The Road to Gandolfo, Webforms, Hearing Loss info & Mum’s Birthday.

The Road to Gandolfo

I think I had read this book almost 10-12 years back and somehow ended up reading it up again. Apparently, he had put this fiction, story, book under some other pen name earlier. It is possible that I might have read it under that name and hence forgotten all about it. This book/story is full of innuendo, irony, sarcasm and basically the thrill of life. There are two main characters in the book, the first is General Mackenzie who has spent almost 3 to 4 decades being a spy/a counterintelligence expert in the Queen’s service. And while he outclasses them all even at the ripe age of 50, he is thrown out under the pretext of conduct unbecoming of an officer.

The other main character is Sam Devereaux. This gentleman is an army lawyer and is basically counting the days when he completes his tour of duty as a military lawyer and start his corporate civil law with somebody he knows. It is much to his dismay that while under a week is left for his tour of duty to be left over he is summoned to try and extradite General MacKenzie who has been put on house arrest. Apparently, in China there was a sculpture of a great Chinese gentleman in the nude. For reasons unknown or rather not being shared herein, he basically breaks part of the sculpture. This of course, enrages the Chinese and they call it a diplomatic accident and try to put the General into house arrest. Unfortunately for both the General and his captors, he decides to escape/go for it. While he does succeed entering the American embassy, he finds himself to be person non-grata and is thrown back outside where the Chinese recapture him.

This is where the Embassy & the Govt. decide it would be better if somehow the General could be removed from China permanently so he doesn’t cause any further diplomatic accidents. In order to do that Sam’s services are bought.

Now in order to understand the General, Sam learns that he has 4 ex-wives. He promptly goes and meet them to understand why the general behaved as he did. He apparently also peed on the American flag. To his surprise, all the four ex-wives are still very much in with the general. During the course of interviewing the ladies he is seduced by them and also gives names to their chests in order to differentiate between each one of them. Later he is seduced by the eldest of the four wives and they spend the evening together.

Next day Sam meets and is promptly manhandled by the general and the diplomatic papers are seen by the general. After meeting the general and the Chinese counterpart, they quickly agree to extradite him as they do not know how to keep the general control. During his stay of house arrest, the General reads one of the ‘communist rags’ as he puts it and gets the idea to kidnap the pope and that forms the basis of the story.

Castel Gandolfo seems to be a real place which is in Italy and is apparently is the papal residence where s/he goes to reside every winter. The book is written in 1976 hence in the book, the General decides to form a corporation for which he would raise funds in order to make the kidnapping. The amount in 1976 was 40 million dollars and it was a big sum, to be with times, let’s think of say 40 billion dollars so gets the scale of things.

Now while a part of me wants to tell the rest of the story, the story isn’t really mine to tell. Read The Road to Gandolfo for the rest. While I can’t guarantee you much, I can say you might find yourself constantly amused by the antics of both the General, Sam and the General’s ex-wives. There are also a few minute characters that you will meet on the way, hope you discover them and enjoy it immensely as I have.

One thing I have to say, while I was reading it, I very much got vibes of ‘Not a penny more, not a penny less’ by Jeffrey Archer. As shared before, lots of twists and turns, enjoy the ride πŸ™‚

Webforms

Webforms are nothing but a form you fill on the web or www. Webforms are and were a thing from early 90s to today. I was supposed to register for https://www.swavlambancard.gov.in/ almost a month back but procrastinated till few couple of days back and with good reason. I was hoping one of my good friends would help me but they had their own thing. So finally, I tried to fill the form few days back. It took me almost 30 odd attempts to finally fill the form and was given an enrollment number. Why it took me 30 odd attempts and with what should tell you the reason –

  1. I felt like I was filling the form from 1990’s rather than today because –
  2. The form doesn’t know either its state or saves data during a session – This lesson has been learned a long time back by almost all service providers except Govt. of India. Both the browsers on a mobile as well as desktop can save data during session. If you don’t know what I mean by that go to about:preferences#privacy in Firefox and look at Manage Data. There you will find most sites do put some data along with cookies arguably to help make your web experience better. Chrome or Chromium has the same thing perhaps shared under a different name but its the same thing. But that is not all.
  3. None of the fields have any verification. The form is of 3 pages. The verification at the end of the document doesn’t tell you what is wrong and what needs to be corrected. Really think on this, I am on a 24″ LED monitor and I’m filling the form and I had to do it at least 20-30 times before it was accepted. And guess what, I have no clue even about why it was selected. The same data, the same everything and after the nth time it accepted. Now if I am facing such a problem when I have some idea how technology works somewhat how are people who are trying to fill this form on 6″ mobiles supposed to do? And many of them not at all clued in technology as I am.

I could go on outlining many of the issues that I faced but they are all similar in many ways the problems faced while filling the ‘NEW’ Income Tax forms. Of course the New Income Tax portal is a whole ball-game in itself as it gives new errors every time instead of solving them. Most C.A.’s have turned to third-party xml tools that enable you to upload xml compliant data to the ‘New’ Income tax portal but this is for businesses and those who can afford it. Again, even that is in a sort of messy state but that is a whole another tale altogether.

