Dec 31, 2012

A post a day ends today!



At the beginning of the year 2012, I accepted a challenge in Goodreads to read 50 books before the end of the year. Somewhere around mid 2012 I realised that 50 books was out of my reach. I revised my target to 20 and I have read 15 books so far. Will I be able to complete the challenge? I guess not.

At the end of November 2012 I posed another challenge to myself. To write a post a day until this year end. I had published only 18 articles in the past eleven months! "Will I be able to complete this new challenge?", I asked myself. 

I certainly do not want to enter into 2013 with two failures! I took the challenge seriously and I vowed to write. I so wanted to welcome 2013 with a success. Of course, I would not forgive myself if I failed twice!

I had plenty of things in my mind to write about. I started off with a travel article, one of the easiest ways to get rid of writers block. The travel article was first in Fort Collins Diary. I then went on to write 11 more articles covering my experiences of the new place where my wife and myself had come to.

Five strangers at a bus stop happened two summers ago when I came to Fort Collins for the first time as a summer intern. That was when I played ping pong with an international student from Pakistan. It was during the same time I met André at one of the Friday Afternoon Club meetings.

After I came to Fort Collins in October 2012 taking a dreadful risk, I revisited the Fort Collins public library and had a few strange acquaintances. I applied for learner's permit and had quite an experience.

Following my success in overcoming my writers block, I wrote a few short stories. Taken was based on the effect of watching too many movies in short span. 

I wrote the draft version of Fish and the Bait a year ago! I revisited the unfinished draft when I felt I had nothing to write. Same is true with Orphaned, the only difference is I did not have a draft version ready this time.  

The story of Kurma Avatar and When the time stood still are two stories that gave me goosebumps after I wrote them. It was also my first attempt to demystify mythological stories and present it from a rational perspective.

Every Saturday, wife and myself would take a Transfort ride either to Carmike or AMC and watch a movie. Life of Pi was the first movie we saw in December. It was followed by Taken 2 and The Hobbit. The only movie that we did not plan earlier was Monsters Inc, which we went on a movie day out with my friend André.

To catch up with reading, we decided to have a study hour between 9.00 and 10.00 PM everyday. We read books that we borrowed from the public library. Though I would not be able to complete the Goodreads challenge, I read two books in December. The sins of the father was written by one of my favourite authors, Jeffrey Archer. The other book that I read in this month was Moonlight becomes you, which was also my first book written by Mary Higgins Clark.

It has been quite an eventful month for me. To be honest, there were times in the past 31 days when I felt I do not want to write anything. But then, there were also times when I felt writing more than one post a day! Looking back, I feel happy about myself that I was able to overcome the urges and stick to my commitment. I was able to write one post a day until the year end! I now have a success story with which I enter into 2013.

I wish you all a very happy and prosperous New Year 2013.

A special thanks to my wife Jaisri and my friends who had read and passed on their comments on my articles. Your support and encouragement made me succeed!

Dec 30, 2012

Moonlight Becomes You


No one can predict what will happen the next moment. Nature's way is to surprise us by not revealing us about the future. Our efforts in understanding nature and its ways had made us look into the past and recognize patterns that we believe contains the clue to what lies in ahead of us.

Often times, we chance upon those clues and call them as coincidences. But is it possible to counter a serious of coincidences in any one's life? A look into human history tells us that whenever such a serious of coincidences happen, there is always a human's hand in the course.

We always suspect that something is wrong when a few people who are close to each other die one after another, that too, peacefully at night when they all fall asleep.

We have experienced such events happen in our life. But how often do we begin to suspect and try to look at it from a rational perspective? 

How often do we have a quest to look into the pattern and try to connect the dots? How often do we isolate natural events from the events which are triggered by humans by virtue of their emotions; jealousy, ego, anger, frustration or whatever?

In Moonlight Becomes You, Mary Higgins Clark, through the eyes of Maggie (the protagonist), teaches us to identify patterns, isolate human element and trace the real culprit. If you are smart, you can find the culprit much before the climax.

A good writer is the one who introduces more than one pattern interlaced with another thereby confusing the reader. This is the best strategy that would result in having more than one suspect, which helps in building the suspense element in a novel. After reading Moonlight Becomes You (my first book of Mary Higgins Clark), I have no doubt that she is a good writer.

Dec 29, 2012

When the time stood still!

Image courtesy: wikimedia

Draupadi was dragged in to King Dhritarashtra's court by Dushashana. Duryodhana's lustful eyes craved to see her naked.

"Disrobe her, my dear brother Dushashana", he ordered. "Parade her naked in the court and make her sit on my lap".

How the wise men in the court wished the time would stand still that moment!

Indeed, for Draupadi the time stood still when she was dragged in to the court. She knew what the wicked mind of Duryodhana would think of her. She knew he would order his brother to disrobe her, make her naked and parade her in the court. None of what happened in the court registered in her mind, for her time had stood still.

Duryodhana never had a good opinion about Draupadi. Who would? After all, she was married to five brothers!

"It would not be a difficult task for you to walk naked in this court, Draupadi. More than one man had already seen you naked before", said Karna. The evil minded ones roared in laughter to what Karna said.

Pandavas, who were reduced to slaves, cried inside. Even the wise men could not help but only witness the acts of evil. For them all, Draupadi was wife of five brothers.

But, for Krishna, Draupadi was different. She was an embodiment of the society in which we live in. The society whose dignity was upheld with the fabric she wore.

The thread forms the basic part of the society, its people. The interlace represents the learned ones. The fabric was woven from each string of threads which were interlaced with another. How can he allow the evil to disrobe her?

"It was time to set an example for evil ones", he thought. He decided to extend the fabric which the evil ones are trying to strip. He set Draupadi's time in motion.

For after all, he is Lord Krishna, the saviour.

Dec 27, 2012

Movie Out with André

"Would you like to see The Hobbit with us?", André texted me.

My wife and myself watched The Hobbit only last week, but then it's been a long time since I caught up with my friend.

"Sure!", I replied.

"We will be going to MetroLux theatre in Loveland. The show time is at 2.45 PM. I will come to pick you up at around 1.45 PM", he said.

"Sounds good!", I replied to him, disconnected the call, turned to my wife and said, "this time, we are going to watch it in a different theatre".

We had our lunch and were ready at 1.45 PM when I got a call from André saying he was waiting at the parking lot.

On the way to the theatre, André was talking to us about his plans to visit Nepal soon after the New Year. "It's very nice to see you guys today before we leave to Nepal", he said excitedly.

Soon we were joined by his wife, her cousin and their cute little niece and nephew at MetroLux.

at MetroLux Theatres with André

"My nephew, a four year old kid, wants to see Monsters, Inc", said André when we arrived inside the theatre. "But if you guys want to see The Hobbit, you can go ahead. My wife and our niece will be joining you then", he said.

We had already seen The Hobbit, so we decided to watch Monsters Inc. 

"This is my second movie in 3D", he said after buying the tickets. We mentally recollected all the movies we had watched in Fort Collins and said, "This is our third 3D movie in Fort Collins itself". We all laughed and walked towards auditorium 11.

Monsters Inc is a Energy production company that generates electricity from human baby's screaming. Monsters were trained to scare babies and make them scream which would generate electricity and were stored in capsules. The story lies around a monster coming in contact with a baby with whom he felt attached.

As in most 3D movies, the visuals were amazing! After coming out, we felt we not only had a good time with André and Rachel, but enjoyed the movie as well.

Dec 26, 2012

Christmas Eve - at a friend's place

"Let us go to our place for some snacks", Susan invited us after the Christmas Eve celebrations at the Summit View church.

People were greeting Merry Christmas happily to each other with joyous hugs. Outside, the weather was cold and had started to snow. "It was our first white Christmas!", I exclaimed to my wife who was already enjoying the evening.

By the time we reached Susan's place, a couple of inches of snow had accumulated on the road. "Have some tea", Cheng Yu, Susan's husband, offered us as we entered. "Take as many cookies as you can", he added pointing to the spread on the dining table.

"This is a Japanese snack. I mean real Japanese, because I bought it when I went to Japan last week", he said. I took a couple of snacks and settled on one of the chairs.

"Would you like to have some hot Apple cider?", Susan asked us before offering a cup each to my wife and myself. By the time we finished the delicious cider, vegetable soup was served.

What started as snacks became a small dinner party by the time Gloria arrived with more food. Soon, Susan's kitchen was occupied by more volunteers helping Gloria and Susan to cook or heat the food. Pasta and breads were served followed with cold Apple Cider in place of a Champagne. We ended the party with a toast for a better year ahead.

"Shall we leave?", I asked my wife after we had snack-cum-dinner. She nodded in agreement. When I was about to inform Susan about our decision, she asked "Would you like to watch some movie?". We looked at each other. Surely we weren't planned before for a movie night.

"We can watch an Indian movie", Cheng Yu suggested.

"Slumdog Millionaire", someone from the party said. "But its not a real Indian movie, isn't it?", asked another.

After some time, when there was no conclusion, I wanted to say "we want to leave" when the topic changed to playing games. "Let us play Dutch Blitz", a girl suggested.

Its been a long time since we played games. A part of us wanted to play and so involuntarily asked "how to play?". Soon everyone gathered near a corner of the room where the beautiful Christmas tree was decorated.

"Its so exciting", my wife said. "This was our first time playing with a group of complete strangers", she continued.

"Stack a pile of ten cards. This is called as Blitz pile. Have another three cards called post pile. Your objective is to empty the Blitz pile, the one with ten cards", a girl explained the basics of the game. "The one who finishes all the cards from Blitz pile calls for a stop saying Dutch Blitz", she continued.

I had a good first round with my positive score equalling my negative score giving a net score for the round as Zero. My wife was struggling with a strategy, and had scored more negative points than positive.

"Its simple. Play your cards from the Blitz pile", I suggested to her.

"But the pile has bigger numbers", she said, her voice showing the disappointment.

"Don't worry dear. Use the post piles and get rid of the bigger numbers from the Blitz pile", I replied.

The next round started. As soon as I cognized the cards on my hand and piles, someone said "Dutch Blitz"! 

"That was real quick", we all commented. "Even I had finished all the cards on my Blitz pile", my wife said ecstatically. 

She continued to win the next two games scoring a hat-trick and her score soared up in the positive, competing with the top player.

Two more rounds, and the game was over. The top player had scored 35 points, which we had set as the winning target. My wife came second with 27 points.

"What was your score?", she asked me in the end.

"31", I replied, mumbling "negative" under my breath.

Dec 25, 2012

Chrismas Eve - At a Church

"Would you like to come to church today for Christmas Eve celebrations?", Susan asked us.

We decided to go, to have a first real experience of Christmas celebrations. At fifteen to six Susan reached our apartment and drove us to the Summit View church at whose indoor stadium we played games every Friday evening.

When we parked the car and reached the church, traditional carols were being played which continued until the gathering began formally. The lyrics were projected on a wall and so we all could sing together. While most of the people knew the Christmas carols by heart, it was my first time. To my own surprise, I soon realised I could sing!

The celebration started formally with Hap Pritchard reading verses from the Bible about the birth of Jesus Christ. A carol titled In the Quite Holy Night was sung by a group of people of different ages. A cute little girl dressed up like an angel sung with ease without referring to her notes, unlike others in the group. As soon as the carol was over, she left without waiting for the audience applause!

The group carol was then followed by a soul stirring solo piano by Jimmy Harrington. The music reverberated in my mind for some time even after it was played. A group dance titled Sugar Plum Fairy followed then. Directed and Choreographed by Abbie Hanawalt and Christine Richard, a bunch of cute little kids dressed up like angels danced to a Christian song.

Sugar Plum Fairy dance

The dance was followed by a couple of Violin-Guitar duet and a vocal carols. I wish I could record their performances!

While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks is a group dance directed and choreographed by Christine Richard. The dance was then followed by a message by Mitch Majeski on whether we should greet everyone with Happy Christmas or Merry Christmas.

a scene from While Shepherd Watched Their Flocks


last scene from While Shepherd Watched Their Flocks 

The group dance is then followed by a video of "The Innkeeper's Dream" and "Silent Night" congregation.


near the Christmas tree in the church


 a beautiful painting of Jesus Christ


Christmas "kolu"

After the celebrations, we snapped a few pictures and went to our friend's place for some snacks.

Dec 24, 2012

Self Watering Plants Using Empty Milk Cans

"What do we do with all the milk cans?", I asked my wife pointing towards top of our fridge where more than half a dozen used milk cans are kept.

Milk cans each of a gallon capacity

"Wait. I'll think of something", she said, watering the Poinsettia plant she bought a few days earlier from the Sprouts farmer's market.

That evening, my wife called me over phone while I was about to leave from my office. "Surprise! But I will let you see it for yourself", she said.

Unable to withstand the surprise, I rushed to my apartment and saw the new arrangement my wife had made to the Poinsettia plant she was watering earlier on.


Poinsettia draws water stored in the milk can through its roots thereby strengthening it.

She does not water the plant daily any more, rather she pours the water in the milk can and allows the plant's roots to draw water from it. "This will strengthen the roots, and make good use of all the empty milk cans", she said.

"Indeed! Its a cheap and innovate solution to make good use of milk cans", I patted her.

