Friday, June 30, 2006

First blog hiatus

I know its been a while since my last blog. Ever since I started this blog, I've been trying to post something every 3-4 days. But somehow, that last week has just flown by, and I haven't had a moment to sit and write something up. Work has been busy, with my team lead gone and me forced to take over his responsibilities. I can't deny that its been fun and a great learning experience, but it takes a lot out of you at work. At the end of each day, you just want to come home, get a beer and chill in front of the TV.

But tomorrow, I'm heading to Yellowstone National Park. That land of the grizzlies, elks and bisons. I can't but get excited about the trip, and hope it would be a respite from the daily monotony of work and a great opportunity for me to recharge my batteries, to come back refreshed. I hope to take up the cudgel at work and at blogging when I get back. But till then, I hope you all have a great weekend and a grand 4th.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

A few memories and a regret

He entered the bistro, has it been really that long?
Her call had come, out of the blue and unexpected
He searched the crowd and met her eye, she waved to him
He slowly made his way towards her, at once apprehensive and excited

With handshakes and pleasantries, they took their seats
The same table in their favorite corner, by the bay
Both unsure, hesitating, wondering where to start
Were they strangers now? Have time and space had their say?

A strand of hair somehow separates itself from the impeccable french braid
With a casual flick, she puts it back in its place
The scent of her nearness overpowers his senses
And despite his efforts, he couldn't help but stare at her lovely face

The night was warm and the air was heavy
The beer was cold, and her marguerita on the way
Many things to talk about, plenty to reminisce
A million thoughts in his head, but nothing to say

As the night wound on and tentativeness eased into familiarity
The barriers broke down and they went back a few years
She talked about her children, her home and her dog
About her career, her passion and her hidden fears

And soon it was time to leave, back to their lives
They parted with a firm hug and a light kiss
As he watched her turn and waltz down the aisle
He heard himself think, how did it get to this?

Those glorious years, spent as friends and lovers
The world had been an exciting place, things to discover and forget
He had had his chance, his opportunity, and he had let it slip
Now, nothing left of it, but a few memories and a regret...

Monday, June 19, 2006

Sathanur Days - Part 5: A story about friendship

For an introduction to this series, please start here

Technically, this is not part of my Sathanur experience, since this is not my story. Infact, the events in this story happened even before my dad had a shot at being born, because my grand dad hadn't met his match yet. I mean the word 'match' in all its connotatins and 'pun'notations (another of my might copyright in not too distant future words!). But this story was set in Sathanur, and hence qualifies to be a part of my Sathanur series (plus, its my blog!). Anyways, without digressing further, let me set the stage here.

When I visited India this year, my grand parents came and stayed over with us. And this gave me a chance to spend some quality time with them, and also to hear some of their Sathanur experiences. My grandpa had quite a few interesting tales to share. And when I naratted one of them to my friends Ram and Miss W yesterday, they had a laughing fit (the beer/wine and the pleasant summer evening on the balcony might have had something to do with it) and told me I should write this on my blog. Since I'm neither known as a particularly good writer or a great story-teller, I have nothing to lose. so here goes (as narrated by my grand dad)...

This happened when I was a kid, probably a teenager. I had a best friend called 'Subbu'. Although he lived in another town, we were inseparable. Once, Subbu came over and announced that he was going to visit 'Swami malai' (a temple town) to attend the village fair, and that he was planning on buying a deer for himself (a live one he could play with, not an item on a restaurant menu!). And he asked me if I would need one as well. I thought long and hard and told him I don't need a deer, but maybe he could get me a colt (baby horse) if he could find a good deal. Why I told him that, I have no idea. I did not particularly need a horse at that moment in time, nor did I know how to feed or what to do with one.

At this juncture, a brief news item about Kalaignar Karunanithi (our current Chief Minister) on Jaya TV (Jayalalitha's rival network to KK's Sun TV) seemed to distract my grand father a bit. Since KK was someone he loved to hate, he watched the short Kalaignar-bashing clip with unabashed joy. Then he digressed a little bit to tell me about the time when he was on a walk with a friend when they ran into Karunanithi by a tea stall (before he became famous). His friend apparently knew the budding politician, and Karunanithi in turn talked his friend into buying him a cup of tea. After muttering a few choice words that KK would be happy not to hear about, my grand dad turned back to me.

