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Friday, May 24, 2013

Remembering my initial bachelor days in New Delhi

23rd May 2013

After some good rains in the suburbs of Chicago, the weather was cool in the evening. I was on my usual walk under the shades of tall lined-up trees – maple, fur, pine, oak and many more - along many boulevards and avenues. My MP3 player, my usual walking companion was on. Today was R D Burman day for me. And then a popular song by Kishore and Lata from the old movie ‘Heera Panna’ – ‘Panna ki thamanna hai ki heera mujhe mil jaaye’ – came on. It used to be one of favorites. The song suddenly triggered lovely memories of my early bachelor days in New Delhi during 1972 and I was instantly transported to my past world.


‘Hey, how are you here on this train?’ my friend Appu (all names in this article have been changed) jolted me from my slumber. We were together in the college for 6 years as students and lab assistants, albeit in different disciplines.  

It was early March 1972. We were on the legendary GT Express from Madras to New Delhi – the only express train those days to connect the two cities. I was on transfer from Madras to New Delhi on my job and was one of the countable few in our small circle to travel out of Madras those days.

My friend Moorthy was expected to receive me in the New Delhi railway station and my accommodation was to be arranged in Ramanuja Mess in Karol Bagh – a popular destination for most single Madrasis reaching New Delhi. Appu had no such arrangement and he was open to ideas. He was joining the Central Government as a Class I officer. Ramanuja mess was full, but the manager there was accommodative. I was only too happy to accommodate Appu, a known ready company in my room in the new place. The rent was just eighty rupees or so for a bed. No boarding, only lodging - three or four in a room, depending on the size of the room.

The same day evening, we took a walk to Connought Place from Karol Bagh. Both of us had very little knowledge of direction or Hindi. As we were half way through Panchkuin road, we were stunned by the spectacular view of the water fountain illuminated by multicolored focus lights in the centre of Connought Circle, even from a distance. What a great sight! We were very impressed with Delhi. After roaming around the fountain for some time, we returned via Gole Market where for the first time in our life we had sweet ‘lassi’ sprinkled with rose water served in a tall glass.

We were to attend office the next day. On my friend’s advice, we finished our bath very early in the morning to avoid crowding from other office-going inmates. Bathrooms and toilets were common and it was still chill in the morning. When we were ready, Moorthi dropped in and took us to Vaidyanatha Iyer Mess – another popular destination for vegetarian Madrasis. Fifty five rupees or so for two meals a day for a month – lunch in the morning and dinner at night. New Delhi was very cheap those days. This was raised to about eighty rupees or so in the next few months; quite a steep unprecedented increase.

After we had our lunch cum breakfast, we reached the junction of Ajmal Khan Road and Arya Samaj Road. Appu was directed to a nearby bus stop, while Moorthi and I waited for the legendary ‘fat-fatti’ – the masterly improvised motorcycle with a carrier for four people at the back. They plied on fixed routes - Karol Bagh – Connought Circus sector was one such sector. Fare – if I remember right – just a rupee.

Thus began our life in New Delhi.

In the evening, Appu brought Gopi who was another bachelor engineer in the Central Government. Gopi stayed in one of the nearby annexes to Ramanuja Mess. Gopi instantly turned himself as our first ‘guru’ for ‘Life in Delhi’.

‘You need to learn a few essential words in Hindi, if you want to survive here,’ he told. And he started with his first lesson, ‘bha…….tt’ – a crude equivalent of the sacred four-letter English word ‘f…….’ ‘Be serious, learn this first… and there are many more you need to learn,’ he frightened us. I was rattled.

That night he took us to the Lovely Milk Shop in Ajmal Khan Road after we feasted our eyes around the roadside shops and the giggling young Punjabi girls. ‘Don’t ever go near them. You will become a villain. They all have their bodyguard boy friends who wouldn’t hesitate to show you their knives,’ Gopi cautioned us. Very sensible suggestion, I remembered that throughout my stay. Just look around and enjoy – that is all.

The next day, in the afternoon, Mani Iyer brought idli, dosai, oottappam with sambhar. He is ‘aasthaana’ supplier for lunch every afternoon and a kind of savior for many vegetarian Madrasis at office. (Anyone south of Vindhya hills was just a ‘Madrasi’.) The food was monotonous, but was a safe bet for sensitive stomachs. No harm done.

Almost around the same time, many more from South joined our office in New Delhi and a few more squeezed themselves in Ramanuja Mess. So now we were a bigger ‘Madrasis’ gang.

That weekend, we all went to ‘Malai Mandir’ in Ramakrishnapuram and that became our routine on almost all weekends. A ride by the red colored double-decker bus was fascinating. In the evening, it was beer party time – religious awakening to ‘spirit’ual awakening. Liquor was a restricted commodity. There was one shop close by in Arya Samaj Road and one of us would procure it in turn.

I was assigned to a desk which no one voluntarily sought – a tough stressful job requiring long hours of work. Most days, I and another colleague along with the branch second-in-charge used to be the last among fifty and odd people to leave the office after locking it away.

