Sunday, April 28, 2013

Kannapuram Mattu Chandhai - Part 1

Ok this blog is about the bull festival that happens every year at Olappalayam, Erode, Tamilnadu and its famously referred to as "Kannapuram Mattu Chandhai". This is my second year in a row and I am curious as always to know more. When some of my friends and relatives heard about my visit there, they were like... why would a software engineer be interested in bulls. Well my answer to them is this... as IT professionals we deal with a lot of BULL****, so its nothing but natural for me to be interested in bulls.

Three of us decided to go the bull festival. Two of them dropped out at the last moment but that didn't stop me from going alone. If you decide to be less of yourself, you can just romance the world. You can make friends anywhere, anytime. People would want to befriend you. And of course I did make a few friends here. There was a gang of three who came to enquire about the cows where I was enquiring as well. The only difference is that I was enquiring out of curiosity whereas they were there to buy. So I tagged along with them in their search for the right cow and eventually we became friends.

I had my camera with me to get some pictures of the bulls, not just for memory but also to aide in my research. OK I could see some eyebrows going up... RESEARCH may be a big word... Lets just call it analysis...

      Now coming to the festival itself...Its a bull festival with a very long history... maybe a thousand years. And the Kangeyam variety known for its agility and power is the major attraction  there. This variety is indigenous to the erstwhile “Kongu Nadu”, which now covers the regions of Erode, Karur, Thirupur and Coimbatore. The bulls of this variety are just majestic (of course the well fed ones) and they have a long history of helping humans in agriculture as well as in domestic purposes. The cows of this variety are well known for the quality of milk that they produce though the quantity is less. But whatever little quantity they produce, is very good and there is a bit of research going on about the curative properties of this milk.

        I found three sub varieties of Kangeyam. One is a mix of black, white and grey and they call it "Kaari", another is a mix of wheatish brown, red and white and they call it "Sevalai" and the last one is of course is fully white and I didn't hear any specific name for it.

It was a really exciting experience in many ways though the sun was a bit harsh on me. The villagers are easily acquaintable and highly enterprising and are all the more willing to let me take pictures of their bulls and cows. As I was there alone initially (before I made friends), I will have to teach the villagers how to take a picture, so I could get some pictures of myself with the cows. Trust me they learnt it fast and took some good snaps. One of the people told me, "I wish your snaps bring some luck so that I could sell the bull at a better bargain". I really hoped he sold it for a better price.

On the side lanes of the festival, you find these shops selling accessories for bulls and cows. Man... that was colourful and intriguing. When it comes to accessories, I always envied women for the variety of choices that they have and lamented about the fewer choices that men have. Always felt that in terms of choice of accessories men are a distant second to women. But after visiting these shops, I will have to let go of my opinion. Now I am of the opinion that in term of choice of accessories, its the women, the bulls/cows and the men. God damn it... men are a distant third now.
        That brings us to the end of part 1 of the blog. I would talk more about how to differentiate or rather appreciate beauty in a bull or a cow, what to look for when buying a bull/cow, how to find the age of a bull/cow and how we (not me) ended buying a cow and a calf.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

A Journey to forget

In Chennai, a journey of any kind on a Friday evening is a virtual battlefield. The amount of money that you are willing to spend on your commute might make a difference to your convenience nevertheless it still is a virtual battlefield. I left office by 4 PM on a Friday evening to catch a train to my native Karur from Chennai Central at 8:30 PM. I left office early by any working professional’s standards but that is a convenience that IT professionals get, especially when you are done with your work for the day. It wouldn’t take four and a half hours to reach Chennai Central but I needed that time to finish some domestic tasks before I could head to the station. I reached my house earlier than I thought I would, so I decided to have a quick nap. My roommate would have called it a “power nap” but trust me I have no idea what that means. Same is the case with “power lunch”. I hear this term too often in my office. I don’t know; may be people think that adding the word “power” in front of any other word makes it more powerful.

What was supposed to be a quick nap, that should have lasted only 15 minutes, got extended to 45 minutes. I woke to realize that I was only a few minutes away from my physiotherapy appointment at 6 PM. I had a hangover kind of a feeling as I got ready for my appointment. May be that’s how you feel when you do something powerful, in my case it’s the “power nap”. The doctor’s home is only a 100 meters away from my house or even less. So I pulled myself and managed to reach there when the time in my mobile showed 5:58 PM. Ever since I started using mobile phones, wrist watches have become an inconvenience and I hardly used them. Carrying two gadgets that do the same function is surely an inconvenience, right? Reaching the doctor’s home two minutes early for the appointment was nullified by that fact that the physiotherapist himself was late by half an hour, which clearly didn’t help my cause. The only person who appreciated my promptness on that occasion was myself.

