Sunday, August 20, 2006

A trip to remember

The "second season" as they call it in Ooty during this time of the year and having heard that it was already dristling showers there I was a bit apprehensive about our trip but it turned out to be my best trip to the Blue Mountains so far. Instead of staying at Ooty our stay was about 15 kms down at the quiter Coonoor. The weather couldn't have been better with ample sunshine and cool temperatures. A fine dristle of showers would take place now and then but it hardly caused a worry.

The Salvation Army's Christian Retreat centre, "Surrenden" was an idyllic resting place nested in the mountains which was to be our home for the three days of stay. The hospitality of manager Samson and his people was great. Food cooked at the mess was excellent too. Binny, Siji, Siji's mother and the little one Prahlad had already arrived the previous night from Bangalore by road on a trusted Scorpio which would be our means of transport for the next two days. Binny was at the wheel with Siji his trusted navigator. What a memory she had for the various points on the routes. Thanks to her we would never miss our way while driving.

Our families were meeting for the first time.

Sunday, Aug 3'th - After a sumptuous breakfast at "Surrenden" we then drove to places around "Coonoor" notably "Lambs Rock". Binny and Scorpio were the heroes of the day taking us effortlessly to places difficult for most other vehicles. Luckily we had started early and were able to avoid the crowd which were gathering fast. A guide helped us around the place and trekking through the forest up to the point from where we were able to see some breathtaking views. Monkeys infest the places these days. If you have anything eatable they charge at you. It's a knack they employ to get food from you. Hide your food and confront them cautiously and they will retreat. The weather with occassional fine spray of showers was a treat. The guide also helped us find a small rivulet where we could feel the water with our feet.

As we drove I couldn't help admiring the majesty of the mountains and the grandeur of God, and how these mountains make an infitismal part of the cosmos designed by Him. And our seers go on to say that there are things grander than these that God can show us. A feeling of anything is possible also enters your soul as you move through these mountains.

Back at Coonoor we had great food at the Blue Hills restaurant.

The trip wasn't without some adventure. Jaya was bitten by a leech. I think it was near the little rivulet that she must have made contact with the leech. The intriguing part was this. She felt no pain of either the biting or when the blood was being sucked. The leech had had its fill and had fallen off from the toe it had attached to. However the fine pore it had created where it had disabled the clot continued to bleed and it was only then we realised she had been bitten. With all that blood it looked frightening. Once back at "Surrenden" we were adviced to wash the wound with warm-salt water.

We took some rest and decided to spend the evening at Sims park. Without wasting a lot of time on tiring walks (though walking down to the park and up was a good workout) we rested well at Sims admiring the wonderful collection of trees there.
In places as these particularly the parks, people are euphoric. How nature lifts your spirits, inspires you with its peace and serenity where your heart and mind do things you never did before. No wonder saints found the peace of the hills and mountains perfect environments for searching for the truths. Poets, painters and singers found their inspiration alike. Others who do not realise this indulge in some activity to release this new found energy and inspiration. We found one couple and their small child playing a "catching game" oblivious to the passers by. Many others were indulging in similar passtimes. One group also trying to take pics using ususpecting pretty people for the background. There were people dancing, playing Kabbaddi and so on. I wondered why they couldn't just lay back and quitely enjoy the beauty of the place. Afer all isn't that more rejuvinating than the noise and commotion they are used to in the city.

On Monday we drove to Ooty. The day was getting more crowded. We spent some time at the Lake where we went for a ride. Somewhere in the middle of the lake I tried rowing the 8 seater but was exhausted in minutes. I realised it takes a knack to row and let the rowman take over soon. Did I say stars? We saw a couple of them. First, Kiron Tandon shooting at the lake in Ooty for a Telugu film. There were a couple of other ladies too but only Kiron was recognizable. I was stunned at the layer of makeup she was wearing. I wasn't keen on going to watch the film shooting though Jaya was nudging me to go there to take a closer look.

We then looked for a place to eat and Siji's informers suggested "Shinkows" (oh how I can never forget the place). The food was awesome! Next, buying home made chocolates from that place (was it Kings corner?) and that was where we saw some more stars. Esha Deol and Parisad Zorabian were shooting for a film. Standing just a couple of feet from Esha I asked one of the crew if I could take a picture of her. I was told not to. I obliged. We then walked up to the store to buy our stuff. A small crowd had gathered there to watch the shooting on the street below.

As Esha was walking to her post from where she was to be shot I tried to take a clever shot from where I was standing up above with my zoom. It could have been a great shot of a shy Esha with her head stooped low and looking down. "Hello, Hello" I heard a lady scream from below. "Look at her with your eyes, not with your lens" she continued. I couldn't forget those unforgettable words. I gestured saying I wouldn't.

Feeling like an idiot, I asked myself. Why the heck do I want to take a picture of Esha Deol? Would I do that to every actor I see in the streets? Why? To tell people he/she let me take his/her pic? Was that an achievement? In what way does that make me close to her? Even if it did are Esha and me going to be friends for life? Who are these people anyway? I found them cold. No one even cared to look at the people around. Maybe that's their statergy or maybe they are just sick of people starring at them. Had it been Jimmy Page or Niel Peart or one of those thousand stars I adore I would have even gate crashed but why for these people?

