Categories
Goa Places

Once upon a time in Goa

I will never forget. The beach cloaked in starlight, white waves glistening and breaking on the shore; the constant, sleepless churning black mass of the sea, its rhythmic roars loud and sonorous. The horizon lost to mortal eyes, no end in sight. There I stood, with waves crashing at my feet, not a thought in my mind, watching, listening, waiting. Time ceased to be. It was humbling and peaceful.

No, I wasn’t sloshed — far from it. But the sea at night is an intoxicating experience. In fact, as I waited for an epiphany at the edge of the sea, at one moment I felt like Tuor seeking Ulmo at the coast of Nevrast*. That night remains an everlasting memory of my first visit to Goa last weekend.

However, that wasn’t the first beach I saw en route to Goa. It was cold at dawn as our car raced along NH-17, me and my mates low on sleep, waiting for the journey to end. As morning broke and the first rays hit the eastern horizon, I caught a whiff of the sea. I knew it was near, the long wait about to end.

On the brink of Karwar, breaking through the thickets, the road bent in a wide arc for a stretch of 50-60 meters. From above, I gazed down a line of palm trees with sand at their feet, the sea outstretched not too far ahead. Two hills flanked the beach, rock pinnacles dotted the water few hundred meters inside. The sky was a riot of pink, orange, and blue. I tried remembering when I had last glimpsed upon the sea but failed. It was a majestic view!

Past Panjim, we reached Mapusa by 10 a.m., and onwards to Siolim, our base camp for the Goa trip. From here we covered Arambol, Velha Goa, Mangeshi Temple, Fort Aguada — its picturesque lighthouse, Dona Paula, the beaches at Miramar, Baga and Calangute, and a ferry ride to Fort Tiracol (Terekhol) within two days. In that time, I realized the sheer scale of foreign tourists all over the place. Strangely, I felt like an outsider in my own country.

Of course, food was a big highlight of the trip. I fell in love with Goan cuisine, especially sea food. So much so that apart from breakfast, every other meal featured something from the sea. I remember two meals very clearly; one was on Arambol’s coast inside a small restaurant overlooking the sea at the stroke of sunset, the other atop Fort Tiracol on a hill between two beaches with an unforgettable view. Best thing I had? Fish curry and rice, Goan style. Simply delicious.

Apart from the sandy coastline, I fondly remember my time inside the Basilica of Bom Jesus and Se Cathedral, two iconic churches in Old Goa. The Basilica’s architecture is alluring, especially its flying buttresses. Inside it holds an elaborate altar that takes the breath away at first sight. The Basilica is renowned all over Christendom for holding the relics and mortal remains of St. Francis Xavier. Do not miss it on your next Goa trip.

Across the road from the Basilica of Bom Jesus sits the Se Cathedral of Santa Catarina, next to the Archaeological Survey of India building. It has a clean white facade and only one of its two tall bell towers. The cathedral is proportionally larger and grander compared to the Basilica, with a high-vaulted ceiling and multitude of side chapels. With less tourists and low voices, I had no problem sitting there for a long time, studying the altar, feeling right at home.

What did I bring back from Goa? A bottle of port wine, several packets of prawn pickle and cashew nuts — the Mapusa market didn’t disappoint. And quite a few fond memories. They’re better than the best photographs. Of course, two days is way too short a time to even scratch the surface of what Goa has to offer. As I hastened back to the real world, I felt torn apart, and finally understood people’s fascination with Goa. Sun, sand, relaxation — who wouldn’t wanna go back?

* Tolkien illiterates, click here.

Originally published: January 22, 2011

Categories
Bengaluru Places

IndiBlogger’s Akshaya Patra Gathering

Acknowledging my blog being dead for a year in front of 200 odd blogging enthusiasts wasn’t easy, even if I meant it as a wisecrack. It seemingly did the trick, however, going by the scattered laughter in response to my candid announcement. “Don’t worry, Jayesh, you’re not alone,” someone chimed from a far corner. The room full of strangers, hanging on my every word as I completed a rather uninspired introduction, suddenly felt a lot more inviting. IndiBlogger‘s session ahead could only get better, I reckoned.