One of the reasons to my mind why the forms are designed the way they are so that people go to specific cybercafes or get individual people to fill and upload it and make more money. I was told to go to a specific cybercafe and meet a certain individual and he asked for INR 500/- to do the work. While I don’t have financial problems, I was more worried about my data going into the wrong hands. But I can see a very steady way to make money without doing much hard work.

Hearing Loss info.

Now because I had been both to Kamla Nehru Hospital as well as Sasoon and especially the deaf department, I saw many kids with half-formed ears. I had asked the doctors and they had shared this is due to malnutrition. We do know that women during pregnancies need more calories, more everything as they are eating for two bodies, not one. And this is large-scale, apparently more than 5 percent of population have children like this. And this number was of 2014, what is it today nobody knows. I also came to know that at least for some people like me, due to Covid they became deaf. I had asked the doctors if they knew of people who had become deaf due to Covid. They basically replied in the negative as they don’t have the resources to monitor the same. The Govt. has an idea of health ID but just like Aadhar has to many serious sinister implications. Somebody had shared with me a long time back that in India systems work inspite of Govt. machinery rather than because of it. Meaning that the Government itself ties itself into several knots and then people have to be creative to try and figure a way out to help people. I found another issue while dealing with them.

Apparently, even though I have 60% hearing loss I would be given a certificate of 40% hearing loss and they call it Temporary Progressive Loss. I saw almost all the people who had come, many of them having far severe defencies than me getting the same/similar certificate. All of them got Temporary Progressive. Some of the cases were real puzzling. For e.g. I met another Agarwal who had a severe accident few months ago and there is some kind of paralysis & bone issue. The doctors have given up but even that gentleman was given Temporary Progressive. From what little I could understand, the idea is that over period if there is possibility of things becoming better then it should be given. Another gentleman suffered a case of dwarfism. Even he was given the same certificate. Think there have been orders from above so that people even having difficulties are not helped. Another point if you look in a macro sense, it presents a somewhat rosy picture. If someone were to debunk the Govt. data either from India or abroad then from GOI perspective they have an ‘agenda’ even though the people who are suffering are our brothers and sisters 😦 And all of this is because I can read, write, articulate. Perhaps many of them may not even have a voice or a platform.

Even to get this temporary progressive disability certificate there is more than 4 months of running from one place to the other, 4 months of culmination of work. This I can share and tell from my experience, who knows how much else others might have suffered for the same. In my case a review will happen after 5 years, in most other cases they have given only 1 year. Of course, this does justify people’s jobs and perhaps partly it may be due to that. Such are times where I really miss that I am unable to hear otherwise could have fleshed out lot more other people’s sufferings.

And just so people know/understand this is happening in the heart of the city whose population easily exceeds 6 million plus and is supposed to be a progressive city. I do appreciate and understand the difficulties that the doctors are placed under.

Mum’s Birthday & Social Engineering.

While I don’t want to get into details, in the last couple of weeks mum’s birthday was there and that had totally escaped me. I have been trying to disassociate myself from her and at times it’s hard and then you don’t remember and somebody makes you remember. So, on one hand guilty, and the other do not know what to do. If she were alive I would have bought a piece of cake or something. Didn’t feel like it, hence donated some money to the local aged home. This way at least I hope they have some semblance of peace. All of them are of her similar age group.

The other thing that I began to observe in the earnest, fake identities have become the norm. Many people took elon musk’s potrait using their own names in the handles, but even then Elon “Free Speech” Musk banned them. So much for free speech. Then I saw quite a few handles that have cute women as their profile picture but they are good at social engineering. This has started only a couple of weeks back and have seen quite a few handles leaving Twitter and joining Mastodon. Also, have been hearing that many admins of Mastodon pods are unable to get on top of this. Also, lot of people complaining as it isn’t user-friendly UI as twitter is. Do they not realize that Twitter has its own IP and any competing network can’t copy or infringe on their product. Otherwise, they will be sued like how Ford was & potentially win. I am not really gonna talk much about it as the blog post has become quite long and that needs its own post to do any sort of justice to it. Till later people πŸ™‚

Politics, accessibility, books

Politics

I have been reading books, both fiction and non-fiction for a long long time. My first book was a comic most probably when I was down with Malaria when I was a kid. I must be around 4-5 years old. Over the years, books have given me great joy and I continue to find nuggets of useful information, both in fiction as well as non-fiction books. So here’s to sharing something and how that can lead you to a rabbit hole. This entry would be a bit NSFW as far as language is concerned.

NYPD Red 5 by James Patterson – First of all, have no clue as to why James Patterson’s popularity has been falling. He used to be right there with Lee Child and others, but not so much now. While I try to be mysterious about books, I would give a bit of heads-up so people know what to expect. This is probably more towards the Adult crowd as there is a bit of sex as well as quite a few grey characters. The NYPD Red is a sort of elite police task force that basically is for celebrities. In the book series, they do a lot of ass-kissing (figuratively more than literally).

