My trip to Istanbul was inspirational, educational, a gastronomic pilgrimage, exciting, touristy, lots of walking (not complaining), relaxing and highlighted the value of planning a trip to Turkey well.

For the benefits of my friends, any Romans and fellow countryfolk, I am going to break this guide into the following 5 parts.

Food

Food

Food

Food

Food

Apart from the above topic, I’ll also touch upon –

2) Key tips that might be useful

3) Getting there / Local Travel

4) Places that are worth visiting in Istanbul

5) Things worth buying, maybe

So lets start with – you guessed it right – food. And I’ll let the expert whet your appetite before I suggest any meals that are worth a steal. So take it away, Anthony (a man whose love for food and sarcasm that is so close to mine). I know, self-praise. But what the hell, that could have easily been me.

2) KEY TIPS THAT MIGHT BE USEFUL

Is Istanbul safe for women traveling alone?

Evidence:

Well, I have been told by two women, who were traveling in Istanbul alone that they found salesmen and tour guides were more bold and persistent when it came to selling their wares to solitary woman. Young men on the street were more prone to ask questions, try to strike up a conversation, flirt, follow a bit etc.

This wasn’t the case when they were moving around the city with another guy.

It was also observed that the city was very cosmopolitan. Young couples holding hands or sharing a fleeting kiss in the tram/metro were not a rare sight at all. This is somewhat unexpected in an Islamic country.

Verdict: If you are moving around with a group, and generally confident, you will not be bothered at all.

How do we get about – communicating?

English is spoken mostly by the young urban population, or by shopkeepers in the ‘Sultanahmet region’ – which is where the droves of tourists descend. However, once you start moving away from the center, and want to try some street side food, the Queen’s language is unlikely to help much. It is highly advised to learn some Turkish words and phrases. A strategy that worked for me was to declare, in Turkish, – “That I do not know Turkish, only a few phrases, please answer in English”

I felt words like – ‘Slow down, please bear with me, some more time’ – were useful

I would follow that up by asking things like – “What is this? How much? Is this beef or lamb? Where is this? Thank you etc.” in Turkish. Brace yourself for replies in Turkish. So based on your limited vocabulary if you can understand what they are saying, great!

It is also a lot of fun to step into an eating joint, and observe how people are ordering things – like the buffet meals – and following them up to the till to understand how it works.

How do we get about – finding our way?

Maps maps maps! They are very useful. Your hostel / hotel will have maps of the ‘Sultanahmet’ area that are very useful for visiting the beautiful historical sites in the city.

If you take the Havatas from Sabiha Gokcen to Taksim square, there is a Tourist Information Center near the bus stop. It looks like the entrance to a house / office in a European-Victorian house. You can get some free maps and leaflets. However, the maps given by the hostels / hotels are much better for exploring, trekking the ‘Sultanahmet’ area.

How do we get about – local travel?

Istanbulkart! ISTANBULKART!

This is their equivalent of an Oyster card or Metro card. Buying this is highly advised. It costs 7TL (of which 5-6 TL is refundable) and then you load the card with another 7-10 TL. If I remember correctly, each journey costs between 1.5 TL to 3TL.

I did not use the public buses, so I am not sure how that experience will be. I have heard that they are fine. I understand Taxis can be cost effective if the purchasing power of your currency is better than the Indian Rupee!!

BACK TO THE FOOD – Part 2

3) GETTING THERE / LOCAL TRAVEL – Part 1

Part 1 is about getting to Istanbul proper.

For my classmates going from the the UK.

a) I took (Sl)Easy Jet from London Luton Airport

– I booked my tickets around 07 Nov 2012 for a flight on 15 / 16 Dec 2012. Since it was holiday season, I think I paid around 100-120 pounds for a one way ticket. So maybe that is one place where you can save.

– Easy jet lands at Sabiha Gokcen Airport and that is not, as you will realize at the end of this sentence, Kamal Ataturk International Airport.

– Sabiha Gokcen is over in the Asian side. Now that doesn’t mean it is somewhere in the Indian subcontinent. It is only 1-2 hours away from ‘Sultanahment’ by bus / taxi or mini-van ride (depending on traffic). ‘Sultanahmet, the somewhat ‘central part’ of the city is where you will find nearly ALL the historic sites, and history inspired tourists gaping at them.

– So how do I get to ‘Sultanahmet’? Cheap, you say? Well for starters, get some currency exchanged at the booth called ‘Post Office’ when you step just outside the departure area after collecting your baggage. Outside means just outside. Don’t be silly like me and exchange it at the ‘Post Office’ booth next to the baggage reclaim area. To be honest it doesn’t make much of a different. The exchange rate inside was 1 pound = 2.4 or 2.5 Lira and just outside was 1 pound = 2.7 Lira.

– You could be silly like me and believe the somewhat attractive Turkish girl that appears to be the only one that speaks English at the Airport and will claim to offer you a very cheap and convenient shared taxi / mini-van to Sultanahmet that will drop you just outside your hostel

This is a good option if you want to be dropped off just outside your hostel. However, at 35 Liras per person I realized that it was a bit expensive. The mini-van is certainly safe, convenient and quick (depending on traffic). The day we landed was the day of the EPIC football game – Galatasaray Vs Fenerbache – so there was traffic, but nothing compared to traffic in an Asian city.

The Havatas bus service leaves Sabiha Gokcen Airport every 1 hour. These buses take 12-15 Turkish Lira to drop you off at Kadikoy (which is still in the Asian side) or at Taksim Square (European side, closer to Sultanahment).

From Kadikoy you can take the Tram / Metro to the port, take a Ferry and get to Sultanahmet in Istanbul. (3.5 + 2 TL)

From Taksim bus-station you can walk to the nearest Metro station (5-10 minutes) and take the Metro / Tram to Sultanahmet (3.5 TL)

We took the Havatas on our return journey from Taksim Square to Sabiha Gokcen. It was very comfortable – clean bus – plenty of space – not crowded.

http://www.sabihagokcen.aero/havatas_shuttle

b) Turkish Airlines from London Heathrow

– I’ve heard it is a cheap option. A fellow traveller took Turkish Airlines to Kamal Attaturk Airport, transferred at the airport and took the Turkish Airlines flight straight to Kayseri airport. This city is 75 kilometers away from Cappadocia.

