Safar


I was almost in tears this time, unlike any/many other times before. Probably because this is the first time I was seeing the entire family on the station, bidding me goodbye. Also the first time that papa came to the station to drop me. I only remember having call conversations to Kuwait with him while leaving for USA. Living away from family is probably the worst curse of studying abroad. But, I must go on!

To my dismay, there is NO internet on this train because the router short circuited a few stations back. So, I plan to document this journey in words and pictures. Anyway my blog has been barren since a year now, this probably will spark up the page.

Sit back, relax, and enjoy the journey through my eyes. It begins with a train, includes an autorickshaw ride, a long wait at the new T2 Mumbai international terminal, an air journey and culminates in a long-ish bus journey.

I want to point out one thing among the chaos of the getting to the station and boarding the train, cleanliness. Yes. Things are clean. While I am at it, let me briefly also mention the roads that are hand swept daily by a troupe of 60 folks, the bus stops that are swept and wiped with dettol and the RTO office that I visited were super clean too. ‘Swachh Abhiyaan’ or not, things are clean as long as they are govt. operated. Of Course not speck clean but by a cleanliness freak standards I would rate it 7/10 clean. That is good! However, you will still find a load of dump in and around the houses especially under the boards marked ‘Do not throw rubbish here.’ I hear these are being closely monitored for cleanliness but haven’t seen much activity in my relatively short trip.

Disclaimer: I was not actively looking for cleanliness but awkwardly clean locations struck me and warranted a point.

I digressed. Sorry.

Coming to the journey now, Shatabdi has a dedicated, uniformed, labelled, ‘cleaning-squad’ that keeps moving frisky through the compartment time and again, hunting for shreds of paper or anything that they think dirties the seating. Toilets, although were clean, were not very clean. Could be more cleaner. Definitely needs better interiors. Greyed-Pistachio green does injustice to it. Aesthetics matter. To me.

Executive class, E1 in Ahmedabad-Mumbai Shatabdi, 12010, is different. Different from the regular chair-car. The compartment is VERY spacious, clean and has a lot of legroom. I have an extra armrest so I don’t have to share the armrest with the neighboring seat. The seats can recline to almost \|_ 140′ and the train is FAST. Luxury.

As soon as the train started moving, a guy dressed in a vest and sporting a bow tie came and gave me a bottle of water with a glass and wished me ‘Happy Journey.’ He did this at every stop for all new passengers entering while promptly removing the old used/unused water bottles. Brand of water: Aquafina.

First round of food is served as soon as the trains departs.

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Khasta kachori, suttar feni (from the red box), Chivda, ketchup, eclairs and tea (hot water kettle, tea bag, creamer and sugar).

Food tastes like it is supposed to taste. That is a positive sign. It was hot, not piping hot, but hotter than warm. The hot water in the thermos was steaming and the brands of products were pretty standard in Lehar, Amul, & Lipton.

Surat just went by and it is 2 hours from the time I boarded at Vadodara. Time for soup. Tomato soup served in a white ceramic bowl with a pair of breadsticks and a white soup spoon. Could use better cutlery. The consistency of the soup was mediocre, thick, but not as thick as I expected. It tasted yummy and I ended up sipping a bit of it to all of it just to accompany other fellow travelers. The soup is endless, they serve as much as you can drink, the waiter/steward stopping every two minutes with a refill jug! I ended up having two bowls full!

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Vapi just went by and dinner is here.

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Paneer butter masala, dal fry, jeera rice, dudhi Chana Daal, paratha, mix pickle, yogurt and papad. Sumptuous. Taste test: 6/10. Servings were sufficient to fill me up given that I had hogged on previous servings of soup and Khasta kachori. All in all a decent meal, far better than the ones I have had in 2/3 tier AC compartments but nowhere close to Rajdhani’s First Class AC’s food service.

I highly recommend this leg of journey in the executive class. It basically is the business class of Shatabdi. Ample storage space overhead as well to store two US based 23 Kilo bags.

I am an hour away from Borivali now.

Half the train seems to want to get down at Borivali station. Everyone rushes for the door in fear of leaving a bag or a kid behind if they do not hurry enough unloading everything of the train. Surprisingly no cookie approached me partly because I had too few a bags to make money off porting them or maybe they believed in me that I can really lift the two 23 kilo mountains on my own from platform 6 to 1. Finally found a porter to get me to the cab. The cab driver was a distant cousin of Michael Schumacher. Driving on Mumbai roads at a speed no less than 80kph in rush hour is a dream come true. Or, maybe not. He got me from BBorivalito The airport in 30 minutes, claiming that the same distance takes no less than 50 minutes. Who am I to judge. I like speed.

Boarding the flight at 6:40am, I reached the airport the night before at 9:30pm. To my dismay, the guards do not let me get in until 2am. Up until a bit of pestering, a bit of pleading, and a bit of everything in between.

T2 is a marvel in itself. What-an-airport. Best of all, free WiFi. Yay! Now comes the tricky part though. Killing the time from 12am to 6:40am. The chaos of T2 terminal is my source of entertainment for the time being.

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After sporadic naps, none lasting more than 10-12 minutes and two total hours, Turkish airlines begun assigning boarding passes. I was the second person in a line winding more than 20 times. Free of the bags I walked away through security check (a gimmick compared to US based checks) followed by immigration.

An old uncles spat out to each other allegedly over line jumping, which prompted every immigration officer to stand up from their cozy cushions and bend out to watch the entertainment unfold, alas there was not much drama.

This however wasted precious 15 minutes of all the people awaiting to get stamped! Moving on. The T2 terminal is beautifully made. I think I mentioned this before but it needs a repeat mention.

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With those ‘power button’ symbols, aesthetics are simple yet resourceful. I am glad to see this airport after what I have seen before. Those days crow-spotting was a sport that all could play at the Mumbai airport terminal. Things are different now, and good too.

Gate 73. Takes me to the man made technological marvel that will lift a 90kilo me in the air along with several others and guess what, I will FLY. Like a bird in the sky. Flight updates coming up. Three more hours though.

Meanwhile this happened. A guy and a girl meet. After a brief introductions of educational background and work status they have swiftly moved from broken English to Hindi to Gujarati and found out that they both have ties to a local town in Gujarat. Now the conversation has moved to future career prospects, salary hikes, engineering versus IT, snowfall in Atlanta to airport infrastructure cost and now it’s heating up towards a debate on immigration reform. Time taken, 487 seconds, ~8 minutes. Yes I timed it. This kind of instant contact truly amazes me. Does it happen only in India? Maybe, maybe not. I haven’t travelled enough to be able to jump to that conclusion yet.

Boarding finally commences at 6:10am for a 6:40am flight and all the co-ordinated efforts of the flight crew in requesting back to front boarding seems to be a major fail! “All passengers with seat numbers 40-53 line up for boarding,” yells a crew member, the entire flock of passengers lines up and the first person to get his boarding pass checked bears the seat number “12.” He promptly gets sent back. Some sit back awaiting their numbers to be called out, others are in for a gold rush, it seems.

An aisle seat is possible the best seat to have. Not that I am a tall guy but still having space to push that leg out in the aisle is the freedom of movement I would have fought for. The flight accelerates on the runway after standard operation procedures are recited like I recited my morning prayers in the school assembly. Speed lovers would love this part. The food promptly arrives and I opt for the Vegetarian meal.

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This was a major downer compared to my past experiences of Turkish airlines. The chole curry was tasteless and Aloo curry tasted like raw pumpkin, or, maybe it was pumpkin. I couldn’t say. Sleep deprived I hurried through my meal and dozed off. Good comfortable reclining chairs and some good music did the trick. A long-ish 3.5hr of a sleep was thus achieved. Win! Good views help too!

