Monday, January 28, 2013

7x7x7x7 Poem: Warrior Woman


On a friend’s blog (Deepa’s Kaleidoscope) I came across this little project...

Grab the 7th book from your bookshelf. Open it up to Page 7. Pinpoint the 7th sentence on the page. Begin a poem that begins with that sentence and limit it in length to 7 lines.

She wrote a lovely little poem and I thought I should try something out too. Now, I don’t do creative writing or poetry unless it has something to do with my personal feelings… all the previous poetry on this blog has been just that… some torment in my head and a few words that vent those feelings.

When I got down to searching my library for the 7th book, I realized that more than first 20 of the books in my library were thrillers / horror or mystery novels… the likes of Dean Koontz, Stephen King and Jeffrey Deaver. I didn't want to chance upon a morose line and have to get down to writing a morbid poem. 
As I searched for a way to cheat the 7th book condition, I saw that 7 of my books were vertically stacked because of the lack of space in my bookshelf. The 7th book in the stack is The Greatest Show On Earth by Richard Dawkins. I grabbed the book and flipped to the 7th page and traced my finger down to the 7th line and voila… here was a sentence that did not make me want to write murderous poetry. The line is ‘handing them some kind of gift or victory’. Of course it would be out of context with the rest of the sentence taken up on the 6th line... but still usable.

Now… I could have used ‘them’ but I changed it to ‘her’ to tighten the poem.

And here it is:

Handing her some kind of gift or victory
He stood in mocking silence, sword down
She challenged him, blithe, never sorry
Urging him to fight or be cut down
Bristling and raising, he flashed angry eyes
His iron slashed, proud she stood her ground
And he saw there never was a plea in her eyes.

Since the poem has no deeper meaning… I had already formed it in my head when I decided to change ‘them’ to ‘her’… it didn't really take me 7 minutes. 
Whenever I post anything on my blog I tend to post some artwork with it which 9 times out of 10, I create on my own. In college I had a nickname… Xena, The Warrior Princess… and I thought since the poem reflected a warrior woman, I should sketch something along the lines. I found a sketch online (by Luis Royo from a desktop-wallpaper site) that was kind of what I wanted but not quite… so I decided to use that as a reference and create my own Xena. An hour of sketching and painting in Photoshop later here is what I made…

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Dreams Of Wanderlust


To travel far and wide, to see all sorts of places, to experience different cultures, to engage in a few adventures… the desires of this heart are many. Yet here I am confined to the four walls of my room, with a rare trip to the nearby mall to break the monotony of my routine life. To ease the chaffing of the invisible chains that bind me I turn to books. They have become my windows to the outside world, the sky in which my imagination takes wing… and they have been my means of transportation for the hundreds of journeys I have undertaken into this adventurous world.

I come from a family where travel is considered torture. The only traveling my parents take up are their trips to their hometown and back. They weren’t always like that… before their marriage both mom and papa have seen every place they could afford to go to. But after marriage, the trials and tribulations of setting up home in a new city probably put an end to their days of adventure and then unfortunately for me, the wanderlust flame died in them. For reasons best known to them and which I haven’t really tried to inveigle out, I have never been given permission for trips and picnics and the like when my school and college would plan any of it… except when they were these one day trips to nearby places which were repeated year after boring year, for example… the planetarium a hour’s drive in the city, the amusement park on the outskirts of the city and some done to death silly ‘gardens’ which were merely patches of planted green. But because I loved to pack my bag and sit in a bus with the wind in my hair, drowning out all the world around me… I used to enjoy even these little trips. The view outside the windows would generally be city clutter… but not when seen through my mind’s eye. Every patch of green on a traffic island were to me rolling meadows, groups of planted trees in some roadside colony were thick woods shrouded in mystery, puddles of rainwater, large and small were lakes dappled with sunlight or pools of unknown depths mirroring the sky, a gushing storm-drain by the roadside was the rush of a sparkling stream. I wove around me the world I wished to see in a tapestry of my imagination.