3) PLACES THAT ARE WORTH VISITING in ISTANBUL

Sulemaniye Mosque

I went  up a hill, and found that peaceful place where even God would take a moment to rest.

I went up a hill, and found that peaceful place where even God would take a moment to rest.

Hagia Sophia / Ayha Sofia

This isn't a Mosque and it isn't a Church anymore either!

This isn’t a Mosque and it isn’t a Church anymore either!

Basilica Cistern

IMG_3537

Topkapi Palace

One of the many views from the Topkapi Palace

Blue Mosque

“I envy the lovers, that walk by the Blue Mosque each day. For their love that is blessed by the great Mosque beside”

Posted by: Dinesh Kapur | November 27, 2012

How to write a book review without reading the book?

A 20-step guide. To getting it wrong, and then getting it right! Or at least living under the illusion that you got it right!

  1. Overlook the crucial section about the ‘Classical literature review’ assignment while struggling to read through the laborious course handbook carefully.
  2. Decide to change your plans last minute, and come to the University of Cambridge one day before your flight to the Netherlands where you were going to start a Masters at TU Delft
  3. Avoid reading the assignment sheet with the list of books carefully because of the ridiculously SMALL font.
  4. Be dispirited and discontent about being in a ‘new college’ for the first month. Get annoyed at an Aussie class mate’s (Randy!) never-ending ‘formal evening’ pictures. To compensate, join more societies than the number of societies in Cambridge! Thereby, not thinking about assignments.
  5. Spend more time walking around the aisles at Sainbury’s dazed at the sheer futility of the options and the ridiculously early expiry dates while dodging baskets and undergraduates. DO NOT GO TO THE LIBRARY.
  6. Fall sick after eating lasagna at Robinson College. Realize later that it had beef, and feel sicker than you actually were. Not due to religious reasons, but because you can’t stomach bovine animals.
  7. Try to recall the list of books mentally, without getting out of your bed and reading the damn assignment brief.
  8. For 2 weeks, live under the impression that you read two of the books in the list in your last job, and had ‘things under control’. Articulate this to your classmates and reinforce your misconception.
  9. Realize later that you hated one of the two books that you ‘read’ in your previous job, and are incapable of reviewing the book without stopping yourself from writing – ‘Writing about this makes me feel like a fucking stark raving maniacal lunatic’!
  10. Go through a really bad matter of the heart. Like the ‘swallow the ground beneath your feet failure in love’ where nothing that D-Fen, or anybody else, says in class makes any sense. Make sure you feel totally screwed by listening to sad songs on Youtube thanks to the SUPER FUCKING FAST Internet connection that you never experienced in your country! Whoa, what a rush at 312 kbps/sec!
  11. Sick or not, lazy or not, depressed or not, finally convince yourself to pick yourself out of bed to get the last copy of the book that you read previously – from the course administrator because she found some copies while cleaning her office. Not because you like the book, but this way you won’t have to buy a new book – since all other books have been issued to your classmates! Feel awesome that you saved 10 pounds!
  12. Feel slightly surprised while flipping through the pages of the book three days before the submission deadline for the book review. Get distracted by the pretty Romanian/French/German girl, and forgot about why you were surprised.
  13. Have a conversation with one of those ‘very sincere-bright-good grades-smart’ kinda girls in your class and realize that she is on course to finishing her book review two days before the deadline. Wonder about the kind of progress others are making.
  14. Speak to a few others reading the same book and feel relieved that some of them are still reading the book, and that you read it before. Feel content and happy with yourself for a change. Beam a smile.
  15. Fail to organize a group discussion. Two days before final submission, pick up the book, flip through it again and realize that you did not actually read the second book in your previous job, but instead you read the predecessor to the book by the same author.
  16. Panic! 300 pages – 37 hours before the deadline! FUCKING PANIC!! And then realize that the book in the list is somewhat related to the previous book. Remember that you are in studying in the same University as the one that taught Douglas Adams.
  17. Don’t Panic.
  18. Struggle to speed read the damn book while piecing together a painfully slow book review at 1:00 AM UK time! In a moment of clarity, realize that some of your colleagues read the book! Exploit the RIDICULOUSLY CHEAP international phone call rates, and 5 and a half hour time difference (DAYLIGHT SAVING – YOU BEAUTY!) to call them, wake them, and take notes. Realize that you did actually read most of this book, in the last book, and other literature.
  19. Keep Calm and Carry On!
  20. Read a million other book reviews of that book. Get interested in the book around 3:30 AM. Stay up all night. In a stretch of immersed brilliance, finish the book by 9:00 AM, well at least the ‘beefy’ bovine parts. Finish your book review one hour before submission deadline with a reference to FOOTBALL (So cool!). Take a print out. Submit it exactly at the deadline. Feel like a boss. Come back and read the soft-copy and realize that you made 3 typos, and 2 grammatical mistakes!

So close to perfect. Bring on the next assignment. This is LR 11!!

(P.s. – The author of this post, did not cheat on his assignment. Albeit late, he did read the book. In reality he is so scared out of his pants of plagiarism, and false accusations after he got a misinformed legal notice, that he would never resort to such tom(marvolo-riddle) foolery in Hogwarts)

Posted by: Dinesh Kapur | November 20, 2012

Oh look, a shiny new post!

The more I engage with life

The more disillusioned I become

The more disillusioned I become

The more I need to engage with life, to catch up

I haven’t blogged in a while. To be perfectly honest, I thought my writing had reached a level, where it was close to being worth something. I felt that I had to practice it like an art, and hone the writing on my own. To make it better. To take it higher.

