Friday, June 6, 2008

Travelling Is Always An Experience

When you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.
- Nora Ephron, When Harry Met Sally
Relatively, the time I woke up today was a lot early but I took a nap again after 11:30 am. There was another gap in time when I slept in the evening. Perhaps this is the time when I can really start spending time to finish watching all those movies I have on my computer and also finish reading all those books waiting for me. In fact a couple of days back when I was in the train I read a good part of one of those books. I realized that it was a 'good part' when I had stopped reading it. Today afternoon I watched a few episodes of 'How I Met Your Mother'. There are many more to go before I can finish the first season and bring home the second and the third.

I have never liked watching 'Friends' for some reason. It looked vulgar to me always. Somehow 'How I Met Your Mother' seems to be fine and I am enjoying it. The other TV series I watch frequently is 'Simpsons'. The best part of watching any of all these is that I don't have to sit in front of the TV. And not to forget the only 25 minutes each of the episodes take. There are many more I have access to but there isn't much space in my computer for them. Taking time to watch them is another thing. There isn't much to do at home but still I need to take time to watch.

Time is a big clause as always found to be a very critical of the elements many have tried to conquer. We have always had many sayings and quotations getting us awed trying to put some interesting observations on time. But even the wittiest of the sayings prove nothing. Allah has showed us in the Holy Quran the importance of time. The pace of time is what we have always been amused of. It goes slow when we measure it and fast when we ignore it. There have been theories and observations and prophesies. I somehow have to go past the next three weeks of my life waiting.

The last two weeks I have spent have been more amazing than I can describe here. All the while I kept feeling glad that I live in Hyderabad. Chennai was very humid. As long as I was in the hotel room or in the car things were very fine. But the moment I came out I had all moisture on my glasses and sticky sweat all over me. It was terrible to be there without A/C. People there must be used to it - even used to the sticky tap water and sticky hair! And no doubt why the complexion of their skin is dark. The best thing about Chennai was the traffic. People have road sense, they follow rules even in the absence of cops, the roads are wide and flat with potholes a rarity. Another interesting thing about the place was that there is hardly any difference between commercial and residential areas. I found offices and houses in the same localities everywhere. Roads being wide never give traffic any congestion. Chennai or at least the places I have been in Chennai are a lot different than Hyderabad.

Mahabalipuram was too small. There was a temple I saw from a distance and a beach. Maybe there were more places to visit there but we skipped. I wanted to go to some crocodile park but it was closed that day. It was nice to be in Pondicherry on 3rd's evening which was the next day. We reached there after sunset but the climate was no different - it was terribly humid. We walked through Rue De Bussy and nearby streets to reach the beach. We went past a place that only had doctors, hospitals, diagnostic centers and pharmacies all through a kilometer long stretch. There was also a place with houses in antique style with woodwork so heavy that we could smell sandal and various other woods as we walked past them. The houses were built in French style and there were restaurants offering several European menus. The beach wasn't so great.

The beach at Mahabalipuram was the first one I ever saw. I had never seen sea before. Then next it was Marina beach in Chennai. Marina beach somehow reminded me of our famous 'Secret Lake' of Hyderabad - there were too many couples there sitting on the warm sands. I wonder how they could find romantic time sitting in a place so congested, humid and sticky. I am sure they will find 'Secret Lake' a paradise. There is love in every part of the world - whether we like that place or not; whether we like the people there or not.

Tamil Nadu speaks only Tamil. They seem to have some deep hatred towards English and Hindi let alone Urdu. Even when a dog barks it barks in Tamil! They are more fanatic than so perceived fundamentalists. I simply couldn't understand why they are keeping themselves backward at a time when a language like English can catapult them into huge intellectual and economic development. Things are more terrible with the auto rickshaws - they want to take as much money they can, explain things in Tamil and cheat us. Hyderabad is a lot better in many ways. We have people here speaking Hindi, English and Urdu alongside Telugu of course. And we still have meters working with the auto rickshaws.

A major difference while travelling with friends and while with parents is worrying about money. With parents I could go to good restaurants and hardly give a thinking to the cost of food. I could travel in an A/C car and have an A/C room at the hotel. I never had to calculate how much money was being spent. And I could sleep all night in the train with the luxury of cooling there. There are different things that come along when I am with friends and there is no doubt about it. They are simply two different experiences and both are good. There are places around Ooty and Kodaikanal I couldn't have enjoyed much if I had my parents with me instead of friends.

I have also observed that Hyderabad has the best of railway stations among all those I have seen. Hyderabad is in fact very different and can't be compared with any other city - even Chennai or Bangalore. It was pathetic to walk that one and a half kilometer to Kalasipalyam bus stand through those dirty streets of Bangalore. I had never seen such a bad place before. No doubt the other part of the city, which has been well developed in the recent years, was incredible with big buildings and bridges. Just this part of Karnataka seems to be something, the rest is in a terrible state. Even the ghats on the other side of Ooty that lie in Karnataka were sickening.

