Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Review of OMR - and a plausible solution!

I have reviewed quite a few subjects in this blog - movies, mobile phones, restaurants, etc. Now, for a change and to vent out big time (or just for the heck of it), I would like to write a review of a famed road in Chennai called OMR, expanded as Old Mahabalipuram Road or otherwise known as IT Expressway.

To begin with, the very fact of the road being called an Expressway is such an irony. It should rather be called a Suicide-way. The road is supposedly a toll road, but shows zero signs of being so. Out of the three lanes the road is designed for, two of them are taken at most places by shops and commuters waiting at bus stops. Motorists are left with just one lane and rarely two, which they fight for with their dear lives.

Government adds oil to the fire by placing barricades every few kilometers. Barricades, in my opinion are placed on roads to control over speeding. With a few million vehicles chugging along bumper to bumper in the rush hour traffic, those freaking barricades only add to the congestion. I can't fathom how difficult is for the Government to realize this simple fact. Least they could do is to remove the damn things and create a little more room in the road.

Two-wheelers, for their part, do their best to wreak havoc in their unique 'i-will-peek-my-nose-into-any-gap-I-see' strategy. And by gap, I mean little wedges that could start from anywhere around 0.5 mm. With all the powerful bikes people could afford, the road becomes nothing short of a race track or even worse, for some more like a road-rage video game.

Most bikers fail to realize what might happen if the truck/car they tail gate so closely attempt to brake. With the kind of brakes two wheelers have and with the very fact of it being a two-wheeler, the rider stands no chance but to rear end the vehicle in front of him and fall flat on the road. Most times while I drive in this road, in addition to fighting through the traffic, I take conscious attempts to save a life or two by keeping distances from such two-wheelers.

Next big things are the buses. When the two-wheelers attempt to maneuver through a gap, the buses follow them closely to try to do the same. What idiots. With their massive size and a masculine horn, they think they rule the road. At every signal light, they diligently drift towards the left and try to get as far as possible. Imagine a 100 buses doing this all at the same time. Rest of the vehicles do nothing but to save themselves from scratching against the sides of the bus or worse, get stuck under their wheels. Makes me think if most of such bus drivers have a license to kill from hell.

In addition, there are these annoying share autos who give a damn about traffic rules, signal lights or worse, the fact that their rear wheels need more room to enter than their front wheel (just like auto-rickshaws across the city). They ship about 20 people where there would be room for only about 7. In the midst of all these, there are call taxis, cycles, pedestrians, dogs, cows, all with one sole aim – to make driving experience a nightmare in this road.

But I’m not someone who just sits and complains. I have thought of a solution that can be a cure to all these problems. One solution that can put an end to all the ordeals that drivers face. I propose there be separate lanes for buses, cars, autos/bikes. More like how the Mount Road in Chennai has service lanes, but wider than that.

But that may just not be enough to keep Chennai drivers under leash. Government should have spikes installed along the white dotted lanes, thereby enforcing people to strictly follow lanes. One should not be able to change lanes without puncturing their own tyres. That’s the only way to stop people from wavering across lanes, thereby inculcating little bit of discipline and road sense in all OMR drivers.

Till something crazy like this is implemented, I’m afraid the road will remain a death trap for years to come, if not worse!

Monday, April 11, 2011

City of Mumbai – my first impressions!

After having lived for exactly a week in Mumbai, one lets go of the inertia to write the blogpost about one’s first experiences of the city. Though I got a mix of clearly stated warnings from a few people and exaggerated hype from the others before I moved in, I feel the city has a good combination of both!

My first impression on the city is how the rich and poor co-exist so beautifully. If I consider other cities, Chennai for example, you’ll never see a hut right next to a bungalow with a Volkswagen Passat. But in Mumbai, you see exactly that, over and over again. There could be a 25 storeybuilding with a few BMWs and Mercs parked inside, but they have to pass through the slum to get in to the building. Most high rise buildings have grand views of impoverished slums.

And it seems like a common situation to not have parking space in the building one resides in. I see Honda Accords and Toyota Corollas parked anadhaya on the roads in the night. Once again, this is something that startles a resident of Chennai, where even a Maruti 800 is ducked inside the compound wall through a gate meant for two-wheelers!

As the fiancé nicely puts it, the co-existence of rich and poor in the city gives the rich a humble approach to life and the poor a growing aspiration. Maybe she is right!

Next thing I observed is the traffic pattern. I hear Mumbai built over 50 flyovers in just 2 years early last decade. Talking about bridges/flyovers, there is one toll booth to get on the Vashi bridge that I take daily. Though the toll operation is completely manual, it is faster than even fully automated EZ Passes in the US. Cars here hardly stop at this toll, they just slow down and in one split second, the exchange of the money for the toll receipt happens and the cars speed away. I have tried both - giving the exact money or expecting change. It just works perfectly.