Anyways, so Subbu came back a few days later and told me "dei Sambu (short for Sambasivan), I bought the colt like you asked me to. When should I bring it by?". I looked at the celing, scrubbed my chin and told him "What do I do with a colt now? I don't have a place to keep it. I can't keep it in the cow shed you know. On top of that, I wouldn't know how to feed it or anything. Why don't you keep it for a little while till I get some things sorted out at my end".

Being the good friend that he is, he agreed without a murmur and left. I didn't hear about the horse for another few years till he brought it up again "dei Sambu, the colt has grown into a beautiful and healthy horse. Don't you want to take custody of it, or at the very least, see what it looks like?" To this, I replied "Now that you've taken it upon yourself to raise the horse, the animal might find it difficult to adjust to me. Why don't you keep it for the time being? I'll come by and take a look at it sometime". Again, Subbu agreed and went on his way.

It was all peace and quiet for the next few years till Subbu brought up the horsey issue again "dei Sambu, the horse is all grown up now and ready to be tethered to a vehicle. Should I bring it by?". To this, I replied "I don't have any use for a horse-driven carriage just yet. I have my hands full with all the bullock carts around the house. Why don't you do the honors yourself?". As you might have guessed, Subbu again left without so much as a whimper.

A few years passed before the subject came up again. "dei Sambu, the horse and carriage are doing great. I can't hold on to them any longer. Its time you take them. What do you say?". this time I was ready and told him "dei Subbu, I thought about it. I don't have any use for the horse/carriage. Why don't you just sell off the horse?". I expected some sort of abuse or name-calling from him, but that did not happen. Again, Subbu went on his way without a word.

At this point, my grand dad paused a bit, to enjoy the last of his filter kapi (coffee). When he was absolutely sure that not a bit remained in his stainless steel glass, he handed it over to my mom, wiped his lips, cleared his throat and continued with his narration.

I thought I'd heard the last of the horse episode and went on with my life. But apparently not. A few months later, Subbu visited me and handed over a bag. Inside was some cash, 400 Rupees to be exact. Subbu simply told me "dei Sambu, this is the money I got from selling off your horse. Hope you find this reasonable".

I was absolutely stunned. I couldn't even begin to comprehend the fact that he was giving me the money that he had earned by putting in his time and effort into raising the horse over several years. His selflessness touched me. I pointed out the obvious to him "dei Subbu, it was you who bought the horse. It was you who fed and raised and took such good care of it. It was you who bought the carriage and rode it. The horse belongs to you, and this is your money". Subbu thought about it a little bit more, and agreed reluctantly to keep the money.

So Karthik, this is what friendship is all about. There are friends, and then there are friends. And there was none better than Subbu. We would do anything for each other unconditionally and unselfishly, without a question.

My grand mom had joined us midway through the tale. And when he finished up the story, I could see both their eyes clouding as they remembered their dear friend, now long dead and cremated.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

India in WI - Oh no, not again!

I hate it when the Indian cricket team tours the West Indies . Seriously, I hate it. And when I'm at it, let me also add that I hate the rain, Chanderpaul and Lara. What is it with our West Indian tours? Its always one thing thing or the other. Just rewind back a little and think about how many sure-win matches have been snatched away from our grasps. Ofcourse, some of them are of our own making. The game under Sachin's captaincy, when Indian could not get a 100 odd runs and threw away a game they should have won, comes to mind.

But I thought this current tour would present India with the best opportunity to put a West Indies series win under their collective belts. After all, West Indies is not the team it once was. Not even close. They were just coming off of a pay dispute over their board. They had quite a few untested youngsters. Their pace attack is like watching Ramesh Krishnan playing in slow motion. And Lara would be a senior citizen in most countries. Okay, that last statement was an exaggeration, I agree. But at 38, he's not getting any younger.

