Category Archives: Travel

  1. Honda Again: Personal mobility device that has immense possibilities

    Based on the technology that gets Asimo, the robot, to balance itself Honda created a portable personal mobility device. Take a ride.

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  2. London to Abu Dhabi: The poetry of flight – Seven hours told in three minutes

    I shot a series of stills from my window on a Etihad flight EY12 from London to Abu Dhabi. This is a compilation of these stills as a home video. I love the meditative theatrical scape, like a lyrical narrative. Below is a color corrected shorter version. Music: Anouar Brahem’s Astrakan Café.

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  3. Turbulent Trays: The rise and fall of airline food

    Good airline food is an oxymoron. An improbability further diminished by strange reheating apparatus and plastic containers. They do promote food in the non-coach classes. But it is just better cutlery and wine.

    Few years back, my city airport was not a serious international hub. It resembled a state tax office with a wind sock and a large striped scoop looking for its mother on top. I had to do all my international connections at Bombay. Those were times when I did ten days at a stretch to America with visit USA coupons and a crammed itinerary of a city a day. I took bleary red eyes that dumped me across the coast and it was morning as I get ready to sack out. These carriers were filled with large belligerent stewardesses who slammed a pack of pretzels (who invented this outrage?) and a heavily iced plastic cup of soda onto my gullible hands.

    I spent overnights at long-stay hotels with no restaurants. The breakfast was not warm and dinners were microwave packs from the lobby vending machine. I would not call these trips a culinary delight except for weekends at a grill in Dallas with my brother. When I was done I took that long haul through Zurich back to Bombay.

    The lights of home were always inviting as we landed after midnight. I had to wait a few woozy hours on uncomfortable chairs for my Jet connection to Bangalore. That flight made me appreciate a good airline breakfast after days of insipid fodder.

    There was a fluffy folded omelet with translucent onions and cilantro – well cooked outside and gooey inside. The eggs were served with sauteed mushrooms glistening in the streak of morning sun and golden hash browns. A bowl of cold fruit, a croissant and good cup of coffee made it a complete meal tray. The vegetarian option was upma. At times I used my loyalty status and devilish smile to charm those sweet in-flight staff to get me both. And Jet Airways stayed consistent with their quality. I thought I would never say this, but I loved airline food.

    Things have changed. Air Carriers all over the World are bleeding. Travelers have to pay for their meal. Jet airways invented a new low-cost variant called Connect and collected money for your meal on-board. Recently I traveled a standard Jet flight and they were benevolent enough to serve breakfast. The masala scrambled was 99% spice and 1% egg. The grilled vegetables were more like chewing jerky. Stale croissant and an old bowl of papaya did not reach home either.

    Airline food is back to their grandeur of low esteem.

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  4. Call Back: A visit to a place I consider alma mater

    A few months back  there was a regroup vacation of a bunch of schoolmates who mattered in a place, considering that most of us have lived away for more than fifteen years, we would still call home. The meeting was a blur of stories of wonder, success, suffering and survival well-doused with malt liquor. I went back again to imbibe the city, awake and thirsty. These are some glimpses of that trip.

    Narasimhan aka Naresh A typical street Shankwala Bhavan The North Tower Temple ceiling

    Blogged with the Flock Browser

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  5. Freeing Willy

    When you are out in cold weather for long there is a challenge that needs to be addressed. This is probably a design problem that is not solved yet.

    When sleety wind stiffens your face the tips of your ears feel numb. They feel as if you can break them off like crackers to feed a carnivorous Polly. Given this circumstances you have to wear a lot of layers. I wore long johns, thermal vest that extended over the crotch, t-shirt, jeans, sweater, fleece and a windcheater. Now when you feel cold you also need to ‘drain your lizard’ as often as you can. And when it is cold your manhood is challenged and your willy shrinks.

    Picture this. You run to the men’s room, find the urinal and frantically rummage through the layers to locate the diminishing appendage and ease yourself. This challenges motor coordination, accuracy, estimation of trajectory, performance in moments of stress and every possible skill that you have honed over the years to do a simple everyday task. Pee.

