Aug 22, 2014

A trip down the Blue Hills - Part Two

So there we were, chugging through the tunnels on the mountain railway, with me having to push my fingers into my ear whenever the train approached a tunnel. I literally counted the seconds it took us to traverse each tunnel and had I written it down then, I could have told you how long each tunnel was along the journey. But the scenery made up for all the hullaballoo. Here was a meandering stream...

Sometimes the railway line hugged the serpentine road...

We caught glimpses of very orderly looking tea estates...

 And sometimes we were treated to craggy vistas...

Soon the sedate pace put some of us to sleep...

And then we drew into Hillgrove station where they began pumping more water into the engine. This my train enthusiasts HAD to see. Can you see the water pipe amongst the billowing steam clouds?

Our groggy sleeper had to get up because there was another side show going on involving some of our little cousins...and by "our" I mean all mankind's!!!

There was a horde of them enjoying little titbits thrown to them by our fellow travelers. Notice how his/her throat is stuffed with biscuit - possibly to share with family later? I am both fascinated and repulsed by this feature - though I can't deny it can have its uses - like at a buffet for example? :)

And here's our groggy guy taking a peek at all the drama at the station

Yup, not looking too pleased at being woken up! And here's a view of the other side of the train...

Just wanted to showcase the oval window of the door!

Soon enough our jackets came off as we came chugging down the mountain and entered the prosaic plains. The camera went into the bag, our kiddos nodded off again. All too soon the train had pulled into Mettupalayam station, the compartments were emptied and the mountain greens were carried off to grace a florist's creations for the next day, no doubt...

And that was the end of our Nilgiri Toy Train ride. We were lucky to have had the chance to do it, because at the Ooty railway station we had got to know that the morning up train had been cancelled that day. DH's foresight and Lady Luck combined to make it happen and it was definitely worth all the preparations that went into it.

So if any of you want to take the same trip, do plan for it at least three months ahead and be ready with your computer turned on and logged in at 8 am on the day the booking opens on IRCTC's website. Remember that the up train journey is in the early morning at takes more than 5 hours - but it must be more romantic to see the misty Nilgiris in the morning light. The up train would be a better option if you don't have kids who could get restive on a long journey and you won't be disturbed in your contemplation of the mystic mountains with questions of "Are we there yet?" and constant demands for snacks and the window seat. If you have kids with you, the down train is the best option. You can have your lunch at Ooty and be in time for a good masala dosa in Mettupalayam.

Hope you get a chance to enjoy this journey!

Aug 6, 2014

A trip down the blue hills... Part One

Ideally a travelogue should be written immediately after a journey, when the impressions are fresh and memories are still crystal clear. So why am I writing about a journey we undertook in the month of May? A bit of perversity on my part, that's all. When the weather is hot, I like remembering green, green fields. So now when Thiruvananthapuram has finally decided that it should get its fair share of this year's monsoon, I am thinking of cloudless skies and a cool and dry clime! :)

You've all probably heard of the Nilgiri "Toy" train that runs from Mettupalayam to Ooty. DH set his sights on riding this train very early this year. And the foresight proved extremely essential because it is a very coveted ticket and we couldn't grab first class tickets (waitlisted) and barely got the second class ones. There are only 3 reserved compartments and a single unreserved one, so you can guess the competition! We opted to hire a car to go up as the up-train takes more than 5 hours to reach Ooty while the down-train takes 3.5 hours.

 So there we were, tired after the long walks in the Botanical Garden, waiting in the picturesquely old-fashioned train station for the train to start at 2 pm...

...when the train pulled in. The journey from Ooty to Coonoor is accomplished by a prosaic diesel engine...

Here you can see for yourself why we were fortunate to have reservations, look at the jam in front of the last (unreserved) compartment!

We soon forgot the general squalor that Ooty town has become and set off along one side of the artificial lake and had wonderful views to look at...

The slow chugging was ideal to take pics of the train as it took the curves...

Believe me, that is just one of the scores of turning pics that DH took from his side of the train and each time the train took a left curve, he made ME take a pic from the other side! 

At first the kids were jumping from one side to the other to see everything. Then they settled down to enjoy things in a relaxed manner.

Yeah, nothing like a lolly to calm people down! :)

We passed four or five stations, including Lovedale and Wellington before reaching Coonoor, where the real star of the show arrived, here she is....!



...thar' she blows!!!!

Really, what's it with men and vehicles? I thought that Ani would be the one excited about steam engines because he is a huge Thomas the Engine fan and draws them all the time. Nope, turns out his brother and father were equally excited and jumped out to watch the engine being attached to the train while I sat stolidly in my seat, blowing on my hot tea and musing about mere men. :) This next picture is for all mechanically minded people among my readers!