One afternoon during my first week in the office, our senior colleague – Mr.Raju, who eventually became my mentor at work – took us to a small eating place behind Regal Cinema, where for the first time I came to know about ‘Chole Bhatura’ that continues to be my favorite North Indian food even today. On our way back to office, I bought a glass of ‘machine-ka-tanda-paani’ to drink for just five paise. Delhi was popular for ‘machine-ka-tanda-paani’ those days. But the water was clean. For the first time, I came to know about ‘gole-gappa’, ‘faludha’, ‘kulfi’ ‘gajar halwa’ and many more.

Sunday morning, Unni, another colleague took me to the Panickar hotel nearby and for the first time I had mouth-watering ‘puttu and kadalai’ - a favorite Keralite food for me even today. Moorthi dashed in suddenly, ‘Hey! There is a Tamil movie in the morning show at Sheila theatre in Pahar Ganj. Would you like to go?’ I don’t remember the name of the movie now, but we went. As an ardent movie lover, I became a regular visitor to Naaz, Odeon, Plaza, Regal theatres to watch Hindi movies. We still relied on Radio Ceylon for Tamil songs.

Whenever I felt tired of Vaidyanatha Iyer mess, I frequented other places – Easwaran mess, Mysore café, Raasans, Madras Hotel in Connought Circle, Indian Coffee House at Maan Singh Palace and in the central Connought Circus.

Whenever I was mentally disturbed, Irwin Road Pillayar temple in Connought Place provided the much needed solace and comfort.

At Ramanuja mess, there was one inmate Mr.Bharathi who taught me the nitty-gritty of Chess game. The World Chess Championship Tournament was on when in the end Bobby Fisher snatched the championship from the Russian Boris Spassky. We had another elderly inmate. And he had the peculiar trait of picking up an argument with anyone at anytime and it eventually ended up in a near fist fight all the time; even I didn’t escape this from him during our very first introduction itself. For that matter, even Appu and I, though we were thick friends, picked up heated arguments quite easily almost every day for something or other challenging and swearing upon each other.

Towards the end of the third month after reaching New Delhi, I was transferred from the Connought Place office to another office at Pahar Ganj with additional responsibilities. The funny part was that I knew very little Hindi and my customers there spoke and wrote a lot of Urdu and Hindi making my job unenviable. I relied upon sign languages in dealing with them and they were quite friendly, understanding and appreciative of my services to them. But the greatest challenge was the lunch in the afternoon. Having been so much used to South Indian food all along, I needed to satisfy myself only with ‘tandoori roti’ and ‘subzi’. A sardarji colleague used to take me to a few small cramped restaurants inside some of the narrow ‘gali’s in Pahar Ganj. I struggled with ‘roti and subzi’ initially, but soon started loving them so much that today I am more comfortable with ‘roti and subzi’ than rice and ‘sambhar.’

I was so naïve that many things were first for me in Delhi. But life moved on throwing in more and more bizarre environments and challenges even as it provided a great amount of variety, entertainment, friendship, rich food, and new relationships.

One thing, of course, never changed: longing to be with parents, family and the loved ones back home.

Monday, May 13, 2013

O Spring!

Chicago is one place where one can distinctly notice all the four seasons. Come March/April/May there is Tulip flower everywhere. Trees that have shed all their leaves to preserve themselves during Winter once again start greening. You find different colors even. It was an exquisite sight to see different colors during early May 2013. I share some of the pictures I took.

Monday, May 06, 2013

Height of Human Spirit: “127 Hours” Movie from British Director Danny Boyle


I happened to watch an amazing movie “127 hours” inspired by the true life experience Aron Ralston, (born October 27, 1975) an American outdoorsman, engineer and motivational speaker.

Aron Ralston is very widely known for having survived a canyonneering accident in south-eastern Utah in 2003, during which he amputated his own right arm with a dull multi-tool in order to free himself from a dislodged boulder, which had trapped him there for five days and seven hours. After he freed himself, he had to rappel down a 65 foot (around 20m) sheer cliff face to reach safety. The incident is documented in Ralston's autobiography ‘Between a Rock and a Hard Place’ and is the subject of the film ‘127 Hours.’

My observation and comment:

Most of us have very limited idea about our own potential and strengths. History is full of incidents of people who had displayed extraordinary spirit to show what humans are capable of achieving raising themselves to ‘God-like’ stature in the process. It is we who limit ourselves and become contended with our limited achievements.

The attitude, “Yes, we can!” needs to be encouraged from childhood. We need to encourage our children to explore and test their own strength. In our own anxiety and love for the children, we tend to be highly protective and discourage them from stretching themselves beyond some comfort zone. A right balance in parents’ approach could probably help many children explore newer areas, discover, and make great strides in their lives.

