Friday, August 26, 2005

Total Recall?

The 90s Arnold Schwarzenegger movie seems to be the guidebook for the new breed of interplanetary imperialists. Ok, that was an overdramatized statement. I was actually referring to the latest idea floating in space science fora-colonizing Mars!

Our satellite-man Dr. U.R. Rao thinks that it is very possible for us to settle Mars in the space of a few centuries through a very simple yet powerful means. He proposes that huge plastic sheets coated with a reflective substance be placed on the surface of Mars. The reflected sunlight would then fall on Martian ice and wet its soil for the first time in several billion years. This could be the start of a new world, sez he. Loony as it sounds, it cannot be ruled out too. People like Dangerous Dubya make it appear the next logical step in the face of a nuclear war. Source.

Another news which has had interesting reactions from the general public is that of the introduction of the study of intelligent design in US schools. One of the reactions was the creation of a new "religion": Flying Spaghetti Monsterism. Yes, you read it right! Read more about it here and have a few hearty laughs.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Weird word of the day...

I never knew there existed a word such as "winningest". But, yesterday, I came across the word in "TIME" and until I actually looked up the word on www.dictionary.com, I believed it was the printer's (or Adobe Pagemaker?) devil at work.

So, what's next? losingest? moronest? The limits to which the English language can be stretched truly amaze me!

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Songs I am listening to...

Of late, three songs play over and over again in my mind and my Dell Inspiron 700m nonstop. These songs'll have me hooked until I play them for the 556,783,452th time this week!

AR Rahman - Anbe Aaruyire (Aa.. Aah..): A definite listen for any ARR fan and just about anybody else too. I love the heavy bass guitar bit that repeats throughout the song. Portions of the song remind me vaguely of some other song I've heard before, but as usual, I'll call that a coincidental similarity :) Listen at: http://www.raaga.com/channels/tamil/movie/T0000690.html

Natasha Bedingfield - These words: I haven't yet been able to understand why I like this song so much. Maybe it's for the originality or for the hip-hop/reggae kind of beat. Or maybe for the voice :) Nevertheless, a pretty good song that you'll like after a few unsure listens. Listen to sample at: http://beta.music.msn.com/album/default.aspx?album=41680573&stab=1

Malkit Singh - Jind Mahi: This one's an old number but still I play it out until the mp3 file gets corrupted in frustration. Did I ever tell you that I am a big time Punjabi/Bhangra fan? There is something in the music/culture that I can strongly relate to but can't explain. Maybe I was a Sardar in a previous birth :) I couldn't find it online but if you can get your hands on the OST of Bend it like Beckham, you can find it there.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Mamihlapinatapei

Wikipedia translates this word as "It describes a look shared by two people with each wishing that the other will initiate something that neither one wants to start". Coming from the Tierra del Fuego language of Argentina, it is thought to be the most succinct word in any language. Such words, to some, signify the sophistication of a language. To me, it means the opposite. A language which is bulky is hard to learn, inelegant and cumbersome. Any language that readily builds complex ideas using simple words is much better than one that has a thousand expressions to explain an equal number of situations that rarely happen in one's life.

One conclusion I can safely draw from this word is that most Tierra del Fuegean people are lazy and of kaamchor type. Or else why would they take pains to create a word for something that other people rarely come across in their life? This must be a common phenomenon there. In another article at Wiki, one of the ten hardest words to translate to English is a Tamil word: செல்லாதிருப்பவர் (Sellathiruppavar). I've never heard the word myself but Wiki defines it as a type of truancy.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

An eventful weekend

This weekend will always be remembered for the first and only major trip I have ever made while in the USA. Major for many reasons -- the first trip I made along with some 15-odd people, and all of them desis! Remember, desis are a tough lot. They staunchly believe in the democratic policy, "Each member of a team is a captain". So I consider it a huge achievement that, for the most part, the trip was a huge success, as we covered all the places we wanted to, and in time! I can also call the trip major because we visited a lot of places in the span of just two days.

Anyways, I won't bore you much and get into the nitty-gritty details of my trip. Our trip was to the White Mountains area in New Hampshire. It is very well-known for its picturesque locations with all sorts of natural structures (for want of a better word :) like mountains, lakes, forests, gorges, rivers and so on. We started out from Maine (where I live) at 4.30 AM on Saturday. Yeah, yeah, it was really an odd hour to start but the drive was at least 3 hours, so we didn't want to spend all day on just driving.

The first place we went to was Attitash. The place is well-known for the Attitash Bear Peak, which is around 2500 feet high (pygmy by Himalayan standards). They have a lot of tourist attractions there like the usual resort, ski zone, water slides etc. But the highlight is the aerial chairlift. It is basically a stripped-down version of a cable car.



