Saturday, December 22, 2007

The highest blogger meet in the world

Also posted at The Kilimanjaro Blog

In the last four years that we’ve known each other (virtually, of course), Alpha and I have tried to meet up a few times. It’s a bit tricky getting the co-ordinates right when you’re on two different continents separated by a couple of oceans, but she was in Bombay once, and I was almost in Bangalore, another time. And then, last year, she planned Europe, while I considered Australia… It’s not a small world, after all.

Just when I was beginning to imagine a dotage blogger meet, the tectonic plates shifted somewhere, and our agendas and venues came together. I suggested Kilimanjaro, since it had been on my wishlist for a while. A mountain lover herself, she not only got fired up by the idea, but also got Pi and half of Pittsburgh interested. She then scouted around for tour operators, decided the route, sent off a flurry of mails, started raising funds for charity, packed and repacked her bags, started the blog, and if Pi tells me she’s already at the airport waiting for the flight due in February, I’d believe him.

Jokes aside, I totally credit Alpha for this trip coming together so far. I’ve had a lot on my mind the last few months to focus on this trip, and I’m grateful for Alpha’s determination. When you set out to reach the peak of the highest free-standing mountain in the world, it’s exactly that kind of focus you need. And hopefully, the rest of us will match up in the coming weeks.

If not, I've full faith that Alpha will sling us over a shoulder and saunter all the way to the top.

Climb every mountain

I cannot remember how and when the idea of climbing Kilimanjaro took hold. It might have begun as a vague thought sometime this year, but it’s a dream that’s been taking shape for the last few years, ever since I did the high-altitude trek in Ladakh in August 2003. That was the start of the mountain madness, and the weekend treks in the mountains on the outskirts of Bombay only fuelled the mania. Moving to Dubai in 2005 put paid to that obsession, but only for a while. And now, Kilimanjaro beckons.

There couldn’t be a more curious bunch than the four of us who are doing this trip. Alpha and I have known each other for close to 4 years, through our blogs, then through emails and then the surprisingly lengthy phone calls. We’ve never met, although we’ve been in the same city on one occasion, and in the same country, another time. She’s tried her match-making skills on me a few times, unsuccessfully, I might add, and I’ve asked her for recipes a few times, which she still hasn’t parted with.

I know Pi, her husband, only through her (expectedly biased) posts, and I don’t know much about Nai, the 4th member of our troupe, other than the fact that he was Alpha’s classmate, and of good character - as I was repeatedly assured by Alpha when she tried to book us into the same room. The last ditch attempt at match-making might just have borne fruit, except that Nai’s wife wouldn’t hear of it. So separate rooms it is.

We still have about 7 weeks to go before we meet up for the first time in Nairobi. And a busy 7 weeks it’s going to be, with training, gear shopping, and of course, regular blog updates at The Kilimanjaro Blog. Your comments and encouragement, are welcome as always.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Congratulations Patweeta & Ashtrix!

Bhubaneshwar's buzzing with excitement as the Wedding of the Year gets underway. Tomorrow, the golden couple of blogdom, Patrix & Ashweeta will tie the knot. In a not wholly unexpected departure from tradition, there will be three of them walking around the sacred fire - Patrix, Ash and a laptop. Patrix and Ash will take turns to blog about the ceremonies for those of us who aren't attending. They will also be exchanging vows - "I promise to be true to you in good times and bad, through and, through sickness and health, so help me, Blog." Patrix will be making a grand entry on a white horse, and has been horsing around um... practising his horse-riding skills for the last few weeks on the old rocking horse retrieved from his parents' house in Panvel.

Jest aside, here's wishing you amazing twosome a memorable day, and an amazing lifetime ahead. The Apache Blessing says it all...

Now you will feel no rain, for each of you will be shelter for the other.
Now you will feel no cold, for each of you will be warmth to the other.
Now there will be no loneliness, for each of you will be companion to the other.
Now you are two persons, but there is only one life before you.
May beauty surround you both in the journey ahead and through all the years,
May happiness be your companion and your days together be good and long upon the earth.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Don't you just love December?

There's a wee nip in the air these days. Not the kind of weather that makes you grab a jacket and thrust your hands deep in its pockets. But the kind that steals up on you and makes the hair on your forearm quiver. The kind that makes you roll down the car windows so that the wind can style your hair.

People seem happier, or is it just me? The prospect of vacations and festivities, reunions and revelry seems to infuse a happy glow everywhere. No matter how the year has turned out this far, December can make it all come together. Leave November to its neuroses, and leave January to handle regrets and resolutions, December is for getting carried away, unabashedly.

Someone I met recently has sworn off meat, spirits and smoking for a whole month in anticipation of the hedonism to follow in the last week of the year. That's how seriously people take December.

And what better way to start off December than with a long weekend. It's the UAE National Day today. And there's another anticipated holiday on account of Eid sometime soon. And there are trails to discover, and locales to explore, and conversations to continue...

Don't you just love December?

Wednesday, November 28, 2007


It was a minute after midnight. The Cuban band took a break from the rousing samba numbers to play the familiar birthday melody. The crowd joined in singing and clapping, not knowing who was being wished. It seemed the perfect moment to whisper a wish for her too, and imagine her celebrating in some celestial hangout with newfound friends, and dancing uninhibitedly into the wee hours of the morning, the way she always loved to. She would have been 35 today.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Tell me a story... - II

Continued from ‘Tell Me a Story’

The bus wasn’t expected for a couple of hours, we were told. P and I had just about exchanged dismayed looks when the errant bus rumbled into the terminus. We scrambled aboard, relieved, until we realized that we hadn’t a clue of how to reach our final destination from wherever the bus dropped us off.

“I have a map, if it helps,” a voice piped up from across the aisle.

It was the elderly man again. Helplessness trumped over mild irritation, and we decided to consult the proffered map.

‘Karnataka: One State. Many Worlds’ – read the text at the right hand corner of the map. P and I pored over it, getting our bearings. The elderly man helpfully pointed out our destination and remarked that we weren’t too far from the bus stop. We thanked him for his help, and I casually asked if he was a frequent traveler in these parts.

“This is my third visit,” he told us, “my crew’s already gone on ahead.”

What crew, we inquired.

“The camera crew,” he said. “I work as a producer with Discovery Channel, and we’re doing a segment on Karnataka.”

