmuck. And now that one extra hour of blissful hard earned sleep, that unparalleled joy of turning the clock back like you were Chronos himself was all going to be lost, thanks to an absolute purpose less journey to London.

But the guilt and the despondency were soon shrouded by a question of great profundity. What does 7 o clock on that Sunday morning resolve to. Does it mean 6 o clock or 8 o clock? And is that after or before changing the clock itself? And above all, what for heaven’s sake would British Rail follow. So I went back to the railway counter, confused soul as I was, hoping to seek an answer in the simplest possible layman terms. ‘Don’t change your watch and you should be fine’, the old man at the counter replied. And as though he was this oracle who had just dispensed the route map to the Inca treasure, smiled a wise smile and pressed whatever people at counters press for that metallic sounding voice to announce – ‘Counter number 2 please’(which roughly translates to – Nexxt) Thank you, I mumbled, stepping into a web of re-affirmed confusion.

And to every acquaintance I bumped into on Saturday I posed the very same question – ‘What time do you think the 7:10 train to Liverpool Street will leave tomorrow?’ And all of them nice people, broadly fell into three categories. The evil ones, who smiled that all knowing Buddha smile and replied – ‘Why so much confusion. Obviously, 8:10’. The even more evil ones, who digressed greatly from the actual question at hand and spoke eloquent about the subtleties of BST, GMT and why all of Europe should have one timeline (who the fuck cares?). And the most evil of them all, who made no efforts to hide their sinister smirk and on top of that gave no answer.


But just when things were finally clearing up, CG called. I duly explained the problem to him and he very duly told me that I should be at the railway station at 5 o clock!!!! ‘Why the fuck for?’, I screamed. ‘Yes bob’, he continued, ranting away at some logic (I think he used Laplace transforms as well if I remember right) to arrive at the fact that I should be there at 5, no less (he even laughed in the middle). The world was not helping me I gathered. ‘You’re all wrong’, I told CG as I hung up. But what worried me most was the fact that however unconvincing he sounded, he had this uncanny ability to eventually end up being right.


The majority is right, I eventually concluded. We are rolling the clock back. So seven tomorrow should be the eight of today. But since I have been genetically handed down a ‘why take a chance’ attitude, I decided I shall stick by the clock. And the old man’s wise words were also – ‘Don’t change the clock and you should be fine’.


I got up at 6, so as to be ready for my 20 minute walk to the station by half past. Since I always misjudge the distance and mistimed the walk, I was pretty keen to get it right this time. There was enough evidence in the air that the rolling back the clock exercise was like heralding another winter. 10 to seven and I was at the station. Coke bottles, Pizza boxes all remnants of yesterday’s night life lay strewn on the station walkway. The station door itself was locked - safe and sound (I had never seen a railway station locked in my life before) and the only three folks who stood around were staring blankly at the ink blue sky as if to say we’ve got a lot of time to spare. It was after all just ten minutes to six in the new world. And the train was not due until an hour from now. One thing was for sure, the British rail follows the clock rolled back.

And then we were four of us staring into the inky blue nothingness.

Confession: The train was actually at 7 o clock, but I have made it 7:10 since it sounds more title like. Like Bollywood movies which have names like 'Ek Chalis ki last local'

(may be continued)


Thursday, November 01, 2007

Of Beetroots and Broccoli

When I wrote the ‘Eternal travails of the vegetarian mind’, I instantly knew the vegetarian Mafioso would not take a liking to it. And how right was I. Friends from good vegetarian culinary households where I have enjoyed many a smashing meal, called up to say they had declared fatwa on me. The even more unkind lashed out a ‘Come home and I’ll ensure even a tumbler of filter coffee does not come your way’ threat. So I did a breathe in breathe out routine and decided what I had to decide - to mend my ways. Friends after all are not worth losing you know. And they are definitely not worth losing if the friendship translates to free lunches and what not.

So here I present, the completely organic, vegetarian (no slivers of hidden pink meat and all that) post on (what else) vegetables. But I wanted to make it a little different, so it’s about vegetables that are over hyped; it’s about vegetables that I do not like; it’s about vegetables that look brilliant in cookery books and Khana Khazana episodes, but end up tasting like WTF. So without much further ado, ladies and gentlemen, may I present……..