All one has to do is to stick one’s hands out to display the cash he is to pay while entering the toll. Rest is taken care of by the robotic arms of the toll booth guy (and the helper who stands outside, almost on the road). The transaction is complete before you know it! I just think it’s fantastic and silently wish tolls in OMR Chennai are at least half as fast!

And the traffic regulations implemented in the city are just awesome. Especially I love rules such as Auto-rickshaws not being allowed to certain parts of the city and two-wheelers not being allowed on certain freeways/flyovers. I think it greatly helps to organize the flow of traffic.

Maybe I drive against the traffic since we reside in South Bombay and I drive towards Navi Mumbai. But I think the traffic flow is slightly better than other cities in India. Also, I see far less two-wheelers in the city than other cities. I am still to find the probable reason for this.

Another thing I found very fascinating is the night life in the city. On weekdays, the city goes to sleep only after midnight and during weekendsI suspect the city never sleeps. Most high end restaurants are open till 1 or 2am and even malls are open till midnight. There was bumper to bumper traffic at 2am when we came home after a late night dinner at Colaba last Saturday. It only reminds me of life in NYC!

With the business centric minds of Mumbaiites, they go to a good extent to create value for customers in every single business avenue they venture into. Most shops deliver pretty much everything from breakfast dosas to vegetables to batteries to milk. People in general are very nice – be it while giving directions or while assisting in parking a car in the apartment. They are so nice that even terrible Hindi does not deter themfrom helping (yours truly’s first-hand experience!)

Just like every city, Mumbai might have its darker side and I’m probably not exposed to it yet. I truly wish impressions remain the same. And though it’s very early, except for some initial blues, I’m slowly starting to like the city. But will I ever get comfortable here to call this placeHome, only time will tell.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Romance with the lens

I was probably 4 or 5 years old when I held my first camera in hand. My dad being a professional photographer, there was absolutely no lack of access to the camera. And absolutely no dearth for our photographs at home too. I have wondered many a time if he practiced on my sister and I more than brides or models!

There would be a million of those photographs where my sister and I would have followed dad’s request and posed with our hands on the hips and smile on the lips! I wouldn’t be surprised if one was bewildered at the sheer number of similar photographs all with the same pose, just with the background/clothes changing! I have never understood how no one in the household ever got tired of that pose!

I hazily remember my first experience with the camera. We were at a park in Ooty and my dad was trying to photograph us in our famed pose. Legend says that I asked my dad if I can photograph and he said NO and as expected, that did not result in a very happy me. I walked away from the scene and I vaguely remember the drama that followed. Mom, dad and sister all had to run, chase me down and bring me back. The end result was I was given the camera to photograph.

I don't remember if I took a nice shot then (or even if I took a shot), but I can safely assume there sparked some sort of a passionate photographer in me. Or it clearly displayed the behavior of an annoying kid. I would like to safely assume the former.

For the next 20 years, the photographer in me would happily hibernate except for occasional moments of volunteering to photograph friends on a trip or people during occasions. Later, circa 2006, the photography desire arose and I bought myself my first Digital SLR camera. Just like most amateur photographers, I got myself an entry level Canon SLR with a kit lens (18-55mm). I was very happy and still remember the solo photo-walk I did around the block near my apartment and awed at the photographs myself. I was one happy camper then.

In a few years, thanks to this incident, I had to buy a new camera. And in the following year, thanks to my job and my spending abilities, I upgraded my camera yet again. I now have a Canon 7D which I think is probably the best money spent so far. And I have a series of 4 lenses, which I'm in the verge of converting to 5.

When I keep updating my equipment, my dad still has the same camera he used during our childhood (Yashica Electro 35). When I saw it during my last visit home, the camera brought back a sense of nostalgia like nothing ever has done before. Our household has a collection of at least 50 photo albums, most of them photographed through our childhood and almost every single photograph shot by my dad. There is even a picture of me running away in Ooty, as my sister was seen obediently posing.

Though I don’t have such a collection, thanks to my ever increasing interest for photography and travel, I have a decent repository of photographs in Flickr. When I sold my first photograph a few months ago, the feeling was unexpectedly rewarding. From that point, I have sold quite a few photographs. And thanks to my good friends, I recently sold a bunch of desk calendars too.

Though my photography has not matured to eke a comfortable living out of it, it makes me happier than anything else. Every time I go out in sub zero temperature or stand out in 30 mph wind or wait in one place for 3 hours just to get a neat picture of a lighthouse or a bridge or a waterfall – I realize I do it all for sheer pleasure of capturing the beauty of the moment.

One day I might go out and do something full time in photography. Till then, my camera would just be my good travel companion like it has been so far and an object of jealousy for my fiancé!

Monday, February 14, 2011

My tryst with the photographer!

I recently got engaged to the most beautiful girl in the world (yeah yeah, hate the game, not the player!). I had a very good time as part of the engagement function. Though I was a little speculative about this whole Hindu Engagement ceremony, I actually sort of enjoyed all the attention I got.