Ofcourse, India too have their problems, chief among which is the fact that Sachin, the greatest, is not part of the team. Still, we do boast of quite a few talented youngsters, who have been tested in the one-day arena and came up trumps. I, like most people, thought this would be a cake walk. That India would run all over the Windies, and then some more. That it'll be such a David-Goliath mismatch that they would have to stop it mid-series on humanitarian grounds. But no, the famous India suck in the Windies syndrome has reared its ugly head once again.

After losing the one-day series miserably, and then letting WI take a huge lead in the first test, I thought India had lost its mojo. Then came Jaffer's double ton followed by a superb bowling performance. It finally came down to whether India could remove the last three WI wickets in something like 17 overs on the last day. I was at work, following cricinfo text commentary and biting my nails. Lets just say that productivity was not on the top of my list right then. Then it boiled down to getting the last wicket in 3 overs. And ofcourse, India couldn't do it. WI celebrated like they'd won the game. I heard reports that Dravid came out smiling. I do admit I like him a lot. But right that moment, I could've socked him in the jaw. Sometimes, you have to be a street fighter rather than a gentleman.

The second test was even more heart-breaking. India did everything right, including 3 centuries and getting WI to follow on. With WI needing to bat the entire last 2 days to save the game, we were ready to get our champagne bottles out (Not me, it was still a working day!). And then, what happens? It f@#$in rains, that's what happens. It rains cats and dogs and the fourth day's play is called off. Just when we thought no play is going to be possible on the final day, their groundsmen do a splendid job (looks like the WI board does not have enough money to bribe them!). So again, we need to get 9 WI wickets on the last day. And then Lara along with Chanderpaul, that perennial thorn in the Indian flesh, come to spoil the party. By the time, we get them, its too late. And the Windies scrape their way to another draw, this time by 3 wickets.

I'm only thankful for one thing - that I did not sign up for the live streaming package. Once I'd bitten my finger nails off, and then my toe nails with some effort, I would've gone skydiving without a parachute. What can we expect from the next 2 games? Can India pull it off from here? Will fate, weather, Lara and a million other factors again conspire to deprive this valiant Indian team of a well-deserved series victory? Who knows? Let's just wait and watch. In the meantime, I've taken to actually working at the office, in hopes that this would somehow be less stressful for my heart.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

The man who never cried...

He never cried. That was how people remembered him. He was tired of everyone stereotyping him that way. He was considered strong. A rock. Immovable. A shoulder for everyone to cry on. A God send. He was not supposed to have any emotions. And even if he did, he did not have the right to express them. Everyone else could have his or her moment. But no, not him. After all, he's never been capable of it. Never felt the need to. Did he even have any emotions? Who cares?

All his life, he had been labelled thus. His parents passed away when he was an infant. Even now, as an adult, people come up to him and tell him "If only your parents were alive, they would be so proud of you". And he would shrug, give them a sad smile and tell them "That was a long time ago". "Do you remember them?". "Well, not a lot. As I said, that was a long time ago". What use was it. What was the point of telling them "Yes, I remember my father and mother. I wish they were still with me". Would it solve anything?

He was not always like this. As a child, he used to throw tantrums and cry incessantly. At the slightest provocation, his eyes would cloud, and his tap would open. Tears would start rolling out, and he would cry. He would cry as if there were no tomorrow. People thought it was a way for him to vent his feelings. After all, hadn't he lost his mother when he needed her most?

But as he grew up and learnt the ways of the world, something inside him turned cold. It ceased to exist. Nothing touched him anymore. He could take the most tragic news without so much as a blink of an eye. Happy news deserved even less attention. People thought he had grown up. He had become a man. Men do not cry. They do not express their feelings or emotions. They were supposed to be dependable. A rock for others to sit and rest on, as they needed a respite from their daily lives. He didn't mind it. He liked being there for everyone around him. If people found him strong and dependable, then so be it. After all, their problems and hurt did not affect him one little bit. He could stay aloof, and therein provide the comfort they sought. And so he thought.