So I opened yet another parallel track in my life to start writing on my own, on the side. It started well, like all good things, and then nothing. The sheets of paper started going blank. Doc files were created less frequently. The ones that were created, were rarely finished. The ink remained, and the keystrokes dried up.

‘Screeeeccchhhh’. Grinding halt. I stopped writing altogether.I stopped blogging. I’ve realized over time, that I stopped doing something that was the equivalent of a good workout. I stopped doing something that I enjoyed. I stopped doing something that sometimes, you enjoyed, i.e. the people that read my blog.

What happens when you stop exercising? Things get flabby. Thoughts get weak. Jokes go lame. Ideas start to fail.

I haven’t been away from the process of writing. But ‘creative writing’ like blogging needs to be visited frequently, and with intensity. I feel like I need to learn how to run again. It could have been worse. I am glad that I am back now.

***

An old post that I wrote for a website. The website is gone, but the article remains. One of my pieces of writing, that I enjoyed. Will you?

**************************************************************************************************************************

He stares ahead. His eyes squint, brow furrows and sweat trickles down his forehead. This is it, he realizes. His goal is staring him in the face. He must move fast or else this opportunity will quickly settle away into the horizon. His brisk walk now quickens. He looks around, and realizes that a sea of competitors is converging towards the finish. He breaks into a run. The finish line seems to move further ahead, he pushes himself harder. Breathing heavily, arms flailing and running as fast as his legs can carry him. His hands grope the air, looking for support, something to hold on to. He nudges a few and shoves the others on his way to triumph.

His hand clasps around the bar. He jumps onto the stairs. The battle is almost over. He steadies himself and looks around to those who lost out to him, and then everyone else. His face breaks into a massive grin. He smiles gleefully, from one ear to the other, with all his teeth cheering – even the broken ones.

And then he says, “ek ticket dena bhaisaab, dus rupeya ka.”

The above, is obviously your average DTC bus commuter. The protagonist is male, because, lets face it, those retired Kamikaze pilots posing as DTC bus drivers do make it a point to stop for women. However, this does not imply that women are robbed of a chance to enjoy their daily exercise regime. Our daily Olympics don’t stop at running after these monsters of metal – bus journey’s can easily qualify as a multi-disciplinary event – a triathlon for common folk like you and me.

Now, famous poets, writers and thinkers would argue, that the journey is a lot more important than the destination, and hence quotes like

“Too often we are so preoccupied with the destination, we forget the journey”

I wouldn’t be surprised if the people who shed such pearls of wisdom haven’t ever travelled in a bus, in Delhi. Also, I promise to ‘remember’ the journey – if you can get me a seat!

Speaking of seats in buses – I was lucky to witness phenomenal action in the long jump event. A man, who was probably in his late 40s, creamed the world record (and a few people!) with a leap that flew all the way from the conductor’s seat to an empty one behind the driver – breathtaking action, quite literally for a few. For those of you who can’t out leap the competition, there is another approach to winning the proverbial medal – freestyle wrestling. A game practiced with a lot of passion and skill, especially by the ‘healthy’ variety of travelers.

Personally, I am not particularly fond of all the jumping and tackling. Invariably I find myself enjoying another kind of exercise – gymnastics. I have to admit, I never knew the extent of my body’s flexibility till I got onto a bus. Twisting, turning, shifting from one bar to the other, hanging on, and then hanging on for life – I deserve nothing less than a perfect 10!

Hopefully my campaign to get the ‘Bus-a-thon’ full fledged Olympic status works out – surely then we’ll have a few more medals to brag about!

Till then, I hope you have a safe journey!

Posted by: Dinesh Kapur | September 25, 2012

(Part 2) Disappearing in a Cloud of Dust!

Just then, a rush of dust suddenly swept in … I lost track of my team, the shoes and footprints had vanished … the realization dawned, they were ‘disappearing in a cloud of dust’.

End of Part 1

***

300 700 900 1250

Some of you might confuse the series of numbers above as the desired progression of ‘incidentals’ that we dream about when traveling for outstation work.

The numbers are in fact, some of the temperatures typically found inside different zones of a cement kiln. As a consequence, the heat outside the kilns is the stuff tandoori chickens are made of.

Just after I had lost track of my team-mates in Part 1, I found myself walking past the kilns. For the uninitiated, these are essentially long, very long, rotating columns of steel. The columns in this case were about 64 meters long, rotating with ‘fire in their belly’. They were melting powdered limestone and gypsum, and fusing them into red hot clinkers of cement.

Walking along the kilns is nothing like a walk in a park. Not even remotely close. The kilns look sinister, and they sound fiendish. I could hear the ominous background score of the ‘Lord of the Rings’ playing in the background. There we were, mining the earth, just like the ‘Orcs’ in Two Towers.

And this thought was interrupted by a muffled sound – “ine jee”. I stopped to pay closer attention. Again, – “ine jee”, was the sound again. I looked around, but I couldn’t locate the source. The third time it was louder, “nesh jeeeee!” Standing between the piles of crushed limestone (rock) and the grumbling steel machines (hard place) I wasn’t quite sure where this voice was coming from.

‘Teng teng teng teng!’ was the outcome of a key repeatedly meeting a hollow bar on a steel staircase. I looked up, and I was greeted by the sight of a very amused looking Stuti, and a scowl on the face of the engineer from the plant. The chap was obviously trying to out-scream the machines.

‘Upar aaiye, abhi 150 motors baaki hain! (Come up, we still have 150 more motors to go)’, was his cry.

And so our trek up to the highest point in Baikunth village began. For the uninitiated, a cement plant can tower over the landscape. The setup has air separation, pre-heating, exhausts etc. Huge fans are used to draw in air. The finely crushed materials descend from a height, and the coarse and fine particles, are separated. All of which requires a decent amount of height.