Appearances can be misleading, I thought. Here I had pegged him for a small town schoolteacher or even some religious sort, on account of the beads and longish hair. He certainly didn’t fit the image of an international TV producer.

Conversation flowed more freely after this revelation since both P and I work with media-related organizations. We exchanged notes about work and Discovery programmes and travel, when he told us offhand that he had a yearly routine of driving to Germany.

Drive, I exclaimed, a little too loudly!

He confirmed that my hearing was good, and that he did indeed drive to Germany taking a route via Pakistan, Iran, Turkey and so on, until he reached Germany.

”How many days does it take you?” I asked, fascinated.

“23 days, including rest days,” he replied.

But why Germany, I had to know.

Sensing that he had finally captured our attention, his diffidence receded and his manner became a bit oratorical.

"Germany has given me two things most valuable to me," he said, and then after a dramatic pause, continued, "Firstly, it's given me my doctorate - I did a PhD in Psychology at the Berlin University. And secondly, it's given me my boss."

What a workaholic, I thought. But once again I was in for a surprise.

He laughed at my stupefied expression and said, "Surely you know what I mean – I’m talking of the boss at home! I met my wife in Germany."

Apparently, they travelled to Germany for Christmas every year, she by air, and he, by road. His return route was equally convoluted and took almost 5 weeks, since he decided to spend time in remote islands along the way.

He seemed to be a devoted husband though, and couldn’t stop gushing about how he considered her words as commands from God, and of how he was perhaps the only Indian male to wake up each morning and touch his wife’s feet.

P had a giggling fit, which she quickly turned into a cough. I was amused too, but there were jaw-dropping revelations to follow.

He wasn’t in his 50s as we’d assumed. He was 73 and travelled ten months of the year, including the trip to Germany. He slept for 2 1/2 hours at night, and meditated another 2 1/2 hours. He spoke of papers he’d written and his theories of God. He painted a fascinating picture of places he’d visited. Truth and fiction seemed intertwined in parts, but that only added to the mystique of the story teller. He showed me notes he’d painstakingly handwritten – programme synopses, journal articles, and even an article on a Christian saint, ostensibly requested by the Vatican!

The bus was lurching violently on the unpaved road. It was almost two hours since we’d left the bus station in Hubli, but I hardly noticed. He insisted we keep in touch, but didn’t have a business card. I offered mine, and he said I’d be hearing from him soon.

I never did, but that didn’t matter anyway. I had my story after all.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

The dog ate my post today...

... we'll be back with a new dog tomorrow.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Tell me a story...

I love listening to a good story. Especially if it’s a life story that’s filled with intrigue and achievement, agonies and triumphs, love and adventure, folly and madness, particularly madness. I can always sense when I’ve met a person with such a story. A few words exchanged, and I just know. I feel a bubble of curiosity building up, my focus sharpens and time becomes obsolete. A quiver full of questions appears by my side, and I’ve to restrain myself from shooting all of them impatiently. I can listen until the person has outtalked himself or herself, or until they seem uncomfortable to lay it all bare. I’m curious but not voyeuristic.

Listening to a good story thrills me beyond belief. I can recall and recount the details right down to the expressions long after the encounter. I feel privileged and humbled by the sharing, invigorated by the experience, which often enough is all too brief. Glancing back at this year, the moments which stand out, right next to special times with friends and family, are these encounters with ‘story tellers’.

The digeridoo player from Australia, the demolitions expert from the Canadian NATO force in Afghanistan, the photographer-philanthropist, the Moroccan flamenco guitarist and psychology enthusiast, the divorced parlour assistant separated from her 6-year-old daughter, the pilot-musician-entrepreneur, the environmental activist and organic farmer from a small town in Karnataka, the manicurist with aspirations of becoming a lawyer, the septuagenarian producer from Discovery Channel… I’ve been enriched by their stories.

As it usually happens, the introductions come about innocuously enough. You’d never suspect there was a story waiting to unravel. I was, in fact, studiously ignoring the short, bald old man in the white kurta and checked mustard yellow pants with some kind of beads around his neck at the bus stand in Hubli, Karnataka. We were in unfamiliar terrain, and a bit disoriented even. Our bus seemed to be late, and even the bus stand attendants were unsure about when the next bus would arrive. So, when the elderly man tried striking up a conversation with us twice, we were a bit terse…

To be continued

Friday, November 23, 2007

Friday Brunch Menu

1 Pajero
1 Jeep
1 UAE Off-Road Explorer
5 off-road enthusiasts who abhor wasting a Friday morning tucked under the covers
9 litres water
Miles and miles of empty roads
10 kms. of sand dunes
Half a dozen wild camels
A sprinkling of shrubs
1 destination - Fossil Rock
6-7 wrong turns
1 sweltering sun
5 lost but contented souls
1 dozen plans for the next weekend

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Ten years on...

... the magic hasn't faded.

Michael Hutchence
22 Jan 1960 - 22 Nov 1997

10 years ago, a rockstar on the wane hung himself from the door of his hotel room, and became immortal. He was on tour in Sydney, promoting his album, uncannily titled, Elegantly Wasted. It was an ignominous end to a life which seemed so full of talent and promise, but in the annals of rock and roll, it was a scripted finale almost.

I admit I'm an unabashed INXS fan, and own all of their music, except for a couple of early albums. It's not the typical music I listen to, and friends are rather amused by my incongruous passion for INXS. But to me it's music that connects me to a time of growing up, and MTV, of 'seeing' music and not just listening to it on the radio. And then of course, there's Michael's voice - deep, seductive, glorious. Marry that with an in-your-face sensual stage persona and you have a perfect recipe for a schoolgirl crush.

I've lost count or probably never kept track of the number of times I've listened to the ballad, 'Never Tear Us Apart' from the 1987 Kick album. It continues to be one of my favourite songs of all time. Kick was the album that catapulted INXS onto the world stage, and won them the Grammys. But personally, I prefer an album which came later, and which received a lukewarm response - Full Moon, Dirty Hearts. It's unusually mellow in parts but runs deep, with songs like 'Please' (with Ray Charles), 'Full Moon Dirty Hearts', 'Freedom Deep' and 'Kill the Pain'.

By the mid-90s however Michael's much-publicised private life was catching up with him. His penchant for high profile girlfriends such as Kylie Minogue, Helena Christensen and Paula Yates meant that he was in the news, and not always for the right reasons. When the spiral of drugs and depression got too much, it seemed he decided to sing his swansong, leaving behind a rich legacy of music and several generations of fans who refuse to let go.