I was actually nursing an inflammation in my chest muscle. I don’t know how it happened but it was hurting me for a while and as my own therapies didn’t work, I have decided to take some professional help. I got the therapy done in a few minutes; got back to my house, stuffed a set of clothes and some books into a bag and got out. Generally I carry as many books as there are clothes. Though I consider myself an avid reader, I hardly read when I am at home. My mom never misses an opportunity to have a dig at me saying “why do you carry some many books when you hardly read any of them”. I don’t know but this has become a habit.

Then I took a bus from the stop near my house to reach Adyar Depot from where I can get a bus to Chennai Central. Bus No.1 with “Central” written on it would take you to Central is what my roommate told me. I waited for almost fifteen minutes and I saw a variety of buses (some of them being software company buses) with numbers ranging from 2 to 30. But No.1 never turned up. As there was only an hour left for the scheduled departure of the train, my thoughts started oscillating between taking an auto and waiting for the bus. Luckily there came a bus numbered 1A. I was searching for the word “Central” in the name board which I never found. With a lot of apprehension, I asked the fellow standing next to me “Will this go to Central?”. The answer was a “Yes”. Suddenly I sprung on to my feet and hurried towards the bus, dazing past an old man on my way. My courtesy stopped me to apologize to him, even in that hurry, though I wasn’t sure he even noticed my apology. After double checking with the conductor, I boarded the bus. As that was a Friday, I considered myself lucky for having found a place to stand. To my surprise, the old man whom I dazed past also boarded the same bus with a couple of heavy luggage. He was buying his ticket with me standing next to him with the change in my hand. Some conductors abuse you as if you have been caught robbing their house, if you don’t give them the right change. For a moment I had a feeling that this old man is going to slap me, for dazing past him on my way to board the bus, after buying his ticket. So I turned my face away from him so that even if he wants to get physical he could only slap my shoulder. Luckily that didn’t happen. If you are standing next to a conductor in a MTC bus in Chennai, you might have to do a lot of social service of buying tickets for people standing in the front section of the bus. Of course they pay you; you just have to pass them. The conductors never get out of their seats. Sometimes I used to wonder if they were glued to it when they start their service in the morning.

A young fellow stood up to give away his seat for our old man. Trust me my dear readers today’s younger generation (including myself) have a great respect for elders. Don’t tell me that I dazed past him. God, that was an accident and I apologized for it. In a way I was more relieved that the old man got a seat and for a moment thought I was as old as him. Then there was this lady who boarded the bus in the middle of the journey. As she stood on the other side of the bus, conductor asked her to pass the change. For some reason she didn’t want to pass the change so she came near the conductor, passing through the crowd. She stood next to me and asked me to move my leg a little bit. I didn’t how much that “little bit” meant but in a while I realized that it meant the entire place where I was standing. Slowly and steadily she took my place and I stood there watching her, a victim of exploitation by a woman. Personally I have nothing against woman, but when they use the special respect that they get to their advantage, making a mockery of people around, I hated it. Then it took me a while to find another place to stand without stamping on anyone else’s feet and by that time the bus became jam packed. I stood there awkwardly curved and pushed from all sides. A thought crossed mind, “I should have taken the metro train to the Central station”, which was of no use at that moment. I hated using the phrase “I should have” for the sole reason that it makes you feel like a loser.

After a long and torturous bus ride, I reached my destination, the Chennai Central railway station. As there was only a few minutes left for the departure of the train, I decided to buy my dinner that I could munch in the train. I bought a Chicken Sandwich from Hot breads (my favorite in Central station), a Veg Puff and two slices of Pineapple Pie cake. Sounds like an unhealthy meal huh? Trust me, except for the Veg Puff, it was a great meal. About the Veg Puff, let’s just forget, it’s perhaps out of my system by now. I boarded the train five minutes before the scheduled departure. I almost finished my dinner by the time the train started moving. That when I realized how hungry I was. It was a new boggie and gave a good first impression. The first impression in my case wasn’t really the best.

As it was only 8:30 PM, I decided read for sometime before going for sleep. I took out the novel I started reading a few days back. It’s called “The White Tiger” by Aravind Adiga. This book has been an interesting read so far. No wonder this book has won The Mann Booker Price (2008). Thanks to Himanshu for introducing me to this book. Himanshu – let’s just call him my friend who hardly contacted me after I left New York. This guy is a serial blogger and a very nice fellow. (I am not sure if there is word in English like blogger, but lets just use it to refer to the people who blog). I would be at fault if I forget to mention Vivek alias Vivekanandan alias Vicky, my roommate in Chicago, when talking about serial bloggers. This guy is a centurion in blogging with a great fan following. Though I congratulated him on his hundredth blog post (which I came to know through Himanshu) in my company’s internal blogging portal (portal is nothing but an IT term for a website), I hardly read any of his blog posts. Himanshu would call me rude for saying this. Well, it’s just the fact and I am just being frank. Vivek (that’s how I call him) knows me better and he wouldn’t care much about me not reading his blogs. Despite being in the company of these two serial bloggers for almost a year, I never blogged at that time. Everything in life needs a trigger, right? Perhaps this train journey is my trigger to start blogging.