In general the food in Ooty and Kodaikanal was a bit expensive. That should be obvious because it's expensive to transport things to top of those high hills. An interesting point was that there were no plastic bags in use - they have banned them. Everything is carried in paper bags and in a way it looked nice. But I can't easily imagine that happening here. The problem with food didn't seem much as we were more interested in enjoying the other things. The temperature was less than 15 degrees and it was simply fabulous. We all needed to have our jackets with us at least when there was no sun up. When we were not exactly inside the town and out for sight-seeing we had the company of clouds on many occasions.

The train left us at Coimbatore from where we headed for Kodaikanal first. We found a wonderful driver who could speak English. He had a good comfortable car and he drove perfectly well - couldn't have asked more from him. From Kodaikanal the next day we started for Ooty with plans to stop at Coonoor. We could only spend 30 minutes there and some of my friends were asleep when we stopped at its railway station. We wanted to travel in the Toy Train but couldn't get the chance. After a day's stay in Ooty we left for Bangalore. On the way I had a glimpse of the Mysore Palace when the bus passed though that town. It looked like a castle to me which is supposed to exist only in cartoons.

Near Ooty we went to Dodabeta, the highest peak in Nilgiris, which was over 2,600 meters above sea level. It sounded weird when just a few days later I was in Chennai at sea level - 2.6 kilometers below on the ground from that peak. On our way to Bangalore we went through Mudumalai forest reserve which is supposed to have tigers. I saw a wild elephant and lots of trees. After a tiring walk in Bangalore with our bags we boarded a bus and reached home the next day in the morning. When I reached home I had an almost empty wallet, a tired face, lots of sleep to be slept, paper work for the visa still left and almost two kilograms of chocolate in my bag - no one can miss chocolate when in the Nilgiris.

Almost 25 people were issued visas in front of me, one guy was rejected and my visa was put on hold. And the same day my phone stopped working and there was a lot of problem with the network when I started using a spare phone my brother was carrying. My mother's new phone wasn't charged up fully and so I couldn't use that too. It wasn't so nice sitting there not able to receive any calls. There was a time when I couldn't receive with a reason called 'low balance'. They charge a Rupee per minute for incoming while roaming and there were some calls I had take - I had asked a friend to find out what exactly Section 221(g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act was and what a 'pink slip' had to mean.

They are literally distributing visas there. They are asking for some basic documents, asking for finger prints, one or two of the few generally expected questions and that's that. They just want to see the person, make him stand there for a couple of minutes and let him go home happily with a confirmation that he will have his stamped passport in five days. I returned home with a pink slip and a confirmation that I will have to wait for three weeks and then send in my passport to get the stamping done. Some say in 90% of such cases they issue the visa, some say it's just about waiting and Section 221(g) means 'accepted', I have been congratulated by all and some say it means 'accepted but put on hold'.

The Americans there are amazing. One of them was talking in Telugu. That was very impressive of him as he was greeting the elderly people there, asking about them in their native languages and not giving them any trouble by asking for any extra papers. I thought I would get a chance to have a good conversation with one of those people at the counters but they were barely interested in spending more time with anybody. They just wanted to give the visas. In my case they supposedly want to confirm that I am the very person who has applied for it. I assume the problem is because of my surname - the 'surname' field in my passport is completely blank. A guy who was standing there with me said that it might be due to my interests in Information Security - I had taken up that subject as an elective once, done my project in it and MS is supposed to have Information Security as its Major. It could be anything. I only have to wait. I am pleased with all this - I didn't get a rejection Alhamdulillah.

I was too excited to be at the consulate. I wanted to talk to people there, in their language, the way they talk. These white people are very courteous, they know how to smile well, nobody seemed any biased to me. I don't think any person who is planning for a visa interview needs to be worried about anything. Things are as easy as going to a restaurant and having food. The only risk is not keeping enough cash with us - it depends on us. It depends on what Allah wants. I was not asked about my financial worthiness, I was not asked why I wanted to go to America, I was not asked what I would do after finishing my MS. The only thing he asked me while working on his computer was "what do your parents do?"

My parents had already told me that they were not praying that I get the visa. Instead, they said, they were praying that I am always happy. Of course they are right in doing that. I am happy. But there could have been a completely different flavor to this post I have written today. In fact I would have written it yesterday itself when I reached home. They have helped me with everything, spent so much money, gave so much time, I would have only felt better to hear that they were praying for something I wanted. I am glad I went to Pondicherry after getting back from the consulate. I simply didn't know what to do. I could only imagine what I would have done if things were final. Three weeks is not a long time. I remember once thinking what I would ask Allah once I have the visa. In a way Allah has given me more things to ask from Him. It's always nice to have something to ask from Allah. After three weeks I will have to look for more serious things.

No comments: