Sunday, December 30, 2007

One More Telecom Operator Cometh

I've been noticing this hoarding for a while now apart from some others. My reason for the picture is the creative is awesome and so it should be. Considering the fact that Raghu Rai has clicked these pictures especially for this campaign and they're autographed by him. The other reason is that the coming 'soon' is taking too long. The hoardings have been up for two months already. And finally is there room for another operator?

Vodafone, Airtel, Reliance Smart, Reliance Mobile, Tata Indicom, BSNL beware.

The Indian Ocean topped with Saturday Night Blues

On Saturday night I had a reception to attend and after making a brief appearance there, we headed out to Some Place Else. Second night in a row, but for a good reason though; Indian Ocean was playing. I had missed them the last time and got the feeling that I would miss their performance this time around. But as luck would have it we made it just in time. They were supposed to start at 9pm or so the poster said, but only stuck their first note at about 11 pm. Thank you for maintaining Indian Standard Time. At the entrance I was stopped and asked to a pay a cover. The joys of power dressing, people think you’re loaded and can extract money. I refused and then the manager had to come and let me in.

So we pushed and shoved our way in and hooked up with some friends near the bar. Indian Ocean was now into their second number and the rest of the night was a musical treat. They belted out Jhini, Maa Rewa, Hille Re and Bandeh among others and had the crowd singing along. At one point, while taking a break, the crowd burst out and sang Bandeh as a fillip. The crowd wanted them to play Bandeh once more and so as their grand finale, they performed it with the crowd participating in full. Once they had finished I met with Amit Kilam and made a faux pas confusing Sushmit for Asheem and engaging in a long conversation with him.

Indian Ocean
Susmit Sen - Guitar, Vocals
Asheem Chakravarty - Tabla, Tarang, Other Percussion and Vocals
Rahul Ram - Bass Guitar, Vocals
Amit Kilam - Drums, Gabgubi, Recorder, Other Percussion

After that we dropped into Roxy for a bit. Shook a leg and headed right back to listen to Saturday Night Blues Band. They’re one of my favourite bands.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

They Play On...

Last evening I went to Some Place Else to meet a friend who was leaving Kolkata and wanted to listen to Hip Pocket for the last time. So we met up at SPE and I have to admit, though Hip Pocket did goof up on a track, they have just mastered Pink Floyd and Dire Straits and a whole lot of other stuff. I couldn’t believe it when they kind of fumbled on one of my all time favourite songs and one that they play so well called Get Back by the Beatles.

Anyway the evening went on and we heard them out and were joined by several more friends. The band stopped playing and the program was to move over to Roxy and then maybe come back for the next band that was playing a little later. But then the DJ played a series of really nice Disco tracks from way back when disco was disco, and transported me back to the days or afro hairdos and bell bottoms and shiny disco balls. We stayed on till he completed playing those tracks and then moved to Roxy after paying our tab.

On the way out I wanted to check who was playing next and saw that Urban Reflection was the next band up to perform that evening and then my eye caught the name below, Indian Ocean. Indian Ocean was going to be performing on Saturday night from 9 pm onward. I thought to myself, I haven’t heard those guys in a while and must make it. Then the scenes of their last performance here flashed in my head. I didn’t even get a wink into the place. People had filled up the entire Park Hotel lobby just to try and get in. So lets see, maybe I take a shy.

So we then went into Roxy to be met at the gate by our mad, mad, mad dancer friend Hitesh. And all you regulars probably know him. He’s the most hilarious and friendly mad hatter. We caught him trying the write stuff on the wall. What he was writing only he knew. Anyway a brief tête-à-tête and we proceeded into the more or less packed night club. I really like the ambiance in terms of it being modern, slick and minimalist. The Dj was belting out the latest Bollywood chart-busters interspersed with some Latino and hip-hop numbers. Katie, of Salsa India fame, was burning up the floor with a lady friend of his. I guess that’s the live commercial for sign ups for his classes. The guys has the moves, you’ve got to admit.

After about an hour in Roxy, though we didn’t dance the pulsating music and the party people dancing and jumping on the floor just got us tired. So we headed back to SPE. Urban Reflection was playing to a few patrons who I’m assuming were their friends and I was thinking they need to brush up their act. So we left and decided to grab some grub at Azad Hind Dhaba.

The place was shut, well technically shut, but service was on. So we ordered a whole lot of food for the 6 of us, which mainly was chicken, reshmi kebabs, tandoori chicken, chicken bharta and butter tandoori rotis. That was quite a feast. I can’t really tell you how much it all cost because I didn’t pay for the treat.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Merry Christmas

After celebrating my father’s birthday and having dinner at home, we headed out to Some Place Else. I was a bit surprised that the place wasn't buzzing with people, but that was good. The entry was controlled with a cover for non-regulars. We walked into the place with the Saturday Night Blues Band playing some awesome music. There were people in the crowd keeping the Christmas spirit alive with their red reindeer horn caps and some with red and white Santa hats. The band even broke into some Christmas songs.

Christmas day was one of celebration, but for me it was a day of sadness, we got news of the passing of a very dear and close relative (Dida) of mine. The day was spent in preparation for the funeral which would happen the next day. The news was sad yet we were happy that the suffering was over. Not to say that it was an auspicious and nice day for one to finally meet the maker.

Mandarmani Revisited: The Beach, Fishermen, Shells and The Sher-E-Punjab

The fun thing about Mandarmani is the vast expanse of sand and the timid ripples of the sea that wash over the beach and one can wade in the water, ankle deep to great distances. So we spent our day on the beach and apart from the tu-tuk ride and chasing the red crabs, we watched fishermen bring in their nets with their catch. It was fun to see them pull out the fish and other seas creatures from their nets. I even ventured taking some in my hands.

By late afternoon, we decided to check out of Mandarmani and head back to Kolkata. The drive back was eventful especially when we were taking the narrow dirt road out. The road was so narrow that at one point and oncoming tractor, though I had warned him aptly managed to bump into my car. My poor Swift nearly got the entire rear bumper yanked off from the right side. I was furious, but nothing could be done and after pushing and prodding, we managed to get it together, so that it would hold at least till we got back to Kolkata. (The following day, I had to send it to the workshop and get the rear bumper changed. I cursed the tractor driver some more).

Anyway the drive back was otherwise uneventful apart from the stop we made at Sher-e-Punjab at Kolaghat where we ate and drank to celebrate our first road trip in our car.

Mandarmani Revisited: The Food and Entertainment

Once back from the beach, we ordered some beer and food. I insisted on Kingfisher Premium Lager or Kalyani Black Label and the attendant insisted that Haywards 5000 or Kingfisher Strong were better. Anyway we settled for food because the 4 beers ordered didn’t arrive as they had to be bought from outside.

We had Kasha Chicken, Dal, Roti and Salad for lunch and decided to catch some sleep as we had been driving since dawn. We settled for some Pepsi instead of the beers and then caught some zzz’s.

When we finally got up later in the evening, the sun had set and it was near pitch dark outside. We went for a slight stroll on the beach followed by a couple of games of carom in the recreation/gym room after which we got back to our room and got down to the business of Drinking. We had carried a bottle of Rum and a Bottle of Glenfiddich. Oh and the Beer had also arrived; Kingfisher Strong. He had won his way. There was no way we were going to drink strong beer, so we started with the Fiddich. A peg each and I couldn’t have any more. It just got to me, so I settled for Rum and Coke as did everyone else. This was complimented with some really tasty Fried Chicken and Fried Pomphret (Fish). We had our playing cards to keep us entertained and not to mention Tata Sky so we could watch the grand finale of Nach Baliye 3. When we got done with drinking we went to have dinner, we noticed that the stage we had seen being setup was for the evening’s entertainment program. A local band had been contracted to sing Bollywood numbers. Oh what an ordeal that was, but then there was a section of the people downstairs in the hut who were enjoying the performance. We had our dinner and we glad to be back in our room away from the cacophony. But I must say it was quite thoughtful of the hotel to provide live music as entertainment, and I believe it’s a Saturday night weekly feature.

Mandarmani Revisited: The Tuk Tuk and The Boat

We walked out all attired for fun and frolic on the beach. OK let me tell you that this isn’t the kind of beach that you’re going to find Baywatch kind of bikini-clad girls or the surf and sand. It’s a wide beach between the water and us. And the sand’s not the sandy kind but more of fine clay like type. Of course that’s what makes it hard so that cars can traverse the distance on the beach right up to the resorts.

So as we strolled towards the water, we came across a local transport vehicle called a tuk-tuk. It’s basically a tricycle goods carrier with a diesel motor and the back is used to ferry people instead of goods. The driver told us he’d take us to the end of the beach if we paid him Rs. 200. We drove a hard bargain and brought it down to Rs. 100 for the four of us and hopped on, two on each side with our legs dangling over the sides. The tuk-tuk, and now I realise why they call it that, because the motor sounds exactly like that, took off and we had the lovely sea breeze blowing through our hairs. After several minutes we noticed a red beach up ahead and the tuk-tuk driver slowed the vehicle to tell us what it was. And the closer we got to it, the more amazing it got; because now that red beach seemed to be moving and slowly disintegrating. Its only when we were really close that we noticed it was millions of red crabs.

So we stopped the tuk-tuk and hopped off walking towards the creatures that were rapidly disappearing burrowing themselves into the sand. All of a sudden I came upon this one crab on one of the tyre tracks and though that maybe the poor creature had been run over, only to be told by the tuk-tuk driver that it was alive and lying like a statue out of fright and being unable to burrow into the had sand that had been formed by the tyres. So I nudged the little clawed fellow and sure enough it broke into some sort of a jig, running on its legs as though standing up to me and in all sorts of circles. When I looked up I noticed our tuk-tuk driver had one in his hands holding it by both its claws and showing us what they looked like up close and personal.

We got back on our tuk-tuk and though we found a nice piece of beach where the water looked really inviting, our tuk-tuk driver refused to drop us there, because he claimed that the water was really deep there and it wasn’t a good place to go in to the water and it was his duty to drop us off at a safe place. So he did a little while later at nearly the same place we had got on in the first place. Anyway it was a nice piece of calm beach, so we walked towards the water. It took us quite a while to get about thigh deep into the water and we had walked quite a far bit out into the water.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Mandarmani Revisited: The Journey

I still remember the last trip to Mandarmani quite vividly and the trouble we had run into over there. But that didn't stop me from going back to the calm and serene beach.

We had made the plan for a while, but it was crystallized once we made an advance booking and to my surprise it was the same place I had stayed on my last visit. So we left on the early morning of 22nd December. Early as in at about 6.30 am we finally were on our way. It didn’t take us too long before we were on the Vidyasagar Setu and paying the Rs. 10 Toll at the Toll Plaza. Once past the Toll Plaza I was glad to see that the Kona Expressway had been repaired and the drive from there to the Mumbai Highway was much shorter than I expected. I missed the turn off left to get on the Mumbai Highway due to some really thick fog and got onto the flyover, which took us on the opposite side to the Delhi Highway. But a few hundred meters down I took a u-turn and we were back on track heading towards Kharagpur according to the Road signs. Shortly we were at the Toll Plaza of the National Highway and Rs. 30 got us through onto that long stretch of well-constructed and plain black stretch of tarmac. I was tempted to step on the gas. And so I did.

Before long and I must really say before long, we were at the Kolaghat Flyover and we turned off the Mumbai Highway towards Kolaghat. From here the road starts taking a turn for the worse. The highway is still under construction. So it’s a four-lane highway all right except that all the four lanes were on one side. So we kept oscillating from one side of the highway to the other after every couple of kilometers. OK to make it a bit clearer, the highway was being constructed one side at a time, but they weren’t constructing the entire one side at a time, so sometimes we were driving on the right side, which was constructed, and sometimes on the left side. At one point there was no highway at all, just a mud track.

We finally came upon the round about I had been waiting for and from there we took the road going to the right. It wasn’t a pleasant turn into that stretch. The road seemed non-existent and only filled with bricks to even it out a bit. But we managed to get through the mêlée of traffic at that turn and then headed through a narrow highway lined on both sides by villages and lots of trees. Ponds were a common sight on both sides when we came upon settlements. We stopped for some tea finally. Our maiden stop for tea and sandwiches that had been thoughtfully prepared, served as breakfast. A little later one road caught my imagination. We came upon it and suddenly it was like a black serpent running through the fields and the only thing that kept it at bay was a line of tall eucalyptus trees on either side.

We finally came upon the last bridge up a winding road and then over it onto an elevated road through fields that seemed would get flooded when the tide was really high. I say so because there were fishing boats in the fields and the only way I could possible see them getting there was if the fields were inundated. Once we had done this narrow stretch, it was a turn off for the worst. A left turn, which if you didn’t really know would probably drive past. This was the last 14 km stretch through absolutely ‘kuchha’ village road to Mandarmani. Parts were metalled and mostly it was a dust track. We drove through this till we came upon the Bund, which separated us from the beach and sea, which lay on the other side. This was the final tricky part, wherein I had to step on the gas and race through the final incline of the Bund through loose sand, which I did, and then over the hump and downwards with the entire stretch of sea in front of us. Once over I turned right and started driving down the beach, making sure I stayed on the tracks that had been embedded in the sand and made it hard. If I strayed off this track my car would get stuck in the sand and I knew this from past experience.

We drove for a bit and finally came upon our hotel. Hotel Debraj looked all too familiar and I knew exactly what the place was going to be like. But I have to add; it’s seen a drastic change sine the last visit. New cottage and the so-called swimming pool had water. I parked the car in the parking lot and it had clocked exactly 200 kms on the electronic trip meter, since we left Kolkata. We had arrived a bit early. Since check out time was 12 noon, and we had arrived at about 10.30 am, we were given a temporary room to freshen up. Finally when we got our rooms, we put our stuff in and hit the beach, but not before placing our lunch order.