My berth in the train is a Side-Upper on a 3-tier AC compartment. More often than not, I got a Side-Upper berth when I tried to book a single ticket on a 3-tier AC compartment. Maybe the railways has a WHERE clause (IT guys would know what a WHERE clause is) which says when a single male aged 26 books a single ticket with a auto seat allocation option then just put him on a Side-Upper. And I get caught in this WHERE clause more often. Side-Upper berth is generally crankier which is why I hate it. I guess most people do. The one in this boggie, despite being new, is much worse. My guess is that they started building a 2-tier AC compartment with a luggage section and suddenly there was an urgent need for a 3-tier AC compartment, so they placed a cushion on the luggage section and converted it into a berth, now being referred as Side-Upper. It was so close to the ceiling of the boggie. If you are not flexible enough, even getting to bed in there is going to be a nightmare. It would have been a cake walk for a gymnast to get there. Unfortunately gymnastics is not so famous in our country and Railway ministry must realize that they cannot expect a common man to be a gymnast.

After reading the novel for while, I decided to get to sleep. Generally I pee being getting to bed just to make sure I don’t get disturbed in the sleep. Then arranged my pillow and the bedspreads and with some adventure climbed onto to the berth. I was hoping that the next time I get down would be only when the train stops at Karur. As the events unfolded, I realized that I was being over-ambitious. I am not the kind of guy who falls asleep just when the head hits the pillow. I at least need 20 minutes before I can fall asleep. Half an later, I felt heaviness in my lower abdomen. Yes, the urinary bladder is full and I wanted to pee again. That’s when I realized, it was freaking cold inside and perhaps the air-conditioning was over-working. It was so cold that the boggie could well be used for storing frozen food or perhaps be used as a cold storage.

My physio had taught me a procedure to follow while getting up so that I don’t aggravate my prevailing problem. He had asked me to roll to the side, use my hand as a support and get up. That’s pretty similar to what my yoga master had taught me. I tried this while getting up only to bang my head against the boggie’s ceiling. That pretty much got me out of sleep completely. If you feel sleepy at work, may be you should try banging your head instead of a cup of coffee or tea. It works but; take care not to break it when you bang it. I also developed cramps in muscles that I never knew existed in my upper body, on my attempt to get out of the berth.

I went up to the helping assistant in the boggie to ask him to adjust the AC, on my way to the toilet. Guess someone had already complained and he was adjusting it. As for the toilet is concerned, no matter what class of train you are in, it really sucks. May be we should include a lesson in our school books about how to keep the toilet clean or perhaps on sanitation in general. We clearly lack a lot of common sense in this area. There is a saying in English which goes like this “Leave the toilet and the new paper, the way you would like to find it”.

I got back to my Side-Upper again. Well, it’s easier said than done. This time I fell asleep faster than I normally would only to be woken up by a startling sound. Soon I realized that the sound was due to the high-decibel snoring from one of the latest entrant in my compartment. I got up, of course by banging head against the ceiling, now that it has become a routine I wouldn’t be mentioning it going forward, you can just assume. It was 12:01 AM and two other people in my compartment are already awake and we were looking at each other’s face wondering what to do. As this guy was in the upper berth on other side, I tried jerking his pillow so that he would stop snoring which would give me sometime to sneak into my sleep again. I guess the train was already jerking him enough that my pillow jerk attempt proved futile. I wasn’t sure if I had the right to go any further to wake up a co-passenger. So I got back to my berth again. It was about 12:40 AM when “Mr.Snoring Glory” stopped snoring. Maybe he was taking a breather or he has burnt up all the energy to snore any further. Now that I have decided to write my first ever blog about this journey (which is yet to finish), I started noting the times with great precision. I was hoping for the clock to reach 3:55 AM (which is the scheduled time of arrival-lets call it STA-though I not good at acronyms, I am trying to improve-at Karur Junction) or the train to reach Karur, whichever is faster. I know that was far from being called a sensible thought but I was helpless on that occasion.