Now the reason I have always liked fiction is that however wild the assumption or presumption is, it does have somewhere a grain of truth. And each and every time I read a book or two, that gets cemented. One of the statements in the book told something about how 9/11 took a lot of police personnel out of the game. First, there were a number of policemen who were patrolling the Two Towers, so they perished literally during the explosion. Then there were policemen who were given the cases to close the cases (bring the cases to conclusion). When you are investigating your own brethren or even civilians who perished 9/11 they must have experienced emotional trauma and no outlet. Mental health even in cops is the same and given similar help as you and me (i.e. next to none.) But both of these were my assumptions. The only statement that was in the book was they lost a lot of bench strength. Even NYFD (New York Fire Department). This led me to me to With Crime At Record Lows, Should NYC Have Fewer Cops? This is more right-wing sentiment and in fact, there have been calls to defund the police. This led me to https://cbcny.org/ and one specific graph. Unfortunately, this tells the story from 2010-2022 but not before. I was looking for data from around 1999 to 2005 because that will tell whether or not it happened.

Then I remembered reading in newspapers the year or two later how 9/11 had led NYC to recession. I looked up online and for sure NY was booming before 9/11. One can argue that NYC could come down and that is pretty much possible, everything that goes up comes down, it’s a law of nature but it would have been steady rather than abrupt. And once you are in recession, the first thing to go is personnel. So people both from NYPD and NYFD were let go, even though they were needed the most then. As you can see, a single statement in a book can take you to places & time literally.

Edit: Addition 11th September – There were quite a few people who also died from New York Port Authority and they also lost quite a number of people directly and indirectly and did a lot of patrolling of the water bodies near NYC. Later on, even in their department, there were a lot of early retirements.

Kosovo

A couple of days back I had a look at the Debconf 2023 BOF that was done in Kosovo. One of the interesting things that happened during the BOF is when a woman participant chimed in and asks India to recognize Kosovo. Immediately it triggered me and I opened the Kosovo Wikipedia page to get some understanding of the topic. Reading up on it, came to know Russia didn’t agree and doesn’t recognize Kosovo. Mr. Modi likes Putin and India imports a lot of its oil from Russia. Unrelatedly, but still useful, we rejected to join IPEF. Earlier, we had rejected China’s BRI. India has never been as vulnerable as she is now. Our foreign balance has reached record lows. Now India has been importing quite a bit of Russian crude and has been buying arms and ammunition from them. We are also scheduled to buy a couple of warships and submarines etc. We even took arms and ammunition from them on lease. So we can’t afford that they are displeased with India. Even though Russia has more than friendly relations with both China and Pakistan. At the same time, the U.S. is back to aiding Pakistan which the mainstream media in India refuses to even cover. And to top all of this, we have the Chip 4 Alliance but that needs its own article, truth be told but we will do with a paragraph 😦

Edit – Addition 11th September – Seems Kosovo isn’t unique in that situation, there are 3-4 states like that. A brief look at worldpopulationreview tells you there are many more.

Chip 4 Alliance

For almost a decade I have been screaming about this on my blog as well as everywhere that chip fabrication is a national security thing. And for years, most people deny it. And now we have chip 4 alliance. Now to understand this, you have to understand that China for almost a decade, somewhere around 2014 or so came up with something called ‘the big fund‘. Now one can argue one way or the other how successful the fund has been, but it has, without doubt, created ripples so strong that the U.S., Taiwan, Japan, and probably South Korea will join and try to stem the tide. Interestingly, in this grouping, South Korea is the weakest in the statements and what they have been saying. Within the group itself, there is a lot of tension and China would use that and there are a number of unresolved issues between the three countries that both China & Russia would exploit. For e.g. the Comfort women between South Korea and Japan. Or the 1985 Accord Agreement between Japan and the U.S.

Now people need to understand this, this is not just about China but also about us. If China has 5-6x times India’s GDP and their research budget is at the very least 100x times what India spends, how do you think we will be self-reliant? Whom are we fooling? Are we not tired of fooling ourselves 😦 In diplomacy, countries use leverage. Sadly, we let go of some of our most experienced negotiators in 2014 and since then have been singing in the wind 😦

Accessibility, Jitsi, IRC, Element-Desktop

The Wikipedia page on Accessibility says the following – Accessibility is the design of products, devices, services, vehicles, or environments so as to be usable by people with disabilities. The concept of accessible design and practice of accessible development ensures both “direct access” (i.e. unassisted) and “indirect access” meaning compatibility with a person’s assistive technology. Now IRC or Internet Relay Chat has been accessible for a long time. I know of even blind people who have been able to navigate IRC quite effortlessly as there has been a lot of work done to make sure all the joints ‘speak to each other’ so people with one or more disabilities still can use, and contribute without an issue. It does help that IRC and many clients have been there since the 1970s so most of them have had more than enough time to get all the bugs fixed and both text-to-speech and speech-to-text work brilliantly on IRC. Newer software like Jitsi or for that matter Telegram is lacking those features. A few days ago, discovered on Telegram I was shared that Samsung Voice input is also able to do the same. The Samsung Voice Input works wonder as it translates voice to text, I have not yet tried the text-to-speech but perhaps somebody can and they can share whatever the results can be one way or the other. I have tried element-desktop both on the desktop as well as mobile phone and it has been disappointing, to say the least. On the desktop, it is unruly and freezes once in a while, and is buggy. The mobile version is a little better but that’s not saying a lot. I prefer the desktop version as I can use the full-size keyboard. The bug I reported has been there since its Riot days. I had put up a bug report even then. All in all, yesterday was disappointing 😦

Culture, Books, Friends

Culture

Just before I start, I would like to point out that this post may or would probably be NSFW. Again, what is SFW (Safe at Work) and NSFW that so much depends on culture and perception of culture from wherever we are or wherever we take birth? But still, to be on the safe side I have put it as NSFW. Now there have been a few statements and ideas that gave me a pause. This will be a sort of chaotic blog post as I am in such a phase today.

