Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Back to India

Started with an airport staffer asking for a bribe of 20 rupees, I just ignored him and walked off. Then pondered over whether I should be pleased for it or disgusted. Pleased, because did I look innocent and young enough that among several people, he approached only me to blatantly ask for the money, since in a year and a half I would be pushing the wrong side of thirty.

Bombay looks as wet as ever, I thought I had given the monsoons a grand miss by being in Canada for the last six weeks, but Thor, Indra and their ilk proved me wrong.
Re-Re(raised to power of googol) digging of roads has started in right earnest, even before the rains have bade us their teary goodbye. How ironic, these guys do not start their work on time before the monsoons, leave it half-done and forget it, and now itch back to hold their axe and shovels and hack away with full gusto at some other poor road and sidewalk, and do a botched cover-up job, that would shame the efforts of evidence hiding by even a punch drunk, blind and demented junkie murderer.

Also finding it difficult dealing with walking on the "right" read "left" side of the corridor. Because in Canada(and US) they walk on the right side of the corridor, similar to the way they drive.
And the "horny" Indian drivers. Honking away to glory on the roads.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Niagara Falls

Finally ticked off the most important "to-do" thing in Canada. Saw Niagara Falls, the name Niagara means "thunder of waters" in the native Indian language . The falls were as spectacular and majestic as expected. I remember as a small kid I had seen lots of photos of Niagara and had a longing to see it. So it was a day of wish fulfilment for me and it was worth it.

The best part was going almost to the base of the horseshoe falls in the boat called "Maid Of the Mist", with the rising mist and the water splashing all around and the all encompassing roaring sound of the falls. It feels like the boat is getting sucked into a vortex. I got drenched big-time, though they provide rain-jackets but one still cannot completely escape the swirling water droplets all over.It was exhilarating.

Also went for "behind the falls walk", it takes you through man-made tunnels that are there on the cliff. It gives the closest feel of the falls. There was also a perfect semi-circle VIBGYOR rainbow that one could see.
Rest spent lot of time walking, and also lazing around in the lawns, soaking in the ambience. I find it a great way to de-stress myself by thinking of places with natural beauty, Niagara would rank really high on the list, along with sights I have seen in Kashmir, Mcleodganj, Sikkim etc.
Then also went for a scenic drive along the Niagara river, there is a huge gorge almost throughout, reminded me somewhat of the Teesta river in Sikkim, also at one place there is a big whirlpool.
Finally made the 90 min drive back to Toronto.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Canada Diary

Been over a month here in Toronto. Days have gone by in a pretty structured manner. Weekdays have been quite unvarying in nature, essentially consisting of bulk of the day spent in office, then going for a walk or jog in the evening followed by the treadmill, cycle or some weights in the gym, then have a relaxing shower, have some beer at times, watch TV or read newspaper. Have dinner by heating some ready to eat stuff in the microwave, or go out nearby, then crank-up the AC at its minimum, curl up in the cosy bed with a novel till I drop off.
Some of the highlights in the above activities have been.

  • Never in my life have I woken up before 6.30am consistently for so many days

  • Jogged for 30 min nonstop on one day, it equals my all time record that I had set :) when I used to run in the Pune Univ jogging track, in my pre-knee injury days. Though the distance covered now may be less

  • Have sampled quite a variety of beer and ales like Molson, Sleeman, Boddington, Coors, Labatt, McEwan. And Molson seems to be the best

  • Read quite a few books like Gorky Park, Siddhartha, Forrest Gump, and a biography of Sherlock Holmes, also bought a few books for a dollar each

  • Watched the Roger's cup tennis on TV which was held in Toronto, lifted up as expected by its namesake. Saw a few matches only, but the standard was good, especially the semi-final between Federer and Gonzalez was very exciting. I as usual supported Fed wholeheartedly

Weekends have been more exciting have had four major trips so far.

