Sunday, July 29, 2007

It's not over

"After liftoff there is no room for adjustment," says the middle-aged Indian gentleman with the prodigious handlebar mustache. "A fraction of a second and everything is lost." My companion, an engineer with the Indian Space Research Organisation, checks his watch compulsively as we wait for the agency's latest rocket, bearing an INSAT-4C communications satellite, to rise from its gantry and streak across the cloudy sky over the Bay of Bengal.
Operating on a fraction of NASA's budget, the ISRO has turned itself into the Energizer Bunny of space programs – it just keeps launching and launching and launching. Since 1975, the agency has lofted 43 satellites into orbit, 20 of them from Indian soil. An extraordinary string of successes – 12 consecutive launches without a failure – has attracted European and Asian investors looking to capitalize on the growing demand for satellite communication and reconnaissance. A few big deals could turn the ISRO into a moneymaker, boosting India's prestige and helping deflect criticism that the space agency's rupees would be better spent alleviating the misery of roughly 300 million Indians who live below the poverty line.
The launch site, situated on the island of Sriharikota off the east coast of India and surrounded by natural barriers of water and sand, could be the lair of a James Bond villain. Security is obsessively tight at the complex, which is about 50 miles from Chennai, the closest major city. For the mid-July launch, some 900 armed guards surrounded the site to secure the area for convoys of officials, scientists, and entrepreneurs. Over the course of two months, I applied formally to watch the launch but was rebuffed, so I decided to show up unannounced. No luck. With a broad smile, the dapper press officer informed me that foreign journalists were strictly prohibited. In case I had a problem with that, a guard holding an assault rifle stood nearby.
Denied access to the inner sanctum, I take an 8-mile detour to the nearest village, Ataganathippa, and claim a spot along the road with a clear view of the launchpad, amid an audience of ordinary people – farmers, fishermen, day laborers, and my rocket-engineer acquaintance, who has brought along his family. Jeans-clad engineering students from the local community college chat excitedly about how the new satellite could reduce the price of cable television. Suddenly a bright flash erupts in the distance. Huge plumes of smoke boil up from the ground, and a loud rumble rolls across the water. In a matter of seconds the rocket rises above the horizon and a group of young boys shouts, "Jai Hind! Jai Hind!" (Victory to India!) Climbing steadily, the rocket disappears behind a bank of clouds. The crowd is motionless, anticipating the engine's fading rumble.
But it doesn't fade. There's a thunderlike crack. Then chunks of flaming debris begin a slow, tumbling descent, tracing red trails back to Earth.
"That's not supposed to happen," says the engineer, his voice tense with disbelief. Fifteen minutes later, a nearby car radio crackles: "The launch has failed." Ground control issued a self-destruct order when the rocket veered off course and threatened to crash. "It's not over," declares my companion. "God willing, we'll have another crack at the next launch." The crowd, now silent, slowly drifts away. A hard wind blows, scouring the sky clean.
– Scott Carney

Wednesday, July 18, 2007



2007 A.D New Delhi

“It’s too hot these days”
“Hot and humid”
“Why don’t we leave?”
“Because we need a place to stay”
“You know that boundaries of time and space don’t restrict us”
“Yes but there’s something called home”

1585 A.D. Istanbul

“I have a feeling our days are numbered here”
“You always have that feeling”
“This time it’s for real”
“Fear is itself a sum total of reality, future and uncertainty”
“I’m not here to listen to your absurd theories”
“What brings you to this desolate place then?”
“The followers of Nusret Hoja are after us… they are hunting us all down one by one”
“Who is Nusret Hoja? And what do mean by ‘us’”
“These are not the times to be so innocent and unaware. Nusret Hoja is the leader of all fanatics in this country and they are after all men who visit coffee houses and mingle in the company of the dervishes who dance to the tune of prayers”
“Do they have a good enough reason?”
“They say coffee makes you delirious and makes you indulge in blasphemy”
“Do you believe that?”
“Hasn’t happened to me but the other day that dreamy eyed boy Shevket went out of his mind, stood up on the table and announced ‘hey you, men and women of Istanbul, listen to what I have to say. For it is I who controls time. Strange events are about to unfold. The city you live in is about to become the seat of one of the greatest empires which will later crumble under the feet of the Frankish infidels. Your Arab neighbours will unsuccessfully wage war against the Frankish inhabitants of a far-off continent to stop them from stealing their buried gold.”
“What buried gold do the Arabs have?”
“Don’t you pay attention to what those-who-have-lost-their-senses say, just think about where do we go this time?”
“I refuse to listen to you. Last time, on your suggestion we hid among the Jews of Spain and were subsequently driven out by Queen Isabella.”
“But that’s how we landed in this beautiful city of Istanbul”
“Which according to you, is now impossible to survive in”
“Yes, because we have been spotted in the company of dervishes and coffee drinkers”
“Where do we go then?”
“Akbar, the emperor of Hindustan has sent emissaries to the four corners of the world to bring back artists of the highest order to reside in his court. I met one of them yesterday and fooled him into believing that I’m a renowned calligrapher and agreed to leave Istanbul along with my assistant that would be you.”
“I can hear people on the street shouting Allaho-akbar”
“May be its time”
“Let’s leave”

1947 A.D. New Delhi

“The prime minister is closing all manholes and flushing out all undesirables from the city”
“After surviving the partition riots this was the last thing I expected”
“Where do we go now?”
“We don’t have to go anywhere. This city is big enough to hide in”

Friday, July 13, 2007

The Tomb

I recently moved from one of the filthiest serais in South Delhi ‘neb serai’ to a decent one - lado serai. This new serai is quite peculiar in its own special way. Maybe it’s because its age old structures are still safe from being razed to the ground by the notorious Delhi builders who are afraid of the ‘Jaat’.

The ‘Jaat’ is a well built farmer with far less thinking abilities than an average school kid and an unpredictable behaviour pattern that can put any sociological expert to shame. He used to own huge tracts of land around Delhi but is now slowly selling them off plot by plot. It’s he and his brethren who mostly inhabit the serais of Delhi. In lado serai each four storied building belongs to a ‘Jaat’ family with single guys like me fearfully residing on the floors above. There’s a reason to this fear – the ‘Jaat’ himself.

The Jaat women of lado serai are the most mysterious characters. You can’t say whether they are beautiful or not because they have their faces mostly covered. Even when their faces aren’t covered, there’s an unwritten law (jaats hate writing) in lado serai which is implemented in the most ruthless manner and all outsiders follow – do not look at a female faces. No one knows the reason but assume that it’s a matter of honour as it is with the Arabs. This can be accepted as the most logical explanation.

Lado Serai is a very ancient locality with not many ancient buildings left. The only thing ancient that is left is the shadow of Qutub Minar. It’s the first thing you look at when you wake up and get out into your balcony. There’s another structure you notice in another direction. It’s a strange tomb. The blackened walls are a testimony to its age and the architecture doesn’t pretend to be outstanding. It stands on a small rocky hill in its own quiet way never seeking attention. I’ve never spotted any tourist, foreign or Indian, visiting the tomb.

A few days later I discovered something new about the Tomb. I spotted someone coming out of the tomb. I followed that someone’s path from when it was a speck in my sight to when my eyes signalled my brain to register the image of a woman. She crossed the main road and walked right into the lane entering lado serai. Just then my eyes travelled all the way back to the tomb and I saw two women entering the tomb. ‘The women of lado serai sure are admirers of medieval architecture’ I thought for a moment.

In a few days time it became a familiar sight watching women in traditional gear, with their veils covering their face, walking in and out of the tomb. Still I could never notice a tourist or even a street kid around the tomb. Except for the days of these strange visits by the women, the tomb stood there alone, quietly, looking even more mysterious and alluring in its silence and abandonment. I never once saw the Jaats enter the strange tomb.

There was one I particularly liked. Not because she was pretty, I never dared to look at her face. I just watched her walk to the tomb on a moonless night and realized that something was different about this one. Maybe it was the way she walked or the way everything seemed to get mysteriously dark as she crossed by. Or maybe it’s common to get attracted to whatever is unusual.

One day, the heavy chains of fear just loosened and I approached her and did what I wasn’t meant to do. Looked at her face, and there was nothing unusual about it. In fact, it was one of the most stunning faces I had ever seen. Regaining my senses I managed to utter my first few words.
“Hey what’s your name and why do you go to the tomb?”

“Our kinds have no name and at the end of the day everyone has to return to the place one belongs” she said and smiled.

Her sharp pointed teeth were the last thing I remember before I lost all sense of reality.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Innocent Menu Card

Looks like any other menu of a local restaurant. Its parked outside the restaurant on a stand. People pass by scarcely noticing it. The large Greek imitation statue hovering above the door grabs all the attention. One look at the menu and you know its the devil in crouching in a corner and grinning gleefully to himself with a wicked secret in his pocket! The murmurs of debauchery and delicious innuendo in a place with wholesome bakery shops, Trendzz fashion store and generally decent kinda folks.

The inside stuff that is outside on a stand -

(for bigger image go to

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Saturday, July 7, 2007

who me?

One fine day she calls

And asks me where I’ve been

It’s been so long

I’m searching…she says

For a certain Mr. Sin

I feel my hands tremble

As a gulp goes down my throat

I had it coming a long-long time

But was eluding it evermore

Sorry I said to her

You must have been mistaken

I sold my soul a while ago

I can’t be held for sin.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Satan and the Salesman

It tasted salty…deliciously salty…the drop of sweat that dripped down his lips. Apart from the taste of the sweat there was nothing else at the moment that could make him feel any less miserable than he was feeling. His helmet felt like an over heated pressure cooker with the head being cooked inside…brain cells being incinerated beyond repair. The papers said 45 degrees…with the heat bouncing back from the big flashy hoods of cars around which it felt at least 5 degrees more. When you're in Gurgaon two things is what you are always surrounded by - glass and dust. The dust creeps inside you and the glass towering on both sides of the road adds to the boiling charm of the situation.

In the month of June, Delhi is no better. Especially when you want people to open up accounts with your bank, even when they already have two. To top it all up, you get targets impossible to achieve. And the heat… the fucking heat, makes your field a living hell. And Mangesh, a small town guy from Rampur, had now fully understood that the life of a salesman was itself a living hell.

3 years back, he came to the capital to study for an MBA that was expensive enough to drain his father’s finances and burden him with loans even before starting to earn. He was happy with the placement season for bagging a good package in a world-renowned bank. He diddn’t quiet care to look closely at the profile. The first day itself he was given a nice leather bag with metal edges and kicked out of the office to try and open as many accounts as he could. With his leather briefcase strapped around his back he rode his bike all around the city knowing little what to do. Finally found a nice little place by the India Gate garden and dozed off. Little did he know that the coming days would be worse.

Not many days ago, a customer locked him up in his go-down and he had to call his superiors to sort out matters. Another day he was chased by a ferocious dog belonging to a guy he had high hopes on. Fortunately the dog was called back when he stumbled upon something and broke his leg. Life was not very rewarding.

And then came the heat wave.

Mangesh was the kind of guy you could easily slap on the back of his head with him not bothering to hit you back. He had an easy life back home and after that the college gave him good value for his money. But it was very different for him now. The world was never like this. No-one cared, not a single kind word. The boss used to switch off the air-conditioning after 11 and tell them to go out on their calls.

Hate was something he had found easy to carry along. Helped face the heat better, rose along with the mercury. It was a beautiful feeling to let all out and feel all powerful. His job seldom gave him that feeling.

Miserably failing in his Gurgaon campaign, he came back to Delhi all exhausted and account-less. His boss waited in expectation as he always did.

“dhanda kitna laaya hai?”

He hated that word ‘dhanda’. It made him feel like a prostitute who cruises the dirtiest corners of the city and meets the filthiest of people to earn her living. After completing his MBA from (if not one of the best) one of the most expensive colleges in Delhi this wasn’t the way he had ever imagined he would be addressed. This wasn’t the way things were supposed to turn out. This wasn’t the way he was supposed to live. This wasn’t how hot summers were supposed to be. This just wasn’t right.

And the heat… the fucking heat. His head was already spinning from the day’s job, cruising aimlessly from house to house knocking.

“abey ghoor kya raha hai? MBA me tereko dhanda laana nahi sikhaya kya? Abey…..”

It was still hot outside, as if the earth was now releasing what it had absorbed all day long. His face burned as he looked down but he no longer had that feeling of disappointment and humiliation inside him. He felt strong, all-powerful. He could feel a kind invigorating energy inside him.

He looked up when the first drop fell on his shirt. The blood dissolved to reveal the plain white colour of his shirt, and then another… and another. He turned his head down to watch the blood getting mixed with the water gathering around him in the mud.

Delhi’s meteorological department had issued a statement today that the monsoons would arrive late this year. Their weatherman was wrong… very wrong.