He was always available. And always willing to listen. People would come to him and gossip. Opposing parties would come to him and vent their feelings. He was supposed to be everyone's confidante. Someone who would never break his code of silence, and let their secrets out. He would patiently hear them out, give a smile and an understanding nod, and reassure them. In his life, he charted his own path. He had never depended on anyone or anything other than his own abilities and talent. But he could recognize the weaknesses in everyone around him. He would never look down upon them, but he could somehow understand them. He never judged. He never ever judged. Some people called him indifferent, others non-committal. He could see the ugly side in everyone, but he chose to see the good side. No one chose to be bad. That was his philosophy in life. That's probably why he never spoke bad of anyone. Never ever held a grudge. He realized that, for the most part, all that they needed was someone to talk to. And he could be that someone. Whether he liked it or not, he was that someone.

It was a glorious summer evening. He had just finished his run along the beach. He did not run to keep fit or have an athlete's body. He ran because he loved to run. His thought process was simple. Uncomplicated. As he sat there by the ocean, watching the brilliant horizon respite with glorious shades that no artist would ever manage to capture, he looked around him. There were kids playing in the sand, with proud parents watching. Waiting to pick up their children when they fell, as children usually do. He saw a couple walking, hand in hand, complete in the company of each other. He saw a couple arguing, the woman crying, and the man helpless. He saw a mother breast-feeding her newborn. He saw the waves, incessant, inevitable and infinite. Repeating their routine - coming ashore and receding, coming ashore and receding. As they have been doing for eons, before man was a form of fish in the oceans of the world.

And then it happened. Something inside him gave way. Tears welled up in his eyes, and started streaking down his cheeks. He did not make an attempt to halt the tide, or hide them from curious onlookers. He did not care that children were pointing him out to their parents. That the happy couple and the sad couple were gawking at him. It seemed completely natural. Long due. He did not move. As the sun slowly descended on the horizon, in a blaze of fire and orange and a billion colors in between, he sat there with his hands by his side. And he cried.

Saturday, June 10, 2006


There is a scene in Fanaa when Aamir and Kajol finally express their love and hug each other. The camera zooms out gracefully, and you sit there mesmerized as both these actors display completely contrasting emotions effortlessly, in line with their characters. They take you into their minds and share their secrets with you. That's when you realize just how good these two are. The intensity of their feelings, and the actors' ability to emote them effortlessly, just overpower you.

I went for Fanaa on a friday night at an AMC 30 near where I live. Luckily, I listened to Miss W and we reached the theater around 20 mins early and found ourselves comfortable seats. As it got close to showtime, people just kept streaming in, and very soon there was not a seat to spare. So they opened the neighboring movie hall for an unscheduled screening (it was a multiplex) to accomodate the extra crowd. I couldn't believe it. A foreign movie that has a regular 3-4 shows everyday at a suburbian theater in the Midwest is still running housefull after a week.

The movie was pretty good, without bordering on the brilliant. The first half is fast and enjoyable, with its talented cast and dialogues, great locales captured timelessly by Ravichandran's photography, and some catchy music. Its the usual stuff though - boy meets girl, boy charms girl, boy and girl fall in love and then the boy has a dark other side. We start seeing glimpses of what's in store later - patriotism/nationalism (with Aamir in the movie, can this be far behind?), love or country type of thing. By intermission, the movie has gained substantial momentum and you see a lot of potential in the storyline, and can't wait to find out how its going to span out. Unfortunately, the second half never manages to get going, and the movie itself draws to an predictable and inevitable end. I don't want to play spoilsport and discuss the story here though.

I read somewhere that the scenes involving Aamir and Kajol are too heavy, because both these actors bring a lot of intensity. I did not have a problem with this, and infact, quite enjoyed them pitting their substantial acting skills aginst each other. Kajol looks younger and more ravishing than you last saw her, and its hard to believe that she's been away for a while. She pretty much carries the movie. Aamir, on the other hand, has started showing his age, but still charms his way through romantic scenes. Apparently, the Kashmir parts of the movie were shot in Poland (because of unrest in Kashmir). Ravichandran's photography and visuals are breath-taking and linger long after you leave the theater.

