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Monday, January 08, 2007

Hop Many in Edinburgh....

Once upon a time, in a land far, far away, beyond the east of moon and thewest of sun, where is found the homes of the North Winds and the Ice Giantsand the ephemeral Gods of the Universe, a place where Space and Time have nomeaning… old man is surrounded by his nephews and grand-nephews,littered around his already littered study…..all clamouring for astory….most are in their teens and yet listening to his stories is a delightfrom childhood and still continues to be so…

The old man puts aside his old and battered laptop and starts rolling acigarette…something forbidden and not allowed in any of their homes andhence, all the more intriguing for all of them….

“So, what kind of a story would you like to hear?” starts the man as he getsout his beloved rizzla rice papers and his aromatic tobacco pouch.

“Not the one about your hiding in a bunker in Afghanistan or your war stories in Africa…they’re too scary” interjects one of the elder girls.

There is an instant uproar from the male segment and they are in themajority.Grandada’s harrowing life and death stories with the associated accents,scars and noises re-telling were delicious in their horror and left one withshivers down the spine…..though some of the horrors did get a little bit tooreal at night, each one grew up with these stories and were an importantpart of their childhood…

“Hmmm….how about my law school hostel stories?” suggested the man, squintingwith concentration at rolling the fine paper with the tobacco and the filterinto a slim little cylinder…it was getting harder these days than it wasbefore….“Naaaa…” “Not AGAIN..” there is no helping it, the kids of today areseriously loud, thought the man as the cylinder was finally rolled to hissatisfaction, a slim and slender roll of impending death….what the hell, its one of the few pleasures left, the man thought as he snapped open hisbattered steel lighter, another remnant of a near-forgotten age.

“Hmmmm….did I ever tell you about the time, I went to the wildest streetparty in Europe?”

The children suddenly silent…this is a new one….grandada actually going to aPARTY!!!.....what’s a street party….how wild could it be…..

The silence rolls around the suddenly silent room as slow sensuous spiralsdrift toward the ceiling from the lit cigarette…

“it was in the winter of 2006, I was in Glasgow, studying in the Universityof Glasgow for my second masters in…”

“Development Economics!!!” crow half the boys in the room, the girlsgrinning…The man grins as well, the children know his bio-data better than he didhimself, nowadays…

“Anyway, it was bitterly cold and I was very interested in mystudies…something you guys should be as well…”

(A chance to drive the importance of education was not to be missed….afterall, he got enough of it in HIS days, why should he not return the favour!!)

The series of whines,, growls and similar noises to suggest an orchestra ofcats on hot tin roofs urged the story onwards…

“I was in Glasgow for the first time and had become something of ahermit…hardly knew anything more than the University, my classes, theLibrary and my room….Things were getting really boring and so I decided todo something interesting for New Years Eve.”

As the story unfolded in front of his content audience, the years rolledback as he recalled the days of the winter of ’06….

Initially, there were only two responses to his google group email…Dorte, aGerman girl in my class, who was home in Germany for Christmas and PranayAlhuwalia, that revolutionary dramatist-journo who was also vacationing backhome in Delhi. However, there were hardly any others interested and this wasabout 3 weeks before new years. Everyone was busy with the assignments andessay submissions.It was only a few days before New Years Eve that Rishab Khanna, anotherbatchmate met up and suggested the very same idea. I, of course, had decidednot to go by then and was reconciling myself for a very quiet NYE soundasleep in my bed.

Rishi-Boy, as I called him then, was much in earnest and roped in hisroomie, Athar Rizvi from Pakistan. Athar preferred to be called Atty and wasa lanky, tall, fair guy. Next to turn up was another fellow called Faizan,also from Pakistan who came up with the information that the InternationalStudents Centre was providing free board in Edinburgh for NYE.

It was at the Winterfest, an evening sponsored by the International StudentsCentre that Atty, Faizan and I got together and met up with Calum, thePresident of the Int. Students Centre who assured us a roof over our headsin Edinburgh. Calum, the poor, poor man, had actually no idea what he wasdealing with here, but gave us the go-ahead for making plans. And finally ina bar in Byres Road, (Curlers) we agreed on the policy to go ahead and makea mess on NYE at Edinburgh. Rishi-Boy was noticeably absent due to hispresence with his latest lady-love in City Centre and agreed in proxy viaAtty.At that point, the whole plan started materializing and I started making therequisite tickets for the Princess Street Party as well as the bus ticketsetc.

