Archive for July, 2006

The death of Reservations

25 July 2006 3 comments

List of Computerised Railway Reservation Offices in India

No, it is not about THE reservations. I am not a serious guy, who has strong opinions about societal issues. This is a favourite activity of mine. Railway reservations, to be precise, are fascinating by themselves, just like reading the railway timetables. Back home in Thoothukudi, the railway station is very close to the sea. A thin road divides the old harbour from the main station. The station thus gets a pleasant sea breeze throughout. There used to be a good macroon shop on the way to the station and every trip to the station, be it to book tickets or to travel or to receive guests, included a stop by the bakery. Tickets were issued manually to start with. Being a small town, the station did not have much of a rush.

I got involved with regular reservations once I joined college. I always had a copy of the Railway Timetable and sometimes spent hours just reading the various routes and the trains. Vacation trips always were special, with all ‘oorkaaranga’ (town-mates) travelling together. People from towns on the way like Kovilpatti, Sattur, Virudhunagar and Madurai also joined us. I always cribbed about the partial treatment the Railways gave to Madurai passengers on the Pearl City. Student concessions were in demand till the final year, though in decreasing priority. The college office staff made us wait long times for such a simple issue of concession ticket. After that, we had to go to a railway station to endorse the concessions. What a pain it used to be! Most times we had to book our tickets first and then get them re-done with the concessions. Getting all the guys together and the concessions was a chore.

The Mambalam PRS complex comes first to mind. Being in the busy T.Nagar area, it was full of people especially as we used to get free only in the evenings or during the weekends. But we had no choice. We wasted two hours every time. All citizens used to abuse us given that we used to go in gangs of 2 or 3 and used to take maximum time at the counter. The counter folks did not help things by scrutinizing the concessions carefully and rejecting them for minor mistakes. “Boys” showed vividly what happens in T. Nagar. I used to hate the crowds that when I discovered the Besant Nagar Rajaji Bhavan office, I was simply delighted. That was at cycling distance from campus through the tree-filled lanes of Adyar. It took less time and at the end, you could have a stroll through the famed Elliotts Beach.

Come Bangalore. Indra Nagar was the first centre I visited. Innovations like seats while waiting and “one queue, multiple counters” were pleasant surprises. There were so many days when I will feel bored at office. On few such days, these booking counters gave me good rest. I shall take a book, read it there for an hour and get my tickets as well. I had the added pleasure of meeting my good friend RL during fewer of these days, who was looking for her job. The nearby parks proved to be our talking grounds. We commented on the many couples that frequented these parks in those times. When we moved to Wilson Garden, it was the turn of the Jaya Nagar 4th complex centre. Finding it in the maze of the shops there is a great trick by itself.

While at Bangalore, how can I forget the Tatkal days which had me at the Koramangala BDA complex by 6am, all decked for the day at office and still be 10th at the queue? (Of course, this might remind some of you about the passport experience of which I was part of, where the early morning 47A left you at The Passport Office, Shastri Bhavan very very early indeed and you are 40th or 50th in the queue.) This usually happens during peak holiday seasons when the trains seem to be full on the 50th day before the journey date. The Koramangala centre is one of the best, with thoughtful quotes, disciplined queue managers and flower pots to add. At Bangalore, there is the 23rd floor centre at the Utility Building on MG Road, which must boast of the tallest railway reservation counters in India. Walking up the stairs is a delight, except that you don’t have a choice when the lifts don’t work. But the sights of Bangalore up there make up for everything else. Where would you find a free skyline view of the city otherwise?

At Indore, it was a difficult time looking for the main reservation station. Here it is back to those dark ages when you had to stand all the waiting time. It reminds me that Southern Railway must be the most modern of them all. Later we discovered our very own Rajendra Nagar centre, which has 10 people at its peak. It is nice and quiet, typical of an out-of-the-city atmosphere. It had to happen. All the good times come to an end. I was not convinced when they talked about i-tickets. Who wants delivery when it comes at a price? But when they talked e-tickets, I was hooked inspite of the 25 rupees they charge for the convenience. From last April, I have not used any paper tickets at all. I know, I am losing out on a significant portion of my living experience, the physical booking touch. But I have to move on…

Categories: Society

Playing wordly games

16 July 2006 5 comments

One of the many things I wish I were introduced a little earlier in my life is word games. My dad’s office had a recreation club (for its staff NOT the officers), often wrongly associated to the club dances that appeared in the movies of those years. I was a regular patron to the club, chiefly because it had magazines, novels, cable TV (we subscribed after Abi’s class 12), a TT table and a shuttle court. It was one of the major means of entertainment for my friends and me. I could write episodes of the events that used to happen there. Before I get off track, Scrabble was purchased by the club when I was in Class 8. No one there knew how to use it. We, the knowledgeable English medium kids, read the rules and regulations of the game and interpreted it to the best of our abilities. We didn’t insist on the connections between successive plays. We could use the bonus squares as often as we could. This often led to a rush for the triple word scores. This lasted for a year till we found knowledgeable partners.