In fact, from a young age I developed the habit of tuning myself out from everything around me within whatever mode of transport I traveled in. I hated and still hate people trying to talk to me, offering me food or generally letting their presence known when I am lost to the world outside my window, while I travel. When I am traveling by the public transport bus, I eagerly wait for the conductor to charge me and then forget that it is a city bus… then it’s just me and my fantasies. Most of my bus travel is in Bombay, but the bus takes a wild route in my head… winding through the loud and colourful markets of Morocco shimmering with the desert heat, through the grey, drizzling streets of London (when I am in a double-decker), through Athens, Barcelona, Chennai, Damascus, the English countryside,… …Yangon, Zurich, etc.!

If there was a way, and if I could do this without hurting my folks, I would break free of these invisible chains (bonds of care and love they may be) and fly away… to backpack through the countryside, to listen to a hundred tongues, to hike a few hills, trek through woods and jungles, to eat whatever I can stomach. I want to get behind the wheel and take a long road trip through Europe and I want to trace a wary track through poisonous and intimidating Australia. I would love to live it up in the carnivals of Brazil or New Orleans. To sway on a camel’s back in a desert safari would be a great idea. Been my dream to dig up a few tombs in Ethiopia and Egypt, to gape awestruck at the wildlife in Africa, to explore the original God’s Own Country or as it is more recently known... Middle-Earth – New Zealand, to build a snowman in Canada or cuddle a husky in Alaska… and so much more.

Wondering when I would get to do all this… I know my time is running out. But my spirit of wanderlust is strong… and gaining as each year passes.

And then... I want to write about my travels... and read them again to experience them as now I experience the books that fuel my dreams.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Baking Blues!

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I don’t really cook… never had the need to. I love watching cookery shows… and sifting through recipes. Mom says that is because I do have little cook inside me trying to claw its way outside and get snappy with some dishes. She can say that… she loves cooking and is an awesome cook. Though I can cook if I want to, I don’t have the patience for it.

With mom insisting that I should once in a while step in to the kitchen and don the apron for some actual cooking instead of to just filch whatever goodies she prepares, I decided to bake a chocolate cake. Now, long back we had this cute little round electric oven that looked like a flying saucer… and in those days we made a lot of baked goodies. As a kid, I remember baking tiny tarts and little cupcakes. All that stopped years back… the spaceship oven stopped being reliable and the microwave was a terrible baking oven, we got an OTG and it just became an extra shelf to hold snacks and such. :)

Some 10 years back, I did bake a cake in it for my brother’s birthday, and some nankhatai cookies. After that the OTG has never known any baking… it has done a bit of grilling and roasting of chicken in it… but that’s about the use it has seen.

So today I emptied the oven of all the snacks and dusted and aired it. Then I checked the fridge and the pantry to see if I had any of the ingredients for making a chocolate cake. Luckily, there was some cocoa, flour, baking powder, eggs and butter. I wasn’t going to make anything fancy… just a simple chocolate cake. For a long time I have wanted to do some cake decoration… that is what I am good at… creative stuff… my experience of sculpting with clay could easily be translated to some sculpted frosting. I have quite a steady hand and am not bad at henna decorations, so piping the frosting would be a piece of cake too. ;)

Unfortunately, I had none of the ingredients required to prepare the icing… except icing sugar. I wanted to make marshmallow fondant and I did search the supermarket for marshmallows to no avail! :(

I whipped up the batter and then realized that I didn’t even have a decent cake pan… but, the batter was ready and I had to see this through. I decided to use the pie-dish as a cake pan! And in went the batter for a session of fragrant baking. The kitchen smelt heavenly with the aroma of the cake crust and even papa was of the opinion that it smelt good. The cake came out nice and fluffy and I was quite happy that it wasn’t the disaster I had expected it to be.

With some cooking chocolate, condensed milk and butter, I made something that resembled a chocolate ganache and coated the cake with it and also layered it inside. Stuck the cake in the fridge for the ganache to set and then I got to making up something that could be pulled of as ‘frosting’. I had a pack of strawberries and some black grapes… sliced them up for the decoration… then I used some icing sugar, condensed milk, cream and a wee bit of food colouring to make some fake frosting which was more syrup than icing. Well, I had no choice so I just went with the ‘flow’!