Cottage country
This was an impromptu trip, we all just decided on friday evening to go for a drive on saturday, had a vague idea that the countryside up north was beautiful, and we searched on the net found out there were some "falls" and "rapids". Took a printout from Mapquest.com , armed myself with a huge map of Ontario, and out we were in our GM Grand Cherokee Jeep. The maps were so accurate that never for a moment did we feel lost. The countryside was quite beautiful with tall conifers on both sides of the road, and intermittent view of the Lake Huron and undulating terrain.
Finally we neared our first destination, Severn Falls, expecting a decent enough waterfall, after all it is the land of Niagara, we were grossly disappointed, actually Severn Falls was the name of the town, and there were no falls there. One person told us there is a sort of short slope in the nearby Severn river and when it flows at its best in spring it has some fall-like characteristics. Similarly swift rapids was also a misnomer. so our enthusiasm had flagged, but then we saw some good sights, we stopped at a place where the road bifurcated two lakes, there we saw a contraption called the "Big Marina Chute" which transported boats from one lake to another. It moved on rails, and crossed the road. Both lakes were at different heights, so it was quite a sight seeing the huge thing move up and down the slope. another interesting highlight, was making our own path on the banks of a nearby stream, and finding a comfortable rock in the middle to sit.
Toronto Downtown
Best part was going up the tallest structure in the world, the CN tower. Had a nice lunch and a beer on the top, enjoying the grand vista. Looking down upon the Toronto skyline, the aqua-marine Lake Ontario, and the Toronto islands. Also visited the Royal Ontario Museum. Exhibits that attracted me the most were the ones that showed a progression of military armour across the ages, and a huge African totem that spanned three levels.

Toronto Islands
They are just a few km off Toronto. Went in a ferry, it was full of greenery, and tranquil walking paths, spent half-a-day there just walking around.

Sutton Fair
A rural fair that we attended, our client, a electric company had put up a stall there and we had free passes, plus we had volunteered to spend a couple of hours in the booth, and impart information to the public about their new initiatives for energy conservation. It was fun interacting with the local populace, it was an unique experience. Also saw pig races,duck races, and best pig/horse/cow competitions, there was continuous live country music being played complementing the atmosphere.
The pigs reminded me of the Empress Of Blandings in PG Wodehouse. Rest of the time , tried out some of the rides, and other games on offer. One ride was mindblowing, in that they put you in a cabin and then it rotates like a giant wheel, but it turns you around total 360 degrees, in a complete random manner, both clock and anti-clockwise. It felt like a gyroscope and I think it is a good primer for Zero-G simulations for space travelers.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Dozen Things I did not know about Canada

1. More probability of finding a Sardar than that of spotting the enduring symbol of Canada, the maple tree.

2. Topless women drivers tanning themselves, maybe getting the benefits of greenhouse effect in the car.

3. Canadian dollar is known as a "loonie" and two dollar is a "toonie", shows the seriousness with which they take their currency, and people prefer dealing in coins rather than notes, that makes one prone to the uneven butt syndrome.

4. Every second day I see atleast one banged up car on the roads (refer to point number 2)

5.A big fat tadka laden Punjabi wedding occuring on every weekend in the hotel, with gaudy dresses and even gaudier vehicles, which have personalized names like "Harkir 8", "Bund 007", "Sukhy 69" , "yuvraj 1" etc. Havent seen a "Flying 6" or a "5 pyaare" , or a Pammi 38-30-38

6. The Canadian english pronunciation is a mixture of the American twang and the British stiff upper lip.

7. Temperatures above 30 degrees is treated as a heat wave, and advisories are issued in the media, such a threshold in peninsular India would result thankfully in sparse traffic and schools never completing their syllabus.

8. Counting the number of world famous Canadians I now know requires help from my fingers rather than my ears and probably my nose.

9. Apparently Americans have had more success in Canada than in Iraq, they pervade every aspect of Canadian life, from media to corporate, almost all stores and brands are US based. Even the most famous Canadian product the Molson beer, has been taken over by US based Coors. It is almost like the 51st state of US. (Though it is bigger than the whole of USA). Even the distress call number is 911.