The next word game that comes to my mind is Hangman in Class 9, which we had to program for a state wide contest held in Anna University. Guru in my team did the coding that time. Mooku and his team won the first prize and we lost out in the semis. Hangman was very addictive and we developed many derivative games. There is the popular World Cup 1992 game, where we had to guess the full names of the cricket players. Like book cricket, this game was more often played in class. It must be Meera who got me introduced to this word game where each player should start a word which ends with the last letter of the previous player’s word. This made me mug up the words starting in ‘y’. Such games are very nice to be played in small gatherings, when you have run out of topics to talk. It goes without saying that the players have to feel for the word.

At college, the GRE preparations had all folks playing word games, apart from reading the normal Norman Lewis. One popular game used to be called GHOST. Each player had to say one letter, without completing the word. If he completes a word, he gets a letter from GHOST. If he gets all letters of GHOST, he becomes a GHOST. This continues till there is just one non-GHOST. Our classmates were fanatics of the game. In our room, we used to play late in the night after the lights have been switched off. I got introduced to Bulls and Cows somewhere during this time. Most of my trips back home used to be with the MIT boys. In one such trip, we played word games non-stop till Erode came and the wordly girl had to get down. Memorable games are played in the train for sure 🙂

Bschool has a set of logophiles (word lovers). My neighbour and I played Bulls & Cows in the first year when we could not stand the class. In a year, I have grown wiser that I have invented/discovered a word game in yesterday’s class. It does not seem very clever, but it is original and fun to play.

Here it goes: The first player writes a word. From its last letter, the next player has to start his word. The catch is his word should not end in a letter that has been the last letter in any of the earlier rounds. This restricts the number of rounds to 26 and so the game gets over fast. Anyone who repeats a last letter is penalised. This rule and the whole game I cooked up in a flash of brilliance. I was trying to make the rules midway because I started the game while trying to kill time and the game just followed. My partner suggests an improvisation that in case of any mistake, the next player should start with the first letter of the previous word. How quickly the game evolves! Our first game ends when my partner is stuck with a word that needs to start in i and end in b,q,v,u,j. In the next game, we start scoring ourselves based on the length of the words and the penalty is a stiff negative of 10 points. This gives the player a bonus to think longer for longer words. One more evolution and lo, the game is formed. We need to think of a time limit for every play and the game would be complete.

Just two games have been played and it seems promising. Do play it and let me know how you like it. I hope I have been able to explain the game. Let me illustrate it with the first game we played.

P1: serendipity P2: yacht P1: tyrant P2: nepotism P1:masculine P1: empirical P2: lure (-1 This is when I framed the rule!) P1: earth P2: hunk P1: Keep P2: peer P1: road P2: darling P1: garlic P2: carton (-1) P1: nebula P2: allow P1: waltz P2: zeal (-1 My partner’s suggestion here) P1: zoo P2: octopus P1: stiff P2: fund (-1) P1: foci

Categories: Bschool, Me

Looking for a digicam

8 July 2006 11 comments

I bought my first camera with my first salary and I was waiting for my second company for my digicam. But circumstances(!) have forced me to get a digicam now. Digicams are popular online purchases. I read several guides/comparisons/reviews notably PC Mag’s, DP Review’s, Steve’s Digicams’, JJMehta’s (easily India’s best) and Imaging Resource’s. I consulted the experts I know (like Gopi and a few guys at bschool). I thought I’d need the following features.

  1. at least 5 Megapixels (DP calls them sensor photo detectors, phew)
  2. at least 4x optical zoom
  3. 2.5″ LCD, though i wonder if i will use it often, given the fact its usage drains the batteries.
  4. AA batteries, NO proprietary ones (Gopi’s tip)
  5. wireless transfer (seems to be expensive)

What price to buy? I could extend my budget upto 20k, but I don’t really know why I need an expensive camera. For all the click-and-mail extensive use, I should just use a Canon A430, but it is outdated vs. the A700 or A620 which tops the list here. My friend O here will kill me for saying it.

“Which brand?” seems to be a no-brainer and Canon trumps Nikon in the brand of choice for beginner (?) use.

Where to buy? That is the second significant question. Think online purchases. JJMehta and ebay come to mind, though I don’t mind going to a physical store in Indore and getting one if there is no significant price difference.

Warranty? For a 2year comprehensive company warranty, should I pay 2k more? Or should a vendor warranty suffice? To go one step ahead, I should get myself a gray market camera which would save me a further 2k.

Accessories is another need. One 512MB, 4 AA batteries, a charger and a pouch are in my list now.

I have zeroed on the Canon A540. Folks, any tip on digicams and the buying process is MOST welcome. I will be buying one in a month’s time.