Here is the Melting Chocolate Cake!

Thursday, January 24, 2013



Subterranean is James Paul Czajkowski’s first action-adventure novel… or his first novel under the pen-name James Rollins.

And so I forgive him for the truckload of clichés and dumb characterization in the novel. I like James Rollins’ work a lot… I find his novels are perfect adrenalin pumpers with the right amount of true science, sci-fi, action and adventure. Subterranean has all that too… but it still falls short of what I have come to expect from Rollins. Since it is his first book, it is obvious that he improved a lot later on.

*** Spoilers Ahead ***  *** Spoilers Ahead ***  *** Spoilers Ahead ***

The book is set in Antarctica… McMurdo Station and the area around (and mostly underneath it). The story does not see light of day, so to speak, as it unfolds in caves, caverns and labyrinthine passages beneath the tonnes of ice that make up the lonely white continent. A team of researchers hand-picked for being the best in their fields are sent down to the the base on the discovery of the remains of what could possibly be a humanoid community. Unknown to the current team, a previous exploration team that went down the research path has been missing for 3 months. The bosses who put together the new team believe to be better prepared to face whatever awaits them in the dark depths of the unexplored passages.

The team consists of an anthropologist – Prof. Ashley Carter, a caver/spelunker - Benjamin Brust, a biologist – Prof. Linda Furstenburg, a geologist - Khalid Najmon, US Navy SEALs - Major Dennis Michaelson, Major Villeneuve, Major Halloway. They are hired by the head researcher of the project, Doctor Andrew Blakely. An additional character important to the story is Ashley Carter’s son, Jason Carter who is all of 11 years.

The team is lead by Ashley Carter and she is the most annoying female character I have come across in a book for a really long time. For some reason, the author thought that an empowered woman is someone who is cagey, shrill and for the lack of a better word, bitchy! She is bloody irritating for someone who is supposed to be a leading a team, the author himself must have realized that it lacks credibility so he makes her doubt her capability to lead. She is clearly a stupid mess if she decides to take her 11 year old son with her to a cold, dangerous and quite unknown research base. She even has this half-baked notion of motherhood which is everything but endearing… and for a potential leader she has serious trust issues.

Jason Carter is a smart kid. It is nice that he is not characterized as a stupid brat though the other characters do try to mollycoddle him and would want the reader to think he is a ticking bomb. But, he is a resourceful kid and obedient when required, mature enough for his age and has enough of a sense of wonder to not be considered a know-it-all nuisance.

The caver, Benjamin Brust is an Aussie with an open sense of humor, the kind who tend to make a joke out of everything. He is characterized as this fun guy who initially gives you the impression of being a joker who you would want to get rid of after the first five minutes of meeting him at a bar… but, as the book progresses he does turn out to be a likeable character and his ability to make light of the situation actually becomes a plus point. Though, I just don't understand how he could find anything worth loving in Ashley!!

The biologist Linda Frustenburg is the dainty, pretty female (apparently, a must in all ensemble teams). She is supposed to be the ‘rose’ to Ashley’s ‘granite’! Again, the author makes the mistake of equating whimpering self-doubt to feminine softness of heart. On top of that, Linda has a ‘condition’… she is claustrophobic and has hidden it from the team… and as soon as you (the reader) know it, long before the journey to the centre of the earth starts, you know she is gonna end up in a situation where her claustrophobia is going to fuel some tense moments… and might I say some truly artificial tense moments. Linda does redeem herself later in the book when she acts more like a normal woman and less like a clingy, scared kid.

Khalid Najmon is an Egyptian geologist. He is the only Muslim character in the book and as far as clichés go, his case must be the most used one since jihaad was known to the western world. So, easy as pie… he is the terrorist, the wolf in sheep’s clothing… out to jeopardize the research and mission and possibly the whole continent of Antarctica on the behest of diamond cartels and the Middle East’s oil industry. By the way… did I say he is conveniently Egyptian… and not a Saud / Kuwaiti / Emirati, even though it is all for the oil industry!