If ever there is a vegetable that has a confused identity, one that makes it to the vegetable basket and yet hollers out to be called a fruit, it is this one. You stand in your kitchen desk and wonder where you’d accommodate him into the grand scheme of things. Blood red, attractive and a total let down. Add him to a curry and he’ll add colour and dampen flavour. Which of course is a double crime because all it ends up then being, is a visual con job. Now who for heavens sake will make him understand that it’s a goddamn curry I am trying to make and not a fuckin dessert. So what do you do with him eventually – you use him to make a decorative salad which can duly be thrown into the back garden (where he’ll germinate into many more of himself adding to future woes and ‘what do I make out of him’ moments in the kitchen) after the meal is over. Beetroot poriyal, did someone say. Can you please stand up while I load my revolver.


The closest my family ever got to being Punjabi was when they christened me. And god bless them for that or I’d have been subjected to one of those uncontrollable laughter inducing Mallu names which are fun to listen to and painful to own. So what if I did have a Punjabi trace in me, I have often wondered. Food options for example would have meant washing down Puttu and Kadala breakfasts with a chilled glass of lassi. But not to forget, it would have also meant a constant sense of confusion as to whether it is parantha with a nasal ‘n’ or porotta with a big stress on the double ‘t’. But since Punjabi I am not (in myth or otherwise), I was pretty much spared the reason to lunch on mooli(radish) ka parantha or mooli ka whatever else. Our next candidate to make it to the Ignoble list of veggies, is also incidentally an underground root vegetable. (What the hell is wrong with them, I say?) One deceiving bite and the contorted expression on your face is already a priceless photographic moment.


I’d come back home after waging war with the neighborhood kids to the smoky crackle of mustard seeds in hot oil. We were still debating the pros and cons of fitting an exhaust fan in those days and dad had promised mom that it figured prominently in the procurement list for the next five year plan. I’d rummage every empty container at home until hunger manifested into its not so friendly other form – anger. ‘Mee(Mom) whats for lunch’, I’d holler. And amidst the crackle she’d shout back – ‘Kaalan’. Now that is precisely what I did not want to hear. Anger would swell up like I were going to explode. An irresistible tendency to pull out the hair on my head inevitably mounted. Can I smash the showcase window? Can I do anything destructive at all please without being whacked? Kaalan – that yogurt based yellow curry with cubes of translucent yellow cucumber (read disgust). ‘Aaarhg’. I scream, venting out my anger at the fact that it’s Kaalan for lunch. Whack. Mom responds, venting out her anger of being in a smoky kitchen with no exhaust fan. And then there is silence. I don’t like yellow cucumber.


I am a strong believer that we should leave the leaves for the four legged herbivores. I mean it’s only being fair isn’t it. Now despite all the culinary options you have, if you still compete with the bovines for all things leafy, then I’d classify it as outright cheap thrill, what else? (a little bit of lettuce on your burger is pardonable but anything more….). And of all things leafy, the one that is rated pretty highly on my despise list is Palak (Spinach). Now how bad can something be, when in its company even good old Paneer tastes a bit funny. And in case you’re interrupting me with the ‘it’s healthy’ card, then please note that I’ve already read about the 2006 E coli breakout in the US – all because of (hold your breath) Spinach. Imagine dying after eating Palak Paneer with roti one fine Friday evening. How sad is that?


If you see a bonsai like floret jutting out of your ceramic ware, you are well advised to stay as far from it as the bubonic plague. It’s the one ingredient that can give your otherwise non-descript dish a continental tag. But that apart, its contribution from the gastronomic angle is pretty much close to zilch. Oh btw, if you are a pseudo upper class house wife with a penchant for anything continental, please do buy your broccoli. And then you can have conversations such as these:

‘Arre, I picked up a kilo of Broccoli from Namdhari’s today. It was coming at 80 rupees a kilo you know’

‘Oh is it? At Nilgiris it was hundred the last time I bought it’

‘Husband loves it ya. I made this continental dish they showed on the telly yesterday and it was so nice you know’


Bon Appetit.


P.S: Now since I have patched up, with all and sundry, lunch and dinner invites are expected. I can be contacted at Thanks.