Yes, for some reason best known to experts, the front end of the engine was connected to the train, which means the engine went down the incline backwards. From Coonoor the train gained a new gait. The rack and pinion system made itself evident in the jerking motion the train acquired thence. So we waved bye-bye to the clock-tower in Coonoor and went on our merry, jerking way.

From Coonoor, the landscape too changed. Till then it had been mostly tea estates, buildings and orderly eucalyptus plantations. But now the carefully manicured plantations appeared more infrequently, the vegetation ran wild...

I really enjoyed this part of the journey because wild flowers were rampant at the sides of the track and I wish we could have stopped to take pictures - most of what I have are only blurs...

I got the picture above because I belatedly got the idea of trying to take pics of the flowers turning backwards in my seat! If only...(sigh)!

And quite inexplicably, some time later, the lights in the compartment were turned on!

Oh oh, this I didn't foresee!

What, I didn't foresee tunnels in a hill track? No, I simply did not foresee that a lot of shrieking and howling wild animals would erupt in the train once it reached the tunnel! 

It looked like the above in the train while the most horrendous high-pitched screaming and shouting was going on. I had to close my ears and try (ineffectively) to shush two of our own family members who seemed to have morphed into wolves all of a sudden!

I think I'll leave you all to enjoy my discomfiture (through all 16 tunnels) today. The second leg of the journey needs another post altogether!

Jul 17, 2014

Tried and tested

After the untimely and much-mourned demise of my favorite productivity app Astrid, I carried its non-syncable version on my phone, still able to use my task list that I had built up with so much care even if it was only on my phone. But I also went about worrying about losing the data to some glitch that would need returning the phone to factory settings or other unforeseen circumstances. 

I tried a lot of task apps (todoist, Any.Do, Wunderlist are the ones I remember) that are accessible from both computers and phones: all had one great drawback. I couldn't customize the recurrence period. For example, I check the water levels of the our inverter battery every three months. Astrid allowed me to schedule things 3 months apart, three weeks apart or anything of that sort.Other to-do apps never had that capability.

I did not give up. While holding my precarious Astrid tasks in one hand, I kept searching for a to-do app that would let me schedule the recurrence of my tasks according to my own needs. And a few months ago, I found...

The first thing I noticed on their features list was "Flexible  recurring tasks"! I was still very cautious, and tried it for several days on my comp and phone before transferring my tasks data to TickTick (manually of course).

The app took a little getting used to - as with any new thing - but now I've got the hang of it. On my computer I use only Firefox to browse, so I've set my TickTick account as the home page for Chrome.  So whenever I open Chrome, I have my task list on hand! The interface is clutter-free and quite simple. I like it!

  • Limited number of entries you can make in the free version. Astrid's was unlimited. But I can live with it!
  • It doesn't have a cheerful little octopus congratulating me for the tasks I mark as done :(
So finally without trepidation, but with lots of regret, I let go of the little red octopus in my phone. Bye Astrid, I'll miss ya!!!

Jul 4, 2014

Another precious year!

Yesterday someone celebrated a birthday here at Karthi.. Who? I'll show you...

Yup all of six years old and in the first grade! On June 2, the brothers finally stepped out in identical outfits - also known as school uniforms and I couldn't but help get all weepy...

...thinking about how all that pristine whiteness was destined for an untimely demise on the persons of my boys. By the way, I wasn't worried about the dress of the guy in the back, just so that you know :)

To think this guy started out like this...

and this...

... and is now going to regular school!!! (Now you see why I was concerned about the uniforms? If you have been trying to wash out the dirt in boys' white uniforms for years, you would cry too.)

And here I am left with useless things like these...

Is there anything more forlorn in this world than a couple of support wheels separated forever from a kid's bicycle? I couldn't help think that once kids grow up, parents will kind of look like that pair up there, all worn down to nothing, battered and completely useless for anything else. Okay the uselessness part may not be true :)!

And yes, I have to tell you the story of how those support wheels came off. Our younger kid is such a contrarian (yup, new word, describes Ani exactly) that he makes a production out of every little thing. I think I managed him well this time! 

At first I was fixing something on Kunjunni's bike when the little guy rolled his up with support wheels and all. I finished my fixing and just commented to his elder brother how great the smaller cycle would look once the support wheels were off and the side-stand was on. (Notice how wily I was, I did not make any direct suggestion to the owner of the bike! :))

Kunjunni played along and agreed. So Ani had to agree too and off we went to find the side stand and I fixed it to the cycle after removing the extra wheels. Kunjunni and I made a great production of how stream-lined and big-boy-like the bike was looking when Ani suddenly realized, "But I can't ride without support wheels!"

We poohpoohed the thought. It was easy as anything, we said and got Kunjunni to demo on his own cycle around the front yard (not that Ani hadn't seen it before, still). I offered support and pushed him around a little.