Major Dennis Michaelson – an upright Navy SEAL, is in the mission to protect the team of scientists but with a secret personal agenda of finding his younger brother who was lost with the earlier exploration team. He is every bit the soldier who does what soldiers do best. He heads the team of military support for the explorers and the rest of his team consists of Major Villeneuve and Major Halloway. Again… with all the clichés in the book, you know that at least one of the brawny military SEALS have to die. The SEALs are all good soldiers and follow orders without letting their personal interests come in between.

The head researcher, Andrew Blakely is an old guy who does everything because he believes it is in the best interests. He does not accompany the team into the depths but is not just a meek scientist, despite his age… and he too gets to be heroic in the book.

The thing is, everyone in the book gets to be heroic at one point or the other. The story is something of a mixture of Jules Verne and Michael Crichton… and it has the James Rollins characteristic plot thread of an untouched, unexplored, delicate ecosystem perfectly balanced, that underlines what is wrong with our own lives.

In spite of being heavily clichéd and at times reminiscent of Bollywood style melodrama, the book is still paced at a breakneck speed and keeps the pages turning. I did not put it down for a moment even though I pulled faces when I read parts of the story, rubbed my temples when Ashley annoyed me, and banged the book on my forehead at some downright stupid moments. In the end, far from the best of James Rollins, not even close to his good ones… but it still is a cracking, adrenalin pumping read.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Seventh Scroll


There is something about Wilbur Smith… and the subjects he chooses to write about. Add to that the magic of Africa and you have a perfect work of fiction… one that makes you hang on to every word until the last.

The Seventh Scroll was the first WS novel I ever read and that was some 16 years back. Then, I had no idea it was part of a series… but realized it only when I got to the end of the book. I was in a mood to revive some of those memories… of archaeological excavations, of guerrilla warfare and strong characters that either make you love or hate them. So, I dug through my little library and unearthed the book… and curled up with it.

It is rare that a book would hold my attention a second time. Of course, I had forgotten the character sketches but I did remember the story and while reading my mind once again conjured up the same scenes I had imagined over a decade and a half ago… and there were events in it I anticipated and looked forward to. The rerun in my head did nothing to dampen the excitement of reading the book again.

The Africa I have experienced in the words of Wilbur Smith has always been a delight; war-torn, teeming with wildlife, culturally diverse… Wilbur Smith’s Africa is a showcase of the tussle between the rich and extremely poor factions of society, of regimes and dictatorships, of adventures and thrills, of battles and hunts, the violence of both man and nature, of ages old and new and those stuck in a time-warp and a romance that is strong, earthy and satisfying.

The Seventh Scroll is part of the Egypt Series. It is the second book of the series but is the only one which is not set in Ancient Egypt. Set in the 90s, it is an adventure that digs up the story of Taita, the ancient Egyptian scribe and genius. The story is set in Ethiopia, in the rugged wilderness of the valleys and gorges of the sister rivers of the Blue Nile.

I have always loved the male characters in WS’s books… they are probably every woman’s dream… at least, they are quite close to what I would appreciate in a man. His male protagonists are rugged, arrogant, imposing, adventurous, quite unscrupulous, strong… yet with a touch of tenderness. I love the rogues the most.

His women are strong characters too… but at times they show this innate need to be accepted or validated by a man… something I tend to blame on the male ego of the writer, which makes him give even the toughest of his women a ‘damsel in distress’ moment or two. But, his heroines are never naive which is wonderful considering the period settings of some of his books.

Royan Al Simma, the lead female character of this book too comes across as an intelligent woman, principled… yet at times wavering to strike the right balance between what is right and what is practical. She does come across as pedantic at times and sometimes has a childlike innocence about her… a playfulness that can be endearing (to the indulgent male characters) and at times annoying to the reader. She is perceptive and sharp and also compassionate. Descending from two very diverse cultures (Egyptian - Coptic Christian and English), she tries to balance the open Englishness in her with the subdued Arab in her. Her love for her motherland Egypt influences her thoughts and deeds a lot… for better or for worse.

