Monday, April 04, 2005

My day out in Chennai

After a long time, I got to stay in Chennai for almost a week, thanks to preparation holidays prior to my exams. It's a mix between spring and summertime and the flowers are out in a riot of colors. And I've been taking snaps as well :)

Yesterday, Sriram, Vivek and I planned to meet up over coffee. And to brighten up things, the weather turned out to be lovely - when I set out of my home, it was just about to rain. By the time we reached the coffee place, it was pouring cats and dogs. Rain does nice things to you, especially when it rains in a place like Chennai where the seasons of the year are restricted to summer and peak summer.

At Coffee Day (Isphahani Centre), I was given a cup of Cappucino with a smiley scribbled on it with cream, though the folks running the place were far from putting up smiley faces at us. Quite understandable, considering we pulled out all the gadgets and put them on the couch and made a mess of the place, and then Vivek and Sriram started talking. Everyone who knows Vivek and Sriram well, would realize the implications of a conversation between them.

We left the place and set out on a walk. In the meanwhile, the rain intensified and all of us got soaked. We set out to another place for lunch. The high point was this restaurant was a large bowl of water, with assorted flowers floating on it, kept right in the entrance - pleasant and inviting :)

A quick autorickshaw ride got us to Sriram's house. Two computers, mile-length cables running across the place, speakers and headphones, a basketball, a cricket ball and about 6 shelves of technical books later, we realized we were in his room, the geek's abode. We had good fun watching loads of videos (turned out that they were Channel 9 and Longhorn videos.), and poking around on his computer. We also listened to a few tracks like the Matrix lobby scene track, and the Star Trek title track. This guy's also a huge Star Trek fan. So when he got all excited watching Captain Picard, Vivek and I had to exchange blank looks. Three hours later, it was time to leave. I'm going to miss all the fun I had in Chennai, more because it's that time of the year when I finally have to slog.

Friday, February 04, 2005

Heaven on earth

After a brief hiatus, I'm back to blogging. Another New Year's eve has passed. I'm now back in college, trying to figure out if classes are any good to me at all. Every one of the subjects seem to me to be a huge waste of my time and effort. My camera is doing quite good, in fact, by now I can figure out how to position the lens to get the full picture (it doesn't have a preview screen). Hostel rules are another, but I'm not complaining. I'm now considered to belong to the "seniors", which means I can bend rules, if not break them. I've now got a laptop and she's called Smoke. She's a Thinkpad and is keeping me company almost all the time.
I happened to visit a college in Coimbatore last month. If there really existed heavenly abodes on the face of the earth, this had to be one of them. Set amidst hills, the entire campus was absolutely fascinating. It took a little over an hour for me to reach there and the drive to get there was an out-of-the-world experience. How many times do you pass through roads which touch the hills on one side and fields on the other? Halfway through the journey, my mobile phone read "Welcome to Kerala". I had actually crossed the state border!
The college, though set amidst barren hills, was home to all sorts of plants and trees. Snaps are here for you to see.

PS: One of those snaps (the orange flower with a bee on it, reminds me of a similar snap taken by Deepak :) )

Saturday, November 27, 2004

War of the chat windows

Sometimes I can be a real annoying person to get away from. For example, the following was a chat conversation between Aarthi and me at 3AM - where she tried to get me to go to sleep. Ya right - as if that's going to work :-)

Aarthi says:
ok, I'm not going to chat with you anymore tonight

Aarthi says:
else you'll never sleep

Sriram says:
hmm..what if I cast away my secret identity and assume my superhero self?

Sriram says:
Look the sky..its a bird..its a plane..its

Sriram says:
Captain Tall Coder

Sriram says:
Striking terror into the hearts and the iBooks of short evil programmers everywhere

Sriram says:
Ok..I'll stop now

Sriram says:
fine..I'll just stay online and talk to this nice white chat window

Sriram says:
Dear chat window, how did you do today? Had Aarthi move cursors too frequently with you?

Sriram says:
Chat Window> I like smileys..they tickle

Sriram says:
Me> Err..ok. Good for you

Sriram says:
My chat window> Why are you chatting to other chat windows now? Get a life and give me a break. Do you think I like black characters all over me? That too in your black bold Verdana. Do you have any idea how long Verdana takes to wash off?

Sriram says:
My chat window> You people never understand..its always some blog this..some link that...never thinking of us poor chat windows. Have to endure all those nasty backspaces..and worse..the cut-copy-paste!