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  6. Mid West Mid Life

    The room windows open out to the wrong side of downtown – open with a big sky. Small mounds of snow on terraces, a faraway belfry and the comfort of the room with outside temperature at 12 degrees below zero on the Celsius scale.

    I was way too tired to keep awake in the United Airlines from Chicago to Minneapolis. I slept from Bangalore to Frankfurt and was unable to sleep on the spanking new A340-400 from Frankfurt to Chicago. I was pacing up and down, watched movies, read a book and was wondering about the dope that designed the toilets in that plane. (All the toilets are one flight of stairs down accessible through a narrow passage making it difficult for old people and parents with children to reach. What was Airbus thinking?)

    Later I woke up for the landing at Minneapolis, had no mood to take the train and bought a shuttle ticket to the Hilton. The lobby was a typical Midwest overdone horror house of mirrors and the cat-threw-up marble. The rooms were good and I pass out. Woke up very early to see the brilliant view.

    Breakfast at French Meadows – an organic breakfast bar little away from the downtown that serves Granola, yoghurt, organic farm eggs and good coffee. Pleased. I finished my morning meeting and met Brad at noon. Brad had been talking about this place called Bullwinkles and they serve the best Coney Island Hotdogs on this planet. And the place was a legacy, an institution that made people come back after years. A Coney Island Hotdog is a long sausage in warm fresh hot dog bun with Chili, hot sauce and onions. I loved it and washed it down with Bass Ale. We went straight into a meeting in a conference room at Pete’s office. This involved intense discussions. We were done late that evening and were due at Runyons.

    Runyons is an old bar with dark woodwork, tall ceilings and walls full of framed pictures of the patrons wearing Runyons t-shirt all over the world. There were a few at the Taj, Agra. More Bass Ale and nuclear wings. We were supposed to meet Brad’s friend Jarvis there. Our parking time ran out. We went out to put some more coins into the parking meter and on our way back Jarvis is standing on the other side of the road. He locked his keys in the car with headlights on and the engine running. A small chaotic introduction, planning and Brad decides to wait at the car. Jarvis and I head out to his house to get the spare keys. Jarvis is a middle-aged friend of Brad who runs an energy management company in Minneapolis. In that short ride we talked about the similarities between Judaism and Hinduism. I already liked the man. Post reclaiming his car Jarvis takes us to The Yacht Club that is deep inland and has no indication of any water body around it. This is a seriously local bar with middle-aged regulars. A basic happy place with talkative dumpy bartender, lone neon sign on a white wall, a pinball machine at the far end, a pool table, wire mesh shutters on doors and plenty of bar stories. Very American and very warm.

    One such story involved sumo wrestlers being invited to the bar by a regular and the whole place was filled with people wanting to see them perform. There was another guy called Big Frank – a massive native American who used to sit at a corner. Somebody decided that Big Frank would fight a sumo. There was an uncomfortable silence and somebody ordered a round for everybody. This made the air lighter and the tense mood slackened. Then there was party.

    As I left Jarvis gave me a dollar bill and asked me to give that very bill to somebody who needs it back in India. I will carry that with me.

    This was a good sample of a typical mid west local bar. I will remember this for long.

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  7. Life is precious

    When I saw Medha and Jags being dragged into the deep, helpless and tired it was a rude reminder that fragility is the very core of existence. Because, dear reader, life is like those stupid mint gums with jelly in the middle. It feels like it will endure the cruel intent of the molars of external forces. But effortlessly cave in, be chewed and spat out on sand to be discarded as an inessential atom of a future landfill.

    On our outbound at Cherai before we visited Jose’s wedding we landed late, drank a few beers to numb the journey and retired early. Some of us woke up early to see the sunrise over the backwaters and headed to the beach. Medha and Jags were in those few. The sea was hard with the waves breaking like a stand-alone woofer playing drum and bass in a small car. I always hated getting into the sea. I keep complaining that I feel like a pickle in brine. So I was walking along the beach line not far from the swimmers.