For e.g. while I do not know which culture or which country this comes from, somebody shared that in some cultures one can talk/comment ‘May your poop be easy’ and with a straight face. I dunno which culture is this but if somebody asked me that I would just die from laughing or maybe poop there itself. While I can understand if it is a constipated person, but a whole culture? Until and unless their DNA is really screwed, I don’t think so but then what do I know? I do know that we shit when we have extreme reactions of either joy or fear. And IIRC, this comes from mammal response when they were in dangerous situations and we got the same as humans evolved. I would really be interested to know which culture is that. I did come to know that the Japanese do wish that you may not experience hard work or something to that effect while ironically they themselves are becoming extinct due to hard work and not enough relaxation, toxic workplace is common in Japan according to social scientists and population experts.

Another term that I couldn’t figure out is ‘The Florida Man Strikes again’ and this term is usually used when somebody does something stupid or something weird. While it is exclusively used in the American context, I am curious to know how that came about. Why does Florida have such people or is it an exaggeration? I have heard the term e.g. ‘What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas ‘. Think it is also called Sin city although why just Vegas is beyond me?

Omicron-8712 Blood pressure machine

I felt so stupid. I found another site or e-commerce site called Wellness Forever. They had the blood pressure machine I wanted, an Omron-8172. I bought it online and they delivered the same within half an hour. Amazon took six days and in the end, didn’t deliver it at all.

I tried taking measurements from it yesterday. I have yet to figure out what it all means but I did get measurements of 109 SYS, 88 DIA and Pulse is 72. As far as the pulse is concerned, guess that is normal, the others just don’t know. If only I had known this couple of months ago. I was able to register the product as well as download and use the Omron Connect app. For roughly INR 2.5k you have a sort of health monitoring system. It isn’t Star Trek Tricorder in any shape or form but it will have to do while the tricorder gets invented. And while we are on the subject let’s not forget Elizabeth Holmes and the scam called Theranos. It really is something to see How Elizabeth Holmes modeled so much of herself on Steve Jobs mimicking how he left college/education halfway. A part of me is sad that Theranos is not real. Joe Scott just a few days ago shared some perspectives on the same just a few days ago. The idea in itself is pretty seductive, to say the least, and that is the reason the scam went on for more than a decade and perhaps would have been longer if some people hadn’t gotten the truth out.

I do see potentially, something like that coming on as A.I. takes a bigger role in automating testing. Half a decade to a decade from now, who knows if there is an algorithm that is able to do what is needed? If such a product were to come to the marketplace at a decent price, it would revolutionize medicine, especially in countries like India, South Africa, and all sorts of remote places. Especially, with all sorts of off-grid technologies coming and maturing in the marketplace. Before I forget, there is a game called ‘Cell’ on Android that tells or shares about the evolution of life on earth. It also shares credence to the idea that life has come 6 times on Earth and has been destroyed multiple times by asteroids. It is in the idle sort of game format, so you can see the humble beginnings from the primordial soup to various kinds of cells and bacteria to finally a mammal. This is where I am and a long way to go.

Indian Bureaucracy

One of the few things that Britishers gave to India, is the bureaucracy and the bureaucracy tests us in myriad ways. It would be full 2 months on 5th September and I haven’t yet got a death certificate. And I need that for a sundry number of things. The same goes for a disability certificate. What is and was interesting is my trip to the local big hospital called Sassoon Hospital. My mum had shared incidents that occurred in the 1950s when she and the family had come to Pune. According to her, when she was alive, while Sassoon was the place to be, it was big and chaotic and you never knew where you are going. That was in 1950, I had the same experience in 2022. The term/adage ‘the more things change, the more they remain the same’ seems to be held true for Sassoon Hospital.

