Archive for August 2009

From Hell

I have just returned from a trip to Hyderabad. As the title of this post suggests, my journey was from hell.

I had booked my tickets online. Wonder why IRCTC asks for a berth preference when the moment you enter an age below 60, you're given the worst berth? I had the worst case of bad luck. I got side upper berth for both onward and return journeys. Giving them the benefit of doubt, I supposed that I should have booked my tickets earlier. With that thought and a sigh, I mentally prepared myself for the journey.

The horror began with the onward journey. For starters, I almost missed the train. The scheduled departure time was 16.45. I left my home at 15.35 thinking it would give me adequate time to take the local train to Park, walk the subway into Central station and board the train. How wrong I was!

The line at the ticket counter at the sub urban train station was long. With the line inching ahead and the minutes ticking away, my anxiety levels began to rise. Just as I reached the ticket window, this jackass cut in from the adjacent ticket line. I snapped.

"Hey! Join the queue"

"No.The guy at that counter said my ticket is issued in this counter"

" Whatever! Join the queue"


What?! I couldn't believe this. And nobody else in the queue said a word!

"Well then you can buy your ticket after me." It was the best I could do given my time limitation. Plus, he was holding a five hundred rupee note. It would take forever before he had his ticket and change.

Finally I boarded the local train. But as luck would have it, I had boarded the slowest local train in the world. It chugged along amiably at a leisurely pace, even stopping once when no station was in sight. Must have stopped to let an old lady cross the tracks I fumed.

You think this is bad? Wait till you hear the rest. I somehow made it to Central station with five minutes to spare. Locating my third AC compartment, I wearily made my way to my (shudder) side upper berth.

Remember how they had introduced a 'side middle berth'? Now consider the engineering aspect of it. How do you think Indian Railways managed to accommodate a side middle berth? Well, they raised the side upper berth a few inches and stuck the middle berth in the newly created space between the lower and upper berth.

Now the side middle was so excruciatingly uncomfortable that even the Railways relented. Public displeasure for once did not fall on deaf ears. A decision was made scrapping the middle berth. And so they were. Expect that the smart cookie that took out the side middle berth, didn't think to lower the upper berth back to its original position. The result was that you couldn't sit up on the side upper berth. You either had to lie down or get off it. And when you lay down, the roof of the coach was barely inches from your nose and the wall curved just over your shoulder. The net effect, you felt you were sleeping in a coffin.

And such was the prospect that lay ahead of me in the 14 hour overnight journey from Chennai to Hyderabad. To make matters more interesting, twin babies and their parents were my co-passengers. I don't suppose I need to mention that traveling with babies is right next to traveling on side upper berth in my list of dislikes on train journeys. Of course, in a moment of charity, I did sympathise with the couple who had two side lower berths (to my one side upper). I suppose their journey was worse than mine.

The remaining hours of my journeys were filled with travails and indignities which you will no doubt find amusing. My chimpanzee imitation - hanging and swaying while hoisting myself onto the side upper berth, the wailing of the babies when lights were switched off, the consequent burning of the lights all night (right on my face) - the night it seemed would never end. I arrived at my parents bleary eyed and in a bad mood.

"Side upper eh?" , said my dad. "Too bad". He then went on to express his opinion of what the Railways should do about this problem. "If they allot a passenger a side berth, lower or upper, they should give them a discount for the discomfort". Yeah! Right. Like that was going to happen in my lifetime.

Gloom descended as my return journey neared. Side upper again. But wait! When I boarded the train, I noticed that the upper berth was not placed high as Everest. Some kind soul had lowered it back to its original height. Praise the Lord! Perhaps I would get a good night's sleep after all. But....(yes, my life was turning out to be one obstacle course!), three giggly girls just out of their teens were my co-passengers. I eyed them with trepidation. However, if you discounted the constant giggling, texting and whispering into mobile phones well past midnight, I suppose it wasn't such a bad train experience.

PS: But even after this tirade about the journey from hell, I should tell you that I love the Indian Railways. It is a total paradox. With its beautiful train names (Rajdhani, Shatabdi, Amrapali, Hussein Sagar Exp), filthy stations and perpetual wait lists, to me, it is a symbol of the diversity and plurality that exist in my beautiful country. I'm a railway child. And I suppose that's what gives me the right to criticise!

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Know More Tag

A lazy friday afternoon....feel like a siesta. I came across this tag while browsing a blog and thought to try it myself. Here goes...

Copy the following questions to your own note, erase my answers, enter yours, and tag your friends. Use the first letter of your name to answer each of the following questions. They have to be real and nothing made up! If the person before you had the same first initial, you must use different answers. You cannot use any word twice and you can’t use your name for the boy/girl name question.
Some of these were really tough and I HAD to think!