Sunday’s strictly a leisure day for me. So what pushed me to make an exception, instead of laze around hugging my mattress, refusing to do anything but “chillout” on Sundays as is my wont? Given Bangalore’s stick-up-the-bum public transport system, which I detest from the bottom of my artery-clogged heart, even the idea of traversing halfway across the city was enough to stir some bile. If anything, it was to reconnect with ISKCON, soak in the divinity, that pushed me to go. IndiBlogger’s “Akshaya Patra” meet was an added bonus, nothing more.I’ve had a fruitful relationship with ISKCON since my early teens, but for a variety of excuses had lost touch with the institution for the past few years. It was nice to learn about Akshaya Patra, ISKCON’s and India’s largest mid-day cooked meal program that reaches out to over 1.25 million school kids everyday in eight Indian states. Between IndiBlogger’s interruptions, the ISKCON representatives brought the blogging community up to speed with their charity initiatives — they even fielded questions on day-to-day operations, corporate donation programs, food production, and blogging efforts impacting the Akshaya Patra movement.

To hear a religious-cum-spiritual organization interested in social media initiatives to propagate their message is something I don’t see very often. Just like my memory of ISKCON’s Juhu temple, the humble repast or prasadam served continued to be simple yet sumptuous.

Surprisingly, the afternoon turned out none too bad for me. The fact that IndiBlogger’s meet didn’t have a set itinerary helped keep the mood informal, I met some new people, reconnected with some old faces, and left the premises before I could snag a free T-shirt — Manchester United vs. Liverpool awaited.

One of these days, I will go back to ISKCON again. The temple fascinates me.

Originally published: January 11, 2011

Categories
Bengaluru Books Places

Churched

As mentioned earlier, I’m a self-confessed church lurker. I visit them for their peace and quiet (especially on Saturday afternoons) and because I just can’t go through fifty pages of a book without dozing off on my mattress at home (I know I’m hopeless). Aided by the fact that the pews are just so darn comfortable to sit on, and the last instance I fell asleep while I sat was in an overcrowded ‘Virar fast’ train (the rhythmic rocking of the bogies is an overpowering, unsung lullaby!), I get a lot of reading done inside churches. There are three that I frequently visit on weekends—the nearest takes about five minutes from where I live while the farthest is a good 40 minutes away on foot, which I don’t mind given Bangalore’s fantastic weather.

Yet I don’t view churches as an excuse for public libraries—minus the public, of course. Right from the moment my puny-but-cute self stepped inside St Thomas Cathedral—Mumbai’s first Anglican church—all those long years ago, I’ve been smitten by their architecture. Tall bell towers, grand doors, long naves, high vaulted ceilings, wooden pews, arched pillars, arcades, clerestory windows (with stained glass work), prominent altars, chapels, choirs—there’s so much to take in and marvel at for unsuspecting eyes. Every visit to Horniman Circle ever after hasn’t been without a quick pitstop at St Thomas. It attracted me, this structure of stone and mortar, and I couldn’t resist stepping over its threshold time and again. I was curious to know more.

Churches of course are places of worship, but I was never tickled by their divinity, only by their structural grandeur. I got a little more insight into churches while reading Ken Follett’s The Pillars Of The Earth, a novel about the building of a grand cathedral church. I read two-thirds of Pillars between time spent among couple of churches, and it helped me appreciate the structural nuances of the church, as a building, and correlate it with Follett’s commentary on masonry and construction. In some ways it saved my poor head the trouble of visualizing Follett’s written word, if I had read it anywhere else. Believe me when I say that a church is an apt setting to devour Pillars in—been there done that, hence.

Despite my preference to sit in empty churches, they are seldom completely empty. People keep coming in their ones and twos to offer prayer, and there’s the church staff that keeps waltzing in every now and then. However, churches are almost always quiet (unlike temples – ring any bells? Precisely!) unless on occasions of choir practice or music lessons, which I’ve had the chance to witness and enjoy. I fondly remember this one instance where my “crazy church fixation” got me an invitation to attend a Sunday School Christmas function at St John’s—best free entertainment I’ve had on consecrated grounds. Ever.

Yesterday, I took my relationship with churches beyond the realms of mere structural fascination. You see I had been toying with the idea of attending mass for some time now, just to see how it felt. Throughout my time spent in churches, I couldn’t help notice people walking up the nave, some kneeling at the altar, others sitting on the front pews, their heads bowed in silent prayer. I wanted to do all that without emotion, with no strings attached, and I wanted to do it in front of the congregation. Madly exciting, don’t you think?