Dec 23, 2012

The Hobbit - An Unexpected Journey

image courtesy: wikimedia

What makes a epic-fantasy-adventurous film a success?

The story should have some reference to epic character. There should be some adventure in the plot, such as searching for a hidden or lost place. And finally, there should be some fantasy in the story.

The first part in prequel trilogy has all the three. A group of dwarfs with a king were on an adventurous trip to the Lost Mountain, a place in the middle Earth which was home to dwarfs until the dragon took in possession of it. There is enough epic story to delight from, fantasy to relish and adventure that will hold you on your seat till the end.

Lord of the Rings, a sequel to The Hobbit, starts with Bilbo Baggins giving the one ring to Frodo Baggins voluntarily, the first character to do so. In The Hobbit - an unexpected journey, we find how the ring ended up to Bilbo Baggins from Gollum, an important character in LOTR trilogy. One of the recurring characters is the wizard Gandalf who saves the dwarfs from various difficulties they face during their adventurous search of the Lost Mountain.

Watch it if you haven't so far, but do watch the movie in 3D if it is screened in a nearby theatre to enjoy the eye-pleasing visuals the movie offers.

Dec 22, 2012

And then it snowed...

I explained the weather in my home city to an American friend in one sentence, "I have come from a place which is hot, hotter, hottest to a place which is cold, colder, coldest". Fort Collins is colder now. A snow storm went across the city yesterday but not before depositing a few inches of snow.


Snowprints of a chipmunk


in front of my apartment


Snowgie aggie



parking lot


how I wished to rock on this horse!


near the snow covered tree


snow snow everywhere...

Dec 21, 2012

DD MM to MM DD

"I've got an admit to do my Masters in U.S dad", Aarthi said ecstatically.

"I know you would get, my dear", her father replied with a pleased smile, making himself busy immediately arranging things that she would require during her stay abroad.

The checklist he had prepared while his son went abroad for higher studies a couple of years ago came in handy. "Dresses and food items are most important. Let's get it ready first", he listed.

Aarthi contacted the university to obtain the necessary documents that supports her visa application.

"Is your university close to where your brother is staying?", her mother asked with a concern.

"Not so close mom. I have made some temporary arrangement with the Indian student association for my stay as soon as I arrive in U.S", she replied.

"When should you join the university?"

"By mid June mom. I would leave around eighth of June so that I will have time to settle down before I go for classes".

The next couple of weeks went busy for everyone. Aarthi received her immigration documents from the university, took her visa interview and was waiting for the embassy to stamp the visa and courier it to her home address. Her dad had marked ticks against most of the items in the check list that contains list of things she needed to buy. Her mom was preparing food items with which she can survive for first few months.

Everything was coming to a good ending, but for her stay. She haven't heard from the Indian students association regarding her application. Eighth of June is not too far!

Deeply concerned, she shot a mail to the association chairman again, asking about the status of her application.

"Your application was received. We are working on it to make an arrangement for your stay from sixth of August. You will hear from us soon", she read the mail for umpteenth time.

Dec 20, 2012

Learner's Permit - good news, bad news and a good news again


"You have got six wrong answers", the official at the Fort Collins Driving Motor Vehicle (DMV) office evaluated my written test paper and said. I paused briefly making an observation of him until he continued.

"We can allow only five", he said, looking into my eyes. I let out a sigh. When I was mentally preparing myself to leave, he continued "we can allow you to take one more test today, or you can apply for a re-test tomorrow. Which one do you prefer?"

I jumped at the opportunity and said, "I will take one more test today". The officer smiled, took another question paper containing 25 questions on both sides and said, "Do you want to take a look at the wrong ones?"

"Sure", I said and found the correct answers marked against the wrong ones I made. After a few moments, I collected the new question paper and soon found it to be tougher than the previous one. It took about ten minutes for me to finish answering all the questions. I waited for my turn at the counter for getting my test paper evaluated.

A lady officer at a different counter than previous one called me when my turn came. She observed three wrong answers even before I submitted. "Damn! I'm not going to get my learner's permit today", I muttered under my breath.

She collected the test paper from me, marked the three wrong answers and turned to the second page. "Wrong", she said again marking a question with correct choice.

"God, please don't make me come again tomorrow for a re-test", my mind made a silent prayer.

"You have got four wrong answers", she said after evaluating my paper. "Am I allowed to make five mistakes in the second test?", I wanted to ask when she said "you passed".