Sir Nicholas Quenton-Harper. He is like someone I know quite closely… in real life! The same things that attracted me to the Nawaab Saheb hold true for Sir Nicky… a suave arrogance laced with wry humour and a taste for the good life. He is good at what he does… but, unlike in real life, men in books are too considerate and too much in love!

The character of Mek-Nimmur is what I’d have imagined Che Guevara to be if he were a freedom fighting, guerrilla-bandit with a romantic streak.

Tessay (Lady Sun) is a sturdy ethnic woman, silently strong and beautiful with a hint of mystery, a noblewoman by birth and a character I would have exchanged Royan for. I liked Royan, but I liked Tessay better… her stoicism appealed more than Royan’s bubbly enthusiasm. Though, the silent sufferer in her made me uncomfortable and some incidents in the novel made me want her to be a lot more assertive than she was.

The villain of the book, Gotthold von Schiller is far less than impressive. I found him weak 16 years back and the re-read did not improve my opinion of him. He seems to be a caricature of Hitler, down to the short-stature and German ancestry but with none of Hitler’s fire. A brittle villain and one of those rare slips in characterization by WS.

Some of the ‘viciousness’ and violence in the book comes across as quite staid in today’s age when we consider what we see, read and hear about us daily.

Overall, the book still managed to make me yearn to pack a backpack and set across on an adventure safari to Africa… but, then all WS novels do that to me.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Happy Birthday to me!

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Google gives me my personal birthday doodle (via Google Now) :D

Thank you everyone for all your lovely wishes! In spite of a fever, I have had a cheerful day and all thanks to you!

I am a year older and hopefully a bit more mature... and I learnt some life lessons too... all your wishes may not come true, everything you want is not always gonna pan out the way you imagine it... but none of that should dampen your spirits. Life pushes ahead and the smile on your face would suffer if you dwell on what you missed out on.

So, I start a new year of my life letting go of all the things (and people) I have held on to in spite of them hurting me time and again. I have made a promise to myself to be happy always and I am gonna enjoy smiling with all my heart.

Keep Safe: A Few Tips

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I had recently posted about a meeting with the Senior Inspector at the local police station and how he engaged us in a chat session where he gave us a few tips to keep us alert and hence safe in some common daily situations.

I am listing the tips here since all of you may not be lucky enough to have a considerate police officer in your area.

Most of the tips are rooted in common sense and logic, yet a lot of us choose to ignore them and on someday a criminal takes advantage of our ignorance and cynicism. The tips which we were given were to generally prevent or reduce break-ins and thefts and incidents of petty crimes such as pick-pocketing and chain-snatching.

Some tips for when you are out of the house:

  • Be aware of your surroundings.
  • While walking on the road, do not be so totally lost in thoughts or on the cell-phone that you do not notice danger to yourself and your possessions until it is too late.
  • Indian women love to wear expensive jewellery and most of them love to flaunt it. Well, it does not make sense to buy jewellery and keep it locked up at home. Wear it for sure. And flaunt it too. But, use a bit of logic and show it off only in a surrounding where you are sure that it would not attract unsavoury attention. A wedding or a party or get-together or even for a visit to a dear friend’s place may be fine times to get all decked up and bask in the sparkle… but while you are getting to the destination try as much as possible to cover up stuff of value especially when you are using public transport or while walking on the road. Tempting fate might not be a bright idea when your life could be at stake.
  • It is best to walk on the footpath wherever there is one. When out with a male companion, women should avoid walking on the side closer to the road. When you have your male companion in a position between you and the road, a chain snatcher on a bike or bicycle would find it quite a task to reach the chain on your neck.
  • As far as possible, walk on the side of the road where the traffic is facing you. This could give you valuable seconds when you sense mischief from someone like a chain snatcher who would inevitably be on a bike or bicycle. It is safer to avoid walking on the edge closer to the road at all times.
  • When you park your vehicle on the road or in a parking lot, do not leave valuables in the car. This is common sense which most of us know and yet ignore. Even if you have absolutely nothing of value in your purse / wallet / briefcase / backpack, etc., do not leave them in the car. You would know that there is nothing of any value in it but a thief would be tempted just the same to break into your car.
  • When you are out on errands with high value such as picking up cash from the bank, do not try and club a multitude of other mundane chores with it which would require you to leave your vehicle unattended, especially if the said valuables cannot be carried on your person.
  • Even when you just step out of the car for a smoke or to buy a bottle of mineral water from the roadside tapri (shack-shop) be sure to roll up the windows and lock the car.