The scenes when Aamir courts Kajol with his non-stop stream of Urdu Shayaris are some of the best in the movie. But then I thought to myself "These dohas/shayaris are a scam. Even I can write 2 related lines in Hindi and repeat each line twice...". So after much thought and effort, here's what I came up with:

Pyaar to hona hi tha...
Pyaaaaaaarrr (with stress) tho hona hi thaaa...
chaddi tho dhona hi tha...

(For those unfortunate souls who lack the kind of mastery that I have over Hindi/Urdu, this is how it roughly translates "Love had to happen... Underwear needed to be washed...")

Thank you! thank you! thank you! All contributions can be sent to me via Paypal :-)

Bottomline: The movie is definitely worth a watch, especially if you are a fan of Aamir or Kajol, or like me, both. Just make sure you don't set your expectations sky-high before you go.

Disclaimer: The author refuses to assume any moral responsibility or honor any refund requests, if this post convinced you to watch the movie, and you did not end up liking it...

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

BITS and pieces - reservation comes to Pilani

After years of resisting Government interference. by avoiding UGC grants and federal funding and being supported primarily by the Birla group, BITS Pilani finally got bullied into the reservation mess by Arjun Singh and his goons. Rashmi Bansal summarizes this fiasco in her aptly titled post Another one BITS the dust?

On May 29, the very day the Supreme Court observed that quotas can divide the nation and asked the Government to explain its rationale behind the 27% OBC quotas, HRD Minister Arjun Singh further tightened the quota screws on the higher-education sector, both public and private.

In a note prepared that day for the Cabinet, his Ministry has proposed a legislation with provisions that give the Government unprecedented power not only to impose quotas in over 100 “deemed universities” over and above 32 Central institutions but also to regulate their fees, selection procedure—and even take punitive action.

So not just IITs, IIMs and AIIMS, the institutions which are brought into the 27% OBC quota net include Birla Institute of Technology and Science, Pilani; Manipal Academy of Higher Education; Pune’s Symbiosis International Education Centre and the Tata Institute of Social Sciences.

We BITSians have always been fiercely proud of ourselves. We knew BITS Pilani could have had better libraries, labs and furniture if only we went begging to UGC for funding. But we realized that this would come with strings attached like reservations, entrance exam mandates and such. And we decided we would rather have the best students than the best facilities. We were secure in the knowledge that only the creme de la creme of India would qualify to be our classmates and competitors at BITS. We were admired when we graduated, and the BITS brand name was second only to the IITs in India.

Well, say goodbye to the perfect world, because politicians like Arjun Singh have decided to dishonor the sanctity of private and elite universities and bring them all under Government control. I have no idea how the Government can suddenly manipulate the constitution so they can exercise control over institutes like BITS. What's next? Can these so-called OBCs have job reservation quotas in Reliance, Infosys and Wipro once they graduate from BITS and IITs through their reservation quotas?

Don't get me wrong. I believe that India has to have some kind of affirmative action in place to accelerate the development of those who have been left woefully behind in our society. But such over-arching and generic reservation schemes will only do more harm than good - they will further divide our society on the basis of class and cause resentment and hostility between them. More thought should go behind such schemes, and reservation should be done more along economic lines rather than just based on class. The push should come at the primary school level, so that these backward classes will have come up to par and ready to compete on equal terms with everyone else when they are ready to enter college.

Much has been said against this reservation scheme by the public, regular media and bloggers alike. But we all know how this is going to end. Even when all this was going on, I did not for a minute stop and think that my BITS Pilani would be subject to this disgrace. For we've always stood away from the rest of the pack and made our own path. We've always prided ourselves for our independence and freedom from Government-imposed quotas and restrictions. All that has been felled in one swoop. And for what?

I'm glad I graduated from BITS Pilani when I did, secure in the knowledge that I rubbed shoulders with the best India had to offer. It pains me to see that this might not be true anymore. Yes, Arjun Singh and company will leave a legacy behind. A legacy that will be India's bane. A legacy that will leave many a broken heart and shattered dream in its wake.