Then our contrarian had a humongous meltdown. He insisted that I reinstate the support wheels as he would never, never, ever be able to ride without them. I think now that he was not ready to let go of that aspect of his childhood so quickly.

Here, I was crafty again. I didn't stay to reason with him. I just said, "Oh, if you aren't ready to ride it like this, I had better give it away..." and beat a strategic retreat.

Then I went into my room and pretended to be working on something on my laptop. The little guy came in and made some tearful complaints. I did not even deign to look.

Soon, our front yard became the arena for desperate attempts to keep possession of a beloved bike. I did not dare peek out of the window for fear of him seeing me. But I could hear some falls and some riding. DH who had been working from home that day went out and made some congratulatory noises, so I knew there was some progress...

About a half hour's efforts later, Ani sidled into the room and tried to catch my eye while I gazed resolutely at the monitor. 

"Amma, come and see, I have learned to ride the bike without support wheels"

"Hmm... (very bass, very serious)"

"Would you like to come?"

"Ok.. (no enthusiasm at all, the danger is not over even at this point)"

Thus I went to the front door and witnessed that accomplishment which had been touted as impossible just half an hour ago and made appropriate congratulatory noises, but in a very subdued fashion.

Then I went back inside and did a victory dance all by myself.

Thus do parents pave the way, one stone at a time, to becoming redundant support wheels.


Jun 25, 2014

Kitty Saga - 3

New readers of notsoperfectkarthi, please read Kitty Saga - 1 and Kitty Saga - 2 (at the very end of that post) to bring yourselves up to speed.

It had been more than a month since Chakki had taken her kids off in huff after we had offered her "substandard" acco in our garage while she had gunned for the five-star lifestyle in our kitchen. The kids and I went about the general merrymaking of summer vacation always keeping an eye open for the return of the prodigals.

Then in May, after we returned from a hurried trip to Chennai and Ooty, I opened the front door one afternoon and was scared out of my wits by a black and white furry ball that shot across my way on our porch. Who did I see?

The black n white kitten hiding behind the toy car! They took up temporary residence in our garage. Chakki had brought them back! Here they are hiding behind my scooter:

The kitties were completely wild and would never allow us anywhere near them. I cornered the B&W one once and only got clawed for my pains. I decided to let them alone until they grew accustomed to us if they could. And yes, service at Karthi Cat Spa continued...

They switched acco between our garage and our next-door neighbor's open terrace. Some time in May, the tan and white kitten went missing. But the B&W one made up for it. We named her "Aakrantha Kumari" (the greedy girl kitten) in honor of her insatiable appetite for milk. 

One day we offered Chakki a piece of fried fish. Aakrantha Kumari was on the neighbor's roof. Chakki started to eat the fish, then reconsidered it, picked up the piece of fish and carefully made her way into the neighboring yard while mewing softly with the fish in her mouth. We heard her daughter's frantic replies from our neighbor's roof as she waited to share the delicacy. Such motherly care!

Then two weeks ago, when we came back in the evening after a long day of weekend errands, we found Aakrantha Kumari on our porch. By that time, she had taken to coming in to Karthi from time to time under the strict supervision of her Mom, still not allowing us to touch her, but not running away from us so much either. She shared another bowl of milk with her Mom. Then she played under our car that had been parked in front. Ani came in from time to time to give us blow-by-blow reports of her antics under the car. 

Then as dusk was falling, I went out into our front yard and heard our neighbor call. I walked up to our boundary wall  and he said, "You know that lovely black and white kitten that plays with the kids? It was killed by a stray dog in our yard. The momma cat was so distraught and was crying over the body. I am just back from burying it." DH had come out to hear the last part and I had to tell him the whole thing, by which time the kids came to know about it too. And worse, Chakki herself came to us over the wall.

It was heart-breaking. Because she didn't seem to know what to do. She called for her kitten roaming all over our house. She followed DH distractedly when he went from room to room as though she was sure he was going to the kitten's hiding place. She had never taken her kittens to our second storey, but she went up the stairs anyway and wandered calling in the empty rooms up there. When we opened the front door, she went out. But then came back again through the bedroom window and searched under the window seat where she had given birth to her adorable twins. When we closed the windows, she sat on the sill outside and called.

We all grieved for that bundle of fun. We tried to be philosophical about it, but not very successfully. Two little kittens - alive for barely two or three months? The only consolation was that at least we knew what had happened to the second one, that we had fed her just an hour before she went away and that we had seen her minutes before when she was alive and well but had been spared the horrible end. 

Now all that is left of those kittens' lives are a few photos, a video of both of them playing under our coconut tree and our memories. I will post the video if I can, I downloaded it today to my computer and laughed and cried while watching it. And I had to write about them so that they will be safe somewhere in this cyber-world at least - always playing, tumbling over each other, pretending to be tigers!

Jun 18, 2014

Post Anniversary Thoughts...