Tips for when you are inside the house:

  • Most of us reside in apartments which are crowded 2 to 4 on a floor… yet we are all confined to our own lives. There is no reason to leave the entrance door open even if your building has guards, especially when there is no one in the room to keep an eye on the door.
  • A lot of us tend to be careless within the house in the smug knowledge and comfort of the fact that we are home and home is a safe haven.  It is not completely wrong to be a little relaxed at home but absolute and regular carelessness could result in trouble… for example, routinely leaving jewellery out in the open around the house could incite a maid to flick it after the nth temptation.
  • Doors these days are not safe with a padlock alone. In fact, if the police are to be believed (and why should they not be) then a locked door is a signal to a thief / robber that you are away from home and they have a chance to break-in. So what should we do in such a case? Well, there are a couple of things that can be done.

  1. Do not use a visible lock. Instead use one of those godown locks / heavy duty Mortise locks with the huge keys which require you to turn the tumbler some 8-16 times to open it. The lock part is on the part of the door inside the house and all that can be seen from outside is a key-hole. Also, safety latches are safer where they are not accessible from without the house.
  2. Install a safety door. It adds that extra layer of protection and is a back-up for those times when you have been careless enough to leave your entrance door open. Again, avoid the ordinary visible padlock on it.

  • The peep-hole and the latch-chain on the doors are there for a reason. Use them.
  • Make sure that all the latches and locks are engaged before you retire for the night. Early in the morning, if you open the door for the milkman and the newspaper-waalah and then decide to catch a few more winks, then do lock the door again. Similarly, if you plan to sleep in the afternoon, then the locks of the entrance door are safer engaged.
  • In almost every city and town, it is usual to have the milkman bring you milk in the morning and the newspaper-man gets you your daily. When we go on a vacation, these services are not needed for the period. The general step people take is to stick a note on the entrance door asking the milk and paper to be stopped for the period of your absence. So now a prospective thief or robber has the exact period of time of your absence and time enough to plan and pull off a major heist. In this age of cell phones, all you need to do is call up the milkman or the newspaper service and let them know that you would like to stop their services temporarily or until further notice.
  • Before a vacation or trip, if you have large amount of cash and valuables in the house then either they should be deposited in a locker if you have one or packed safely and given over to the custody of a friend or relative whom you can trust. Some banks have a safe-deposit system where valuables can be safely kept for short periods, probably with a fee and provided you have an account with the said bank.
  • In the house, make it a habit to lock the doors of the wardrobes and cupboards where you keep valuables and especially when you leave on a trip, lock them and take the keys with you instead of leaving them on top of the cupboard or under the pillow. Do not keep keys ‘hidden’ in places which are common knowledge to everyone since ages... Under the pillow is one such place.

These tips are some of the basic steps we can follow for our own immediate safety. The cop had a lot more tips but the time did not permit an elaborate discussion on all of it. He offered us the opportunity to call him for a lengthy discussion if an audience could be arranged. That is nice and responsible of him.

Another important thing he told us and which I have also mentioned in my previous post is that we as citizens should not shirk from assisting the law-keepers as far as possible. A simple thing like shouting loud to attract attention if we see someone committing a crime can scare the criminal away. Notifying the nearest police-station is an even better idea.

Hope these tips help all of us be that much safer. Crime may not be totally wiped out by just these steps, but the rate of crime would take a hit with both the citizens and cops alert and working in tandem.

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

A New Hue of Hope: Khaki

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My passport renewal has had me getting in and out a police station. Most normal people avoid the police station… it is an unfortunate place to be, whatever side you are on. But is it really that bad?