I was standing
You were there
Two worlds collided
And they could never tear us apart.

- from 'Never Tear Us Apart'

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

An Encounter

He entered the hospital waiting room while the nurse was measuring my height and doing some other preliminaries.

“Have you grown taller?” he asked, smiling

I was taken aback by his friendliness as well as by the question.

“Oh, I wish,”
I replied.

After the nurse had left, I asked him if he was there to see the same doctor. He said, yes, and that it was his third visit.

“You mean, he didn’t cure you on the first attempt?” I asked, attempting a bit of humour.

“I’m just here for follow ups. I had a brain tumour removed. And I’ve to follow up to ensure everything’s ok up here,”
he said, tapping his forehead.

I could have bitten my tongue. But he didn’t seem to mind my weak joke. I noticed there were faint dark crescents below his eyes. Old battle scars.

“That must have been something,” I murmured.

“Well, yeah,”
he said, “it was a benign one but it was causing pressure on the brain, so they had to take 80% of it out.”

“And what of the remaining 20%?”
I asked

“Well, that’s still there. They’re monitoring it. It’s been 2 ½ years now, and it’s behaving itself. Who knows what the future holds…” he trailed off, still smiling.

The doctor came out of his chamber and asked me to step in. He noticed the other person in the waiting room and waved at him, recognizing him. He waved back.

He looked up and smiled when I came out. I muttered a ‘Good Luck’ before leaving.

20%, I kept thinking. Imagine walking around knowing there’s a latent volcano inside you.

I just wish I’d asked him his name.

Monday, November 19, 2007


... to our 10,000th visitor, who stumbled here looking for 'DUBAI UNREAL ESTATE' (caps not mine).

Unreal, it is. Sigh.

Sunday, November 18, 2007


Philip Roth, Peter Carey, Tim Winton, Alice Munro, Margaret Atwood, Alan Holinghurst, Paul Auster, Naomi Wolf, Neil Gaiman...

... for just Dhs. 3 each! (Rs. 33 or thereabouts)

The Magrudy's Warehouse Sale over the past weekend, was the best sale I've ever attended. We're not talking second hand or soiled copies - they were brand new books most of them still cocooned in plastic. It was maddeningly thrilling to turn the book around and still find the yellow price tags listing (what now seemed) exorbitant prices.

Initially, when I entered, the hardbound books were going at Dhs. 10 and paperbacks at Dhs. 5. But, the prices were slashed in the last hour before the sale. It rankled a bit to find 'Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix' going for Dhs. 5.

"Take it, take it," pleaded the salesman. "

"I've already got a copy," I said.

"Gift it to somebody," he squeaked, thrusting two copies at me.

It wasn't just the salespeople who'd gone mental. Someone near me had picked up an empty carton, having dispensed with the Magrudy's blue net bag, and was stocking up for a very long winter. Another was wheeling around a supermarket trolley stacked with books. This was what 'Booktopia' would be like, I told myself.

An hour and a half later, fatigue and thirst got the better of me, but not before I carried 18 books to the cashier.

"50 dirhams," said the cashier. I happily paid.

As I was about to pick up the bulging bags and leave, the cashier asked me to wait. He picked 3 more books off the counter and put them in my bags. Diwali bonus, he said and winked.

I could do with a bigger apartment for Christmas.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Going, going...

Sleeping bag - check
Pullover - check
Red Devil - check
Phone - uncheck

...we're going camping.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Radio, some one still loves you...

There's nothing to beat the sheer popularity of radio in this country. In all the time I've been here, I've rarely heard anyone discussing a TV show or a news article with as much passion as radio shows. Phone lines of popular shows are constantly jammed with garrulous callers who breathlessly reveal personal details with unrestrained candour. I once heard a guy tell an RJ, "You're the best thing to have happened to me." This, to a disembodied voice on the airwaves. People are known to enter their cars and turn on the radio before the air-conditioning.

I'll admit it takes your mind off traffic and crazy drivers on occasion, but I'm not one to go 'Radio ga-ga'. If anything, I'm allergic to dial-in shows and inane, superfluous chatter. I'd rather listen to static than to some pseudo-chirpy RJ banter punctuated by forced, grating laughter. The only thing that's music to my ears, is music. And thankfully my iPod accomplishes that without any back chat.

Still, once in a while I venture out among the airwaves, to listen for new music, or radio commercials (part of the job) or sale announcements (part of life, heh). Last weekend, I was listening to my one-time favourite radio station called The Coast. It used to be the only radio station in the country that played great music without any commercial breaks or RJs. Naturally, an aberration like that couldn't continue for long, and now, it's just like every other radio station, commercials, RJs and all.

The Coast RJ was reading out a letter from an ardent listener, "Dear RJ, I've a problem of sorts. I'm 8 months pregnant, and my doctor says I'm due on December 6th. Now, I've just bought my tickets for the Justin Timberlake show on the same day. What should I do - give away the tickets or take the chance and go for the show?"

Now this is one question that's seldom found in the Training Syllabus for Aspiring RJs. But that didn't stop Mr. RJ from venturing an answer, first pausing to employ the classic 'Miss Universe Question Round Trick' i.e. paraphrase the question to gain time to formulate a winning answer,

"Dear X, I'm not 8 months pregnant, but if I were you and I had bought tickets to the Timberlake show on the same day that the doctor said I was due... I would definitely go for the Timberlake show."

For everyone's sake, I hope Justin's entourage has a midwife or two.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

what would you like?

i'd like
live in
a place
and red
fall in

i'd like
a room
view of

i'd like
lots of

i'd like
to do
or ringing
of tomorrow

i'd like
mint tea
the window
golden light
peeking in
a bird
stopping by
a chat

i'd like
pore over
old photographs
or read
old letters
which i
i'd read

I'd like

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Mozart turns mallrat

It's possible to find just about anything in a mall in Dubai. A ski slope, an elephant water clock, and, as I discovered last week, a Philharmonic Orchestra.

It was incredible enough to find that Dubai had a Philharmonic Orchestra, but to have them perform with an Australian Jazz Quartet an ambitious concert titled, 'Jazz meets Mozart' - well, that was almost like finding parking at the mall on a Friday night. Almost.

The lobby of the Dubai Community Theatre and Arts Centre (DUCTAC), just above the ski slope, started filing up by 7.30 p.m. but the concert only began at around 8.30. One easily excused the delay when the musicians began playing. Spellbinding just doesn't begin to describe it. A rousing samba rendition of Mozart's haunting Symphony No. 40 made it impossible to keep ones feet from tapping. But my favourite was the overture from 'The Marriage of Figaro', Unlike the energetic piece originally written by Mozart, the jazzed up version had a slow plaintive beginning with just the lead violinist and the saxophonist which progressed at a steady pace with a few piano solos, and then built up to the familiar crescendo with the entire Orchestra furiously working their instruments.

The conductor, Philip Maier, seemed very self-assured, and the Orchestra never struck a wrong chord. Two hours later, as I was driving back home still humming snatches of melodies played, it struck me that for once being a mall rat wasn’t such a bad thing after all.

Monday, November 05, 2007

I'll have a six-pack, thank you...

Sign at the Dubai Metro construction site,


Saturday, November 03, 2007

Discovering Dibba

Dibba is probably the antithesis of Dubai. Craggy brown peaks every where you turn, blue green waters which sound like a thunderclap at night, a horizon interrupted only by palm trees and unpretentious buildings, and a pace of life that regards hurrying as entirely unworthy of effort. An apt example of unpretentious would be a shop sign along the way – Food Selling Grocery. As basic as that. It’s almost a matter-of-fact announcement - you want fancy, head south to Dubai.

There wasn’t enough time to soak in Dibba on a weekend packed with team games, wild revelry and other assorted madness. But one of these weekends a return trip is due…

Friday, November 02, 2007

Going with the office gang

... to a beach resort in Dibba, the north-eastern most town in the UAE. Flanked by mountains and the sea, Dibba promises some spectacular views. More, when we get back.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

October checklist

Return from Bombay without excess baggage - check
Get upgraded to Business Class on the flight - check
Smuggle common cold viruses into Dubai which torment for weeks - check
Mark blog anniversary - check
Start the gym - check
Get back in touch with a friend I'd always want to get in touch with - check
Go on a somewhat interesting date - check
Fix and service car - check
Get lost when dropping and picking up car from service station - check
Try out two new recipes - check
Neglect blog - check
Write out goals and plans - check

There, always helps to make a checklist. Haven't given up on the diary, Parmanu, it was just taking a while and encouraging procrastination. One of these days...

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Hubli Diary

* The first indication that all’s not well between Andhra Pradesh and its neighbour, Karnataka, is when I start chatting with the girl seated next to me on the bus. Hailing from Hubli in Karnataka, she studies in an engineering college in Hyderabad which she describes as being located in ‘the back of beyond’. When I tell her I’d missed my bus earlier, she says disdainfully, “They’ll never tell you when the bus is leaving. At least you know the Karnataka State Transport buses will leave on time.” She goes on to say that when she got a chance, especially on the weekend, she hopped on to the first bus – the first Karnataka State Transport bus – and headed home.

* The 12-hour ride in a non-air-conditioned bus passes comfortably enough, although my neck feels like someone twisted it into a knot while I was sleeping. I reach the Hubli airport at 9 a.m. and realize glumly that I have a 3-hour wait before my friend P arrives. There’s nothing to do but wait, read and people-watch.

* I’m reading Pico Iyer’s Sun After Dark, and there’s this chapter titled ‘Nightwalking’ about his experience dealing with jet lag. ‘It’s not quite a dream state and yet it’s certainly not wakefulness, and though it seems another continent that we’re visiting, there are no maps or guidebooks yet to this other world. There are not even any clocks.’ Sitting bleary eyed outside an airport located in the heartland of Nowhere Familiar, I get an idea of what he means.

* The Hubli airport is quite unlike any airport I’ve known. It’s small, cosy and unbelievably quiet. A man stands on tiptoe and peers over the wall to check if the flight has arrived. A Buddhist monk in deep red robes arrives with a small suitcase, takes off his slippers and puts on a pair of shoes before entering the terminal. There are 2-3 security guards with the rakish-looking hats which turn up on one side, and a few more airport personnel. The sky is a gentle blue, and there’s even a mild nip in the air. It’s almost too placid for an airport.

* Two men arrive in a van and disembark with a flat, elongated package which they deposit right next to where I’m sitting. The soporific airport witnesses an unexpected burst of activity. Three airport personnel troop out, followed by three more. Even the security guards leave their stations to investigate the hubbub. “Chidiya aya?” (Has the sparrow arrived?) asks one of the airport staff. When the white wrapping is torn aside, I see a mount board with a picture of a kingfisher and the logo of the Kingfisher airlines. I notice the staff are dressed in the blue and white colours of Air Deccan, an airline that has recently merged with Kingfisher. From the ‘sparrow’ quip, I gather that the staff don’t think much of the merger.

* P finally troops out of the airport just after I’ve looked at my watch for the 5001st time. We head to the Hubli bus depot to catch the bus to Dandeli. Unlike the bustling Hyderabad bus terminus, the Hubli depot resembles a ghost town. There’s no one behind the ticket counters, and the forlorn guard shakes his head sadly when we ask him about the next bus to Dandeli. Maybe in 5 hours’ time, he says. P and I look at each other in dismay. We ask the man at the small snack shop, and he says, 15 minutes. There are two American tourists trying to get information to travel to Gokarna, and ask us if we know how to get there. We express ignorance, and later wonder if they will ever get to their destination.

* The snack shop with its array of food is rather tempting. Against my better judgment, I opt for the veg patty, which turns out to be so good that I order another. There’s a colourful sweetmeat which looks like a cross between a biscuit and a pastry, which I’m tempted to try. It’s called ‘manpasand’ and is a thin-crusted pastry filled with fruit peel and coconut. It’s a bit too sweet for my liking, but the resident canine doesn’t mind it at all.

* A red bus trundles in, and people in different corners of the depot holler out to us with a finger thrust in the direction of the bus. We take it to mean that it’s the bus to Dandeli. We gratefully clamber aboard and get ready for a long, bumpy ride.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Hyderabad Diary

* The cell phone beeps at 2.45 a.m. giving me a nervous moment. It’s an sms from the roaming service - ‘Welcome to Hyderabad etc…’ I’d reached around 3.30 in the afternoon, almost 12 hours before the welcoming sms.

* On the way to the hotel, I take in the sights and sounds. On the face of it, it looks like any other city. Like Bomay, perhaps. Populous, busy, colourful. The autos are all-yellow though, not like the Bombay’s yellow-black ones. There are film posters all over the city heralding the newest star son on the blog - Chiranjeevi's son, Ram Charan Teja.

*‘Here’s the famous Punjagutta flyover,’ announces Smiley pointing to the city’s newest attraction. A couple of days earlier, a section of the bridge had collapsed leaving 4 dead and several wounded. I glance at the fallen bridge before a person riding a motorcycle captures my attention. He’s speaking into a cell phone being held to his ear by the person seated behind him. “That’s nothing,” says Smiley, “I’ve seen someone holding a phone to the ear of another guy who was peeing.” Hands-free takes on a whole new meaning!

* I’m not much of a foodie, but I am converted in the short time I spend in Hyderabad. Midnight Biryani at the Park Hotel, steamed dosas at Chutneys served on a banana leaf, and delectable Hyderabadi Haleem from Pista House. Considering, it’s Ramadan, there’s a haleem stall almost every few paces. Mutton haleem’s most popular, I figured, followed by chicken. One place even advertised fish haleem. Even with my newfound passion for food, I’m not sure I would try that in a hurry.

* Hyderabad can rock! The moves on the dance floor at F-Bar in Lumbini Mall leave me breathless. It's a week night, but that doesn't deter the avid party goers, who look most crestfallen when the place shuts at midnight.

* Visiting Golconda Fort isn’t on the itinerary. But considering the Salar Jung Museum is shut on the very day that I am there, we head to the Fort. It turns out to be an awe-inspiring trip. Standing amid the ruins of an 800-year old fort was, one tries to imagine what it was like all those years ago. Even the ruins are spectacular. The sheer scale of the fort is apparent after one has huffed and puffed to the top. Except for a few Japanese tourists and a few Indians, there aren’t too many visitors. The fort lies tucked away in a corner of the ‘old Hyderabad’ - away from the slick IT City and other swanky constructions, indistinguishable from each other - an almost forgotten souvenir of a glorious past.

* If travelling on the interstate buses, you have to read the ticket like you would read your rich uncle’s will. Very, very carefully. The information printed right at the top is the location from where you purchased your ticket, followed by the time of departure. In a less obvious corner, is the actual departure location, which turns out to be at least 15 kms. away in the direction of rush-hour traffic. Now, if you’re the kind to speed read the ticket, you turn up well in time at the wrong location, and then make a mad dash across the city only to arrive at the interstate bus terminal where there are at least a 100 buses arriving and departing and you’ve no clue if your bus is among them.

* I miss the bus, but the resulting adventure turns out to be more fun than imagined. Getting information from the beleaguered information desk, haggling for a teeny refund, watching ticket officials wrestle with unfamiliar computerized systems and finally, getting onto the next available bus an hour later all turns out to be a memorable part of the Hyderabad experience. I am pleasantly surprised to discover there’s a ‘women’s seat’ on the bus, which means I don’t have to fret about my seatmate. It’s been a very long time since I’d done a long bus journey, and I’m glad that I didn’t take the flight.

To be continued: Hubli Diary

Monday, October 08, 2007

Where we ring in another 'ear

"Sex... sex...," said the guard at the airport entrance as I was rolling my trolley in.

My blood ran cold. I could scarcely believe that I was being solicited by a security personnel and that too with so many travellers and airport officials milling around. He had an almost bored expression on his face, and didn't flinch when I looked him straight in the eye. Was this what our much touted 'new' airports were all about, I thought indignantly.

I drew myself to my full height, almost standing on tiptoe, preparing to deliver a scathing rebuke on his unseemly behaviour.

He looked uneasy at my steady gaze and said, almost in a puzzled tone, "Sex 751?"

Was this some code, I wondered? Worse, was he bargaining? My mind ran amok with possibilities. The lascivious brute then started pointing to my hand, and I involuntarily looked down, and spotted my ticket and passport. A familiar number on the ticket caught my eye, and I stared at it for another second before the fog lifted.

I was on Flight CX 751.

P.S. Blame the incessant sniffling for affecting my hearing.

P.P.S. Absolute Lee is now FOUR 'EARS OLD. Thanks all of you for being around.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Bombay Diary

* It’s amazing how religious fervour can bring a city to its knees. ‘Don’t even think of stepping out today,’ I was told almost every alternate day of the first week that I was in the city. Mumbai’s preoccupation with the immersion of Ganesha threw my carefully ordained plans into a tizzy. Friends fled home from work and plans for a night out in town had to be postponed. On the 11th day, I headed off early in the evening to a friend’s place in Mahim (or ‘may-hem’ as my aunts used to say). There was not a soul on the street. It almost felt like a ghost town. We stepped out later in the evening, and it was a dramatically different scene. We found it interesting to watch the throngs headed back after they’d immersed the idol. Some seemed to have a glassy-eyed, bewildered expression, and they walked back heads low, almost as if the lights all around were too bright for them. “Like stepping out in the night when a disco shuts,” said Ara. Ah, we said, the expression becoming completely clear to us.

* Riding on potholed roads ought to qualify as a low-intensity aerobic workout. Further, riding the stretch from Hill Road to Mehboob Studio in Bandra can prove to be a better and cheaper option to the physiotherapy one was undergoing in Dubai. Honestly, my back has improved considerably in the last couple of weeks.

* ‘You’ll be surprised by the Western Express Highway,’ says Ana. There are lane markings and it’s a comfortable drive, she convinces me. She’s right. There are lanes marked out quite clearly and for the most part, seems to be a smooth ride. I can’t help noticing that my auto driver seems to drive right on the line, rather than within the lines. Oh well.

* Some things are comfortingly familiar. Like travelling by the local train. I step in and my eyes automatically scan for a seat opposite to the direction of travel – an old habit. If there’s no sitting room, I head to the window where I can stand in relative comfort. The other day I was making my way to the window when I inadvertently stepped on someone’s foot. I was awarded a generous shove which sent me flying to the window. I bit back a retort – another old habit. A dozen stations later, the same lady called out to me and offered me her seat. Are you getting off, I ask her. No, but I’m getting another seat at the next station. You’ve been standing all the way, so you must sit down. Some things are comfortingly familiar.