Around this time, I scrapped Pranay for his final decision and wasassured his presence subsequent to his calling me up the minute he reachedGlasgow. Conveniently, I completely forgot poor Dorte….

The four of us would make plans to meet up every day after that to finalizedetails and we never got around to meeting each other for one thing or theother. Finally on the 30th, I managed to meet up with Atty and Rishi-boy inStarbucks and accompanied them home to print out the tickets and passes etc.

By this time, Pranay had not called up, and hence we assumed that he was notcoming and so got the tickets only for the three of us, Rishi-Boy, AttyRizvi and self (Faizan was getting his own tickets).

As we went over to another pal’s room to get the tickets printed from mymail, the first person we see is Pranay who had just arrived back from Indiathat very minute!!! He was delayed due to fog and adverse weatherconditions. So, we had to figure out how to arrange another party pass forhim as well.

If this was not enough, after the tickets were printed out, I suddenly sawthat we collect the bloody passes from the Hub offices in Edinburgh before 5pm the next day. Our bus tickets were booked for arriving in Edinburgh at7:45 pm!!

To be honest, this was where I should have realised that the entireendeavour was not going to go as planned….

However, being the go-getter sort, decided that I would go to Edinburghearly and the others would catch up with me there. Since I was the one whohad booked the party passes on my credit card, it would have to be me whowent and so, around noon, the next day, I hopped on the Megabus link and setoff…

When I reached the city and got off the bus, I felt I was back home inIndia…..

Pranay was once asked by a guy what he missed most about India, here inGlasgow…and he had replied in his classic style….looking out of the windowand not seeing 500 people outside….

Edinburgh was packed….according to the statistics, there were half a millionpeople there to celebrate the wildest street party in Europe…

It was already a usual Scottish day, windy and with a fine misty rain,chilling one to the bone. I hopped onto a taxi and reached the Hub officesat the bottom of Castle mile and found it swarming with a mini UnitedNations crowd. Making my way to the line, I managed to get tickets for thewhole group

This was when Rishi-Boy calls up and informs me that Faizan is not going tomake it and Dorte is back in town and wants to come along. So, I muscle myway back into the offices and manage to get another ticket. I even madefriends with a rather pretty girl at the counter called Emma but was toobusy to notice the signals.

By the time, I was done and had got outside the wind had picked up and itwas already dark so I went called up Calum and got directions to the placewe were supposed to be lodging in for the night.

That walk was perhaps one of the craziest I had taken. People were driftingtowards the party venue and the wind and the rain were steadily picking up.The place I was supposed to get to was halfway across town and as I walkedthere, the wind practically helped me along. It was bitterly cold anddespite having on a really heavy sweatshirt and a heavier fleece jacket, thewind cut through like a knife. I saw a chain-link fence about 18 feet longtorn off its moorings and lying on the street and no, I am not kidding. Atone point, I was practically edging along a building for fear of slipping onthe wet and slippery road or worse, being buffeted by the wind into it.

Anyway, I managed to reach the address and Calum, good man that he was hadthe place organised. It was the International Students Centre offices. Bythe time, the others reached the place, I had well and truly talked Calum’sear off. The others reached the place safe and sound and within minutesRishi-Boy unlimbered the bottle of Scotch I had insisted he get, and pouredout a hefty dram (two in my case) to everyone.

After making sure everyone was well covered up, the whole gang, Atty,Rishi-Boy, Pranay, Dorte and self set out for the evening’s festivities…

It was raining like anything and Rishi-Boy and Dorte stumbled and fell onceeach along the way, but by the time we reached the gates, we were informedby the police that the party had been cancelled. Pranay and I insisted ongetting photographs with the police guy. We told him that we’d come all theway from India and couldn’t go back without evidence that we had reallyreached the place and that it was cancelled!! The poor officer complied withus…twice…
By this time, we were all well and truly wet, chilled and pissed anddetermined that we were going to party and so walked on in the rain and windlooking for pubs. A lot of people had the same idea, apparently and all thepubs were packed.