In celebration of our twelfth wedding anniversary, let me share this excerpt from Eric Maisel's The Creativity Book

"What are the contours of a good intimate relationship? Every successful intimate relationship rests on the following twenty building blocks. Both partners commit to:
  1. The care of each other's solitude
  2. The maintenance of emotional security
  3. The maintenance  of meaning
  4. The maintenance of passion
  5. The creation of at least occasional happiness
  6. A gentle demanding of discipline from oneself and one's partner
  7. A gentle exchanging of truths
  8. An acceptance of the limits of the human
  9. A minimizing of one's own unwanted qualities
  10. The support of each other's career and creative life
  11. The maintenance of friendship
  12. A monitoring of moods in oneself and one's partner
  13. An acceptance of difficulties
  14. A commitment to one's role as ethical witness
  15. The management of one's own self, life, and journey
  16. Careful communicating
  17. A bringing of one's creativity to the partnership
  18. The maintenance of a present and a future orientation
  19. Fair treatment of oneself and one's partner
  20. The creation of a safe environment"
I understand most of the concepts, except for "one's role as ethical witness", but I certainly get the gist. And I would like to add a rule no. 21. Here it is:

 21. The maintenance of an incorruptible, unbreakable sense of humor

As for us, we are getting there, getting there... Though I think that even when we are in our dotage I might still occasionally adopt my screechy fishwife tones and DH will still go ballistic to the point of bulgy-eyeness. So much for gentleness! But there is no one else I would rather do this whole thing with and I think THAT is what really matters!!!

What do you think? And if anyone can make out what building block no. 14 means, please let me know! ;)

Jun 1, 2014

Movie Review: Bangalore Days

Wow, ever since a bad incident six years ago when I had to manhandle a guy who took advantage of releasing-weekend crowds, I had given up going to any movie's first few days' shows. Result: I missed some good movies like Anjali Menon's Manchadikkuru, Madhupal's Ozhimuri etc. and had to wait a long time to get the DVDs.

Bangalore Days, anyway, will not suffer the ignominious fate of being thrown out of movie theaters before a week is up. As we were all looking forward to Anjali Menon's latest, I decided to make an exception for my own rule. We caught the late show of the movie at the nearest theater on the day of its release! The crowd was huge for the late-night show, the theater was housefull.

The nothing-given-away plot summary: Kuttan (Nivin), Divya (Nazriya) and Arjun (Dulquer) are cousins who have been playmates since childhood. Arjun and Kuttan have made their way to Bangalore and when Divya is married to Das (Fahadh), all three cousins achieve their childhood ambition of settling in Bangalore, their dream city. But the cousins soon find that things are not as smooth in their dream city as they believed it would be...

It's difficult to give Bangalore Days a single adjective that will encompass the whole movie. We all laughed till our eyes were wet. Then we all cried till our smiles dawned once again. The movie has to be seen to be believed. The characters may have been seen before - we have all seen Kuttans, Arjuns, Saras (Parvathy),  Meenakshis (Isha Talwar) and even Michelles (nameless-to-me) - they are common enough. But it is the way in which they are blended together in a tapestry of love and hate that the movie becomes a thing of beauty, to be watched again and again, ad nauseam.

Although it is essentially a story of youngsters, the elders also play notable roles - be it Kuttan's mother (Kalpana, in a lovely humorous role she handles very well) who blossoms in unforeseen ways, Divya's hidebound parents (Maniyan Pillai Raju and Praveena) who decide that an astrologer's prediction is more important than their daughter's dreams or Natasha's (Nithya Menon) embittered parents played by Pratap Pothen and Vinaya Prasad and Sara's ambitious mother (Rekha) who wants only the best for her daughter. We have seen the likes of these characters as well - but not like this and we cannot but empathize with each of them.

The last time I went to Bangalore, I saw lots of traffic jams, construction of the metro going on everywhere and a general breakdown of infrastructure in several parts of the city. Which makes me wish I had gone with Sameer Thahir and Anjali Menon. Together they take the best of the city and make it appear a dream destination that everyone aspires to. The picturization of the final bike race has such a dreamlike quality that was calming and exhilarating at the same time.

The whole cast does an exemplary job. Fahad takes on a partly unsavory character and comes out brilliantly. Dulquer has us rooting for him all the way. Nazriya and Nivin handle their roles with consummate ease. Parvathy is a revelation - this girl has come a long way since her half-baked initial performances. 

A highlight of the movie was the incredible montage of childhood pics of the three central characters in the intro. It was enthralling, to say the least.

But the movie is causing me some deep disappointment: There is nothing to find fault with!!!!

Final verdict: Paisa vasool, time vasool, even lost-sleep vasool (and that's an encomium very, very few movies can hope to earn from me!) Go ahead and book your tickets, you won't regret it!!!