10. Most Canadians call electricity "Hydro", though most of the electricity is produced through coal and nuclear power plants.

11. License Raj in Canada, liqour is only sold in Govt shops called LCBO (Liqour Control Board Of Ontario), very surprising considering it is a neigbour of the free market champion of the world.

12. There is an Essex, Perth, Hamilton, Wellington, Birmingham, Kingston and London in Canada. Also a Holland, Finland and Khartoum! And believe it or not a reference to my Alma Mater, a town called Lucknow. Wow. In a few years hope to see a Ludhiana, Patiala and Bhatinda in Sada Kanada.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Middle-East Conflict

Watching more television here in Canada than I do in India, because I am at office by 7.30am and am out between 5 and 6pm. So the evening is long enough. I catch most of the TV while I am at the gym or while having dinner in the room. Mostly watch the news pertaining to the Israel Hezbollah conflict. CNN coverage is quite comprehensive, with their correspondent Anderson Cooper, Amanpour, along with their military analyst Gen "Spider" Marks and few others. Larry King Live also makes for some engrossing viewing. Nothing boosts TRPs more than a proper war. Started with the 91 Gulf War, after that for every war or even minor skirmishes there has been a surfeit of coverage.
CNN image was somewhat tarnished by their so-called biased reporting of the Iraq conflict. Al-Jazeera was the most sought after channel then. But CNN will always remain synonymous with the First Gulf War.

In this conflict the CNN reports have been balanced giving as much importance to the humanitarian crisis as they are giving to the actual fighting. Plus they are giving air time to all the stakeholders. My heart goes out to the ordinary Lebanese who are really caught between the Devil and the Deep sea.

This conflict has really dragged out surprisingly, I thought Israel would silence the Hezbollah rockets in a few days and also take out Hezbollah's leadership and find out about their abducted soldiers either dead or alive. Given that its army is supposed to be the most battle-hardy and efficient in the world and enemy is not sophisticated enough, also the terrain was relatively familiar and quite modest in size, say compared to Afghanistan. Though nothing of that sort has happened, Hezbollah has shown lots of guts and gumption, its gone top of my list as the most capable terrorist organization, upstaging the good old Tamil Tigers. Sri Lankan army and a one-leg tied IPKF are no comparison to the famed IDF (Israeli Defence Forces). Al-Qaida is too cowardly for me.

My sympathies traditionally have been with the Israelis, I always admired them as a nation. This admiration was shaped in no small way by reading books such as O Jerusalem by Lapierre, Exodus and Haj by Leon Uris, Eagle in the Sky by Wilbur Smith, also accounts of Raid At Entebbe, The six day war, the Nazi and Black September search operations. I admired the great general Moshe Dayan, Golda Meir. Was in awe of Mossad and the way Israelis have managed to bring fertility to a barren land and made themselves into a economically prosperous nation inspite of so many hurdles. Hats off to them.

But somehow from being the world's most famous underdog they became a big bully. Not satisfied with their existing land, they usurped more land from the hapless Palestinians, responded brutally to even minor provocations and agitations from them. Leading the Palestinians to more desperation like suicide bombings, even then if they killed 10 then Israelis came back and killed double plus destroying property and other infrastructure,humiliating them, it was a deadly spiral, more the Palestinians got desperate more vengeful the Israeli reprisals.This led to rise of Hamas, and the right-wing of Israel politics.
Israel also treated Lebanon and Syria harshly in the past, they could have been more pragmatic and yielding one may argue, but then that would have been construed as a sign of weakness. Also the implacable anger on the Arab side makes any concession seems worthless.

So in a gist my viewpoint is that though in principle I mostly support Israel in this war, not just against Hezbollah but even against other Arab states and Hamas, but the other side has also got legitimate grouses against Israel and are well within their rights to fight for it in whatever way they can. No side is either right or wrong. As with most things in life there are various shades of grey and I can't think of any ready solutions to this crisis.