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Time to land in 1hr 50m and a sandwich arrives. Lamest possible sandwich ever eaten. Served with a side of a cup of water. Yay! I bit through it hungry from the sleep. Couldn’t eat it all. Yes it was that bad. Time to catch up with the movies now. First on the list Europa Report. I had 1hr 30m in all and within five minutes of the movie it was apparent that I will be watching this movie in fast forward only. The main shot in the movie is at 1hr 29th minute in this 1hr 30m movie. A Matrix tentacle creature lives on Europa, the moon. That is all there is to the movie. In order to compensate for the valuable time lost I re watched Pacific Rim. Fast forwarded to key scenes this movie is worth multiple screenings any day.

Time to land. The flight was 45 minutes late when it took off and arrived 40 minutes early than scheduled. A worm hole was encountered enroute, a small one presumably. While I land and move to the transfer gate I will leave you with this image. Hope you see what is funny, almost.

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The turkey airport seems to be in form of some overhaul. We landed around 5kms away from the airport and a bus picked us up to get us to the airport. As soon as you get in the airport there is a maddening rush of everyone running for something. I took things lightly because I have around 4 hours to kill here. I was wrong. The rush was for the security check lines. These are crazy long. Good for me, I have time at hand. Security check here too is lame to say the least. Take a bow TSA.

Mad rush continues at the food court. The security check route ends directly in the food court. Convenient much. A wait for at least 2hr for my flight details to appear on the monitor. Time to hog. A chocolate milk shake and Methi Thepla. I would have loved some tea but Turkish coffee is to die for too. It however doesn’t go well with thepla so chocolate shake it is.

Gate 503. The last leg of the flight journey. The gate looks surreal and I couldn’t resist clicking a pic.

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Also worth mentioning is the writing on the bus. Funny to me. Yes. Smile along. Turks don’t know a thing about it.

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Boarding commences. The flight this time around, an Airbus again but is a relatively older version. As long as my seat reclines I am happy. And it begins. Take off, operating procedures etc recited like clockwork and it flies. 30,000ft in the sky.

It has been not more than an hour and the delicious food is here. Turkish standing up to its name. Finally.

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Pasta cooked in red sauce and sun dried tomatoes with olive oil generously drizzled over, crackers with cream cheese, humus in salsa sauce (interesting combo), spiced feta cheese and cucumber salad, chocolate mousse, wheat bread and malt beer.
Y-U-M-M-Y.

Nearing the end of my journey now. This has been one heck of it. I should have penned the other side of journey too, but then that would have been an overkill. Anyways, hope you had fun reading it. I had fun penning it.

Duration of the journey: ~40hours. Tiresome.

I leave you with a brief Chicago landing video.  Showcases the city of gold, or as it seems from up above.

 

 

With or without you


I lay in my bed thinking about you,

I love you so much and don’t know what to do.

I feel your warmth at my side,

And the pain in my heart moves to my eye,

So far yet so near,

You are the reason I want to be there.

I await the time when we can talk,

With hands in hands we can walk,

To be with you zeal, so close to me,

The happiest person in the world is what that would make me.

-Jigar Rajpura

Distance


 As sweet as honey,

As fresh as morning dew,

Zeal, your chirping conquers my Monday blues

You make me smile

and seldom let me cry

you are my motivation

to stop eating cheese fry

A glimpse of you

Is a rare sight

But a weekend session of skype

Is a healthy delight

They say ‘distance makes the heart grow fonder’

I cannot agree further

Its ironically the closeness within this distance

That binds us together.

-Jigar Rajpura

Intezaar


Phir aaj koi ghazal tere naam na ho jaye,

Kahin likhte likhte shaam na ho jaye,

Kar rahein hain intezaar ab hum tumhara aye zeal,

Isi intezaar mein hum aashiq badnaam na ho jaye.