PS: If I have any BITSian readers, I would love to hear from you. This post will be updated with your comments.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Sathanur Days - Part 4: The Bajaj M80 mishap

For an introduction to this series, please start here

There comes a time in every boy's life, as he moves into the early stages of teenage-ism (can I copyright this word?), when he simply must move on from riding rusted Hero and BSA SLR bicycles to experiencing something more powerful - even if its just a mofa, a moped or Bajaj Chetak. So it was with me during that summer in Sathanur. I had just started secretly taking my dad's scooter for local rounds when he was not around, and was drunk on the high that you get when you can travel at 30 kmph without any physical effort. All you had to do is just tweak a handle, and feel the wind in your hair.

When I saw the second-hand Bajaj M80 that my grand dad had recently acquired, I knew I had to ride it. It was a thing of beauty and and a play in contradictions - cream with a splash of red, neither a scooter (not enough power) nor a moped (it had gears, you see!), neither a young boy's ride nor an old man's trusted friend, neither meant for city roads nor for village potholes (okay, I'll stop)... But I didn't care. All I knew was I had to get my hands on it! So when it was time to pick up my mom from her parents' place in Thiruvalangadu, a neighboring village to Sathanur (about 3 kms away), I gathered enough guts to ask my grand dad whether I could take the M80 alone and pick her up. My grand dad gave me a patient hearing and then told me that I was too young for it. Sensing a window of opportunity here (since I wasn't laughed at and ignored), I argued, pleaded and cried till he agreed to let me have my way.

That was the moment I had been waiting for. I got on the M80, stepped on the gas and sped away. I whizzed past my friends' houses hoping someone would notice me and go green with envy. After a bit of detour to prolong the joyride, I finally got on the only tar road that connected the 2 villages. The 3 km journey was a pleasure, and I worked the vehicle for all its worth. Very soon, I reached my destination, and walked into the house with a new-found gait. When my mom saw me there alone and the M80 at the gate, she managed to hide her shock pretty well. After saying our good byes, we started our journey back to Sathanur. I couldn't wait to show off my riding abilities to her.

We had just gone to the next street when I noticed a group of kids playing by the side of the road. They had seen me coming pretty fast and stayed out of my way, so I didn't bother to slow down or honk. Just when I was 2 inches from completely going past them, this one kid decided that he had to be on the other side of the road at the exact same moment. I'm not sure what made him do this, but he just took off like a prize horse out of the starting blocks. All I saw was a flash as he started running across the road right in front of me. For all I know, they might as well be handing out free passes for the latest Rajnikanth movie on this side of the road. Let me tell you something about M80 brakes - first you are scared if they'll work on time, and then you realize they do not exist! I was trying to frantically jam on the brakes and to downshift at the same moment, but there was no time and I had knocked the kid down. But more tragically, his shirt collar got stuck in my foot pedal, and I ended up dragging him on the road a good 20 ft till the M80 ground to a reluctant halt.

I was shell-shocked for a while and just sat on my vehicle staring stupidly at the kid now lying at my feet with a big gash on his forhead (I come from a long line of men who are not exactly at their best in an emergency situation!). Eventually, I got my bearings and turned around to check on my mom, but there was no one on the back seat. Just when I was wondering whether she had decided to ditch me in my hour of need and flee the spot, I noticed her sitting on the road, exactly where I had first jammed on the brakes. Apparently, the kid was not the only one I had knocked down.

By this time, a crowd had gathered there. They shoved me to a nearby house and surrounded me, while someone tried to treat the boy. As more people joined the party, I sensed a little bit of hostility in the air and it slowly started to dawn on me. There was no law or police men in these parts, and these charged up villagers were going to beat me to an inch of my life. I closed my eyes and waited for the inevitable. Just then, a passer by recognized me as "Sathanur Sambasiva Iyer's grandson" and came to my rescue. He negotiated with the 'leader' of the crowd and offered to pay the kid for his inconvenience and treatment. Somehow they arrived at a round amount of 100 rupees (a substantial sum in those day), and my mom hurried back to her parents' place to bring the booty and deposit it with the crowd 'leader'. And just like that, I was off the hook and free to go. I thanked my savior, but asked him not to mention this to my grand dad. He looked at me weirdly and went on his way. I got back home with my mom (who had to tend to her bruises). As I locked up the M80 and went in, I did not utter a word to my grand dad. As you might have guessed, I did not start the vehicle again for the rest of my vacation.