As you can see, the ride to the top was a bit scary because we were open on all sides but for a restraining rod that went across the chair. But the view from the chair was breathtaking. It was well worth for whatever we paid. When we reached the top, I felt like I was on top of the world. I could see miles of land in all directions. The faraway Mt. Washington seemed to say "Hi" to us. You could see how happy I was in the photo below:



The next stop was Lower Falls. It was basically a small rivulet that ran over a bed of pebbles and rocks. The description sounds very mundane and ordinary but the view that was in front of us was just awesome:


The water was not too cold and just right for swimming. Besides it was knee-deep at most places so we just needed an excuse to cool our heels (literally!). The next place was Sabbaday Falls. No prizes for guessing how the name came up. Despite the pretty ordinary name, the falls were (or is it "was"?) very beautiful. Some of the adventurous kind, like G and Y, climbed the narrow walls of the mini-gorge formed by the falls.




Of course, in the picture above, the guys are standing on a platform. Next up on our agenda was the beautiful Kancamagus Highway. The name sure was a tongue-twister (I assume it is a Native American word) but by the end of the 30-mile long journey on the road, we all had mastered the exact spelling!




We had to stop every 5 miles or so for a photo session with a mountain, swift-flowing river or gorge as the background. The weather was as perfect as could have ever wished and hence our spirits were at their highest. Add to that silky-smooth roads and any such place is guaranteed of a steady flow of eager tourists. Our tourism ministry has a lot to learn from America! The next station (oops, I am drifting into railway-travel mode now!) was Flume Gorge. It was the highpoint of the first day of our trip. The following picture will tell you why:




This is one of my favorite pics of the trip not just because I took it but also because this picture captures what Flume Gorge is all about. The place is actually a natural gorge with about 50-ft high walls and a small-but-fast flowing river at its base. There is a boardwalk on the side of one of the walls that winds its way parallel to the river. The feeling is just amazing when one walks over it -- it's like floating over the river but without actually swimming in it! The sun rays create a magical effect as they get reflected in all kinds of ways off the walls. There was also a small waterfall at a distance:




Beautiful, isn't it? There was also a small cave called "Wolf's Lair" or something similar that snaked its way below a bunch of huge boulders. To pass through it, one had to squeeze their way through narrow spaces but it was worth all that trouble. It took us a good one-and-half hours to get done with Flume Gorge. There was just so much to see and so less time. Anybody visiting New Hampshire shouldn't miss this place for anything!

The next day was allocated exclusively to Mt. Washington, the tallest mountain in the Northeastern USA. At more than 6000ft high, it is probably not tall by world standards but it has one of the harshest weathers at its summit. The world's highest wind speed was recorded here in 1931. Any guesses? Hold your breath - 231kmph! That's as fast as a TGV!! Indeed, to match up to such speeds, the buildings at the top (yes they have buildings there! An observatory, a Victorian inn (!!) and a few others) are tethered to the ground by means of thick iron chains. So with all this information in mind, we started our trip eagerly the next day.




On the way, we stopped as someone in our 5-car long cavalcade said they spotted a moose. We all pulled over to the side of the higwhay and ran back a good distance only to find a black bear! It was really frustrating but I took a picture nevertheless. Moose are very shy (and very dumb too) animals that are rarely seen outside the densest of forests in the Northeast. That explains why they are sought after by amateur photographers (like me). We hit the road after a while to continue our journey to the big daddy of Northern peaks - Mt. Washington. It won't take a genius to guess why they named this peak in the Presidential Range (of nine peaks) after the first president of the US. Anyways, we reached the base of the mountain soon enough and hired a stage van to take us to the top. After a 30-min long edge-of-the-seat thriller of a ride, we reached the summit. Remember, the road was damn narrow and there were quite a few bends. Add to that some dust and fog and swooshing cars on the opposite lane and you have the perfect recipe for a heartstopper! This is how the earth looks from 5000ft high (when we were closing in on the summit):




There are many ways to get to the top -- rent a stage van, take your own car (not the thing for the weak-hearted ones), hike up (if you are blessed with a good pair of legs and boots), or take the Cog Railway! There are such trains in India too, but what makes it doubly difficult out here is the steep climb the train takes when it goes up. When we reached the top, we just saw a train entering the "station" at the summit:




As you can see, all that huffing and puffing that little engine is up to is not for show! The driver told me the engine was built in the 1800s!! They still ply on centuries-old track! Talk about quality engineering. If you noticed carefully, there is a thin "track" running between the usual two, in the picture above. Actually, it's not a track but a row of metal "teeth" that help the train grip the track and not roll down as it moves up. My engineering curiosity got the better of me, here's proof of that below:




Mt. Washington was not just the highlight of day two but also of our entire trip. It cost us an arm and leg to get up there but when we got up there all our cribbing vanished into the thin air of the mountains. It was definitely worth more than whatever they charged us.