While I was waiting it out at the station for my passport verification, along with some 20 other people, I had a fine experience. This post is about that little meeting that happened that made me feel that Coldplay may have been completely right… Everything’s not lost!

When the 20 or so of us were twiddling our thumbs, looking anxiously at our watches, losing sensation on our bums or shifting our weight from one leg to the other while waiting for the cops to start the verification process… one of them came over and asked all of us to assemble in the Senior Inspector’s office. It was quite a large office with a typical, high level officer’s table at one end and the rest of the room empty… except it had been filled with plastic chairs and we were all asked to make ourselves comfortable. None of us had a clue about what was going on or what was about to happen.

There was a phone number in a large font stuck to one of the cork-boards behind the desk. The cop who ushered us in asked us to jot down the number. Soon, the Senior Inspector walked in… some of us stood up to wish him, most of us didn't... I didn't  ... but we all wished him a good evening and he returned the courtesy.

Then he asked us what we thought of cops, of the police in general. Now, that was a loaded question especially from a cop, in his domain. Of course, no one answered! He then went on to say that there is quite a distance between the common man and a cop… some of it is because of fear, some of it is caused by hatred and quite a lot of it is caused by our cynicism towards the cops. There are honest cops and then there are the ones that give the whole system a bad reputation… yet, we as common people never consider the majority of the cops who are honest people doing their jobs when we call the police system worthless. The Indian Police system is one of the best in the world and that cannot be without a reason… and especially not based on just the bad apples in the basket.

The inspector told us that he had a vision for his town… a safe and secure Nerul, and it was part of a larger effort of closing the distance between the common man and the cop. I am sure, like me the rest of us in the room were impressed and quite glad that a cop was taking the initiative for something good. But, that wasn't why he had called us in. It wasn't just to tout what he was doing for us… he wanted to tell us a few things we could do for ourselves and thus be a part of his vision for the town and in the process better our lives quite a bit.

In the half hour we were there with him in his office, he talked to us about some of the steps we as citizens could take to be alert and to ensure our safety and the safety of our immediate surroundings.

If we think about it, how many of us would take the effort to report a crime we have seen happen… nobody wants to be a witness unless forced to. We all would rather walk away from a scene of crime, totally blind to what is going on. How many of us have actually stopped a moment to think if there is something we could do to stop the crime from happening?  All we might need to do in most cases is raise some noise and attract the attention of people nearby when a crime is being committed by someone. That alone may encourage others to join in the noise making and perhaps cause the would-be criminal to flee/stop. In this age of mobile phones…we could even call up the nearest police station and inform them of what is happening. The police aren't omniscient and cannot be aware of every crime that is happening around them unless someone reports them. Isn't it better if we report it while it happens and while helping stop it in some way (I have seen an ad about a mobile in which two girls alert a constable about harassment in the same manner). So, it is not out of the ordinary to do so. We can do it but we choose not to… and then we stand aside to blame the police force completely for things we as alert citizens could have prevented.

After his talk… which was well thought out and not condescending in any way… at least the few people in that room would have returned home with a better perspective of the citizen-cop-criminal relationship. At least, some of us would understand that the growing distance between the keepers of law and the citizens is one of the major reasons for the emboldened criminal and hence the rise in crime.

Kudos to the inspector for taking time out from his schedule and educating at least the few of us who he could manage to get as an audience and trying to spread an awareness among them.  By his own admission, he does not get much of an audience… so he manages with the people who come in for police verification and rental NOC and such.

Yes, it is weird and somewhat unfortunate that nobody invites cops to any function to speak a few words… movie stars maybe, politicians even… but never a cop. The Inspector gave us his number and said that he would come to any building society which wants him to talk on security measures the occupants of a building can take to avoid break-ins and thefts and other such issues. His talk was not just about the disconnect between the system and people, but he had a lot of practical tips and ways in which we could all be alert and that much safer.

I think his tips require a post on their own… I’ll compile them and put them up later.