Btw, those of you who think the Devil exists, he is totally a fallacy. There is a popular myth that the devil comes to deal that he/she/they come to deal with you when somebody close to you passes, I was waiting desperately for him when mum passed. Any deal that he/she/they would have offered me I would have gladly taken, but all my wait was all for nothing. While I believe evil exists, that is manifested by humans and nobody else. The whole idea and story of the devil is just to control young children and nothing beyond that 😦

Debconf 2023, friends, JPEGOptim, and EV’s

Quite a number of friends had gone to Albania this year as India won the right to host Debconf for the year 2023. While I did lurk on the Debconf orga IRC channel, I’m not sure how helpful I would be currently. One news that warmed my heart is some people would be coming to India to check the site way before and make sure things go smoothly. Nothing like having more eyes (in this case bodies) to throw at a problem and hopefully it will be sorted. While I have not been working for the last couple of years, one of the things that I had to do and have been doing is moving a lot of stuff online. This is in part due to the Government’s own intention of having everything on the cloud. One of the things I probably may have shared it more than enough times is that the storage most of these sites give is like the 1990s. I tried jpegoptim and while it works, it degrades the quality of the image quite a bit. The whole thing seems backward, especially as newer and newer smartphones are capturing more data per picture (megapixel resolution), case in point Samsung Galaxy A04 that is being introduced. But this is not only about newer phones, even my earlier phone, Samsung J-5/500 which I bought in 2016 took images at 5 MB. So it is not a new issue but a continuous issue. And almost all Govt. sites have the upper band fixed at 1 MB. But this is not limited to Govt. sites alone, most sites in India are somewhat frozen in the 1990s. And it isn’t as if resources for designing web pages using HTML5, CSS3, Javascript, Python, or Java aren’t available. If worse comes to worst, one can even use amp to make his, her or their point. But this is if they want to do stuff. I would be sharing a few photos with commentary, there are still places where I can put photos apart from social media πŸ™‚

Friends

Last week, Saturday suddenly all the friends decided to show up. I have no clue one way or the other why but am glad they showed up.

Mahendra, Akshat, Shirish and Sagar Sukhose (Mangesh's friend).
Mahendra, Akshat, Shirish and Sagar Sukhose (Mangesh’s friend) at Bal Gandharva..
Electric scooter as shared by Akshat seen in Albania
Electric scooter as shared by Akshat seen in Albania
Somebody making a  real-life replica of Wall Street on F.C. Road (Commercial, all glass)
Somebody making a real-life replica of Wall Street on F.C. Road (Commercial, all glass)
Ganesh Idol near my house
Ganesh Idol near my house
Wearing new clothes
Wearing new clothes

I will have to be a bit rapid about what I am sharing above so here goes nothing –

1. The first picture shows Mahendra, Akshat, me, and Sagar Sukhose (Mangesh’s friend). The picture was taken by Mangesh Diwate. We talked quite a bit of various things that could be done in Debian. A few of the things that I shared were (bringing more stuff from BSD to Debian, I am sure there’s still quite a lot of security software that could be advantageous to have in Debian.) The best person to talk to or guide about this would undoubtedly be Paul Wise or as he is affectionally called Pabs. He is one of the shy ones and yet knows so much about how things work. The one and only time I met him is 2016. The other thing that we talked about is porting Debian to one of the phones. This has been done in the past and done by a Puneitie some 4-5 years back. While I don’t recollect the gentleman’s name, I remember that the porting was done on a Motorola phone as that was the easiest to do. He had tried some other mobile but that didn’t work. Making Debian available on phone is hard work. Just to have an idea, I went to the xda developers forum and found out that while M51 has been added, my specific phone model is not there. A Samsung Galaxy M52G Android (samsung; SM-M526B; lahaina; arm64-v8a) v12 . You look at the chat and you understand how difficult the process might be. One of the other ideas that Akshat pitched was Debian Astro, this is something that is close to the heart of many, including me. I also proposed to have some kind of web app or something where we can find and share about the various astronomy and related projects done by various agencies. While there is a NASA app, nothing comes close to JSR and that site just shares stuff, no speculation. There are so many projects taken or being done by the EU, JAXA, ISRO, and even middle-east countries are trying but other than people who are following some of the developments, we hear almost nothing. Even the Chinese have made some long strides but most people know nothing about the same. And it’s sad to know that those developments are not being known, shared, or even speculated about as much as say NASA or SpaceX is. How do we go about it and how do we get people to contribute or ask questions around it would be interesting.

2. The second picture was something that was shared by Akshat. Akshat was sharing how in Albania people are moving on these electric ‘scooters’. I dunno if that is the right word for it or what. I had heard from a couple of friends who had gone to Vietnam a few years ago how most people in Vietnam had modified their scooters and they were snaking lines of electric wires charging scooters. I have no clue whether they were closer to Vespa or something like above. In India, the Govt. is in partnership with the oil, gas, and coal mafia just as it was in Australia (the new Govt. in Australia is making changes) the same thing is here. With the humongous profits that the oil sector provides the petro states and others, Corruption is bound to happen. We talk and that’s the extent of things.

3. The third picture is from a nearby area called F.C. Road or Fergusson College Road. The area has come up quite sharply (commercially) in the last few years. Apparently, Mr. Kushal is making a real-life replica of Wall Street which would be given to commercial tenants. Right now the real estate market is tight in India, we will know how things pan out in the next few years.

4. Number four is an image of a Ganesh idol near my house. There is a 10-day festival of the elephant god that people used to celebrate every year. For the last couple of years because of the pandemic, people were unable to celebrate the festival as it is meant to celebrate. This time some people are going overboard while others are cautious and rightfully so.