Over the next 10 days, we took electrical measurements at a height of 10m, 15m, 25m, and 40m. On one particular day we went all the way to 73m – where the floor trembled, but the view was the stuff cement lords are made of. Every area of the cement plant, the railways line bringing in coal and the nearby artificial lake could be seen. We really were like ‘Orcs’ from the Lord of the Rings. The view extended to the entire village. To set a context to the heights, the Qutub Minar in New Delhi is 72.5m high.

Our work was carried out between regimented tea-breaks and a long lunch break. We spent most of these breaks being surprised or accosted by our own man-Friday – Gopal. He was deputed to serve us tea and convince us to have ‘nashta’ at every break.  A kindred spirit, with the uncanny knack of appearing out of nowhere, is the best way to describe him. We never saw him in the lobby or inside the room. Yet, within seconds of our reaching the energy audit room, we would hear his earnest voice saying – ‘chai’, ‘nashta’, ‘nastha lenge aap log’?

On one particular day we reached the energy audit room whilst consciously keeping a watch for Gopal’s movements. He was nowhere to be seen. We reached our room, smug with our singular victory over Gopal in our game of hide-and-seek. And then from under the table, came the voice – ‘teen chai aur teen nashta ready (3 teas and 3 snacks ready)!’ Gopal was unplugging the kettle from the plug-point under the table. We were too shocked by yet another miraculous appearance by Gopal to notice that he knew how many people were in the room!

At another time I was sitting in the audit room to enter the data of the 220 odd motors that we covered – I found myself in the midst of a conversation with Gopal and his colleague Hari. They knew a lot about cement. They knew a lot about the different cement plants owned by the cement lords that ran this place. They rattled off numbers about production capacity, location and even turnover. It took me a few days to realize that this is all they knew. This information had been drilled into their minds and they were very much a part of the plant furniture. Their world and life was cement. The had taken loans, in the name of cement, their marriages happened in the name of cement, their kids grew up on cement – the visionary cement lords had built an entire world out of cement! So much so, that the walls of the plant had important teachings and wisdom written on them. For example, ‘Safety comes before action’ – ‘Work and rest are important for a productive life’ etc. etc. And to add to the mystic, there were portraits of the owner of the company and his textbook industrialist’s wife that adorned every alternate wall in the plant. Every time we would go to a different area of the plant we could see the portraits. The smiling faces and the clever eyes seemed to suggest that we were being watched. No wonder, all the plant personnel were so sincere!

Our treks were accompanied by entire days spent at the packaging plant, the in-house thermal power plant, the raw-mill, the compressor house. The marquee moment of the audit was traveling on the EOT cranes. Picture this – we were moving on an open wrought iron platform, on rusted iron rails, across a distance that went from the 5th floor of the TERI building to the Library Block. The tattered platform was powered by equally tattered motors. It would start and stop with jerks that made traveling by Punjab Roadways a comforting thought. Most of the engineers at the plant were the ‘brave’ sorts. For them, jumping up and down railings, walking under machines or climbing stairs was a regular affair which they did with their most normal disposition. They were obviously not daunted by these tricks. To be honest, I was enjoying the exercise. A little apprehensive, Stuti seemed to cope well.  And this is what made the experience of the EOT cranes a tad unique. It was slightly amusing to see the engineers clutch on to the railings ever-so-tightly. It was very amusing and mildly alarming when one of the engineers started saying a prayer. Mid-way through his prayer, and just before the platform jerked into motion, he smiled at us. It was absolutely hilarious, to see him clinging on to the railing so tightly, and utter – ‘Mujhe yaahan aake bahut dar lagta hai, iska koi bharosa nahi (I feel really scared when I come here. You cannot trust this device)!’ He said this with a broad grin and then the cranes began. Thereafter most things were a blur. Fortunately none of us were shaken off the 5th floor platform. 

The physical experience of working in an old cement plant was one living with dust, dust, dust, heat, dust, dust, hot air, dusty water and a lingering odour of something very dry. We were particular tickled by the irony of one of the teachings on the walls – “Clean air and clean water are the secrets to a healthy life”.

Despite the conditions, the experience was educational and largely uneventful in terms of incidents etc.

Anyway, to cut a long story short we wrapped up our audit – measurements, instruments, incidents, characters, clothes and everything included. A long journey to the airport was succeeded by a delayed flight to New Delhi. It was December, a day before Christmas Eve.  We said our good-byes to each other, and disappeared in different directions. This time we disappeared, but not into the dust, instead New Delhi’s winter fog.

***

And as I put the finishing touches to this post, the faint tune of a song plays in my head. The pointer on the screen is now searching for the submit button and that tune becomes more familiar. Some of the lyrics flood into my mind – “Hey, hey, hey…Here I go now” It is a song.

I finally press submit, but the die was cast some time ago. The music is now playing loudly.

“Hey, hey, hey

Here I go now

Here I go into new days …”

… Just as soon as I belong,

Its time I disappear”

The clouds of dust have gone, the lyrics are crystal, and so is the path ahead.

Posted by: Dinesh Kapur | December 24, 2011

Disappearing in a Cloud of Dust! (Part 1)

I am not sure if it ever happened to me before.

 “Ladies and gentlemen this is your flight captain. The Raipur Traffic Controller asked for a missed approach landing – so we have taken off again. This was to prevent a bird hit. The ground crew is inspecting the runway. We will approach the run way again shortly for landing.”

I have flown plenty of times. Now I am not a veteran of flights like the venerable beard upstairs (in my current office), but even though I have flown many times and also for long durations, I cannot help but instinctively brace ever so slightly for a landing. Invariably my stomach does a tiny cartwheel when the landing gear rubber makes contact with hard asphalt. But this time, as we sat only 100-200 feet above the ground bracing for the plane to touch down, suddenly, the whirring of the engines intensified. A surge of power coursed through the aircraft turbines and within moments, the cars in the vicinity of the airport became ants again. The buildings were matchboxes. This time my stomach did two cartwheels – not the best start to a 12-day Energy Audit at Century Cements in Baikunth, Chhatisgarh.