The train stopped in a place a little longer than it would on any other station. Maybe the train was waiting for another crossing train. I guess that was good enough time for “Mr.Snoring Glory” to regain his composure and energy. As the train started moving, our man started snoring, his decibels picking up in synchronous with the train’s speed. This time our man had company, as there were a couple new snorers joining the party. But when compared with our man’s decibels they could only be called a fizzle. Though I have my own sympathies for snorers, it was overwhelmed by the agony of not being able to sleep on that occasion.

I got back to my berth again, lying there with my eyes closed, unable to sleep, pretty much helpless about my current situation. This brought back the memories of my first night in Chicago. I slept through most of my flight journey; in the 21-hour flight I must have slept at least 14 hours. It was a Sunday evening. As soon as I checked into the hotel, I took a quick shower, grabbed a quick dinner and hit the bed as early as I could so that I would be fresh on the first day at office in the client’s place. That’s when I experienced what I have only heard of so far, the “Jet Lag”. I was lying there with my eyes closed, very much conscious of my thoughts, telling myself that I need to sleep. When you are telling yourself that you need to sleep, you are actually not sleeping.

Back to the train, I woke up again at 3:15 AM. Well actually I never slept, so let me rephrase the sentence. I opened my eyes again at 3:15 AM. For a moment I thought if the train has gone past my station. Then I realized, by Indian Standards, a train can never be half an hour early to a station. It can be on time or late; those are the only two possibilities. That thought gave me some comfort. As the train slowed down at about 3:50 AM, which fairly close to the STA, I thought my destination was nearing. I looked through the glass window and figured that it was a small station, at least half an hour away from my destination, where my train would slow down but wouldn’t stop. I don’t why; may be that is some traffic rules that train drivers need to follow. Half an hour later, at around 4:20 AM, the train reached Karur Junction. I tried to get a glimpse of the man’s face who literally kept me awake through out my train journey. But it was too dark and I was too tired, perhaps due to lack sleep and due to the adventures involved in ascending and descending the Side-Upper berth. In a way I was happy that the train was half-an-hour late, because I am going to disturb people at home only half-an-hour later than I promised I would. My mom’s an early riser but 4 AM is little early even by early riser’s standards.

Now I need to take an auto home. I need to play a tricky game there. My house is fairly close to the railway station, maybe a couple of kilometers away. So the auto drivers can’t charge much to me. If I approach the first-in-line auto driver, he would tell me a rate that he would charge for the longest distance that someone would travel by an auto, which is a polite way of saying no. And you can’t approach the second-in-line without approaching the first-in-line. This time was no different. The first-in-line told me Rs.50, which is 20 rupees higher than what you can call a reasonable rate. So I approached the second-in-line who told me Rs.40, which is still 10 rupees higher. But I decided to go with this guy for two reasons: one, the recent hike in fuel prices. Two, I was too tired to play this tricky game any further. One thing that impresses me about these auto drivers is that they have the power to choose their customers, which even some of the most successful business owners would envy.

If I had taken the train that I normally would, I would have completely avoided playing this game, as I would have reached only around 7 AM and there are bus services available by that time. Though I want to see my place as a metro city in the near future, it is still not there. So it is hard to expect early morning bus services. Hey, if you chuckle at the above sentences, let me tell you this, I am serious about it. If you want India to become a super power by 2020, then cities like mine should become metros even before that. I am only trying to play my part in a bigger cause.

Then by around 4:30 AM I reached home. My house is a three storey building. We stay in the first floor and we have rented out houses in the other two floors. I always get confused about the bell switch that corresponds to my house. As I didn’t want to antagonize my tenants by pressing the wrong bell button, I decided to call my house’s landline. As the street was pretty much empty and calm, I could hear the phone ring even from the street. So I disconnected the call after a couple of rings. My mom was quick to respond. She appeared in the balcony soon after I had cut the call. After entering the house I learnt that my granny had kept my mom awake from 3’o clock just to make sure I don’t stand in the street for long. As my mom has been a working woman, my granny had played the role of my nanny during my formative years. So she is so attached to me. As older people don’t have much to be worried about, they start worrying about petty little things. I don’t blame them for it but it is just that I don’t want them to be worried about me much. My mom’s eagerly awaiting me as well, as I am her only son coupled but the fact that I haven’t been home in two months. I will talk about these two people in another blog perhaps in great detail. To put it precisely, these two women have played a greater role in my life so far.

When I told a friend of mine that I am leaving home tonight, she wished a safe journey. It was indeed a safe journey but far from being called a pleasant one. But I started wondering would it have been different if she had wished me a happy journey or a nice journey or a happy, nice & safe journey. Though I am not sure if that would have made any difference, the journey in itself has made a difference to me that I have started blogging.

That pretty much concludes the journey that I would like to forget soon. Now that I have penned it down, it’s going to be tough.