After the priest declared us engaged, with the kind of attention we were receiving, I wondered if we just achieved something that human kind has never achieved before. I was able to witness our guests becoming happier than us. The way we were wished by people, for a second, made me wonder if we got married already. The photographer was having a tough time trying to frame us all with at least one person not showing their back to the camera. The videographer laid two chairs and three stools, one on top of the other and balanced on one foot, just to get a glimpse of what the hell was going on.

Talking about photography, I know it’s all done for the remembrance sake. But should the groom definitely be smiling with his tooth shown always? During the initial photo shoot, after the first two pictures (where I thought I smiled my best smile by the way), the photographer gently asked me if I can smile a little more. I tried, this time, seeming like a guy who is happy that he is finally getting engaged. Photographer wasn't satisfied. He said ‘innum konjam saar’ ('little more sir'). I slightly got impatient and thinking of being a wise-guy, I mockingly showed my teeth and smiled. He said ‘avlo dhaan saar, hero maadhiri irukkeenga!’ ('thats it sir, you like a hero now!’). I had a brief Vivek’s "this piece?????!" moment and the photographer kept taking a few thousand shots. I wasn't sure if my attempted joke became one on myself or if I truly looked like my photographer's hero. When I came back to senses after being temporarily blinded from the zillion watts flash, I asked him to show me the photographs, which were not too bad after all.

Realizing I had to maintain the smile for the entire evening, (not that I had a choice, as the photographer was very conscious of how my smile varied with time - he must have had a mental graph with smile on Y-axis and time on X-axis!), I continued to do so effortlessly. After a few photographs, I slowly felt a pain in my jaws and realized it was not all that easy to fake a smile. To add to the complexity, my facial components are wired in such a way that if I maintain a fake smile for prolonged time, my eyes tend to close automatically. Awesome. Now the photographer got something else to point to. He said 'saar, kanna moodaatheenga saar' (‘sir, please don’t close your eyes, sir’). I nodded, made sure my eyes are wide open and continued the shoot. In a few seconds, my smile faded away. He stopped and pointed that my smile is missing. I realized, got back my signature smile and he fired a few shots, then requested to me not to close my eyes. My face did not seem to get the hang of the process.

Like a scientist, he suddenly exclaimed 'saar, neenga nallaa sirichaa unga kannu moodikkuthu saar! (‘If you smile hard, your eyes close automatically sir’). As a resort, I explained and later pleaded to the photographer about the "smile-eye" coordination problem I'm blessed with. He innovatively thought of a '1-2-3-ready' technique to make sure my eyes are open and the smile is retained at least for that one split second when the camera shutter opens.

That sort of helped, but not for long. The problem grew further when the bride joined. She knew what kind of a monkey face I can become while facing the camera (compare to behind being one). My open-smile-closed-eye-closed-smile-open-eye syndrome continued for a little while and the pressure was building, as the girl was quite comfortable smiling away to glory. The photographer can't help but compare me to her. He politely said 'avangala paarunga saar, andha maadhiri siringa saar' (‘ook at her sir, try to smile like her sir’). I looked at her. I know she has a Colgate smile and I would look like a happy buffalo if I tried that. I laughed aloud, almost uncontrollably. Looking at all the drama, she joined too. Photographer took that as a good opportunity and fired a few shots. He was either satisfied by then or I got better with time or he felt I was totally hopeless; he never complained about my smile that evening!

But I am definitely looking forward to working with him during my wedding, even if he is not.

Thursday, January 20, 2011


Though one tries hard not be rhetoric, the compulsion to write the initial thoughts on ever-changing Indian cities seems customary.

The puzzling look of a stranger on a sudden smile is priceless. So is the swerving auto-rickshaw that constantly plays ghost in my left rear view mirror. In a short moment, it gets replaced by a rider with a helmet. Before one could realize, he disappears too. He then appears right in front of my bumper, only to slow down, forcing me to apply my brakes. Chennai roads and the ditches!

I stop at a red light ahead of me. I look around to realize I was the only one to stop. Later, one more good samaritan stops. I was not sure if he stopped by his own will or as all Indians do, he likes to follow what others do. Eventually, all vehicles stop and in about 30 seconds, all I could see around me were a few million cars, billions of two-wheelers, trillions of auto-rickshaws and one bicycle (who by the way was happily balancing by placing his left hand on my rear window).

The countdown of the red light reaches 10 seconds and I hear the blaring horns already. I wonder if every single one of them were driving an ambulance in their past lives. An old guy in his TVS 50 tries so hard to honk at a car in front of him. I couldn’t help but wonder if he had a 1000CC engine and if he would reach 100kmph under 5 seconds. Only if the car in front of him had let him go. By the time I came back to reality, vehicles are inches apart, every one of them moving with a cohesive objective – to get past the signal light before it turns red again or maybe to catch the space shuttle that was leaving in 5 minutes beyond the signal light. Either way, the make sure they get the heck out of the traffic light.

As I shift gears and take off, rest of the vehicles fade in my rear view mirror and in one split second, I realize how much I belong here!