The first pub that we went into was called the Iron and as I went to getbeer for Dorte and myself, I saw a girl pulling up her jumper to haveanother snap a photo of her …umm, assets.

After that sight, I was invigorated and figured that the night might not besuch a loss….

The series of events that occurred after that are a bit hazy to memory…but Ibelieve it involved numerous other pubs, a beer had in each, with generoustots from the bottle of scotch that Rishi-Boy carried.

We wound up around 11 pm at a rather classy pub where all the boys wereroundly kissed for providing lights for some equally drunk female’scigarette’s and finally we rolled on in the search of disco’s to dance in…

I remember being treated to beers for lifting two huge guys up and singingSutta Na Mila quite loudly on the streets….with rishi-boy happily abusingeach and every white guy on the street in Hindi…I believe Pranay and I alsojoined in and Dorte getting more and more freaked out by our antics….

The next I remember, I found myself dancing with a French guy whileRishi-Boy tried to make out with the guy’s girlfriend and shouting out thecountdown to the New Years.

All the time, the only guy who was not drinking was Atty Rizvi and if itwere not for him, I doubt if all of us would have stayed together…

But there was more to come… to poor decent Atty’s mounting horror….

Around 1 am, the guys got hungry and I had clean finished off the bottle ofscotch, so they dumped me on a bench to doze off and got in a line to getsome fast food. By the time, they came back, I was in deep conversation witha girl and apparently refused to recognise them and went off for a walk withthe bloody female….

After a while, I got back …..with a smirk on my face, according to Rizvi to his utter disgust….

At 4 am in the morning, Dorte disappeared and we found ourselves in a busstand, deciding what to do next…

According to the others, I quite showed my horrible side and suggested verypractically that dorte could go to hell, and we should catch the next bus toGlasgow…and promptly went for a piss behind a parked car….when rishi-boy andpranay attempted to do the same, the car drove off….

Around 8 am, I was awoken by Rizvi inside a Royal Bank ATM, to go and catchthe bus back home….and there we met Dorte as well….no one was in a mood toask questions and so everyone just piled inside the bus.

By this time, Atty Rizvi was in utter and absolute shock and probably readyto turn himself in at the next mental asylum….

Inside the bus, finally, Pranay and Rishi-Boy decided to exercise theirsinging skills again and I joined in, till I went to sleep again…

We arrived in Glasgow around 9.30 am with my tongue tasting and feeling likean alligator’s tail, with its head way down in my stomach…..

Rajat and Vivian, a really decent couple from my Halls of Residences offeredme a lift and I got back home to my room, completely frazzled out andextremely zoned out…

The next time, I actually opened my eyes, it was the 2nd of Jan’06….

The cigarette had been burnt down along with two others in the overflowingashtray as the children finally realised that the story was done…

“You actually did all that….??? Seriously??” asked one of the girls

“Of course, he did, he doesn’t tell lies, do you, Grandada ?!!” interjectedthe youngest one.

The man merely smiled and went to pour himself some scotch as the voices ofthe children started the usual squabbling and arguments and looked up at oneof the numerous pictures above the bar, showing a bunch of bedraggled andgrinning group of boys, a girl and a rather harassed looking British policeofficer in his neon green jacket and slightly raised his glass to them.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

International Studies & Students

My cousin Sean calls me a scab….as in dabboodada, you’re such a scab

He is not calling me a name, he is defining me. And not wrongly, either…..

A student is a scab on the skin of society. Useful both in the short term and the long term, but presently a little gross looking and definitely an irritant as well as being scratchy and….. ummm, well, figure it out..

One of the most interesting things about being a scab on the skin of society, that is, being a student is the fact that;

a. You have enough time to actually introspect absolutely insane inanities of your life, though this is usually during the horribly boring and totally useless vacations.
b. You have enough time, during the same vacations to go completely out of your mind, either by drinking copious amounts of alcohol or by exhaustively digging through the internet.
c. You can discuss into early morning topics which make no sense, no possible use and possibly will be forgotten by the time you wake up
d. You can get bloody idiotic and the world, more or less forgives you….
e. You can get away with being irresponsible, idiotic, insane, incorrigible, obnoxious, repulsive etc etc that is, you can also be yourself…

I mean, I love being a student….I only wonder why I stopped being one a few years back.