1. What is your name: Deepa
2. A four Letter Word: Dawn
3. A boy’s Name: Devavrata
4. A girl’s Name: Deeksha
5. An occupation: Driver (he! he! maybe its formula racing !)
6. A colour : Deep blue (there is NO colour with D - I googled it. What? You're not supposed to google?!! :D )
7. Something you wear: Dress (Ok. Predictable. But my options are limited. If my name began with M, I'd have more to work with. Like 'Mekhla')
8. A food: Dhokla (viva Gujarat!)
9. Something found in the bathroom: Dressing table (mine is in the bedroom
10. A place: Denmark
11. A reason for being late: Drunk!
12. Something you shout: Damn *X@#***
13. A movie title: Drohkaal
14. Something you drink: Daaru
15. A musical group: Doors (yes, I know there is a THE, but I'm taking some license here)
16. An animal: Dog (my favourite animal. Absolutely love them)
17. A Street name: Deen Dayal Upadhyay Marg (this just popped into my mind. Is it in Delhi?)
18. A type of car: Daewoo (couldn't think of anything else)
19. A song title: Dil hoom hoom kare
20. A verb: dusting

Who will I tag? Anyone who comments should(can) take up the tag, if they haven’t already! C’mon people tags are fun, and they are a sureshot blogpost, if you have the bloggers’ block. Also, tags are a good way to know each other! What do you say? Do I have a good sales pitch?

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Sound and Fury

A theatre festival was announced in Chennai by The Hindu, a leading English daily. Being interested in drama, I was naturally excited and did not waste time in booking tickets for the opening play - 'Antigone' staged by Motley, a theatre group started by Naseerudin Shah. But this post is not about the play. It is only inspired by it.

The English daily I mentioned before had decided to dispense with the usual critics review of the plays and instead announced a 'Citizens' Review'. I thought it was a clever way of getting art out of the clutches of the intellectual elite and democratizing it. Get it out to the lay person - let the people decide what they liked. Excellent going so far.

The play didn't really ring a bell with me to tell you the truth. So I looked forward to the Citizens' Reviews wondering if others felt the same way. Come Tuesday, I grabbed the supplement and poured over the reviews and was stumped. I couldn't make sense of what had been published as reviews! Did they like it or did they not? One particular reviewer - let us call her MS - had me flummoxed with words like:

"The blind prophet is ably replaced by an overarching prophetic vision of doom that hangs heavily over the play itself"

"...held the play together tautly, despite a tangled and prosaic discourse."

"Ratna Pathak Shah as Antigone is remarkable in her portrayal of an essentially ambiguous character. Antigone has confused readers for centuries with her tendency to be both gentle and violent, but Shah’s rendition bears a translucence that makes these shifts both forgivable and credible."

"Anouilh’s adaptation seeks to make Greek tragedy accessible and ends with a post-modern notion of resignation, disaffection and the pain of continuity,... "

What were all these high sounding words? I was bewildered. Call me stupid, but if I like a play, I say: " It was good! I loved it! Naseer was superb. He has a great presence etc" Simple ideas, simply put.

When I thought a bit more, I realised that this was no 'Citizens' Review'. It was a great con job. Of pretending it was a reviewed by lay persons when actually it was done by a professional. I mean just look at the writing - disaffection? translucence? prosaic? Do ordinary people speak and write like this?! As the Bard said, these were words full of sound of fury signifying nothing. Now I got mad. I had to do something about it.

So I wrote in to the newspaper via email and expressed my outrage at their blatant attempt to dupe me. And guess what? They got back to me! It came as a surprise and I suppose it goes to the credit of the newspaper for wanting to set the record straight (though I didn't really buy their explanation). They had been accused of writing only good reviews in the past since the festival was organised by them. So, to uphold their impartiality, they decided to hand over the stick (or pen) to their readers.

The editor was very professional in explaining that they took care to have a representative cross section of people among the reviews they published. Also, they could not disqualify a person for writing professionally. MS was not a professional critic, but a person who acted in plays. Everybody, even members of the theatre fraternity, was allowed to write their reviews and space allowing, the paper would carry it.

Well said indeed. Except that it was all humbug - ably demonstrated when MS reviewed the last play titled Citizen Josh and was featured in a separate box item. Excerpts from it include

"‘Citizen Josh’ is rife with interesting moments: there are moments of startling clarity that are surprisingly insightful; there are moments of genial good humour that provide bursts of relief and familiarity; there are moments of blunt straightforwardness that lull you into a warm sort of intimacy with the artiste on stage; most importantly, there are moments of poignancy that give you reassurance and disquiet simultaneously"

I learned a lesson from this. One: Do your own review. Read other reviews only for comic relief. Two: Never expect newspapers to admit having made a mistake or even attempt to take corrective measures based on feedback from readers.

If you're interested to read the Citizens' Reviews, try this link: Go to the Chennai edition and read the reviews published between 10th and 17th August.

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