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Cycling Diaries: Surat

I have spent over 10 months now in Surat and undoubtedly, the diamond city is the most cycle friendly city in India that I have seen thus far. Here, the folks actually have a cycling culture. One would be hard pressed to find as many Hero Hawks and BSA Machs in any other city. Not only do kids cycle to school, a fairly good percentage of them use road bikes instead of the ubiquitous MTBS/ATBs (mountain/all terrain bikes) that go for popular cycles in this country. The city has a cycling group and several retailers of high quality cycles including imported ones. The presence of such fellow cyclists indubitably makes for a better riding experience.

My Firefox Road Pro 2200

My Firefox Road Pro 2200

It is not as if Surat has more sports lovers than other places. The phenomenon is more likely due to the awfully good roads. The sheer quality and width of the roads is so inspirational that within five days of landing here, I went ahead and bought a Firefox Road Pro 2200, complete with a headlight, blinkers and a speedometer confident that if the machine was built for any Indian city, it was built for Surat. The city road infrastructure is growing at such breakneck speed that in just 10 months of my being here, one flyover and one bridge have been constructed from scratch and several are nearing completion.  The roads are mostly pothole free and extremely wide so that road space is not an issue.

The Sardar bridge sits over the Tapti river:one of five bridges In Surat (one is under construction)

The Sardar bridge sits over the Tapti river:one of five bridges In Surat (one is under construction)

Traffic Sense (or the absence of it)

In other cities, people work in contravention of traffic rules; they take pleasure in breaking them and getting away with it. Surat isn’t one of those cities. It is a city in which people simply have not heard of traffic rules. They may know the very obvious ones like, stop when a policeman blows a whistle or, reverse your motorcycle when you see challan-slip wielding cops and you obviously do not have a helmet on, but they have no idea about concepts like right of road or the free left turn or wrong and right sides of the road. They simply do not know. So I have seen sights like a huge bus coming down the wrong side of a main road at 50 kmph at 10 o clock in the night or motorcycles standing at right angles to traffic direction at red lights or vehicles stopping in the middle of the road at main traffic circles and consulting for directions.

Cycle’s Mileage

Moving back to cycling, recently, I managed to measure something you folks might have never thought was measurable. It was an unintended consequence of my cycling expedition to purchase some merchandise, I ended up calculating the mileage of my cycle! For 25 km, I had to tank up twice on Mousambi  juice drinking three glasses of 300 ml each. At Rs 20 a glass it is about Rs. 67 per litre, same price as petrol! 25 km per litre of Mousambi* does not seem good as compared to 55 kmpl on a motorcycle guzzling on petrol. Next week, I am gonna experiment with a different juice.

*Disclaimer: Performance is contingent on the user, traffic, temperature, humidity and sugar content of the juice.


From the Pen of The Vindictive Aloo

That’s it! I can’t hear anymore whining regarding me. I am sick of those hostel tales about how the messwallahs use aloo everywhere and how the local bai does no better. I have been hearing for ages complaints about how tasteless I am. I can’t take it anymore. After watching a few high adrenaline movies related to vengeance, V for Vendetta notable among them, I have decided that it’s time to strike back at my critics.

Why am I a staple food which so few love? You’d think  Inzammam ul Haq would have been happy to be crowned the title of the world’s most popular vegetable by an Indian fan in 1998 but instead he crowned him(with a bat). I have diligently provided the world with nutrition but have you ever heard a single poet going into rhapsodies over me? No instead they focus on useless things like rustling leaves and tweeting birds. Why do community kitchens and mothers short of time swear by my usefulness but no one says that she loves me? They can love bhindi, gobhi, mutter, even baingan but not aloo.

It is not my fault that every choice in a hostel menu inevitably has me: dum aloo, aloo gobhi, aloo paneer, aloo mutter, aloo pyaz, aloo palak (huh? a disastrous combination, trust me) masala dosa, french fries, mixed vegetables, samosa, aloo chop. I am good. However, I do not want to have the entire dish to myself. It is the fault of those **%^&&*!** cooks???  That my co-vegetables are reduced to the role of heroine in a typical  macho Bollywood flick, the ones where the heroine only exists for the purpose of a couple of songs and bachao scenes and the hero hogs the entire movie. Believe me, the actual recipes were free and fair unlike the dishes that are actually dished out, all except for aloo palak i.e. That one only makes me feel inferior to paneer.

I am cheap and easy to store. You cannot blame me for that. The **%^&&*!** cooks???  have misused me. Not only do they keep their costs low; their campaign of producing terrible tasting sloppy food that has only me is meant to put people off their food. That keeps mess bills low. It also helps the neighbourhood restaurants. In fact, I am pretty sure that there are some underground contracts which these benefiting restaurants sign with the authorities of the hostel mess.