I was fortunate to watch the movie on ‘blue-ray’. The amazing photography of the canyons in Utach is very thrilling, captivating, absorbing and scaring too. The scene relating to Ralston and the two girls wantonly sliding along the rock through the narrow canyon into a deep blue pool really churned my stomach. The scene relating to Ralston amputating his own right arm is something only mentally strong people can watch. The music score by A R Rahman towards the end of the movie is a class only class musicians like A R Rahman can produce.

The Accident:

On April 26, 2003, Aron Ralston was hiking through Blue John Canyon, in eastern Wayne County, Utah, just south of the Horseshoe Canyon unit of Canyonlands National Park. While he was descending a slot canyon, a suspended boulder he was climbing down became dislodged, crushing his right hand and pinning it against the canyon wall. Ralston had not informed anybody of his hiking plans, thus no one would be searching for him.

Assuming that he would die, he spent five days slowly sipping his small amount of remaining water, approximately 350 ml and slowly eating his small amount of food, two burritos, while trying to extricate his arm. His efforts were futile as he could not free his arm from the 800 lb (360 kg) chock-stone. After three days of trying to lift and break the boulder, the dehydrated and delirious Ralston prepared to amputate his trapped right arm at a point on the mid-forearm, in order to escape. He experimented with tourniquets and made some exploratory superficial cuts to his forearm in the first few days. On the fourth day he realized that in order to free his arm he would have to cut through the bones in it, but the tools he had available were insufficient to do so.

When he ran out of food and water on the fifth day, he was forced to drink his own urine. He carved his name, date of birth and presumed date of death into the sandstone canyon wall, and videotaped his last goodbyes to his family. He did not expect to survive the night.

After waking at dawn the following day (Thursday, May 1) he had an epiphany that he could break his radius and ulna bones using torque against his trapped arm. He did so and then performed the amputation, which took about one hour with his multi-tool, which included a dull two-inch knife. He never named the manufacturer of the tool he used, other than to say it was not a Leatherman but "what you'd get if you bought a $15 flashlight and got a free multi-use tool".

After freeing himself, Ralston still had to get back to his car. He climbed out of the slot canyon in which he had been trapped, rappelled down a 65-foot (20 m) sheer wall one-handed and then hiked out of the canyon in the hot midday sun. He was 8 miles from his vehicle, and had no phone. However, while hiking out, he encountered a family on vacation from the Netherlands, Eric and Monique Meijer and their son Andy, who gave him food and water and then hurried to alert the authorities. Ralston had feared he would bleed to death; he lost 40 pounds, including 25% of his blood volume. Fortunately, the rescuers searching for Ralston, alerted by his family that he was missing, had narrowed the search down to Canyonlands and flew by in their helicopter. He was rescued six hours after amputating his arm.

Ralston has said that if he had amputated his arm earlier, he would have bled to death before being found, while if he had not done it he would have been found dead in the slot canyon days later. He believed he was looking forward to the amputation and the freedom it would give.

Later, his severed hand and forearm was retrieved from under the boulder by park authorities. According to television presenter Tom Brokaw, it took 13 men, a winch and a hydraulic jack to move the boulder so that Ralston's arm could be removed. It was then cremated and the ashes given to Ralston. He returned to the accident scene with Brokaw and a camera crew six months later on his 28th birthday to film a Dateline NBC special about the accident and to scatter the ashes of his arm where he says they belong.

Post Accident Feat:

After the accident happened, Ralston continued to climb mountains frequently, including participating in a 2008 expedition to climb Ojos del Salado in Chile and Monte Pissis in Argentina. In 2005, Ralston became the first person to climb all 59 ranked and/or named Colarado’s fourteeners’ solo in winter, a project he started in 1997 and resumed after the amputation in Blue John Canyon.

While Ralston says he intends to climb Mount Everest, he did not go along with polar explorer Eric Larsen on his "Save the Poles" expedition in 2010, as was previously reported.

Ralston’s background

Ralston was born on October 27, 1975, in Marion, Ohio. He and his family moved to Denver when he was age 11. He received his college degree from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburg, finishing with degrees in mechanical engineering and French, with a minor in piano. At Carnegie Mellon, he served as a resident assistant, studied abroad, and was an active intramural sports participant. He left his job as a mechanical engineer with Intel in Phoenix, Arizona, in 2002 and moved to Aspen, Colarado in order to pursue a life of climbing mountains. He had the goal of climbing all of Colorado's "fourteeners" — peaks over 14,000 ft high, of which there are 59; solo and during winter (a feat that had never been recorded). He has subsequently achieved this goal in November, 2001. In 2003, Aron got caught in a Grade 5 avalanche on Resolution Peak, Colorado with his hiking partners Mark Beverly and Chadwick Spencer. Nobody was seriously injured. Back in Aspen, Aron had a part-time job at Ute Mountaineer.

In August 2009, Ralston married Jessica Trusty. His first child, Leo, was born in February 2010.


“Do what you love” or “Love what you do” if you really want to be satisfied, successful and famed.
I thank Wikipedia for the detailed information on Aron Ralston