Some of the passengers smiled silly smiles and blurted nervous laughs. The lady sitting behind me, the better half of a new couple was now experiencing motion sickness.

I looked down nervously at my black sneakers.

Since you are reading this post it implies that the flight did land eventually. So at 7:00 am on 12 December 2011, a Monday morning, the Energy Auditors found themselves picking up their 9 heavy KGB style suitcases from a coarsely built baggage belt at Raipur airport, drawing the lazy interest of our co-passengers. Our motley crew assembled outside the airport for the vehicle(s) sent by the cement lords. The journey from the airport skirted Raipur city and was largely through the thin 2-lane road traveling through the Chhatisgarh hinterland. It was largely uneventful since the ‘RED’ threat was in the opposite direction, near the convergence of Orissa, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra. The landscape was mostly plain and brown. It was interspersed with brown and green trees and there were hardly any crops or plantations. As we exited the airport one could detect a slight haze of dust all around. Why? The answer came from gaping craters in the ground. Limestone quarries. The staid brown countryside was interrupted with plenty of pink and white cavities in the land.

We stopped for tea. The first sip set the tone for the countless cups of tea we would need over the next 12 days. After a cup of tea-flavored sugar and 60 kilometers of traveling we reached a township in the middle of nowhere. Century school was followed by Century college, a small shopping complex, there was a cricket ground, well maintained roads, some houses and then suddenly emerged the towering 4700 tonnes per day cement plant – Century Cements. The view was properly hazy now. The fine dust transformed the world into a scene behind a dusty computer screen.

Introductions with the engineers manning the plant followed. The use of the word ‘manning’ is to bring to your notice an implicit truth. Barring the few women that we saw in the guesthouse on days 4 and 5, the only other lady in the plant was the diminutive but industrious girl in our Energy Auditing crew. One after another the team nominated by the plant management entered the conference room. Their numbers swelled from 1 to 3 to 10 and rested at 22. The verdict; this was going to be a test of speed, strength and metal, and cement.

The walkthrough survey of the plant began. We zigzagged in and out of the cement mill, the raw mill, the kiln units, the packaging plant, the captive power plant and the pump houses. The initial survey took us up to the railway line that brought the wagonloads of limestone and coal. We were also introduced to a new color – an abnormal hybrid of pink, grey and brown that was pasted on everything that moved and did not move in the immediate vicinity of that plant. Industrial pink!

The flight, the road journey, the kick-off conference, the walkthrough and the winter month of December meant that at 6:00 p.m. it was properly dark. It was also a proper half an hour past the plant personnel’s time to go home. We retired to the guesthouse with alarm clocks set for 6:30 a.m. Reporting time at the plant was 8:00 a.m.

LET THE AUDIT BEGIN!

The alarms did not fulfill their duty. No we were not late. The alarms did not get a chance to alarm us. Our sleep was rudely interrupted at 5:45 a.m. by a harsh ringing of the bell and questions from a man with a gruff voice. He was carrying an old tin kettle and cup and when the door opened he boomed, “CHAI? CHAI LENGE?”

We downed our breakfast quickly – partly because we were eager to reach before time to plan our work and partly because the generous oil made it easier for the food to slide down!

Motors and Lighting were my brief. Since, the number of these devices is large, I teamed up with a teammate to help her in cutting the task down to size. Our first stop was the Raw Mill that was in the immediate vicinity of the Engineering Building.

The notable facts – as we made our way up the heavy wrought iron stairs with 2 engineers from the plant, a phone that belonged to one of them rang. “Why this Kolaveri Kolaveri Kolaveri Di?” – broke the loud grumbling of the machines and piercing screams of the rotating kilns. “Kolaveri Di” in Baikunth, in the middle of nowhere in Chhatisgarh. Is this fast becoming a symbol of national unity?

The next stop was the raw mill. A crisscross of conveyor belts and fans with large containers (hoppers) holding all the crushed limestone that goes in to Birla Gold Cement! The air in that area did not have dust. No, the dust in that area had a few pockets of air!

With each step the dust jumped around gleefully like a dog playing near your feet. Occasionally the dust even rose above the eye-line. As we ventured towards the remaining motors and panels the air got murkier. We were walking in a line. One after the other and I was at the end of the chain. I kept track of the others by focusing on their shoes. In the distance, I saw two other colleagues inspecting the operation of the cooling fans and thermal insulation. I stopped and waved to them. Just then, a rush of dust suddenly swept in … I lost track of my team, the shoes and footprints had vanished … the realization dawned, they were ‘disappearing in a cloud of dust’.

***

End of Part 1

Part 2 follows only if I get comments on this post!

Posted by: Dinesh Kapur | October 24, 2011

Glass – of colorful shades and shattered dreams

Glass – of colorful shades and shattered dreams

The gentleman sitting next to me had his head tilted towards the right in the most unnatural position. His mouth was slightly ajar. Sprawled all over his seat, some of him was also spilling on to mine. Train journeys in India tend to bring out the best in uncomfortable sleepers.

It was 8:00 a.m. in the morning and I found myself hurtling towards a city that was once established many centuries ago by Sikandar Lodi. My second day in the job and I was moving at a little less than 150 km/hour, in India’s fastest train, towards my first energy audit. This time, my journey would extend beyond Agra, approximately 50 kilometers by road, to the SME (Small and medium enterprises) cluster in the small town of Firozabad.

They told me that one can get all the glass they may ever need in that place.
The only flirtations I had with an SME cluster were brief and superficial. This one, however, had the makings of something intense. While I reflected over a shaky cup of tea, the driver from a small village near Almora, the SME glass cluster with its myriad glass manufacturing units and the rest of the TERI team went about their work.

**********

The signs were there from the start. The driver’s assessment of the place was littered with words like ‘bekaar’ and phrases like ‘sahi nahi hai’. We had something in common, this was the first time we were both in the city. Even though he was a few days old, the optimist in me brushed aside his grim musings.