Sriram says:
Your chat window>Dont forget those snobbish URL hyperlinks.Just because they come from some browser, they think they're better than us. We'll show them

And after this, Aarthi gave up and started typing again. Peace was restored throughout the land and everyone rejoiced and made merry till the end of their days.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004


Who knows how long this will last
Now we've come so far, so fast
But, somewhere back there in the dust
That same small town in each of us
I need to remember this
So baby give me just one kiss
And let me take a long last look
Before we say goodbye

End of Innocence - Don Henley

People often say that distance makes the heart grow fonder. In my case, it is the prospect of distance that has been making me think a lot the last few days. In a few months, I’ll be leaving Chennai for another city. The chances of me ever living for a long period of time at Chennai are remote at best – at least not for the foreseeable future. My life over the last 21 years hasn’t exactly been nomadic, in fact, far from it. I was born in this city and have spent almost my entire life here. And now, I have to leave.

The last couple of weeks, I’ve been trying to experience the city a lot more. That temple car down the street or the neighbour you barely talk to suddenly take on new importance when you ponder over whether you’ll ever see them again. I’ve been a lot friendlier to the people on the street, always wondering whether I’ll ever cross-paths with them again. The iron-wallah down the street. The granny next door who berated you as a kid for sending cricket balls flying into her garden. The old corporation school headmaster (a friend of my father’s) who wishes me every single morning with the same cheerful grin though he’s past eighty. The guy across the street you fought with as a kid over an umpiring decision. The list is endless…

Apart from these are all the sights and sounds of Chennai I’ve grown up to and taken for granted. I’m planning to blog some of my favorite memories of the city. Now, as I’ve pretty much grown up here, this means a lot of memories from my childhood. One such memory is the New Year’s Day trip to the Parthasarathy temple in Triplicane.

Those who know me well would be pretty familiar with my reluctance to get out of bed at any time earlier than 10 in the morning. However, there’s one single day every year when I actually get up early without a fuss at all – Jan 1st. Now, getting up early on New Year’s Day is a bit dicey as I would have been up late the previous night watching TV (those hilarious pre-recorded countdown shows) and on the stroke of midnight, calling up people. My mom is an early riser and would wake me up at around 6 am. I remember one year when she didn’t wake me up as she thought I was sleeping soundly – and I lost my temper so badly at this that she’s made it a point to drag me out of bed, however loudly I may be snoring. We do this every single year without an exception (except that one year).

Now those among you who get the impression that I’m a religious person – nothing could be farther from the truth. But there’s something quaint about this custom and it has become such a tradition in my family that I don’t want to break it. But this Jan 1st would probably be the last time in a while unless I manage to be in Chennai at the correct time. In retrospect, I should have probably posted this on Jan 1st – but couldn’t resist.

After brushing my teeth and a quick shower, I get into an auto-rickshaw only half-awake. Driving through the roads of Chennai early in the morning of Jan 1st is a unique experience. Apart from the roads being relatively empty, you also see the wreckage of cars, autos and what not. I always wonder what kind of drunken revelry could lead to such madness – for there’s not a single year when I haven’t seen some auto-rickshaw look as if it had just been crumpled by a giant hand. Apart from that, the ride is one where I usually ponder over the year gone by. It is difficult not to get into a reflective mood and start saying things like “Look at how much things have changed’.

The drive lasts around 20 minutes. The temple we’re going to is one of the oldest and biggest in Chennai and it also happens to be one of the very few temples I’ve ever visited. But I’ll get to the temple later. Let me first describe the area in which it is located – Triplicane. Triplicane is a reasonable-sized neighborhood present very close to the beach in Chennai. It holds some special significance for my family as my mom grew up there. But the interesting thing is that this place has barely changed since my mom’s childhood days.

Whenever I visit Triplicane, I always get the feeling that I’m stepping into a time-warp. The auto rumbles into a narrow street with old houses on both sides with the paint long gone. The houses are remnants from an era long gone – silent witnesses to the change happening all around them. However, I never get the feeling that these houses are refusing to move into the 21st century. The feeling that always strikes me is that these houses don’t need to – as if they exist on a different plane altogether where our modern gadgets and fast-forwarded life style don’t really hold any value.

Our auto-rickshaw driver never has an easy time navigating through these streets. Not only do you have to battle for space with the cows, you also have to contend with all the elaborate ‘kolams’ in the front of every house. Peeking into those houses is an interesting experience in itself. You won’t see your computers or DVD players or cordless phones (though of late, I’ve spotted a few). What you’ll see is straight out of a classic Tamil movie. The man of the house would be reading the newspaper, probably sipping on his ‘filter coffee’ in his ‘veshti’, oblivious to the kids around him. The kids would be very different from the spoilt, unclean brat that I am. They would be decked out in their new clothes and playing, with some grand-parents or elder relatives keeping an eye on them. The women would be decked out in those ‘madisaru-sarees’ (I can never figure out how women can actually get into them – that’s probably why they’re smarter than men).