Categories: Me, Travel

Toranmal – the hidden hillstation

6 July 2006 21 comments

The third in the series 🙂 This is what you do if you have one class each day just ahead of a hectic week. Toranmal (our pics here) had been in my mind ever since my neighbour told me about their trip last year. The famed Google does not give you much info for a “Indore to Toranmal” search. Every site assumes Toranmal is meant for people from Maharashtra. I am left with the Badwani (MP) and the Nandurbar (Maharashtra) district maps to make a best guess of the route. This would be my first cab trip here. We talk to a few cab operators here none of which were sure about the route. Finally we fix one operator to pick the 8 of us on campus at 4am on a Sunday. Two possible obstacles – 1. a World Cup semi 2. Saturday party fever. I choose to skip both whereas the rest choose to postpone their sleep to the time when we travel on the Qualis. We had asked the cabwallah to send us a driver who is well-versed with the route.

Alarmed at 3.30, I have a quick bath and am ready by 4am. The red-themed party is still going on in the wee hours of the morning. Our cab is there by 4.20 am and we are off by 4.30. What punctuality! 🙂 The driver did not know the route. Our best instincts at map reading had told us that our next stop had to be Badwani – the last district in MP. We thought of finding our way from there. We sped on NH3 past the Ghat sections after Mhow. We cross the Narmada at Khalghat. It has been a journey of leg pulling and great fun. One of my friends points to us the portion of the river which parts to form a map of India though I could not see it much. Soon after, we part off the NH to take the SH to the district HQ Badwani. The SHs are sometimes much better than the NHs, at least in MP. We reach Badwani at 7.30am, happy to cover a distance of 150km in 3 hours. Time to have the aloo parathas packed from our night canteen.

We get the shock of the day. The friendly folks there tell us we had come to the wrong place. There is no motorable road to Toranmal. We could walk to Toranmal for a distance of 20km. Khetia is the town to go and we would have another 150km to go through not so good roads. We retrace our route and go to Khetia (10am) – the last point in MP, going an extra distance of 50km. Soon after we cross the borders and we are in Shiv Sena territory. Further ahead on the Khetia to Shahada road, we see a road to the right and a signboard saying 40km to Toranmal. We are greatly relieved. On the sides of the road, we see banana fields and other crops. About 10km down, we hit the Shahada to Toranmal SH2. Kabu wonders if we have enough petrol in the Qualis. This brings fresh bouts of laughter in the cab. The last 25km stretch is entirely Ghat section including the picteresque ‘Saat Paira’ or the seven bends of the road. We are enthralled during the climb. The sight of mist-filled mountains allures our senses. Mid-way we see a stunning View Point.toranmal-viewpoint.JPG

We go further ahead, see the Kala Pani board not the waterfall and the Saat Paira board too. We make haste, having lost time in going around. The beautiful Yashwant Lake comes in our view very soon. Somehow, this place reminds me a lot of Munnar. Toranmal is much more unspoilt than Munnar. On the way we also see the temples of the place and the Lotus Pond. Local kids try to sell us lotus buds. Our next stop is the Sita Khai which has scenic valleys and cliffs. The strong guys have a go hearing their echoes here. sita-khai-pose.JPGWe see a stream and gather around it. We find our way to the decent Toranmal restaurant at one edge of the lake. We order our food. We had two guys who can speak Marathi and they converse at ease. As our food gets ready, we go to the highest View Point Khadki Point. This point has panoramic views of the valley and the board lists the Narmada among other places that can be seen from there. The donkey snap donkeys.JPG comes out well. The tribal huts look like cute match-boxes from up above.tribal-huts-from-khadki-point.JPG

We proceed to the restaurant and have our food. It is time to go boating at the lake. The only boats they have are pedal ones and our legs get some hard work. We get tired very soon and do not use our one-hour quota. yashwant-lake-with-the-driver.JPGWe had a target to start our return trip by 3.30pm. But this excessive pedal exercise advances our plans and we return by 2.45pm. On the way back, we stop at the Machindra Nath cave pathway. Learning that we have to walk about 1.5km to reach the cave, we turn back. As is often the case, our return journey is quick. We reach Sendhwa on NH3 which has an ICICI Bank branch (yippee). From there, Indore is about 150km away. The return trip takes just about 5.45 hours as against the 7 hours we spent on travel in the morning.

Toranmal toranmal-map.JPG is about 260km from Indore. From Sendhwa on NH3 (Bombay side) [150km], proceed to Khetia [60km] and Toranmal is about 50km away. Like every hill station, it has an ubiquitous lake (boating too), seasonal waterfalls, a cave, innumerable view points and delightful walking meadows. It remains hidden from the public view partly because it is so far from civilisation and there are other popular spots like Mahabaleshwar, Lonavala, … There is no mobile network here yet. There are few hotels and fewer people. We regretted making such a short trip. Ideally we should spend at least a whole day walking around. The Maharashtra tourism website identifies it as a trekkers’ paradise. The weather, they say, is pleasant all year round though I feel the monsoons are the perfect times to adore the place. In short, a real getaway 🙂

Categories: Indore getaway, Travel