-Jigar Rajpura

December breaks…history that repeats every 18 months..


A sunny morning with a frosty window, rays of sun piercing through the flakes into my room, making a narrow beam of light right above below my forehead. This is what woke me up. Those multiple alarms that my smartphone claims to have cannot beat this. Any day. It’s 9AM and rays of sun are pretty rare in this time of the year. I drag myself out of the bed knowing that its a matter of few more hours I shall be done with the chores of the year. The month is December, date, 17. The day my exams for the semester end and I fly away to where I belong.

It often feels like a migrating bird, yes, that is what I am called here anyway. An immigrant. I am not a lonely individual and love to have company around me. Thankfully, that, I have enough off. A bunch of like minded friends and co-workers. Ask me about my life, and I might reply this more often than not: “Can’t complain.” But nothing really beats the fluttering within when Boeing 747 touches the gravel at Mumbai airport, India. The place that I often land when I return back. To think of it, I never say: “I am returning back to USA”, when I leave India. I always say, “I am going back”, “I am returning back” is only reserved for the country I belong to. I have often had elders of the family talking among themselves about how every one who comes to USA doesn’t ever come back. Every single time I hear them say that, I say to myself, “I will prove them wrong”.  Not just for the sake of proving them wrong, is the reason that I want to come back. I have some plans, larger plans, that seem “larger than life” right now. But, yes, I would be back. Yes, I can safely say this after 5 years of stay in USA. Yes, it’s a beautiful country. I mean come on, with me hailing from Gujarat, India, a dry state (temperature wise, not otherwise), getting to see leaves change color and then skeleton trees being covered in snow is a sight that always pleases my eyes. No matter how morbid it gets in winters. However, USA is not for me. I would drop this at that only. Some other time in some other blog. Today is not the day I talk about why India and why not USA.

So, the exam looks relatively easy on first look, as it always does. It only starts getting mysterious like a women, the more I try to read in between the lines of the questions and keep pondering why din’t I pay attention in the class when he was talking about it! Some plans are made to make it a point to take seriously the next semester, as soon as it begins. I think of the success that I might achieve after that in the following semester and some one drops a pencil somewhere thankfully bringing me back to the exam. I move on to the next summit, thinking of coming back to it going downhill. The clock nears end and I wind up my work to leave. A sense of relaxation, contempt and satisfaction almost gets knocked out by the reminiscence of grades that I shall get in a few weeks. However, that does not change my stride and I walk with head held up high. At least I  got done with the exams. The rest is not in my hands. Selecting a good song on the iPod and humm away the exam blues.

Glad to have seen snowfall before leaving the country although at the back of mind dearly hoping it doesn’t delay my flight and get me stranded on the tarmac for the rest of my vacation. In anticipation I am usually packed and prepared for the trip before the exam week begins. A week before the final’s week, I spend time packing my bags and purchasing gifts for peeps back home. At times I wonder do they anticipate my return or the gifts that I bring for them. I have a feeling its the latter. Anyhow, my priority is to pack bags and then search for notes and compile them for exams. That is how it should be. Think about it. You are busy breaking your head over a statistic problem and you spot a sock/a shirt lying around in your room and instantly mind flies to the thought Am I taking this shirt with me to India? Din’t I just take it along the last time I went? But then the decision lies in the fact whether it is washed or not. If it’s washed, no point taking it. Not washed? Take it! Take it! Without another question. I get up and fold the shirt neatly to put it in the bag. Now, back to the problem at hand. Statistics problem. See how it goes. So, pack your bags before you begin.