5. Last and not least, one of the things that people do at this celebration is to have new clothes, so I shared a photo of a gentleman who had bought and was wearing new clothes. While most countries around the world are similar, Latin America is very similar to India in many ways, perhaps Gunnar can share. especially about religious activities. The elephant god is known for his penchant for sweets and that can be seen from his rounded stomach, that is also how he is celebrated. He is known to make problems disappear or that is supposed to be his thing. We do have something like 4 billion gods, so each one has to be given some work or quality to justify the same πŸ˜‰

The tale of the dancing girl – #nsfw

Demonstration of a Lapdance - Wikipedia
Demonstration of a Lapdance – Wikipedia

The post will be adult/mature in nature. So those below 18 please excuse. The post is about an anecdote almost 20 years to date, The result its being posted is due to dinner conversation where my friend thought it would make for an alternate view rather than the status quo shared by most people. The conversation was though about being young and foolish in which I shared the anecdote. The blog post was supposed to be about ‘Aadhar’ which shocked me both in the way no political discourse happened and the way the public as well as public policy was gamed but that would have to wait for another day.

History

I left college in 1995. The anecdote/incident probably happened couple of years earlier so probably 1992-1993. At that time, I was in my teens and as a typical teenager I made few friends. One of those friends, who would remain nameless as since we drifted apart, and as I have not take permission from him, taking his name would not be a good idea.

Anyway, this gentleman, let’s call him Mr. X as an example. Couple of months before, he had bought an open jeep, similar but very different from the jeep being shown below. The Open Jeep had become a fashion statement few months back (in those days) as a Salman khan starred movie had that and anybody who had money wanted one just like that.

Illustration of an open jeep, sadly its a military one - wikipedia
Illustration of an open jeep, sadly its a military one – wikipedia

Those days we didn’t have cell-phones and I had given my land-line phone number to very few friends as in those days, as the land-line itself was a finicky instrument and we were under the belief that if we use it more, it will get spoiled/broken soon.

One fine morning, I get a call from my friend telling he is going to come near my place and I should meet him at some xyz place and we would go for a picnic for the whole day and it is possible that we might return next day. As it was holidays and only a fool would throw away a chance to have a ride in open air jeep, I immediately agreed. I shared that my friends had organized a picnic and giving another friend’s number (who didn’t know anything) got permission and went to meet Mr. X. This was very early morning, around 0600 hrs. . After meeting him, he told that we would be going to Mumbai, take some more friends from there and then move on.

In those days, a railway ticket from Pune/Shivaji Nagar to V.T. (now C.S.T.) costed around INR 30/- . I had been to Mumbai few times before for various technical conferences and knew few cheap places to eat, I knew that going via train, we could go and come back spending at the most INR 150/- and still have some change left-over (today’s meal at a roadside/street vendor easily passes that mark).

The Journey

I shared with him that it will be costly and I don’t have any money to cover the fuel expenses and he said he would shoulder the expenses, he just wanted my company for the road. Those days, it was the scenic Old Mumbai-Pune highway and we took plenty of stops to admire that ghats (hills and valleys together). The only way I can describe the experience was it was fun and yet breath-taking at the same time. Spring-time on Pune-Mumbai Old highway was magical. At times we were parallel with the Pune-Railway railway line and we would think of ourselves as Rajesh Khanna and his sidekick wooing an imaginary Sharmila Tagore on the Railway line –

That journey must have taken us around 7-8 hours while today by the new Expressway, you could do the same thing by 2.5/3 hours.

The Hotel

Anyhow, we reached to some swanky hotel in South Mumbai. South Mumbai was not the financial powerhouse that it today is, there was mix of very old buildings and new buildings like the swanky hotel that we had checked in. I have no memory nor any idea whether it was 1 class, 3 class or 5 class and could have cared less as had been tired from the journey. We checked in, I had a long warm water bath and then slept in the king-size bed with curtains drawn for a long time. Eventually, evening came and we took the jeep and picked up 2-3 of his friends who were from my age or a year or two older and we went to Nariman Point. Seeing the Queen’s necklace from Nariman Point at night is a sight in itself. Whenever I am in Mumbai and if I have the time, I make it a point to spend at least some time at Nariman Point/Marine Drive/Queen’s necklace whenever I can. While the rest of the city is humid due to the moisture from the sea, Nariman Point/marine Drive always has a gentle breeze. Before the turn of the century, when I had much more of a free time I would go to Mumbai, book a lodge near Marine Drive and just sit at the edge for hours together. While I don’t know swimming, whether it was the call of the sea or just the sound of the waves breaking against the stones that used to get me in zen-like/serene state after being few hours there.

How Nariman Point/Marine Drive looks

Keeping with the innocence, I was under the impression that we had arrived at our destination, at this our host, Mr. X and his Bombaiya friends had a quiet laugh saying its a young night still or something to that effect . We must have whiled away couple of hours, having chai and throwing rocks in the sea.