    M and J are probably the best swimmers that we have in the team. They are the ones who look and behave confidently in the water. They rode or ducked with delight, the way one should, making it all look easy. As they moved deeper, Medha later said, they suddenly could not feel the land beneath their legs. They swam lightly and realized they were being dragged in. We at the beach could see them losing control and of course the humor. They swam harder towards us and seemed to go farther. I was sure that I had lost them. One of us ran towards some fishermen to call for help. A passerby jumped in and helped them ashore. The sea had ravaged and returned them.

    As they curled on the sand and brought up all the seawater that they had ingested I was consumed with a feeling of innate responsibility and relief. I felt grateful that the sea restored their existence back on land.

    They rested, dried, washed and were back as before.

    Medha and Jags, if you are reading this post, a note I want to share. Our lives are a network of weak threads. Weak threads of emotions, relationships and decisive moments that feel significant then. These webs of life could be effaced with ease. They are delicate and precious. Look at this as a shot to create one anew. Depart from the usual and try a new thought, an action or a connection.

    Ride and duck with this earned mettle.

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  8. Leaving London

    Water scalded me as I was deciphering the shower system (looks like those things Schwarzenegger blasts to bile and steel in movies) in the hotel after they made me wait for over four hours to give me a room.

    I flew with a flu, through Delhi, was jetlagged, hungry, scalded and further got a mail from Brad that he is stranded on the tarmac in DC. His plane never took off as there was a tornado scare in Denver and he went back home. Three days in London with four meetings, creative workshops. I just landed and I was already beat. This was not bound to be a good trip.

    I used to live in London for a while six years back. I used to work for a multinational interaction design and dotcom rainmaker, under a racist Director Creative Delivery with loveable warm English and Australian graphic designers. I remember wet and cold days living in a comfortable attic of a very fancy house in the northern suburb of Hampstead, walking through Jaguars in cold mornings to the tube station, reach Bank station with Armani clad Japanese land sharks and tall well kempt Englishmen all in black. Weekends used to be for making off-peak tube passes for cheap, a visit to a Korean laundrette, cold Hefeweizen draught and ultra-long walks in central London. I loved being there.

    I am back here staying on Regent Street at Langham Place, overlooking the rather severe spire of All Souls Church and a vast part of the city. I had this urge to aimlessly walk. Walking on the shopping streets for lunch on a summer day is like a tropical carnival with well-endowed summer birds in lingerie and plumage. The streets have a fever of personalized fashion, creative freedom and the general sunshine for your mind. Belgian confectioners’ caramelized air, middle eastern women in tight fitting trousers and nothing much else, lanky locals in fancy spectacles, suits and thin leather portfolio cases, ambling big flowery ladies with flitting shaggy dogs, shaded Bangaladeshis in brown trousers and striped shirts, Indian kids with spiked hair and hip-hop pimp roll, huge Keira staring from the bus sides, advertisements for a Kerala Restaurant, African bike messengers with sling bags and trunked radio and I was way hungry. I landed at this small Italian bistro called Strada with a pavement band serving Peroni Nastro Azzuro wth fantastic fare including wood fired gourmet pizzas. I had a beans and pasta soup with a salami pizza washed down with Peroni. I had to hit the tube soon.

    Londoners love excessive information. The steel alien staring at me in the bathroom had a graduated scale, 20 30 40 50 60, written around a knob that turns if you press a sinister red button on its side. I turned it all the way around. While I was screaming as I was rendered impotent, I reckoned that it was the celcius scale. In the same vein I saw plenty of Asian tourist staring at the Tubemap in crowded stations. The key for the map took a huge estate of your mind space and along with inane information on minding the gaps between the train and the platform; spreading along the platform and not crowding at the entrance etcetera left you tired to plot your route. However, if you have the time and penchant for excess information, which I did, you will love the tube. The time I landed in London was a busy one – summer sale was on, World Cup on telly and so was Wimbledon. The trains were running full all the time. The tube is filled with characters that can pale a PG Wodehouse. Finished my meetings, met friends, downed some Grolsch (lovely bottle, bad beer) and headed for supper.