I am full of carbohydrates and contribute to weight gain. Right, but I also contain no fat or cholesterol. I am rich in potassium, calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, sulphur ,copper and vitamins A &B. I have a fair amount of good protein and substantial amount of alkaline salts. I am one of the favourites of traditional Chinese medicine. Besides this, I really do not subscribe to the view that carbs are bad for you.

Only Mc Donalds by charging Rs 50(+taxes) for a tiny amount of French Fries and by aggressively marketing the Mc Aloo Tikki gives me the premium place I deserve.

P.S: The term Vindictive Aloo was coined by the mama of the owner of this blog after eating a horrible version of Vindaloo in Goa.

P.P.S: Now, that I have had my say, I terminate my hijack of this blog.

Car Breaker…12 o’ clock Level…Closing!!

Had my Dadu been an air force pilot, this is how he would have reacted on that day when we had our first encounter with this apparition from hell. I was eight then. We were driving along at a jolly pace when Dadu suddenly braked sharply and the car hit something low and solid. Thanks to my being a kid, my interview with the car ceiling did not quite reach the kissing stage. My grandmother was not quite as fortunate and Dadu had to bear the brunt of her anger. It was then that Dadu coined the term, one which I am inclined to patent, the car-breaker, for it was no ordinary speed breaker that had made its presence thus felt. It was a creation about two-thirds the height of an ordinary speed breaker but one tenth its width.

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The effect of the car breaker was and is devastating. Cars moving along at 60 kmph drop to 6 kmph before you can say ‘What did I do to deserve this?’ In fact, I believe it has a connection with the advent of power brakes in every car in India. Anyway, the word I used is devastating. You can see its awesomeness in the shards of glass that litter the front and back of every car- breaker; these are usually remnants of doomed tail lights but it may not always be restricted to that.

The car breaker (CB) has no ideal speed to drive over it, none at all. I have tried it at 50 with terrible results. I have tried it at 30 with terrible results. Only at 10 did I note an improvement. However, the rapid deceleration and subsequent acceleration of the car proved nauseating and the jolt became almost a pleasing option.

In fact even the casual walker has sometimes felt the effects of this particularly efficient tripper.

A variant of this work of art has multiple tomb-like structures arrayed in a series. The effect is similar to that of sailing aboard a ship soon to be ship wrecked or riding a dromedary camel that has been taking tips from a kangaroo.

Following the caste system

Whether we like it or not, India is the last of caste and speed breakers too follow it. The width of the speed breaker is inversely proportional to the width of the road. The larger, wider, gentler speed breakers are allocated to the bigger cities of India. Their ostentatious white coat of paint mocked at their lesser cousins in smaller cities and towns. It was only natural for the oppressed classes to strike back. The CB is the champion of the lower class and has been unleashed with vengeance in the smaller cities in India. It acts as the ultimate class leveler. It is so cheap and easy to build that many homes now own one CB on the doorstep instead of a pet dog. It makes traffic stop for you. Most importantly, it destroys rich people’s cars, especially the imported ones having low road clearance.

User Response

India is the land of jugaad. Responding to this new threat was necessary for the law-abiding roadizens of this country. So let us jump to the manoeuvring techniques for car breakers.

Technique #1 The lesser Evil: The vehicle makes contact with the lowest point of the CB which due to some queer construction technique is usually at the sides. There may initially be no difference between the heights of this point and of other points but soon enough, we note a significant depression at this point. The point becomes points and victory is attained.

Technique #2 The Road Gully: The ingenious scooterist not only skips the CB but the road as well. He conducts a deft manoeuvre of moving to the left of the CB and emerging unscathed by moving back to the road on the other side. The car-wallah is at least partially able to execute this as well. Soon, the place beside the CB becomes a neat gully. Be warned, the road gully can turn out to be a road ditch in the monsoons.

Technique #3 Seek and Destroy: By far the most effective of the techniques, this seeks the source of the trouble and removes it. Sections of the car breaker are removed or destroyed producing large gaps which are then used as passage.

Technique #4 Stiff Upper Lip: Remember your ancestors who stood up bravely to face the iniquities of life and charge the enemy. It has the advantage of being the fastest of the techniques but the disadvantage of being the most painful. This one is for the wealthier lot who look for excuses to buy a car.

In spite of these brilliant tactics, the shards of glass thus continue to serve their decorative function as a white carpet ahead of the CB, the reason being that their simultaneous use has the side effect of causing violent deadlocks. So heed the warning, when you hear bandit…car breaker… 12 o’ clock… level…closing!!

12 o’ clock  means directly in front. Also called bullseye. Level means level i.e same altitude.

All photographs have been clicked by yours truly.