Reaching the airport and getting away from house (USA) is the top priority today. Check for papers, passport, ticket, I-20, I-94. Lock bags. Check for papers, passport, I-20,I-94. Wait. I missed something. Repeat the drill. Ticket. Gosh! Put on the army jacket that I so love, stuff all the papers in every other pocket and get ready for the security check. Always, remember, always select your seats while booking your flight. This avoids all the pleading and begging to the person who gives you your boarding pass. I have watched “Up in the Air” umpteenth times. I just like the movie. For the records, nothing George Clooney says, stands true when standing in the line for security check ins. Of course if you are that someone with millions of miles on your frequent flying card, even god can’t stop you anywhere in the line! I for one am always prepared for the check in. My trick is very simple: I stuff my belt, wallet, watch, everything in my jacket. Laptop is always packed in security check approved cases so I don’t have to remove them and shoes are always slip on that make my life easy.

After the security check in ordeal, its time to hunt for the charging point. Theres usually a wait for almost 2 hours before the gates open to boarding the plane. Yes, I am always unusually early. Then they start calling out seat numbers that can begin boarding. Women and children have a priority. How I wish I get on my knees and start acting child like with a drooling mouth and cling on to some lady’s bags. Seat numbers 13-26 please line up for boarding. I look at my seat number: 33. Great. Time to enter the line. My turn comes, and the stewardess goes like: Sir, you are 33, we are boarding only up to 26. Please stand aside. A while later. 26-42 please line up. Guess who’s the first one in the line now Girl! Aisle seat, that reclines back, although economy class and the person seating next to me does me a huge favor. He/She is late and cannot make it for the flight. Extra space. And the feeling to play “this song” when the plane touches the runway. 

Priceless!

Cricket in USA


“One more round”. “A little faster”. “Build up the stamina,” yells our team captain. A warm up includes 2-3 rounds on a bright sunny evening that usually begins at 5PM and ends at 9PM with the sun going down and almost making it impossible to watch the red ball coming on to the bat. Born and brought up in India, cricket is infused as a religion, more so a unifying sport among fellow friends here in USA.

We are Purdue University Cricket Club (PUCC) and we represent our university at regional level cricket tournaments. Playing in gully’s back home with taped balls and hand made wooden bats and coke bottle stands as makeshift wickets, having 2 entire fields with cemented pitch dedicated for our sport, sponsored by the university in USA was a little surprise for me. Not so much for the veteran players who were already establishing milestone victories and making our presence felt in the mid-west  region.

Not many sports are publicized here, except a few that gain overnight popularity. These include football (American football, the one with an oblong ball), baseball (the one with a ball very similar to cricket, except they play with a bat that resembles our stumps). As a part of community service work, being a club in constant demand for funds from the university, in order to attain attention and mileage, we visited an elementary school representing Purdue and the sport we call “Cricket”. The audience in the gymnasium included a group of kids right from first grade to the fourth, excited to see us with weird looking flat paddles made out of wood. Upon asking the first question to break ice, “How many of you here have heard of Cricket”? To our surprise, almost unanimously all the kids raised their hand, until one of the school teachers interjected, “the boys are talking about the sport not the animal”, and the sea of raised arms came tumbling down. However, the enthusiasm to know more about the sport and actually try their hands on it was undying. After a brief explanation of the bowling action, the running between the wickets and a small comparison between cricket and baseball, a few questions started pouring in. This was an indicator that they were listening, keenly. When given a chance later to have a try out with the bowling and batting, some kids never have held a paddle in their hands, wielded some good cricketing shots at their age exhibiting a spark of interest.

As of now we have almost 50 teams across the nation playing through division I, II and III level cricket that includes mainly players from south-east Asia origin and a handful West Indies and Australians. These are mainly international students studying in the country or the ones who have immigrated a generation back. Inception of the sport among the US is strong, however limited to these elite group of so called outsiders. Remembering the curious faces of the kids in the elementary school bring a thought to my mind, Can this sport flourish here too? After all, it is the second most viewed sport in the world. But, it seems a far fetched dream, although right doors are being opened and right boxes are being ticked, time will unfold with a new nation venerating the sport that we love so much. It is nearing the end of my third round and exhaustion is getting over me, I need to sprint the last lap and pad up for some throw downs.

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