Sunday service begins at 7 am at St Mark’s Cathedral, I attended the one at 8.30 am. The church’s dominating features include a striking dome and a marble altar I had never seen before. I saw people enter the church through its two facade doors and main entrance on the west end. I sat in the second from last row, my view of the congregation and most of the church unfettered. An organ started playing somewhere in the chancel, its music deep and resonating—it reminded me of Lurch and the opening theme of The Addams Family. Just before 8.30, when the church was packed to full capacity, a priest entered through the main entrance. He carried a staff long and high, followed by the choir and other office bearers of the church. He walked along the central nave and placed the staff near the altar. That was the cue for the presbyter to take over proceedings.

What followed was a series of sung hymns, quoting scriptures, listening to sermon, praying (in song), confessing, and receiving holy communion—the moment I was waiting for. I followed the line of people walking towards the altar, my palms sweating. Was I doing something wrong? I abandoned that thought and went with the flow. As I knelt in front of the altar, and swallowed the bread and wine the priest offered, I felt relieved. My intention in attending mass was to observe and learn, never to offend. Will I still continue visiting churches? Absolutely.

If by now you’ve guessed I had “receiving holy communion” written down in my bucket list, give yourself a bournville. You’ve certainly earned it.

Originally published: January 25, 2010

Categories
Bengaluru Places

C ‘est moi

Not long ago, amidst spoonful of gajar halwa on a pleasant Bangalore afternoon, a friend made an interesting observation about me. To be a Hindu by birth, go through close to ten eventful years of schooling in a Muslim institute, and have a knack of reading books (and listening to Metallica) in empty churches, I must be as close to a secularist poster boy as one would hope to find in the religious quagmire of our nation (is that a little self-centered? Maybe. Who cares!).

As long as I’m entitled to my share of shirkhurma and biryani on Eid ul-Fitr, and tender turkey meat on Christmas day—who gives a hoot for Diwali crackers?—I say hell yeah!

Originally published: December 31, 2009

Categories
Bengaluru Entertainment Music Places

Great Indian Rock

My rock education continues. For the past couple of months the only songs I’ve listened on the iPod—whether I tune out the daily commute to and from work or wind down at night—have been from Metallica. From Death Magnetic to Kill ‘Em All, every single day has been an ear-busting cacophony of musical mayhem. One heck of a ride. Although I may not know the lyrics of their songs by heart, nor identify most of the tracks from their first riff, but I still count myself a Metallica fan.

It was only natural, what with my newfound affinity towards rock music (heavy metal, in particular), that I had to attend the Bangalore leg of Great Indian Rock 2009—the largest platform for the country’s leading rock bands to showcase their talent. But the event clashed with one of my passions: weekend football, and Manchester United’s irresistible Premiership encounter with Liverpool at Anfield. Choosing to attend the rock show over watching the football game wasn’t easy, but it turns out I made the right choice.

Palace Grounds was the venerable venue. I went with fellow metalheads, first to congregate outside the gates, arriving well over two hours before they opened. Apart from baking under the uncharacteristically hot Bangalore sun, and contemplating unlikely conditions invoking “force majeure” (as printed on the back of our entry tickets), we saw a bunch of security guards being taught how to frisk people (no kidding!). Slowly, as the minutes trickled past excruciatingly, the crowd started swelling. Black t-shirts proclaiming several band allegiances were everywhere.

We entered the ground at 5 o’clock and saw a mini-hangar of a stage in front of us. I am told it wasn’t even one-fifth the size of the stage Iron Maiden had for their gig in February. I had no idea what to expect, but from the lukewarm reception to Parachute XVI’s curtain raising performance, I had mixed feelings over the rest of the evening. I’m no authority on music but this three man band just didn’t cut it for me: their music was so-so, vocals were imperceptible, and the bespectacled lead singer-cum-lead guitarist looked out of place and lacked any semblance of stage presence.

Next in line were Inner Sanctum. In sharp contrast to the near-lethargic Parachute XVI, these guys just exploded on stage and resuscitated GIR 2009 back to life through their death metal. Inner Sanctum’s frenetic, no-nonsense music finally brought the crowd to their feet, inspired no doubt by their lead singer, a figure bursting with energy (one Red Bull too many, perhaps) and nothing short of a rampaging bull. He acted and sang like a man possessed. Although I didn’t comprehend much but I liked the guttural vocals, and how their 40-odd minute performance never dipped in mind-numbing, bone-crushing intensity. Inner Sanctum snapped me out of my daydream, took me by the scruff of the neck and compelled me to initiate the evening’s headbanging. I’ll never forget that performance.