* My old book haunts bear a haunted look. Crossword at Bandra has a cosy coffee shop, but little else. The one under the Pedder Road flyover is no better. I mean, there are books, but I miss the days when you could spend hours browsing through the expansive sections, and reading the little recommendations hand-written by Sriram. The recommendations these days are printed, and rather yawn-inducing. Most of the books I asked for were out of stock on each of the three occasions I went there. Surprisingly, Strand Book Stall also proved disappointing. There seem to be more management and self-improvement books than quality titles. Ara tells me Landmark is the bookstore to visit. Next trip, perhaps.

* Metal detectors in malls, a swanky domestic airport, the high cost of parking (25 lakhs per year in Nariman Point!!) - it’s taken a bit of getting used to some of the changes in the city. But one new occurrence that still has me gobsmacked is that Alison can read. Two weekends ago, we were in the B.E.S.T bus, when she leaned over and peered under the seat for a few seconds. She then turned to me and waited. What, I asked, unnerved by the steady gaze. Leela, don’t be an idiot. Before I could narrow my eyes, she pointed to the poster above the window of the bus – “You’re not an idiot if you look under your seat.” It was a public service message to warn against explosive devices. Make sure you check next time, she told me before looking out of the window.

The city’s changing too fast for my liking.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Back, but not quite...

Mumbai-Hyderabad-Hubli-Dandeli-Hubli-Mumbai. The last few days have been exhilarating, enervating and also, eye-opening. From a fast-paced metropolis to a small city to a wildlife sanctuary, the rapid transition has been bewildering at times, and there's a curious sensation of being jet-lagged now that I'm back in Bombay. The old seasonal allergies have also begun to rear their stuffy heads, and I'm hoping to get through the last few days without coming down with something dreadful. Updates will follow...

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Going trippin'

Heading out of Bombay for a few days where there will be no net access, no connectivity (hopefully) and more wildlife than homo sapiens. Will be back on Tuesday with news and pictures.

Idol Worship

In all the time I’ve lived in Mumbai, I’ve never had a first hand view of a city going completely berserk. In the last 48 hours, I’ve witnessed it twice over. Two nights ago, I was at Shivaji Park watching the city come to a standstill as hordes of believers carried their favourite god to the sea. And yesterday morning, quite unwittingly, I got stuck among the masses waving to their cricket demigods, quite unmindful of the weather or the inconvenience. Some images from an idol crazed city:

Day 1

Day 2

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Encroachers will be prosecuted

I cannot remember the exact moment, but I suspect it might have started out when I was six and had received four books as gift. I’m referring to the long-running feud with Mother over space for my ‘accumulations’. At that time, I demanded a shelf to start my ‘library’, a request that was vetoed by Mother. She insisted there was enough space on my school shelf to house the ‘four books’.

“What about my other story books?” I cried.

“What other books? You only have a dozen!” she insisted.

Mother was like that, a little short-sighted. She didn’t notice when the dozen multiplied into fifty, and then crept into hundreds when I discovered the second hand book haunts near College. It was only when she found her recipe books tucked under a tower of tomes that war broke out. She went shrieking around the house, throwing open the doors of every cupboard to find unmistakable signs of encroachment. And it wasn’t only books – there were newspaper clippings, MAD comics, greeting cards, paints, college notes, card paper, souvenirs, stationery and more, in serious quantities.

Father was called in, an unwilling arbitrator. He did what any man does in such a situation – he hid behind the newspaper. But he also secretly called a carpenter, and got a bookcase made. The war was now absolute.

A temporary truce was declared when it was announced that I was moving to Dubai. The ‘empty nest’ was actually something to look forward to, in Mother’s view. There was only a partial emptying out though, and on each subsequent trip home, I’ve been encouraged to ‘take a look at the stuff in X cupboard and on Y shelf’.

Yesterday, in one fell swoop, I got rid of a huge stack of yellowed cuttings from the travel pages of newspapers, magazines from 1994, and greeting cards from 1979. I noticed my mother humming in the kitchen.

I was dusting my hands, congratulating myself on my Buddha-like detachment, when Mother came into the room.

“Are you throwing away that file? It looks quite new.”

“This card is from when you were ten years old…. I’m keeping it.”

“That box only needs to be dusted. Let me take that.”

Some maladies run in families…

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

A day in Bombay

Spot of green on a grey day - at Marine Drive

Shades of rain

Love that weathers

Shelter from the storm

A caged beast - outside Churchgate Station

A riot of elephants

Night lights - from a friend's window

Open-air kitchen

Rainproofing - Bollywood style

God in sight

Old train-ing kicks in

Monday, September 17, 2007

A few things that made me smile

• The inflight announcer faltering over the pronunciation of Mumbai airport – Chit rappety Sewage Airport, Membai.

• A co-passenger exclaiming at the conveyor belt, “Shining new trollies?!”

• My wrestling match with the taxi door before I remembered I had to push the button and not yank the handle.

• The rows of lights and Ganesh pandals along the highway.

• The customary wrangling with the taxi driver over the fare.

• Parents who ask you if you want bun and tea for breakfast.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Travellers Blues

Much as I enjoy traveling, I’m a nervous traveler. Weeks before I travel I begin drawing up lists. They start innocuously enough - things to carry, gifts to buy, people to meet… As the departure date draws nearer, the lists grow more elaborate, and urgent - things to do before I reach the airport, things to do when in the airport, things to do while on the plane, things to do if not seated next to interesting company, things to do if plane crash lands over the ocean etc. Drawing up lists keeps me occupied, and keeps me from chewing my fingers to ragged bits.

This hypervigilance usually has one unfortunate consequence, and that is, I end up overlooking something elementary. Like remembering to collect the ticket from the check-in counter. Or leaving hand luggage at the money exchange counter, and almost setting off the crews with sniffer dogs.

Today will be different, I vowed (like I do every time). I had covered all bases, and had decided to leave office early and check in my luggage, thereby eliminating one possible stressor. According to the list titled ‘Things to do in the final hours before leaving home’, I reckoned that I even had time for a quick nap before the midnight flight.

I hit the airport road, and although there was a fair bit of traffic, I figured it would take me not more than half an hour to reach the airport. And then a ton of bricks fell on my car. Or that’s what it felt like. It took a few moments to figure out that the ton of bricks was actually a beaten up Lancer, which had rammed into my bumper. I quickly headed for the hard shoulder and got out to inspect the extent of the damage. The bumper with minor scratches now sported a gaping hole. A bearded man got out of the jalopy, looking dismayed and repentant. ‘Really sorry’, he said, looking like a child who’d just broken an expensive vase.