The only excuse for a ‘royal’ hotel in the small town was the inaccurately spelt ‘Monark’. It was either an example of lazy spelling or something I did not pick up. I acquainted myself with the 4 other people from the TERI team. I knew that I was in the midst of well-traveled and experienced professionals, seasoned in the harsh and tough environs of industrial settings. Immediately it was plain to me that I was a novice in the midst of veterans.

As quickly as I entered the only available ‘big’ hotel in that small town, we were out in our vehicle bouncing along what vaguely resembled a motor able road. I assume the effect on the factory workers was magical. Let me remind you, Firozabad is no tourist town where the locals are accustomed to a seasonal influx of SUVs and people dressed in somber office attire. Case in point; total number of SUVs spotted during the entire week long trip was only 2, including the one hired by us. So an Innova loaded with jet black KGB style suitcases (holding all the precious instrumentation that even an elemental energy audit merits) trembling through a cloud of dust, must have been a source of amazement for the factory folk. Little did I know that a few startling revelations were up around the bend for me too.

The team of distinguished audit experts had spelt out the precautions – be cautious, be conscious of movements and be attentive.

Standard instructions, I thought.

Crucial life-saving reminders, I realized later.

There is, indeed, an awful lot of glass there. But It is only all the glass in the world, a woman, from a small town like Firozabad, would need. No, I am not being chauvinistic. Apart from drinking glasses, the only other thing the people seem to make there is ‘glass bangles’! Bangles of all colors, sizes and shades with enough variety to make an Asian Paints catalogue look insufficient! Plain, with designs, without designs, all you have to do is ask!

**********

The factories were as factories are supposed to be; shades of black, brown, grey, metal, steel, piping, loud machines, dirt, grime, angry and orange furnace tanks, electrical wiring that seemed to grow like vines, water – hot, cold, clean and dirty, emaciated workers and their porky, blubbery and rotund factory owners.

I knew what a manufacturing unit looked like. I knew that the machines would be loud and make the air around them oppressive. I knew this from a two-month stint in a power plant during my engineering days. A unit, operated with passable safety standards and protocols.

This was a completely different ball game. The wiring snaked in and out of the way. The water – hot and cold, dripped unannounced. The dust and fumes rose and settled like a symphony of dangerous music. The machines screamed, as if they were on the edge. The factory roof looked ramshackle, the whole place, like an accident waiting to happen! I had braced myself for visiting the bowels of these manufacturing units, but the realization, that these units in their entirety were the bowels of manufacturing in India, was indeed a revelation.

But this is India, this sort of thing happens, doesn’t it?

All of this, however, was not alarming. It was alarming to see a young man, probably my age, or younger, lifting hot molten glass bottles with a gloved hand, in a place where we couldn’t stand for more than a few minutes. He stood there for the entire day, lifting the bottles that were on their side, to stand them on their base while we went about visiting less oppressive parts of the setup. We left the place after a week; he is probably still standing there, braving the mad heat, taking in the fumes, condemning his health. And he was just one, among so many others who were lifting inhuman loads, trudging along with drudgery or baking in close proximity to kilns.

But this is India, this sort of thing happens, doesn’t it?

We have over a billion people, if it wasn’t him, it would be someone else. Time to cling on to the patronizing justifications – “The human body is resilient / this is his fate / it’s his choice / somebody has to do this job / should not bother you…”

Credit goes to him for trying to eke out an honest living. Though it seems, his plight did not bother me enough, because I went about my work. Not alarming enough for me. This was followed by the sight of an eight year old boy walking briskly from a pot furnace to a spinning unit. Barefoot and with an iron rod 8 feet long held tightly in his hand. The tip of the rod was glowing with an incredibly hot globule of molten glass. ‘Sonu’ was eight and he had just joined the job. It was his second week and he was still coming to terms with how hot the rod became after a few minutes in the furnace. He was again, one, among many little children with their dreams melting and shattering with that glass.

But this is India, this sort of thing does happen…

What will become of this? The benefactors of this trade will grow more obese and daring. Children will come and go. A young lad with big-city education and a penchant for writing, will probably blog about it somewhere. Some people might read it. The Wikipedia entry for Firozabad, will still casually say – “Child labour is practiced widely in the city…”

Indeed, this sort of thing happens…

So there I was, at Firozabad, a city on the northern edge of the Deccan Plateau, looking down or up at an ignominy for our country – a culture of colors, magnificent shades and shattered dreams. I couldn’t wait to go back to the 150 km/hour train and the uncomfortable sleepers leaning on my shoulder. At least when they sleep, their dreams don’t melt away or even worse, shatter!

**********

The highlight of the trip! I got one dozen bananas for 20 Rupees at Firozabad! A ‘burkha’ and a thick local accent will get you a dozen for 15!

Posted by: Dinesh Kapur | June 4, 2011

Capital Disconnect – Average dilli waale ka map of India!

GUESS WHO / WHAT IS BACK!

This is the map in its original avtaar. Never really got the time to scan this and put it up.

All it takes is a moment .. and I AM BACK BABY!!

******************************************************************

I am sure you must have seen those television shows / youtube videos where the average American is being interviewed and comes up with the most ‘informed answers’.

In case you don’t know what I am talking about, watch this video first!

THIS VIDEO IS AN ABSOLUTE MUST WATCH!

WATCH IT! AND YOU WILL ENJOY THIS POST A LOT MORE!!

I am sure you have also seen shows where people (read Americans) send in ‘funniest’, ‘craziest’ or ‘most amazing’ videos to prove that George Bush was not an accident. There are more like him. How do you think he got elected?!?!

Hec, the only silver lining, at least ‘Dubya’ was funny!

So while watching a video of these interviews, it suddenly struck me that I have noticed a similar disturbing trend in our own country. More specifically in the melting pot we call the NCR (National Capital Region).