We came back home on Sunday night at around 11 PM tired but loaded with lots of memories of the wild countryside of New Hampshire.

I learnt a few things from the trip:

1. Tourism is all about intelligent marketing and creating the right atmosphere. All the places we went to were accessible to the average Joe, someone who isn't a rock-climber or mountaineer. Yet we went to all kinds of gorges, valleys, mountains without risking our lives more than crossing the road outside our homes. There is an important lesson here for Bharatiya Paryatan Vibhag (Dept. of Indian Tourism) to learn -- make all places accessible to the general public and maintain them well. And watch the dollars, dirhams and deutsch marks flow in torrents!

2. Desis never learn to enjoy a place without thinking of money. A desi will travel all the way to Mars paying a billion dollars but still think twice whether to buy the $5 extra oxygen cylinder. Ok, I am exaggerating here but you get the drift, don't you?

3. Once in a while, even I can compose a long essay.

That brings us all to the end of my travelogue.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Untitled document

If you just finished reading the title of this post -- no, I didn't type this text in M$ Word. It's just that I feel totally blank. It's one of those days when your imagination forsakes you in frustration.

I am just gonna be cribbing about a few things that bother me a lot. First on the hitlist is careless handling of stuff. The other day someone borrowed a CD from me and when I got it back, I could see tell-tale signs of its journey through different hands. It had more scratches than wrinkles on a 150-year old man. End result: I couldn't listen to my favorite album anymore.

Others specialize in borrowing stuff and forget about it totally altogether until you need it one day. Heck, by that time even you won't remember who you lent it to! A few find maniacal pleasure in taking stuff away from you without even asking. The other day I thought I had lost a book until a few weeks later a friend came back to return it.

Why is it that people assume that they can take such sweeping liberties with someone else's stuff? I, for one, would feel extremely uncomfortable holding on to something I borrowed and would return it at the first opportunity I got. Of course, I would handle it more carefully than my own stuff. Yet, I fail to understand why this is not a common virtue among well-educated and civil individuals.

Maybe I sound like a hopelessly fastidious and eccentric soul but I am sure there are still a few people in the world who have a sense of right when it comes to dealing with others.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

The whys and wherefores of blogging

One question's been haunting me for quite some time now. Why do I need a blog? Why should I tell people all over the world about the movie I just saw or the recent trip to Acadia? What is the point in it all?

Blogs, I understand, are like just about anything that you don't have. The moment you realize everybody has that something which you don't have, your primal instincts prod you to go get one. When you are a kid, you see other kids with nice remote-controlled toys. You go home and throw tantrums until your parents get you one too. What do you do after that? The toy lies in your cupboard as nothing more than a trophy. Your interest in it ends with owning it.

So is a blog a status symbol? Back in my college days, when I first got to use a crude Windows 95 system, I got my first email address. Every other kid in my class had an email id, so why not me? Isn't that cool? memyself@coolmail.com? (Trust me, there was an email website like www.coolmail.com; they morphed into www.electronmail.com and right now they lie hidden in some dark niche of the World Wide Void.)

Or is a blog a symbol of sophistication? Is it a high-tech avatar of that ubiquitous trait that all well-groomed Victorian gentlemen shared -- keeping diaries?

These debates will carry on forever. For, I realize, the reason behind all this furious typing is the inanest ever -- typing practice!

La Identidad

How often is it that people mistake you for someone that you are not? Maybe not too often. Most people get by with what they actually are. They never have to struggle with "imposed" identities. Not a very bright start for my newest post on this blog.

Anyhow, I was rambling about the kinds of notions people have about you, in terms of what they perceive as your identity. Simply put, there are enough dumb people on this planet who will invariably identify you as a lost Martian!

Recently, during one of my ritual visits to the grocery store here, I was given a new identity. Ok, I think I am overusing that word now :) Anyway, when I checked out of the counter, there was this white kid that looked at me and said, "Hola!". I barely noticed what he said and muttered hello and went away. Later, it struck me that I looked like a Mexican to that kid. That set some wheels in motion in my mind.

I remember at primary school, the kids often thought I was Bengali, just because I happened to know that language from my decade-long stay at Kolkata. Some thought I was Christian because my name sounds very similar to "Sebastian". Even some teachers used to call me so!

Some people feel flattered when a stranger thinks they are from an exotic place/culture when they actually are from elsewhere. I don't. Rather, I feel irritated when someone mislabels me. Not that the "Hola!" incident was racist; on the contrary, the kid probably thought he was being nice to the friendly neighborhood Chicano.

Next time, I'll wear a sombrero and poncho so that the "Hola!" doesn't seem out of place. But you know what, the same kid'll be there, but this time saying, "Num-uss-tay". Darn!