The Meeting

After a while, Mr. X took us to another swanky place. My eyes were out of my sockets as this seemed to be as elitist a place as could be. I saw many White European women in various stages of undress pole-dancing and lap-dancing. I had recently (in those days) come to know the term but was under the impression that it was something that happened in Europe and States only. I had no idea that lap-dancing was older than my birth as according to Wikipedia. So looking back now, I am not surprised that in two decades the concept crossed the oceans. Again, Mr. X being the host, agreed to bear all the costs and all of us had food, drink and a lap-dance from any of the dancers on the floor. As I was young, somewhat confused seeing all the beauty and probably shy (still am) I asked Mr. X’s help to pick a girl/woman for me. The woman whom he picked was auburn-aired, was either my age or a year or two older/younger to me. IIRC entrance to the place ensured one or two lap-dances as well as appetizers and couple of drinks or something similar to that.

What proceeded next was about 20-30 minutes of totally sexualized erotic experience. While he and all his friends picked girls to go all the way, I was hesitant to let loose. Maybe it was due to my lack of courage or inexperience, maybe it was not in my city so couldn’t predict the outcome, maybe was just afraid that reality might mar fantasy or maybe I was not ‘man enough’ to do the needful I dunno till date. Although we kissed and necked a lot, I guess that should count for something.

The conversation

After all my friends had gone to the various rooms, sometime after I excused myself, went to the loo myself, peed a bit, splashed cold water on self, came out and had couple of glasses of water and came back to my seat. The lady came back and I shared that I was not interested in going further and while she was beautiful, I just didn’t have the guts. I did ask her if she would give me company though for sometime as I didn’t know anyone else at that place. Our conversation was more about her than me as I had more or less an average life upto that moment. There were only three unorthodox things that I had done before meeting her. I had drunk wines of different types, smoked weed and had a Magic Mushrooms experience the year before with another group of friends I had made there. Goa in those days was simply magical in those days but that probably would need its story/own blog post.

When I enquired about her, she shared she was from/around Russia and she rattled off more than half a dozen places around the world where she had been to. This was her second or third stint in Mumbai and she wasn’t at all unhappy about the lifestyle and choices she was leading. I had no answer for her as a young penniless college-going student. Her self-confidence and the way she carried herself was impressive, with or without clothes. During course of the conversation she shared a couple of contacts from whom I could get better weed at slightly higher price if I ever went to Goa next.

Few months later, I found those contacts to be true.

Back to the present though, after sometime, Mr. X took all the women and ourselves, around 8-9 people in his jeep (how he negotiated that is beyond me) and we went to a hygienic Pani puri and Bhel (puffed rice mixed with variety of spices typically tomato, potato, coriander chutney as well as Tamarind Chutney among other things) place and moved them to tears (the spices in bhel and Pani puri did it for them) and this was when we had explicitly asked the bhel-wala guy to make it extremely mild with just a hint of spice in it. Anyways, sometime later, we dropped them at the same place, dropped his friends and came back to the hotel we booked and got drunk again.

After-effects

Few years later, it came in the newspapers/media that while India had broken out of financial isolation just few years back (1991) and were profiting from it, many countries of the former USSR were going the other way around and hence there was huge human trafficking and immigration that had taken place. This was in-line with what the lady/woman/Miss X had shared with me.

The latest trigger

The latest trigger happened couple of months back where I learnt of a hero flight attendant saving a girl from human-trafficking.

Till date, I am unsure whether she was doing it willingly or putting a brave smile in front of me, because even if she had confided me in any way, I probably would have been too powerless, penniless to help her in any-way. I just don’t know.

Foolishness thy name

While my friend took advantage of my innocence and introduced me to a world which otherwise I would probably not know exists, it could have easily have gone some other way as well.

While I’m still unsure of the choices I made then, I was and am happy that I was able to strike a conversation with her and attempt to reach the person therein. Was it the truth or an elaborate fabricated lie to protect myself and herself, this I will never know.

Oppression

I understand the fact that as a ‘customer’ or somebody who is taking part in either of those performances or experiences it isn’t easy in any way to know/say that whether the performer is doing it wilfully or not as the experiences are in tightly controlled settings.

Trains, Planes and the future

Swacch Bharat - Indian Railways Copyright: Indian Express
Swacch Bharat – Indian Railways Copyright: Indian Express

Some of the content may be NSFW. viewer discretion advised.

I have had a life-long fascination with trains. One of my first memories was that of 5-7 year old, clutching my mother or grandmother’s hand seeing the steam engine lumbering down whistling and smoking at the same time. I was both afraid and strangely drawn to the iron beast and the first time I knew and then slowly understood that if we come with luggage and the steam-engine comes, it means we are going to travel.

I have travelled some, but there are lots to explore still and I do hope that I cover some more of it during my lifetime. The reason I am writing about trains is an article which caught my eye couple of days. Besides seeing the changing geography, the variety of food one can get on train and in stations is one of the primary reasons that Indians love to travel by trains. It is one place where you could have incredible conversations over cup of tea or favourite food and unlike air travel and the famed IFE (In-flight entertainment) people are actually pretty social even with all the gadgets. For those who are wondering, the author was travelling between Jamshedpur, Gujarat to Kolkatta, a train ride which has now gone on my bucket list for the delectable items the author has described πŸ˜‰

To add to the above, it is still cheaper than air travel, although that is changing a bit as Indian Railways seeks to modernize Railways and make it into world-class bullet trains.