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

The Passport Ordeal


For the past one month or more, I have woken up daily to news that makes it hard for me keep my morning breakfast inside me. Crimes against women, crimes in general, the apathy of lawmakers and politicians, the callous attitude of the keepers of law, the nonsense spewed out when certain idiots open their mouths and the general untoward daily tidings have managed to turn my once heart felt respect for this country to utter disgust.

Where once I had hope for a nice future here, I no longer have the inclination to chase that mirage. It is a mixture of helplessness and the inability to ignore what goes on around me. I would do what little I could to assuage my own fears and concerns regarding life in India and yet it would still not be enough. Of course, sense dictates that change takes its own sweet time… but, I want to live my life now…dammit!

With all this darkness around converging around me… suffocating me, my government issued passport has become the passport to light. It is like the key dangling from the pocket of the gaoler sleeping within reach of the prison cell. Yet, it has been a bit out of reach…

My passport expired a couple of months back and I have been running up and down to get it reissued/renewed. A simple process in most countries and so it was here too as my previous experience suggests. This time however, I had quite a tough time, applying, getting an appointment and then finally being able to submit the required documents… ironically, the process has been moved online for easier and faster access.

For a country whose IT force is world renowned, the government websites here all leave a lot to be desired. But, thankfully I cleared all those hurdles and then started the long wait. This time the ball had rolled into the jurisdiction of the police… it was verification time.  I understand that the police force is neither that numerous and certainly not flush with time to go to every applicant to verify their details. It makes perfect sense to call the applicant over to the station and get it over with.

So, here I was waiting and waiting and waiting… past the designated 21 days within which my passport was supposed to have reached me, past an additional 20 days grace period I spared in belief that a busy year-end might be the culprit for the delay and 5 days more I needed to take out for my own personal work. When there was no sign of a call from the cops or a beaming postman with a registered post, I went down to the police station and asked them if my file might have made its presence felt in the station. The cop, of course, told me to come after 5 days after I had checked all the file bundles in the room. As always in these cases, I thanked my immense patience and dug my nails into my palm and left the station. After 5 days I promptly returned to the hallowed halls of law to check if my file had decided to drop in. The cop had this blank look and seemed to not remember asking me to show up and insisted he would message me when my file did land. I offered to check their files again if he was too busy, but he had to have lunch and he could not leave the office attended by me, an outsider. Er… fair enough… Maybe! He did inform me that I might have to check with the CID office in my area as the passport files first land there and are distributed to the local cop-stations from there.

I went back home, disappointed, vented my frustration on Twitter and Facebook and booked a cab to the CID office for the morrow.

Early next morning, I woke up to the sweet chime of my mobile announcing a text message…  after all the headache the passport gave me, the message was like a GPS indicator beeping the location of the Holy Grail!

With papa retired a few days back, I had someone to drive me over to the station. Lucky me and lucky rickshaw drivers who were spared my usual tirade and refusal to pay extra.

I carried with me all possible documents I had and had not submitted at the passport office to ensure a swift verification. Considering it was a passport renewal, I did not think my Grade X certificate would be necessary… but the cop after going through all the documents which included my B.E. certificate and college Leaving Certificate, decided that he had to ensure that I passed Grade X! In his form he jotted down my education as B.E (Graduate Engineer) and promptly asked me to get my Grade X certificate and a letter from the Co-op Society of my building that says that I am a resident there since so many years (which is weird as I stay with my parents but I have been in Kuwait all this time). And he also told me to get it by 7:30 PM. I was back at the station by 7:15 PM. The cop gave me one look, looked at his watch and said it wasn't yet 7:30 PM. I was pretty impressed by the punctuality of the Indian police!

By 9:00 PM, my verification was finally done. I signed the required documents and made my way home weary, but happy that I am one step closer to that much needed ticket to escape from here.

Of course, the cop did inform me that the passport would take at least 25 more days to show up… now that is another long wait… and perhaps another story.

An incident at the police station while waiting for my verification did spark in me a new light… and in that light I thought I glimpsed a new hue of hope for this country: Khakhi! More on that later…

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