The Girl from Finland

On the ICE 17 I have an aisle seat in front of a table. Diagonally across, facing me, is a young man speaking on a phone – an iPhone – with a British accent. A copy of the International Herald Tribune lies on the table, crisp and unopened. The seat next to mine is vacant; the sign above it indicates a reservation, like mine, from Brussels to Frankfurt.

Continue reading “The Girl from Finland”

Notes from a recent India trip

1. Arrival

At the Bengaluru International Airport everything seems new and shining. The modern interiors, polished and spacious; the immigration officials, courteous and efficient; the H1N1 desk, sophisticated (with high-tech equipment measuring, from a distance, the average temperature of passengers in a queue) and orderly; the exit gate, sparse (no swarm of taxi-wallahs waiting to assault you) and organized (a handful of drivers carrying placards, Volvo buses to the city). Is all this only a facade? Or has change renewed other dimensions of life in Bangalore? I’m eager to find out.
Continue reading “Notes from a recent India trip”

An SMS travelogue

(Some weeks ago my parents and sister traveled through parts of northern India. Before they left, when I asked my sister to keep in touch through her mobile, she replied that she would be “on roaming” so would prefer to send SMS messages rather than talk.  What follows – in unedited form – is the full set of messages I received during their trip; all messages, save one, are from my sister, who figures in my contact list as ‘H Cell’)
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U.S. media circus

I arrived in the United States of America for a two-week vacation shortly after Barack Obama won the Presidential election.

The inflight newspapers, both English and German, carried headlines heralding a new era.  At the Newark airport immigration desk there was a levity in the manner of the young immigration officer that I’d never seen in my previous visits to this country.  (“You’ve shaved your mustache!” he said, looking back and forth between the photo on the passport and the person facing him.) Outside the airport we saw cars with banners displaying ‘Obama / Biden 08’ in blue, white and red. Continue reading “U.S. media circus”

Temple visit

(Part of a series. Other parts: one, two, three)

After Brussels, the plan was to drive to Berlin and spend four or five days there. There was to be a stop on the way, in a city called Hamm in northern Germany. You probably would not find it in the tourist guides; its attraction lay in a detail that made it special to us: the town was home to a Hindu temple, the largest of its kind in Germany. Continue reading “Temple visit”

Diary of a visit – 3

(Third part of a series;  first and second)

Day 4 – Brussels (Continued from previous entry)

In the evening, after we got back from the trip to the Brussels city centre,  Dad and I went for a walk in the neighborhood.  Google Maps indicated that a little distance from the apartment there was an irregular blue shape – a water body; I hadn’t seen that side yet, and we decided to explore. The walk took us across a main road with moderate traffic into a residential zone with tall modern apartments spaciously laid out in green surroundings, and a few streets with old buildings that seemed to grow out of and into each other. A little later we reached the “water body” –  a large pond bordered with a patch of green. Continue reading “Diary of a visit – 3”

Diary of a visit – 2

(Second part of a series; first part can be found here).

We – Mom, Dad and I – were walking on a quiet, narrow lane near the Grand Place in Brussels when we were approached by a man who seemed to be looking for directions.

“Gare du Midi?”, he asked, pointing at a map he had opened across his arms.

He was a round figure, short, plump and bald. His movements were quick and designed to attract attention. I assumed he was nervous. Continue reading “Diary of a visit – 2”

Diary of a visit

The Brussels skyline is shrouded in mist.  Tall buildings in the distance appear as hazy outlines, as if a film of translucent paper was covering a photograph in a book.  It has been drizzling on and off through the day, with temperatures bordering 15 degrees celcius and the wind chill making it seem like winter.  Mom and dad are taking things bravely: they managed a few hours outside with just a thin sweater on. Continue reading “Diary of a visit”

The lure of Hampi

When I first saw Joakim he was sitting in front of his cottage, plucking blades of grass with one hand and holding a thick book in another. His long, golden hair, Scandinavian features and relaxed but alert posture set him apart from the other pot-smoking foreigners I had seen so far at the guest house. The next morning I saw him walking towards the sit-out with a cup of tea and a book with letters “Idioten” printed on the front cover. It was still early, and the sit-out – with mattresses on the floor and tables made of low granite slabs, full of activity in the evenings with foreigners smoking, drinking or passed out – was empty. I followed him with my cup of tea.

Joakim was Swedish – “Idioten” was a Swedish translation of Dostoevsky’s “The Idiot”, and due to the similarities between Russian and Swedish, Joakim explained later, the translation retained the richness of prose in the original. He had been in India a couple of months now and intended to stay on until March. He liked taking long vacations in foreign lands; the last time he was in India in 2004, he spent six months touring the north of the country. He worked in the health-care industry, with autistic children; his main job was to help those children – talented in their own way – get through the day without much stress; it was hard work, but very satisfying. Hampi was interesting, beautiful. It was also inexpensive. He’d been here for a week, and intended to stay a few more before moving towards Goa.

Our guest house was in a small village next to the Tungabhadra river, on the bank opposite Hampi. The street, full of similar guest houses, was teeming with foreigners – most of them young, like Joakim, in their twenties or early thirties (A guide-book referred to them as “modern hippies”). The local economy had moulded itself around this clientele: there were small shops stocked with global brands, Internet centers, restaurants offering cuisines from all over the world, and perhaps most important of all, the place was safe: young women wearing tank-tops walked alone at night on that poorly-lit street.

This was a side of Hampi that I had least expected, but it wasn’t altogether surprising. Hampi is a destination that invites slow exploration, and it seemed natural that an ecosystem that supported this pace had sprung up. Days spent walking the ruins spread over miles of rocky terrain could be interspersed with others spent lying on a hammock watching egrets gather in the fields next to your cottage or smoking pot with friends, depending on your disposition.

We spent two and half days at the guest house, crossing over to Hampi each day to cover what little was possible with the time on our hands. An essence of what we saw is collected here : Photo Essay – Hampi