I was slightly sad when they left the stage, unsure how the next band would fare. Up next were Kryptos, the flagbearers of Indian heavy metal, and I soon knew why. Smoke engulfed the stage, silhouetting the band members in a dim red glow. It resembled a ghost light amidst evil incarnates. And their music unleashed hell upon the captivated crowd, mosh pits erupted without warning, and everyone loved every moment of it. Any niggling doubt I had over the Indian heavy metal scene was laid to rest by Kryptos. Where Inner Sanctum bubbled over with raw energy, Kryptos had an accomplished veteran’s musical style and grace. I liked their structured song-play—every song had a beginning, middle and end. Their guitar play, solos, and drumming was best amongst the three Indian bands. And these guys knew they were good. One of their songs, Mask of Anubis, was strikingly similar to Metallica’s Master of Puppets. Memorable performance from a celebrated band.

Easily the best band of the night, Solstate (based in New Zealand) had a potent mixture of powerful vocals, engaging lyrics, and the ability to deliver a professional performance. Their genre was more of alternative rock, definitely more mainstream than the other bands. Lead singer and songwriter Troy McKrube did a nice job of belting the lyrics, while the puny bassist’s darting around on stage was also good to see.

The final act came from Benea Reach, a Norwegian heavy metal band. Their music was of the thrash-throb kind but distinctively different. The lead singer’s onstage appearance reminded me of Adam Gontier, and his lung-busting vocals were impressive. They were the only band at GIR 2009 who had some props on stage by erecting three towering mannequins—white masks, black cloaks, they reminded me of that monster from Hellraiser. Benea Reach gave a powerful performance to say the least, and also interacted quite a bit with the crowd.

By the time curtains fell on GIR 2009, and as we exited the premises, I was aware of the acute pain in my neck (one headbang too many), my calves and feet (over four hours of standing). But it didn’t take away anything from a great night out having witnessed my very first rock show.

Originally published: October 29, 2009

Categories
Bengaluru Football Places Sports

We are back!

Yeah.

That headline is for all the naysayers out there, and their jittery kneejerk reactions, daring to write off United after only their second game of the Premiership campaign. Second game!! Granted Burnley was a slap on the face—but what a cracking volley that was from Clarke—and defeat not the best result, but it was a wake-up call nonetheless. United have traditionally been slow starters, but that doesn’t give them license to be sloppy, which is what they were away at Turf Moor. The Clarets were better in all departments, and Carrick’s slip-up during the penalty chance was unfortunate.

I’ve never seen Fergie as red-faced as he was after that midweek game. The hair-dryer surely must have been thrashed around in the dressing room, and the players given a deserved earful. Wonder what the Gaffer says during times like these. Be that as it may, it surely seems to have worked. Wigan resisted well in the first half yesterday, but they were brushed aside with ease in front of United’s attacking prowess in the second. Nope, brushed aside is too tame to describe the proceedings: Wigan were annihilated, decimated, in the face of sheer brilliance. Rooney—who finally scored his landmark 100th goal for United—scored a brace, while Berbatov, Owen, and Nani, all scored one apiece. Owen’s first goal for the club was a special one, and probably off the hardest chance he’s had since the start of the Premiership. That’ll help ease his nerves and give his confidence a big boost, and the same holds true for Berbatov. All three strikers need to hit the right note early on for United to have any chance of winning a record fourth straight Premiership title.

The scoreline in the end was 5-0 in favour of United. Quite a way to silence those retarded critics, eh? Oh and Arsenal won their match 4-1. It’s going to be an exciting game next weekend. Wenger or Good Ol’ Fergie?

—-

That headline holds true for England as well. They defeated Australia by 197 runs to regain the Ashes, winning the series 2-1. The Poms did the Oz—again!

—-

Nice weekend, here in Bangalore. Had the pleasure of introducing an unsuspecting South Indian family of the nuances of Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations—bumbaiya ishtyle. Oh yeah, they were amused.

Originally published: August 23, 2009

Categories
Bengaluru Places Sports

Run maadi run!

What do you get when you combine reckless exuberance with an unfulfilled ambition? In the context of this post, a physical meltdown. As I furiously press the keys on my laptop’s keyboard, trying to show my body who’s its daddy, I have completely surrendered to the mutiny of my lower limbs, that pain and shriek—yeah, I hear them—at my tiniest attempts to move them. To be fair to them, they have every right to complain, after the torture they’ve endured. I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy—but hey, you gotta do what you gotta do.