My mom knows a lot of people in this area from her childhood. What strikes you is that people are very friendly and they remember you. My mom usually pays a visit to an old lady who studied along with my mom’s elder sister. She never fails to recognize me and usually embarrasses me by quoting incidents from the first few days after I was born. My mom also points out Subramaniam Bharathi’s (the famous Tamil poet and freedom fighter) house every time we go past his street. Looking at the dilapidated condition of his house, you really wonder whether people would recognize his name in the decades to come. Britney Spears – yes. Poets and freedom fighters – probably not.

The temple itself is an imposing structure. Encircled by those quaint walls with the alternate red and white strips, it covers a reasonably large area. I’ve always wondered as to the red and white stripes – is there any special religious meaning to this? After leaving our footwear outside and buying the necessary ‘archanai’ (archanai = puja in Hindi? Someone help me out) items, we enter through the main entrance.

Walking down the main pathway, your feet take some time getting accustomed to the cold stone floor. You enter through a 15-ft high gate, laden with little bells which you’re supposed to peal when you walk past them. The threshold you step over is important too – intricately carved, you have to be careful about which foot you use to step over it.

The temple itself is a study in contrast between the low and the high. On one hand, you have these incredibly cramped pathways. On the other hand, you have these soaring towers which seem to reach the sky itself. My mom makes it a point to tell me the religious significance of these towering spires every single time – and I forget every single time.

You have practically no hope of getting into the main sacrosanct area (the inner shrine for Lord Parthasarathy), so we usually resign ourselves to catching a glimpse of him from afar. This also means that you don’t have to stand in serpentine queues and jostle with an unruly crowd, so this is a big win. Now, to catch a glimpse of the inner shrine, you have to climb a few steps from around 100 feet away. Right next to these steps are two small 3-feet tall statues of baby elephants carved out in stone. I remember these statues quite well as I would sit on them as a kid as my mom tried to catch a glimpse of the ‘archanai’. Last year, I saw a small kid sitting on these statues and it threw into sharp focus that I’ve actually grown up. These statues must have seen thousands of kids like me grow up and then one day, finally stop coming. If only they could talk – I wonder what stories they would be able to tell! I have a confession to make – last year, when there were not too many people around, I quickly hopped onto one of the statues to relive some of my childhood memories. Somehow, it was a lot easier when I was not 6 feet 5 in tall. Oh well.

I really wish I had photos of all this but I don’t think the temple allows photography inside the temple itself. Probably a good thing too.

The ‘archanais’ themselves are pretty serious affairs. In recent years, the inner-sanctum of the various shrines have been getting pretty crowded. Are a lot more people getting religious? Or there are a lot more people? Hard to say. As a kid, my favorite part of these rituals was the part where the priest came and plonked the divine crown on top of your head before moving on to the next person. In recent years though, priests have had problems with reaching the top of my head – guess they don’t get too many 6 footers there. 

An interesting cultural phenomenon is the ‘VIP archanai’. Though these probably cause a bigger impact on the Tirupathi Tirumala temple (which, by the way, I’ve visited only once in my life, that too as an infant). This basically means that if you are a big-shot – someone famous or someone close to temple management, you get to ‘jump the queue’. The irony of this special treatment never fails to amuse me – as well as the fact that you have to buy tickets for ‘archanais’. There are two kinds of tickets – one buys you a ‘normal’ archanai and the other buys you a ‘special’ archanai (which basically means you get more flowers,coconut,etc). I wonder whether God ever looks at the people with the normal tickets and says ‘You cheapos! Forget your wish ever coming true’. To my knowledge, my mom has never to this day bought one of the ‘special’ tickets. Not that it was more expensive – but because she was always convinced that all this commercialism was bad and that God wouldn’t mind. Well – the second part is what she always used to tell me when I was a kid.

The walls of the temple are a pretty interesting study in themselves. Most of them are adorned by marble plaques having the Thirukurral or some other verse. I always find it amusing to see the names of the ‘sponsors’ on these plaques. Here you have this divine poetry – and then you have ‘Smt. Some Chettiar’ at the bottom. You see some famous names sometimes – for example, names from the TVS group pop up pretty frequently. Since my mom went to school in this area, she recognizes a lot of the famous names on the plaques. What is scary is that I don’t recognize any of them. What would these people have thought if they knew that their fame was only to last a few decades?