Tiny Roommate(s)

First Blood
It started with a squeak and the sound of moving polyethylene. I moved towards the source of the sound to investigate. The result was mutually startling. Both of us did not like each other. The mouse leapt out from the sill and disappeared into the neighbour’s room through a crack under the door.
Now, my room in Delhi shares a common door with the neighbouring room. I immediately began constructing a newspaper fortress under the door. It consumed a lot of paper but by the end of it, I was confident of thwarting this new challenger.The fortress served its purpose for some time. At least I thought so.  How wrong I was, was proved one night a month later, when I saw the creature poking its head in some utensils. I ran to scare it away and it took the now familiar route under the refrigerator and out of the door.Sure enough, the paper fortress had gaps. I began plugging these with the determination of an engineer doing urgent repair work. The enthusiasm wore off soon enough. It became apparent that this mouse was so tiny that it only needed the tiniest of gaps. Besides this, it knew how to cut through paper. At 1 a.m., here I was, having digested my first defeat at the hands of a mouse.
Cat and Mouse

I decided to take a hands on approach to the menace. So on its next intrusion, I began attacking it with a long ladle. The cunning mouse kept out of harm’s way behind the gas and I gave up after  some time. It was jumping up the gas pipe to climb up and reach the otherwise unattainable sill. I have to concede, the mouse is really gifted at the art of jumping.

Another time, the mouse hid so smartly behind some utensils that I began doubting my eys at having seen it at all. Even drum beats on the utensils did not make it reveal its presence. The moment I moved back to the computer, voilà, swishing sounds.

The next night, there were some grains of rice that had been spilt near the burner. Sure enough, the mouse began to nibble the savoury snacks. This time, I did not do anything but just observed its movements. I couldn’t have done anything either because by the time I would have grabbed anything, the thing would have fled.

The entry of the tiny roommate made me change my habit of keeping half eaten snacks around the room. Now everything was kept secure. When I left for my home in Bhopal, I made sure I had kept everything in the fridge or the almirah.

On my return, I found things as I had left them and began self congratulating myself on this victory. Little did I know that I had stupidly kept one cardboard box with packets of noodles and other crunchy snacks at the mercy of the mouse. I was scared to open the box, knowing not what to expect. It turned out to be nothing more than empty wrappers of Maggi and Haldirams. The mouse had determined me to have a healthy diet and had thus had nobly sacrificed its six packs by eating all of the junk stuff.

Discretionary tastes

The mouse, who is growing fast, now has a tiny brother whom it chases whenever it is bored. The two of them spend sleepless nights looking for food and education. They have been ingenious enough to climb to the almirah top and access their favourite food: annual reports of infrastructure and realty companies. It also digests Business Standard in full beating MBA students to the task. This chewing gum I have placed at various locations as I do not approve of computer wires serving the same purpose. I now wash every unused utensil every day and keep no important books lying around.

I have allowed a cat to transgress into the room a couple of times so that it can scare away the mice or better but it has not worked. I have been tempted by ads of Mortein Rat kill and have even kept some in the room but somehow have not been able to bring myself to using it. I blame Warner Bros, Hollywood and National Geographic. By making ‘Mickey Mouse’, ‘Ratatouille’, ‘Tom and Jerry’ and countless documentaries on the lives of smaller creatures, they have forestalled my offense.The sound of moving polyethylene and a obscure scratching sound confirms that it approves.

The Subzi Haat

The Subzi-Haat or simply the Haat is a place that simply radiates life. There  is life in the cartloads of fresh vegetables which are soon going to infuse fresh energy into the systems of thousands of human beings. There is life in the hundreds of vegetable sellers who shriek at the top of their voices trying to attract customers to their vegetables. There is life in the enthusiasm with which neighbourhood aunties bargain for five rupees with the subzi wallah. There is excitement in the way that prices drop suddenly across the market because of the failings of a particular vegetable seller who himself is driven to desperation because of the  fear of having to carry his goods back home; the life at the haat, incredibly increases as the time of market closure approaches with unbelievable deals being offered.  There is life in my effort to locate that particular vegetable or fruit seller who sold me those capital radishes at that throwaway price last time and in my failure to do so among the sheer numbers.

The one-handed fumble for change(the other one is grasping a helmet or a bag), the painful long jostle through the crowds back to the car/bike with arms bursting from the weight of those two bulging shopping bags, the frustration of seeing peas at 12 rupees after buying at 15 rupees, the insincere consolation to your mind that yours must be the better peas, the impulse buying of the 12 rupee peas as well, the realization that your refrigerator and stomachs simply do not have the space to accommodate those bulging shopping bags: the subzi haat is an experience of life that not everyone steeped in the metro life might quite have either the chance or the inclination to savour.

P.S: The economic angle: The haat is the perfect example of perfect competition that economics tries to peddle. Demand meets supply and high prices directly hit sales. The prices are also such that everyone is able to participate thus leading to a much more realistic price discovery.