    A huge soup pot of Kare Lomen at Wagamama with Ramen noodles, shrimp paste and grilled prawns in it was supper. Sitting next to a bunch of cackling teenage schoolgirls from America was not particularly appetizing. But Wag stood good. The sunset was at 10pm.

    The dawn was at 4am. Long days. At five I was getting scorched in my bed. We had a meeting that morning and afternoon was free before I catch a flight back that night. At noon I was heading to the Design Museum on Butler’s Wharf near the Tower Bridge. Nothing interesting. I decided to walk the Thames to Tate Modern. This was the most exciting thing I had done for sometime. I found alleyways through glass and concrete, found hidden markets with vendors making spice rice, and heard England vs. Ecuador from quaint pubs with adobe walls, drank lemonade at an old prison and reached tired at Tate. Took a break, drank Lucozade, crossed the Millennium Bridge, visited St Pauls and burrowed into the Tube again. Resurfaced at Paddington to claim my left luggage and head to Heathrow.
    Tate Modern was a thermo electric power station called Riverbank that was converted into this astounding temple as a homage to modern art and its patrons. On a sunny afternoon. The play of light on the main platform leaves you speechless. The carefully lit glazed elevator chutes and the backdrop of sheer brick walls, steel structures and space creates an ambience of a place of worship.

    Talking about places of worship, St Paul is getting renovated. Londoners as always thought up of something smart to do while it is being repaired. The facade has been meticulously rendered as a pen and ink illustration on huge pieces of sheet screens that cover the front of the church. The eventual effect is authentic and interesting. Click on the photograph to see the facade better.

    The structure till the circular cupola on top is a drawing. If you walk closer you can also notice that it is a precisely done cross hatch pattern that has been blown up. Interestingly the entire print has been grey-ed down to sepia to make it less stark.

    As always I was running to the airport. London was and is the most charming place on earth. Feels like home!

    Please excuse the quality of these pictures. They have all been shot on my Sony Ericsson K750i mobile phone 2.0 megapixel camera. I did not carry my other cameras and the quality suffers. I will make up for this mishap soon!

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  9. A Slice of Life

    I, apparently am shortlisted to the second stage of They wanted me to send them a 150 words travelogue. I quote “The next step requires you to share with us a 100-150 word write-up on your most relished travel experience. Please email this to within next week.” I sent the piece below. You decide!

    A Slice of Life

    Traveling in trains through terrains and towns is like watching avant-garde theatre. The grilled window reveals a slice in the lives of people outside as it moves swiftly.

    My early train journeys were predominantly across the baked Deccan to reach Gujarat. I have watched the shadow of the train quiver over sands of dry river beds, farmers in an argument on a red landscape, boys being slapped by grandfathers in white turbans, vacant wait of cyclists at the crossing and dust clouds of a distant bus with cargo on top.

    Recently I had to visit a leather and sugarcane town at the northern corner of Karnataka on a photography assignment for a Flemish magazine. The town drunkards and smell of dead buffaloes being tanned drove me out of Athani. I fled on a bus to Belgaum.

    It was that ethereal red flat landscape again. We stopped for a break and there were people with me who looked like the slapping grandfather and waiting cyclists.

    There was a train at the horizon. Somebody was watching this slice of my life.

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  10. Transit

    I am sitting at this teeming terminal of the Mumbai airport, worn and inspired. I have been a lot in airports this month. These are vacant times like in an elevator where you pretend to be in a state of being that other passengers will not comprehend. These are dead times. There is no specific thought, unless you are alone in the elevator with a bomb of woman. It is strange if you are alone. You do things that you do not do in public places. Probably not what George Michael did. But it could be a jig or funny faces in a strip mirror – as if the closed doors deem you to be the king of the formica kingdom on winch.

    I was in Dallas, Minneapolis, Washington, Chicago and Frankfurt airports. I was in transit with no agenda but to spend a lay over entertained and sated. It is like being in a crowded island of sleepwalkers with baggage tags. I have been back and am traveling to Mumbai now. I will be home with my daughters soon.

    I will write again.

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