Indian Railways has a long, rich culture and some of the most interesting nuggets you learn over time adds to the fascination of the Railways. For instance I’m sharing this letter which I read first in book and then saw in the New Delhi Railway Museum. The letter I am sharing below was written by a certain Shri Okhil Chandra Sen to the Sahibganj Railway Office in year 1909, almost 38 years before India became independent.

“I am arrive by passenger train Ahmedpur station and my belly is too much swelling with jackfruit. I am therefore went to privy. Just I doing the nuisance that guard making whistle blow for train to go off and I am running with ‘lotah’ in one hand and ‘dhoti’ in the next when I am fall over and expose all my shocking to man and female women on plateform. I am got leaved at Ahmedpur station.

“This too much bad, if passenger go to make dung that dam guard not wait train five minutes for him. I am therefore pray your honour to make big fine on that guard for public sake. Otherwise I am making big report! to papers.”

If it were not for Mr. Okhil Chandra Sen we would still be running with ‘water bottle’ (improvement) and jeans/shorts/whatever (again improvement) while the possibility of falling over would always be omnipresent in a hurry. Now we do have toilets and some of the better trains even have Bio-toilets which should make things better as well.(/NSFW)

For the plane bit, most of my flights have been domestic flying. Some of my most memorable flights is when flying from Mumbai on a clear sky overlooking the Queen’s necklace, loving it and landing in Bangalore during mist or rain or both. Delhi is also good as airports go but nothing much adventurous about it. It was only with the experience of my first international flight, I realized the same feeling again, nervousness and sense of adventure as you meet new people. Nowadays every week I do try and broaden my horizon by seeking and learning a bit about International Travel.

Copyright: National Geographic Magazine
Copyright: National Geographic Magazine

In this I came across an article on National Geographic site which also evoked similar feelings. While I can’t go back to the past and even if I did (in distant past before I was born), I wouldn’t want to improve my financial situation at all (as otherwise I would hit the Grandfather Paradox or/and the Butterfly effect (essentially saying there’s no free lunch), it still makes you wonder about a time when people had lot more adventure and lot more moving parts. I do wish they had a much bigger snapshot of that plane so I could really see how people sat in the old aircraft. The low-resolution picture doesn’t do justice to the poster and the idea of that time.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Sound_of_Thunder for an implementation of Butterfly effect.

The Grandfather Paradox has been seen plenty of times in fantasy movies like the Back to the Future, Planet of the Apes and many others so will not go there.

For the average joe today, s/he has to navigate security,check bags, get her/imself processed through passport control, get boarding pass, get to the gate on-time, get to the aircraft via bridge or bus, get to the seat, somehow make it through the ascent and use your IFE and get snacks and meals till it’s time to touch-down and re-do the whole drill again as many times you are connecting. I really admire Gunnar Wolf for the tenacity he showed for the x number of connections he made both ways.

The world's 10 best airports Copyright: Changi International Airport
Photo – Courtesy Changi International Airport, Singapore

While leafing through the interweb today, came across an article . While you can slice and dice the report anyway you want, for me if ever I get a chance again for an International Travel, I would try to see I get a layover at these three airports in order of preference (this is on the basis that none of these airports need a transit visa for the activities shared) –

a. Changi International Airport – It is supposed to have shower amenities, has a movie theatre (+1), free tour of the city (+1) and of course as many Indians do go to Singapore as a destination in itself would have multiple vegetarian options (+2) so would be nice if I need to layover.

b. Zurich Airport (ZRH) – “For passengers with an extended layover, Zurich Airport offers bicycle and inline-skate rentals and excursions to the Swiss Museum of Transport Lucerne.” – From business-insider.com. While I’m not much of a bicycle and inline-skating freak, if the Swiss Museum of Transport Lucerne is anything to the scale of Isiko Museum which I shared in a blog post sometime before, it would be worth by itself. I haven’t tried to find the site but can imagine, for e.g. if it has a full-scale model of a submarine or train engine, either steam-engines or ones like SNCF or any of the other bullet-trains and early aircraft, it would just blow my mind. When you are talking about transport, there is so much science, business, logistics etc. that I’m sure I’ll overload with information, photos and any trinkets they have to buy.

c. Central Japan International Airport (NGO) – “It has a 1,000-foot-long sky deck where passengers can watch ships sail into Nagoya Port. There’s also a traditional Japanese bathhouse where you can have a relaxing soak while watching the sunset over the bay.” – BusinessInsider.com

Not a bad place to be if you need a layover. Just sink yourself in the bathhouse and see the bay and ships coming in. Luxury indeed.

Honourable mention –

d. Munich Airport (MUC) – “A nearby visitors park features mini golf and a display of historic aircraft.” – Business-Insider.com . Now this would have made my list but I guess one would need a Schengen visa to access the visitors park but then if you have that, then why just stay in the Airport itself, could travel through Europe itself and have a longish stop-over.

So all in all, it’s indeed a fascinating time to be alive, dreaming and just being. Till later.

Update – I had forgotten to share one more reason why I was writing this article. Although somewhat of a cynic, am hopeful that Pune metro happens. Also, if I had just waited a day, would have been able to add couple of wonderful articles that would make people wanderlust more πŸ™‚