Sunday mornings are seldom as demanding—get up late, have brunch, laze around some more, you know the drill, right?—but having signed up for the Sunfeast World 10K Bangalore, what else was I expecting? In the end the experience was both exhaustive and enriching at the same time. The event is a yearly marathon that takes place in Bangalore, which, coupled with its lovely, inviting weather for outdoor activities, saw a turnout of over twenty-three thousand enthusiastic runners this year. And they came in all size and shapes, age-groups, and demographics. I saw the modern runner—complete with sweat bands, Nike sneaks, an iPod, energy drink, the whole nine yards—and an appreciable foreign contingent setting the pace for the rest of the pack. There were ladies running in tracksuits, small kids, pudgy men, middle-aged-out-of-shape aunties, grannies and grandpas, even a baby in a pram! I also saw some costumed crusaders: Ghajini-inspired runner, a Yamaraj-lookalike, and several confused caped men. The mass exodus was flagged off from Kanteerava Indoor Stadium at 8.10am, the track snaking its way through Kasturba Road, Cubbon and Dickenson Road, before reaching its farthest point at Ulsoor Road (the 5-km mark) and turning back. People along the way were cheering us—heck, even traffic and regular cops were clapping their hands together, shouting Run maadi run! whenever they saw someone falter or slow down. It was also good to see Bangalore’s roads devoid of automobiles of any kind—you can hope to glimpse Santa on Christmas Eve before witnessing such a miracle, if you weren’t running.

I had received my bib (no. 8916) and goodie bag on Wednesday, and, although unprepared, I was really looking forward to the showdown. Apart from not being in the best of shape, and getting found out physically in terms of stamina, I take great personal joy and pride in completing the damn thing in just over two hours—2 hours 10 mins—without a single break! I winced, huffed and puffed, thrust an endless amount of fluid down my throat (knowing all too well it wasn’t the best thing to do), and I winced some more but I got the job done. Another personal highlight was bumping into Dav Whatmore—the ace Cricket coach, a stone’s throwaway from Chinnaswamy Stadium during my retreat on Cubbon Road. Said a few words, shook his hand, felt good. That was the only distraction throughout the race, apart from a band of runners chanting Ganpati Bappa Morya! at the top of their lungs. Ganpati Bappa in Bangalore? Don’t see that too often.

The event was well-organized, with ample water-medic stalls stationed throughout the course. At the time I reentered Kanteerava to finish the race, my feet felt like they were getting poked by needles all over. I relaxed and recouperated with friends at a pub on Church Street, but reaching there was another long, arduous trudge which my feet were unwilling to make. Once home, it was a long session under the hot shower, before tucking myself into bed at 2pm. Having woken up at 6am on a Sunday morning—which is nothing short of blasphemy—and walked to the tune of 12-13km, what else do you expect?

Originally published: June 1, 2009

Categories
Bengaluru Places

Dinner at Zoe’s

It finally happened this week. A canopy of clouds—menacing and full of purpose—gathered out of nowhere, overshadowing the sun. Only this time they weren’t kidding around, delivering on their promise. The wind picked up, out rolled the thunder, flashes of light ignited, and the dam in the sky finally broke. For about a couple of hours, on two successive days, there was hardly any respite from the rain pounding on rooftops. Muddy pools of water sprouted all over the place; the gutters overflowed, overwhelmed and unable to contain that leak in the sky. And just like that, the monsoon had arrived. Despite my wardrobe’s complaints over the weather, I couldn’t be bothered. I was too happy soaking it all in.

The merciless shower led to an unintended discovery. Homesick and hungry, and trapped after work, late Tuesday night, a couple of friends and I escaped to where we all felt instantly at home: a restaurant-cum-cafe called Zoe’s. The prospect of choosing my first Italian meal, through the endless list of mouthwatering dishes, proved too much for my appetite. While sipping some hot cappuccino, I settled for a plate of spaghetti bolognese and some good conversation, watching the raindrops trickle away into the night. Had my first glass of cherry coke there as well, along with a customary dollop of ice cream melting over a chocolate brownie for dessert. Heaven!

Great food, good ambience, and prompt service, on a cosy, rain-slicked night—with Zoe’s, it was love at first sight.

Originally published: May 23, 2009