If you decide to turn down the volume on your mp3 player, or decide not to call someone when you are in a crowded place, you WILL hear them.  They will call out to you. You will look around at those chattering mouths. So many of them, cramped so close to you… None of them talking to you, but the voices, all of them directed at you. You sweat a little. You look left and right, but you can’t run. There are so many faces, not one familiar. The metro is still moving. When will it reach the next station? You can hear them. ‘The voices.’ They are calling out;  the voices of stupid!

And if you pay attention to your facebook feed, you will find, as clichéd as it sounds, that the writing is on the wall!

***

SCENE 1 – Cricket is our national language

Stud 1 – Yaar Madrasi ki batting kitni mast ho gayi hain!

(That Madrasi’s batting has really improved!)

Stud 2 – Haan, wo vacations mein ghar gaya tha, keh raha tha kaafi cricket khela.

(He went home during the vacations this time and played a lot of cricket)

Stud 1 – Where does he live?

Stud 2 – Bangalore.

***

SCENE 2 – Educating the educators (In a West + North dominated college)

Teacher – Your file is good.

Student – Hmm

Teacher – You seem to be hard-working. Not like the others.

Student – Hmm

Teacher – Where are you from?

Student – Sir, Andhra.

Teacher – Oh, Madrasi.

Student – Hmm

***

SCENE 3 – Facebook feeds (us all of this)

1. Noob – Kuch bhi kaho yaar, ‘chinkiyaan’ hoti badi sexy hain

(Chinkys are very sexy, indeed)

Noob’s friend – Kya hua? Sudden realization

(What happened?)

Noob – he he.. nahi yaar.. observed over a period of time.. bolti nahi but they are super sexy!! matlab ordinary ladkiyaan to match kar hi nahi sakti!😉

(They don’t say much…!! Ordinary girls just cannot match them)

2. Debauched soul – Gurgaon chal, waahan pe apne friends se milaunga, mast ‘chinkiyaan’ hain! Great Music!

(Come to Gurgaon, will introduce you to my friends, very cool Chinkys! Great Music!)

3. Excitable soul – Match at 5. ‘Chinki’ bhi aate hain, awesome game hota hain!

(Chinkys also come to play, hence the game is awesome!)

***

SCENE 4 – Khub jamega rang, jab mil baithenge teen yaar, aap, main aur auto walah! (Sharing an auto on a rainy day)

Strange(r) – To Bhaiya aap kahan ke ho? Patna ke?

(So, where are you from? Patna?)

Auto Driver – Nahi! Hum Kanpur ke pass se hain!

(No! I am from near Kanpur)

Strange(r) – Hmm … (Proceeds to think)

Strange(r) – Kanpur, Patna se kitna door hai

(How far is Kanpur from Patna?)

Auto Driver – (Thinks). Hoga kuch 500 – 600 km

(Must be about 500 – 600 km)

Strange(r) – (Excitedly). Arre Bihar such main kaafi bada hai!

(Wow! Bihar is really very big)

***

SCENE 5 – Where do we meet for coffee and cigarettes?

Someone – I am in Gurgaon, I can meet you at Ambiance Mall. When will you come back from Noida? Where are you going?

Somebody – Sector 18

Someone – Oh, near Great India Place Mall.

Somebody – Yeah, but I have to go to Rajouri Garden for some work later. Can you come there?

Someone – You mean Lifestyle mall. No yaar, too far!

Somebody – Ok then somewhere in South Delhi?

Someone – Haan, I can come to Select City Walk! or Promenade?

Somebody – I was thinking more like Safdarjung Enclave?

Someone – Dude, I don’t know where that is, Delhi is big!

***

SCENE 6 – More Face-book updates! Do you feel inundated by all those photographs flying all over your wall?

1. Goa pics uploaded!

2. Goa vacation

3. Chilling in Goa

4. Chillax @ Goa

5. Goa 2008

6. Goa 2009

7. Goa 2010

8. Best Vacation Ever (Number 647)

9. Sun and surf in Goa

10. Goa 2011?

11. Best place in the world – Goa!

12. Goa Rulzz!

13. Go Goa

14. Goa 2012

15. Goa – Part XXVI

16. Goa 2051?

***

SCENE 7 – General No-ledge!

1. Yaar yeh Maoists kaunse desh se hai, India main kaise aaye?

(Which country do these Maoists belong to? How did they come to India?)

Fortunately, I have only met one, of this variety!

***

SCENE 8 – It happens only in India!

1. Dude it took me 10 hours to get to Jaipur! There was a Gujjar-Meena highway protest!

2. Even the fishes have started going on strike in West Bengal!

3. Sardar friend – I’ll be visiting all my extended family this summer, so won’t be in Delhi for a month or so

Friend – Oh nice! Going to your hometown?

Sardar Friend – Kinda

Friend – Where?

Sardar Friend – London😀

***

DISCLAIMERS FIRST.

1. In hindsight, maybe this does not represent all of Delhi. Maybe it does😉

But for those of you idiots who can’t say North East Indians or have no idea where Chattisgarh is, wake up, smell the coffee, or else the Americans might take YOUR jobs!

2. The map is a figment of boredom and imagination, please do not take it personally.

3. We all know that all Americans are NOT stupid. Some of the brightest minds, ideas, businesses and technology have come from that country. Some of the best universities in the world are in that country.

“CAPITAL” Disconnect

 I am tired now!

This thing took all day, so YOU better comment!

In the meantime – Hit it ‘Dubya’!

And again!

Good night folks!

**************************************************************

THESE WERE THE COMMENTS FROM LAST TIME

COMMENTS

  • superb piece of writing….i hope it serves as a wake up call to all those ‘cool dudes’ out there………nd dis map is nt a figment of boredom but a standing proof that u never listen to music in public…..:P

By: sourabh dabas` on August 19, 2010
at 6:10 pm

Reply

Delightful and brilliant post. But it was scary.

Did I mention it was brilliant?