Makeup was doing more damage to them than enhance their looks. The lady next to Esha Deol had her boobs puffed up so big that even a child could say she had things stuffed inside the clothes of her chest. People on the stret were being cordoned of so that we may not appear in the shot. I began to think if we were going to be stuck on the shop above till those countless retakes end. Luckily there were only two. Esha and Zorabian were to just emote as though responding to the things the other ladies were saying as they cat-walked for the shot and here's the best part. These ladies were not even speaking. No sound uttered. Just lip-syncing as if they were talking something. I thought maybe it was some footage for a shot where only music is played. Even then what a put-on? Exemplifying Maya all the more. Man can simply denounce God and worship Maya then. In fact that's what many seem to be doing unconsciously anyway.

We then decided to spend the afternoon in the Botanical Garden. We saw similar things that we saw in Sims park. I and Binny just laid back on the grass to take a blissfully comforting rest. Chaithanya and Prahlad had fun in their own way while the ladies took a stroll. After spending a good deal of time we returned to "Surrenden". Prahlad by then had coerced his parents to buy his n'th car as toy.

There were other families that had come to stay at the "Surrenden". Among them were Kochu Krishnan and his wife Chandrika from Coimbatore. Jaya is on a high whenever she meets "Mallu's" on trips. Another family was from Madras comprising parents and their teen children (Esther and Grace) were good company on our last days after Binny and family left. The father of the kids also happened to be my super-senior at Madras Christian College.

Samson the manager of "Surrenden", his son Abishey, dogs Remo (the German Sheperd) and Tiger, were ample company for Chaithanya. With Murugan, one of the other staff, we trekked through the forest and walked down to a nearby Golf course where we did some fishing for a while in the small rivulets and ponds en-route. Murugan could only catch a crab that bit his forefinger. We let it slip away back into the water. The trek back up to "Surrenden" made us sweat. I thought it was good aerobic exercise for the heart. Samson would fill in with stories of how bison would frequent the forest and how during his school days he and his friends found a pair of Leopard cubs that they returned to the wildlife authorities.

On the day we left "Surrenden" the entire staff were there to see us off. It was a sad feeling. People in other parts of TamilNadu are so warm and respectful of one another unlike in Chennai. In and around Coimbatore and Ooty, they address you with the familiar "Annae". Only we in Chennai make all the culture-spoiler Tamil movies and vitiate their minds with the bad Tamil we know and speak here.

As we journeyed back to Mettupalayam in the toy train (my last ride for sure in that Claustrophibic thing) I couldn't help admiring the imposing might of the mountains and the beauty of the deep valley below. The electric poles and wires on top of these mountains go on to prove how great man (another of God's creation) also is.

Pics of the trip to be posted.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

The down-to-earth "Mallu" stars and a vacation

I don't know what's the coincidence with May/June and meeting famous Malayalam personalities. Last year for the vacation trip I had the good fortune of meeting some eminent Mallus, singer Unni Menon in the train in particular. While washing at the wash basin I started a conversation with him and told him how I had seen him in concert at the Jalakanteswara temple, I.I.T Madras many years ago in the 80's. My cousin who was visiting us was also present for the concert and mentioned that if the concert had been in Kerala there would have been atleast a couple of thousand would have turned up. Unni Menon was very friendly. He was travelling with family and like me was returning from vacation in Kerala with his boys. We would exchange smiles as I would walk to the wash basin and back and it was during one of those trips I made the audacious move of asking him "Would you like to meet my family". The modest Unni Menon cheerfully consented. We had a nice little chat. He was busy with work in Tamil and Telugu than in Malayalam. There was also an Indian Express guy among us who joined the conversation too. I could never forget my son's answer when he was asked by Unni Menon what he would like to become when he would grow older. "Spiderman" came the reply.

After the mother-daughter special in the popular Malayalam magazine "Vanitha" featuring singer Sujatha and her daughter Shwetha on the cover I just couldn't help writing about meeting them at my cousin's son's marriage reception. Thanks to Ragesh, my cousin's son, the groom and who also happens to be a recording engineer at Chithra's studio in Chennai, several singers were present. It felt great to tell Sujatha "Chechi I still listen to your "Kaalai Paniyil" after all these years. Sujatha did tell me that she continues to get requests for singing this song at concerts. It intrigued me when she asked me if I were a singer. I only smiled. I had a few words with Shwetha, her daughter. When I asked if Shwetha got her height from her dad Sujatha, without being offended answered that even her husband was a short person. We did talk about Shyam the yester-year music director and Jency the malayalam singer who gave Ilayaraja some very big Tamil hits in the late 70's and early 80's. I did mention about my meeting last year with Unni Menon and about my blog too. Wonder if they'll get time to read it lest they remember the site.

Singer Ganga was modest to even sing a few lines of "Azhage Brahmanidam...." to tell me the song she had sung for a Tamil movie. I did tell her that one of her college mates was my colleague at work. My friend's name seemed to ring a bell in her. Karthik seemed to be pre-occupied with something but he was kind to answer when I asked him about his current and future projects. Ragesh later told me that Karthic was already engaged to his love interest when he had come for the reception. The singer is married now. I missed the opportunity of telling him how much I admired the way he sang the Malayalam song "Agale". "Ra Ra..." fame Binny was also present but I didn't start a conversation with her.

We are off for a small vacation for this year. This time to Coonoor where I join my old friend Binny and his family who are driving from Bangalore. Wonder whom I'll meet on this trip.