I felt bad, because he looked like he would burst into tears. Two young men came out of the car and inspected the bumper.

An old woman also got out of the car, and started wailing. ‘Forgive him, he didn’t mean it. Please, we’re from Abu Dhabi. He didn’t know the roads. Let us go, I beg of you.”

No, no I hastened to clarify, nothing will happen. We just need to get a slip from the police and all of us can go.

Consoling people who’d smashed my bumper, definitely didn’t feature in the ‘Things to do…’ list, but I had to improvise.

The next hour saw enough drama with wailing, coaxing, being threatened and more, until the police arrived and gave me the green slip of ‘innocent victim’.

I got through that unexpected crisis quite well, and felt quite composed as I sailed through the airport gates and reached the airport check-in counter.

And that's when I realised I'd forgotten to carry my ticket.

P.S. All’s well that ends well. I’m posting this just before I board the flight.

P.P.S. Posting will continue on the other side of the Indian Ocean.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Constant Readers

Stephen King had a term of endearment for his loyal followers – Constant Reader. And as one sits down to write the daily post for the fourth consecutive week, one thinks it’s a good idea to appreciate the Constant Readers of one’s blog. (No, one does not have delusions of being King, or queen… but one’s grandmother used to say, when stuck for something to say, say ‘thank you’.)

So thanks all of you: Constant Readers & Commentators - Cherie and E; Constant Lurkers - The Dog From Somewhere and Last Mallu in Dubai, The Old Constants – Patrix, Rash, Alpha, Saltwater Blues, Keya, Twilight Fairy, Two Penny… and all The Constant Anonymous. (Did I miss anyone?)

Ok grandma, what do I say tomorrow?

Friday, September 14, 2007

It’s a good day for singing the blues

My perfect weekend morning would unfold like this:

* Waking up anytime between 7 & 8. No alarm. Just eyelids fluttering open to catch the sunbeams peeking in through the curtains.

* A mug of steaming, bitter green tea, which sends wake up signals to still dozy brain cells

* Curtains tied to allow the sunbeams a free rein over the room

* An hour of the Morning Pages – a spiritual, magical journey

* Classical music while I tidy up the place

* Checking up on to do lists.

* Launching forth into the weekend

Did all of that today, except that Classical Music just didn’t feel right today. It was time for the Blues. BB King and Tracy Chapman:The Thrill is gone, Gary Moore: The Healer, Robert Cray: You’re gonna need me, Lonnie Brooks: Say goodbye to the blues....

Just the kind of soundtrack for life right now. Thoughts uncurl and unspool and fly around the room looking for an exit…

* You can hold all the pieces of the puzzle, but if no one wants them, you’re holding onto nothing.
* Knowing the answers can be as painful as not knowing
* Reality is always, always, more bizarre, unpredictable and random than fiction.

Either that, or we just overdid the Blues.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

You Roack My Woald!

It took me moment to gobblefunk a title for this post, and maybe the Lord of The Gobblefunks would have approved. It's his day after all. A mail from Magrudy's two days ago reminded me that today is Roald Dahl Day, and encouraged me to take the Roald Dahl Day Challenge, which essentially consists of challenging tasks such as these, to win a prize.

1. Wear something yellow (Roald's favourite color)
I'm wearing yellow sandals.

2. Wear one or more items of clothing backwards
The item of clothing is tending to bunch uncomfortably, but I've managed to get through the day.
I'm also wearing lipstick on the inside of my mouth.

3. Drop 'gobblefunk' convincingly into a conversation
Check opening line.

4. Swap a Roald Dahl book with a friend
Sudhendra, you BFG! Today IS a good day to return the 'Collected Short Stories of Roald Dahl' that I gave you 7 years and 22 days ago!

5. Visit Magrudy's Junior in Jumeirah (04) 3444193 for fun activity at 7:00 pm
No gym, I'm headed to Gymeirah today.

6. Talk Backwards
Did I when looks strange got I.

7. Tell a silly joke (Roald Dahl loved swapping these with his kids)
A dyslexic man walks into a bra...

8. Give someone a treat (Roald was a great believer in treats, whether it was a bar of chocolate or a lovely surprise)
I passed peppermints around at work.

9. Make up an Oompa Loompa dance and get all your friends to join in!
I've already picked up "Shaka Laka like an Oompa Loompa" from Virgin Megastore at City Centre. Now, to find enthusiastic friends....

Doing this was so much fun. I wish every other day was Roald Dahl day.

But seriously, way back in college, when I discovered the twisted short stories of Roald Dahl, I was awed by his genius. Lamb to the Slaughter, Galloping Foxley, Nunc Dimitis, Mrs. Bixby and the Colonel's Coat and Parson's Pleasure were my favourites, and I must have read each of them a dozen times, eagerly waiting to get to the twist in the tale, and then savouring the delicious ending. When it came to endings, nothing beat Taste, and I would visualise in rich detail, the dinner party and the look on Richard Pratt's face when the butler came into the room.

I'd probably read every short story by him before I discovered his 'children's stories'. I enjoyed a second childhood in my teens on reading Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and James and the Giant Peach. It was unexpectedly thrilling to discover that these stories had come from the same pen that wrote those wicked short stories. Almost like finding out that your prankster uncle was the real Santa Claus. His book of Revolting Rhymes has me in splits to this day.

I thought I'd gotten accustomed to the weird genius of Roald Dahl, and then I read his biography - Boy and Going Solo. He describes ordinary events and places in such an interesting, visual way, that his world comes alive in your mind. Whether it's his experience as a 'tester' for Cadbury chocolates, or getting shot down in Africa - you can't help feeling that it sounds like a plot in one of his stories.

It's been a long time since I read any of his works, but the email from Magrudy's and the Challenge brought back wonderful moments when I lived in Roald Dahl's scrumdiddlyumptious world, and never wanted to leave.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Just logging on...

... to check if our new wireless internet connection is good to go.

Check, cheque, cheik.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Car-ry on dreaming

There's an informal parking lot in front of the building, which is the source of much interest and anxiety. The latter emotion is felt if you've parked your car there, and have to extract it from the maze during the middle of the day. The interest comes from watching someone attempt the same maneuver.

Watching the cars scuttle in and out of a narrow opening one afternoon, the conversation somehow veered to 'dream cars'. And I racked my brains trying to figure out if I had one. No automobile trundled along that thought highway. And then, I made the unforgivable mistake of claiming that my current set of wheels was my dream car.

The room erupted. Dream BIG, the chorus hectored, referring to my bitty hatchback – the Nissan Tiida. You should think about driving a Corvette, said one. This time, I didn't blurt out my first thought, which was, 'where would I park it?' I wouldn't hear the end of that one.

But that’s how I am about cars. Maybe it’s to do with gender, but I’m unemotional about pickup and power and engine and doodahs. Just tell me a tank of petrol costs 60 bucks, and it roughly takes 10 days to 2 weeks to work through it, and I'll thank you for sparing me any other details. I get it serviced at requisite intervals, but ask me about mileage and depreciation, and you’ll get question marks where a face ought to be. It’s not that I don’t care at all, but you won’t find me giving it a name or referring to it by gender. It’s and it as far as I’m concerned.

It's got scratches on both sides in front and a wee crack in the bumper. Scars earned shortly after I got my driving stripes. I thought of getting it fixed several times, but the wily insurance people seemed determined to punish me for my transgressions. Scars build character, I reasoned, and let them stay.

And now they’re just as much a part of the car as the quiet cream interiors and generous leg room. There are no dozens of accessories hanging from every surface or overflowing compartments and boot. A single Buddhist good luck charm dangles from the rear-view mirror. And a few coins in the parking bay. For an inveterate accumulator like me, that’s quite an accomplishment. It fits neatly into parking slots, and doesn’t take up too much mind space either. Except for the one time the battery gave up the ghost.

I say, forget about dreaming big. Think small.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Gimme news

I have it from reliable sources that the irksome, juvenile conversation (non)starter 'wassup' is fast losing popularity to another equally grating phrase 'gimme news'. My mind freezes when I hear that one, and despite the faint knowledge that it's not so much a query as a greeting, I start racking my brains for some 'newsworthy' going-ons in my life.

Today's been one of those uneventful days, and I'm a bit skittish about coming across someone on the way home who accosts me with a 'gimme news'.

Perhaps, a quick run through of the Gulf News might bail me out. A few samples:

Parents should never be abused or disrespected

Not bad for starters. Here's how a conversation could go...

Person X: Yo, Lee, gimme news

Me: Umm... hiya, you know you gotta respect your parents.

Person X: Whoa, stay away from me. Smokin' up's illegal in this country, y'know.

Me: Speaking of which, have you heard of the professor who admitted to carrying drugs. He said, "I am a university professor in the United States. I am guilty and want to be given the punishment I deserve"

Person X (backing away a bit): What-evah! Listen, I gotta go...

Me: Sure, but remember, don't watch TV while driving, ok

Person X: Whatever's wrong with you, I hope it's not contagious.

Me: Rats! I missed the health pages today, can I get back to you on that tomorrow?

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Note to self

Catching up with the weekend's posts on Sunday is not the smartest thing to do...

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Weekend checklist

* Watch Hairspray - check
* Get stuck for an hour in the car park of Deira City Centre - check
* Wear headgear consisting of red cabbage, baby tomatoes and carrots - check
* Wrestle with food processor - check
* Get wireless internet connection at home - check
* Get wireless internet connection which doesn't work - check
* Get a hair trim - check
* Don Ma Leela robes and dispense gratuitous advice - check
* Spend every last dirham in wallet and spare change wallet - check
* Leave wallet in T's place - check
* Help ex-flatmate to move to new quarters - check
* Drive on an empty fuel tank - check
* Drink a mug of toddy - check
* Swear never to drink bottled toddy again because it is S.O.U.R - check
* Drop into church - check
* Update blog - check :-)

Thursday, September 06, 2007

A terse verse

It's time to leave
But a post is due
Can't turn back now
No, just won't do

The page is blank
The mind, likewise
Maybe it's because
We lunched on fries

The weekend beckons
Gotta go, gotta go
So we'll be back
With a real post tomorrow

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

It doesn't quite ad up

"UAE ads lack originality," screams a headline in Arabian Business.

Appearing as it does, a week or so before Ramadan, this headline isn't so far from the truth. I have a small collection of 'Ramadan' ads from last year - in categories ranging from real estate to cars, and appliances to supermarkets - which feature the 'mandatory' crescent moon in a way that just begs you to hastily turn the page and ignore the ad. Yes, it's a sad reflection on one's chosen profession.

Back to the survey, there were some grim figures thrown in:

55% say advertising is not original

71% believe only a small percentage of advertising is relevant to them

68% believe the advertising does not predispose them favourably towards the brand

Apparently, the survey has "revealed for the first time the size of the gap between what advertisers are trying to achieve and the actual impact of advertising."

So what will bridge this cavernous gap?

Research, apparently. Companies are 'urged to spend their advertising dollars better by testing creative concepts at the start.'

Great idea.

Is it a coincidence then that the company that has conducted this very revelatory survey and recommended research also happens to be a "market research company working all over the Arab world and specialising in qualitative research and online polling"?

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Weather forecast: Good times ahead

Two weeks ago, it suddenly struck me that summer was over.

I was in the mood to watch the sun set over the waters in Jumeirah. I'd assumed that I'd have enough time to drive down to the Burj Al Arab end of the beach, but the fiery orb was making its descent almost 15 minutes earlier than expected, forcing me to settle for the public beach opposite the Jumeirah mosque. It wasn't a bad vantage point, but anyway, coming back to the point, I was amazed that I even noticed the subtle changes in the seasons. Considering one spends a good part of the day stuck in an office in front of a window without a view, I was pleased by my observation, and proceeded to announce it to everyone that the much reviled season was on its last legs. Of course, it will take another couple of weeks to feel a palpable difference, but for now, the knowledge is sufficient.

Early this week, we moved to a new office with expansive windows covering two-thirds of the room. Sunshine, glorious sunshine, lights up the room in a way that fluorescent tubes can never hope to. The windows overlook a parking lot, an undetermined construction (sigh, Dubai) and a row of stores - an unexceptional view - but there's more than a mouthful of sky to make up for it. The winter skies with streaks of wild colour, irrepressible clouds and languorous birds are a joy to behold. I can't wait to look over the computer monitor and take in the bigger picture...