The sad bit is, all of what you have mentioned is not just some rare facet of Delhi, but a sizable and powerful chunk. And this phenomena of half bakedness exists throughout the country.

Well, we have all had chances to make speeches to ourselves when we were students. That time is over. We NEED to stay true to our ideals and fight complacent stupidity in all its forms. Dinesh, sirf maze lene se nai chalega, otherwise these cretin WILL be the next face of India.

Do your country a favour and be a jerk at times, if only to mock such specimens on their faces. I’m going to spend a lot of time redirecting people to this excellent post of yours.

By: Anupam Guha on August 19, 2010
at 6:13 pm

Reply

Hmm… Innarusting…

By: Nimish Batra on August 19, 2010
at 6:29 pm

Reply

Great map!

I am from Delhi and I think your statements are true for more than 50% of delhiites… of course like america, we have our smart bunch too!!

We are from the national capital….and we don’t know the nation

By: H on August 19, 2010
at 7:14 pm

Reply

The map is just brilliant … i spent a month in Jharkhand and one of the first responses i got when i came back was from an cousins friend who said .. happen to find any maids there mine just quit!

not to mention that Delhi has of-course become just a series of malls … like without those things, Dilli main toh kuch hai hi nahi na..

By: Ammu Sanyal on August 19, 2010
at 7:38 pm

Reply

Abey awesome hai ye Fact… Dilli walle bhi Clueless hi hain! Jai Dubya!!!

By: Nitin Khanna on August 19, 2010
at 7:46 pm

Reply

“educating the educators” aur “khoob jamega rang .. ” ke alaawa baaki sab aise scenes hain jo har jagaha milenge is duniya mein. baaki, agar kisi ne tumhaare saamne kanpur ko bihar ka hissa bataya hai, to woh waakai mein ajooba hai, aur aise log neglibible amounts mein present hain. student ke muh par madrasi! woh bhi student ke muh se uski location jaanane ke baad! lagta hai tumne bahaut saare exceptions ek saath dekh liye hain. region domination hota hai, duniya mein hota hai, but inta verbal form mein to bhaiya shaayad hi maine sapne mein bhi dekha ho delhi mein.

By: rahul khokhar on August 20, 2010
at 4:33 am

Reply

very well written and you have addressed the issue very well. Over the years people have this thing that they are “cool” and they know everything.

You have again reinstated my belief the education is an over-rated word.

good work keep it up. Yes one thing more LOVVVVEEEEED the map !

By: sahil singh on August 20, 2010
at 8:06 am

Reply

Fucking brilliant, man. Love your blog!

– @urgv

By: /urgu on August 20, 2010
at 8:29 am

Reply

Dino! That map is sheer brilliance!

By: Trina on August 20, 2010
at 1:39 pm

Reply

unfortunately part and parcel of our aping the west!

great work on the map! i like how you still have faith in the sense of direction however!

By: preeti on August 20, 2010
at 3:04 pm

Reply

Wow!! Thats the first post I’ve read of yours..n its terrific and H-I-L-A-R-I-O-U-S. The next time i travel in metro..im gonna be listening too!

By: Anisha on August 20, 2010
at 5:24 pm

Reply

Thats the first post I’ve read of yours…and its absolutely terrific and H-I-L-A-R-I-O-U-S. The next time i travel in metro…im gonna be listening too!

By: Anisha on August 20, 2010
at 5:27 pm

Reply

The post truly deserves a huge round of applause!

The picture it presents, of ‘Dilli’ and ‘Dilliwaalahs’ reinforces my belief that there’s nothing capital about the residents of the capital; a major chunk still needs to be ‘e-joo-ke-tid’, if you know what I mean.

I like the sense of humor instilled, and I’m not surprised at your post being circulated far and wide; it needs to be.

By: nidhign on August 20, 2010
at 5:43 pm

Reply

Super!
I loved the gujjar meena highway patrol mark on map. hilarious!

By: Raj on August 20, 2010
at 7:03 pm

Reply

brilliant map work…. i make a point to remove my headphones in metro nd listen around …and believe me…people in delhi ARE SOMETHING!!!!! nd not jst the sheer ignorance but the way some people flout it … blows me away (shock!!!!)
nd evn i know one of this ‘maoist kaha se ae hain’ kinds…. hahaha

By: shweta bhalla on August 21, 2010
at 5:37 am

Reply

prolific writing!
This is so good-humored.
you covered ‘dilliwalon ka attitude’ in simple words!:D
I just loved that map concept!’dilliwale’ love to live in oblivion.

By: ayushi on August 21, 2010
at 3:09 pm

Reply

Awesome man DK… must share now!!! loved the map, being a fellow madrasi and chinki-work-hater…

By: Akshay Rao on August 21, 2010
at 5:04 pm

Reply

  • […] please read this post in my friend Dinesh Kapur’s blog. It is quite […]

By: ‘Ere we go! « Ephemeral Thoughts.. on August 21, 2010
at 7:37 pm

Reply

Brilliant!!!

By: Ayan on August 24, 2010
at 5:58 pm

Reply

  • […] Leonardo DiCaprio and Ellen Page are doing much cheaper-paying jobs now) and be sure to check out Decay’s Blog for some MS Paintery of his […]

By: Three Quarks for Muster Mark! « CHAOSVERSE on August 26, 2010
at 11:56 am

Reply

Hilarious!

Am from Delhi, and this is just so very true .. for a large chunk of the Delhi population!

The map captures everything so aptly

By: Neha on August 26, 2010
at 2:33 pm

Reply

Posted by: Dinesh Kapur | February 25, 2011

Humans – 1411 – Left?

I am sure the tigers would prefer it to be this way!!

Posted by: Dinesh Kapur | December 26, 2010

From Queen’s Baton to Queen’s Bailun!!

In this season of scams, will there be retribution? Will the empire strike back? With Sheela’s jawani capturing everyone’s attention, will Sonia step up to the challenge? Will Kalmadi run or will he be caught?

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