A few days later, in the middle of a TV show, my grand dad turned to me and asked me with a smile "So did you like the M80 brakes?"

Thursday, June 01, 2006

A trip to the Great Smokies

Just got back from my long weekend trip to the Smoky mountains, after a much needed R & R. The place is just picture perfect with endless mountains, lush green forests, and little creeks and big waterfalls hiding at the most unexpected places, waiting to be discovered. The Smoky Mountains National Park is located near the border of Tennessee and North Carolina, a10-12 hr drive from Chicago. Might sound a little bit far just to see a few mountains, but let me assure you that its completely worth it, and more. In fact, this was my second trip to the place.

We managed to get in some white water rafting on the Upper Pigeon river, which has around 70 rapids, including four Class 4 rapids. For the uninitiated, rapids in whiter water rafting are classified according to their difficulty level (based on a bunch of factors like water level, velocity, type of current etc.) and Class 4 is as good as it gets for amateurs. I've done this before in West Virginia, Colorado, and ofcourse, the Smokies. So I could probably call myself an 'experienced' rafter now. More than the thrill, I enjoyed the breath-taking scenery along the way.

The Abrams falls hiking trail in Cades Cove is probably the most popular and touristy hiking trail in Smokies. So ofcourse we had to do it. Its a 5 mile round trip and can be challenging if you're not prepared. The best part is at the end of the trail when you encounter the breath-taking, you guessed it right, Abrams falls. While everyone was just enjoying the falls from afar and taking pictures and such, we decided to venture in and take a mind-numbing brain-freezing shower under the falls. We also drove up to Clingmans Dome, the highest point in the Smokies to watch the sunset. As the Sun falls beyond the horizon, the layers of mountains turn a brilliant blue, giving them the name Blue Mountains.

I've decided that desis are the most boisterous travellers anywhere, beating out camera-toting Japanese, noisy drunken English and Irish men and a variety of other stereotypes. Everywhere I went, desis easily outnumbered the natives. But the problem is we always seem to travel in a 10-15 strong group. And when we're in a group, our collective desibel level increases exponentially. When we were standing in the observation tower on top of Clingmans Dome, waiting for the sunset, immersing in the beauty of the surrounding mountains and enjoying the hushed silence, there showed up a huge Gujarati gang that must have numbered around 12+ with an equal men/women ratio. They started chattering very loudly in a mix of Gujju, Hindi and some sort of accented English I couldn't quite place. And the whole scene was reduced from being a celebration of nature to Dandiya Raaz night. I wouldn't have been very surprised if they had brought out a boom box, formed a circle and started spanking each other with dandiya sticks. I really felt sorry for the other travellers. What would have been their fondest memory of their vacation was quickly turning out to be their worst nightmare.

Lest people think I'm anti-Hindi, anti-North India or something like that, I have bigger grudges against some of the Tamil gangs that showed up everywhere we went. Whether we ventured to shower in the falls or moved to a lonely rock in the wading pool to lie down, they seemed to be following us everywhere, and crowded around us. The men were dressed in jeans and pants and full hand shirts. They must've gotten up that morning with intentions of going to work, then changed their minds and decided to do the Abrams falls hiking trail instead. The women did not fare much better either. Let me reiterate this here - pink pajamas DO NOT suit south Indian women. And no, its NOT cute either if you're out of your teens.

I know I sound like a snob here, which is really not my intention. I'm sure I've been obnoxious before when I went with my gang, talked noisily in Tamil at public places and generally did not give a damn what other travellers/vacationers thought. But when I see it now from the point of view of a dispassionate observer/traveller, I don't feel so proud of our travelling etiquettes. I think there should be a limit on the maximum number of people allowed to travel in a desi group, especially Tamil, Golt and Gujjus. Maybe one day in the distant future, our men will not come rafting with sneakers and socks, our women will let go of pink pajamas and our hordes of travelling gangs might actually try to be more considerate of other travellers.