We’re the finest species of humanity on the planet… and its no wonder that these years are most often called the golden years, the wonder years.

Talking about golden years, there are certainly golden moments of being an international student in a foreign land and sharing space with other ….ummm, students..

My Chinese room mate calls himself cougar… tiger, he defines as I nod along….trying hard not to grin….

The dude is so intense that he is adorable and is a real sweetheart…..especially at 2 am in the morning when I’m making enough noise to wake the devil.

His real name is unpronounceable…as mine would be to him…BTW, I call myself D….its simpler for the poor whites….and the rest of the world….

In any case, my roomie and I, have these amazing conversations and random moments of absolute insanity.

Like a few days ago, I had myself some anda bhurji, that infamously simple dish of eggs so beloved of all men who have to cook for themselves…

I mean, I can write an entire blog on anda bhurji or fried eggs….I have friends who would die if it were not for this dish, as it is the only dish they CAN make….

Eggs by themselves can keep a man alive and my pal taimoor, poor fellow, is a living example of this.....

For those not in the know, taimoor is a rather ferocious afghan who has “imaan” (beliefs) you couldn’t cut with a knife and hence wont touch non-halal food. The man has been existing on bread, eggs, kava (a salt-ish tea) and chocolates…

If you think, this is the limit, wait till you hear about another old pal from my law-school days who has been surviving here in the UK for almost 5 years now on a steady diet of chocolates, biscuits and milk….and amazingly, he is thriving on the bloody diet…

Anyway, so, I had made myself some anda bhurji the usual way, with eggs, onions and some garlic mince and chilli powder when my room mate walks into the kitchen and sees the fragrant dish being served out into a bowl
(I still love eating out of bowls – hence I have only one plate and about 12 bowls – all plastic)

Anyway, he goes like, what’s that? I say, eggs. He goggles at me and says, You’re cooking eggs? You don’t cook eggs…..eggs are not supposed to be cooked, would you cook an apple?

I am inured to most international cuisines by now, so I am like, yeah, well, WE cook them and LOVE cooked eggs…

My poor roomie shakes his head at my weird ways and starts making a sandwich out of bread, strawberry jam and chicken…boiled chicken, that is…

I goggle back at him and ask him what he is doing and he offers to make me one….says the chicken is quite fresh…

I say thanks, but no thanks…

So there we are, sitting and eating anda bhurji and Strawberry Jam & boiled chicken sandwiches ….. trying not to look at each other's plates/bowls…

My roomie is also quite musical …. He plays two different types of flutes and also a stringed instrument called the “cushin” which basically looks like a sitar lying down and taking it easy…

Today, my roomie was practicing his stuff when he said that he would play me my national anthem….I was quite surprised and …to be honest, a little intrigued….

So, anyway, I was like, cool dude…lets rock…and stand at attention

So, the guy starts strumming his instrument and the melody though quite recognisable, is not the Tagore composition we used to bray out in school and in my NCC days…..and I listen with and at attention….

After he finished, the poor guy grins at me and explains that he heard me playing it on my laptop quite often and learnt it….

I gave a weak grin and offered my compliments and my heartfelt thanks ….

I didn’t have the heart to tell him that he was playing Atif Aslam’s "Yakeen"….

Am planning to go to Edinburgh for the wildest street party in Europe…. Or so it is said.

The Scots celebrate hogmanay, that’s the new years out on the streets and am hoping to go and see that… will blog on that later.

But my cousin Tony’s advice on behaviour during this eminent festival based on personal experience goes as follows –

Have party passes, don’t drink beer, don’t drink urine, don’t snog girls, don’t make sexual advances at animals….
(This blog was delayed due to lack of internet connections at my halls of residence for nearly a week before new years eve....Managed to study a bit therefore...wait for the Hogmanay special ...or as we called it HOP MANY !!!)