Other walls have inscriptions carved into them – though mostly in Tamil, since this carving was done hundreds of years ago, the script is very different. Besides, time has played a part too – eroding away whatever those inscriptions were trying to say. You find these inscriptions every where – even on the floor. I like to run my hand along these inscriptions – all those wise men through history talking to you through the mists of time. This place is a budding archaeologist’s idea of heaven. If you want to know how to Tamil history feels like, you have to pay a visit here.

During one trip to the temple, I discovered that the pillars around the temple have the 10 avatars of Vishnu carved onto them. What is interesting though is that these avatars don’t follow the normal order that we know of – the pillars seem to be laid out haphazardly. But I doubt whether that’s the case – I suspect there’s a deeper meaning to the arrangement of these pillars. Right next to the pillars is a wide open space where religious discourses are held. There would be a old priest relating some incident from the Ramayana and these 10-15 people listening in rapt attention. Some decades ago, before the spreading of cable Tv – or even the radio, this was the only form of entertainment. I’ve never seen anyone below the age of 50 or 60 at these discourses which is a sad story in itself.

After making a trip round the temple premises (which involves going through some pretty narrow, dark pathways), you wind back outside. After collecting your footwear, it is time to go home. My mom makes it a point to buy me some milk chocolate at some store for the trip back. Apart from the milk chocolate, we pick up the day’s newspaper as well, usually full of New Year’s Day cheer and the previous year’s last sunset. Soon, we would be rumbling back home in an auto with a whole year in front of us. What could be more exciting than that!

Monday, November 22, 2004

Greener than Thou..

Green Yellow Leaves
Originally uploaded by Aarthi.
My camera is back in action (thanks to all the Lisp code?) and I've been clicking some weird pictures of late. Ever wondered why some leaves are more green than some others, inspite of belonging to the same plant or tree? Ever found a plant where leaves are more colorful than the flowers themselves? I used to be amazed (and still am) at the variety of shades of green we find in the garden. I used to wonder if some plants with leaves of a lighter color considered themselves to be different from those with dark green leaves. Maybe they discriminated against each other, maybe they suffered from racism too. Maybe the dark-leaved trees considered themselves to be superior than the lighter ones, so they'd probably grow stronger, bigger, bear more branches and deprive the light colored plants of sunlight, eventually killing them. Maybe, they all spoke to each other, constantly plotting against the other race, hatching mighty plans of devilry, all because of a miniscule difference in the amount of chlorophyll, each of them were born with. What would have happened if they decide to fight it out, kill each other. What good is a war anyway?

Friday, November 12, 2004

Lord have mercy

About 2 weeks ago, I received this poem, titled "Lord have mercy", by e-mail from one of my classmates.

Lord have mercy

Last night, while I lay sleeping,
I died, or so it seemed.
Then I went to Heaven,
but it was only in my dream.

But it seems St. Peter met me,
there at the Pearly Gate.
He said: "I must check your record.
So stand right here and wait.

I see that you drank alcohol
and smoked quite often, too.
Fact is, you did many things
that a good person shouldn't do.

We can't have guys like you up here,
your life was full of sin".
Then he read the last of my record,
grasped my hand and said, "Come in."

He took me to the Big Boss.
Said: "Take him and treat him well.
He's had his share of hell".

Deepak added another stanza to it..

So he burnt his midnight's oil
For meeting fancy, imaginary schedules
So hard has this person toiled
Even they look better - those mules

And here's my 2 paise worth :)

Fighting numerous deadlines
Around the neck hangs a dog collar
In dank cubicles, forever confined
All for the sake of shining dollars

Any addition, impromptu or otherwise, is always welcome. Are the Vogons listening?

Friday, October 01, 2004

My camera

Something catastrophic just happened. I broke my little camera into 3 different pieces (and the push-button as a small 4th piece). I really don't remember what exactly I was doing with it when it suddenly cracked up. And now, I can see the teeny weeny contents, a small chip, 2 red wires leading from one part of the soldered circuit to another and the lens. A weird thought occurs to me.."Can I take a snap of my camera contents with my camera itself?" and my memory fades to the last recursive program I wrote in Lisp.

I decided to pen down my own code(non-recursive) for my poor camera :(

(defun take-snap(object,camera)
(mapcar( see-part '(chip,wires,lens,button))
(cond((eq object camera) '(Are you nuts?!))

I'm waiting to go back home and fix the camera and I'm hoping that a little pen knife would do the trick.