"You have to pass the vision test before you get the learner's permit", she said and ordered me to look into the eye piece. I moved to the vision test instrument, and peered into the eyepiece. "Read the number displayed inside", she said. A four digit number was moving in a zig zag fashion inside. I adjusted my eyes and read the number. "Now tell me the color which is displayed inside".

"Green...orange...green...red...green...orange".

"Which side does the color blinks?"

"Left, now right"

"Ok. You passed", she said. I felt relieved for the first time. She collected my passport and entered my test results on her computer screen.

When I felt too excited, she said, "your passport details is not yet entered into our database". I looked calmly at her waiting for the next step.

She filled my case number and other details in a form and asked me to visit any of the six Driving License offices where they have a counter for Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements (S.A.V.E) and submit my immigration papers within the next 30 days.

I saw the case sheet and found that the S.A.V.E office is opened only on Wednesdays, between 8.30AM and 3.00PM, the nearest one being located at about 65 miles from Fort Collins. Fortunately, my fellow labmate offered me a help to drive me to the Lakewood Driving License office, but unable to take me on the first Wednesday due to his final exams.

"Do you want to go to the DMV office today", he texted me yesterday. I noted the time on my watch. It was 1.30 PM. "I think we can't make it today. Its already 1.30 and the office will be closed at 3 PM", I replied. "Let's give it a try", he replied.

He picked me up at 1.45 PM, hit the I25 around 2.00. I checked the GPS Navigation in my mobile and found it will take 1 hour and 10 minutes to reach the place.

We drove in silence observing the snow covered landscape. When we took the exit 210A and drove towards Pierce street where the License office was located, I checked my watch. We had about 7 minutes!

We skipped the block searching for it, took detour, went inside and parked. Four more minutes, I said and hasted towards the entrance.

"Do you have all the copies listed here?", the lady at the check in counter asked me pointing at the case sheet.

"Yes", I replied, followed her instructions and took my token.

As soon as I entered the office, my token number was displayed on the screen asking me to proceed towards a counter. I went to the counter and showed my case sheet. "Damn! I forgot to bring a self addressed envelope!"

"May I see the originals?", the officer at the S.A.V.E counter asked me to verify the copies I gave to him. "Do you have a self addressed envelope?", he asked.

"I am sorry. I was in a rush and forgot to bring it", I replied. "I can see it. You made it just in time", he replied with a smile. He took an envelope from his table drawer and asked me to write my address on it. I was ready to pay for it if he were to ask me, but he didn't.

He collected the copies and my case sheet, entered the data in his computer screen, took print out of a receipt and said, "you will receive a mail from us in one or two weeks time saying if you are eligible or not. If you are eligible, you can visit any of the DMV to collect your learner's permit", he said.

I thanked him, observed him closing the counter and left.

"Its done", I made a gesture to my friend who was waiting inside the car.

"What about the self addressed envelope?", my wife asked as soon as I entered into the car.

"The officer inside gave me an envelope and asked me to write my address on it", I replied. 

"Good that he din't ask you to pay for it", she replied.

"But, how did you know?"

"You left your wallet with me!", came a reply from her with a smile.

Dec 19, 2012

Review of The Sins of The Father


The Sins of the Father is the second in the Clifton Chronicles series by Jeffrey Archer. When I first found the book in flipkart, I placed the order to buy without any hesitation. However, I had to leave India in a short notice that I could not finish reading it before I left. When I found the book at the Fort Collins Public Library, my joy knew no bounds! It was only natural for me to jump at it and checked out immediately.
Will Harry get acquitted or escape from The US of A by proving his real identity or other means? Will he be able to prove that he is indeed Arthur's son and reunite with Emma? Will Maisie's dream of living a respectable life come true?
These were some of the questions Jeffrey raised towards the end of Only Time Will Tell. While education was at the center of first part, the second part was pivoted around legal issues. After all, everyone wanted to know if Harry could marry Emma!

Jeffrey's personal and political experiences in legal issues had proved to come in handy for him to untangle the knots he made earlier. Harry's first experience with a crooked, nevertheless reputed lawyer had only helped in landing in jail. But it was only for Harry's good, for he had plenty of time to spend, and  spend he did, writing his biography in the form of a diary, which soon proved to be a hit in New York bestseller list.

Meanwhile, Emma had an intuitive feeling that Harry could not have been buried in sea, took painstaking effort in crossing the Atlantic as a crew member of the same ship Harry believed to have taken, searched by all means to locate Harry and get him acquitted. By the time she got closer to her objective, Harry left the prison in exchange for commanding an American troop against the Germans in Second World War.

Harry did unite with Emma and his son Sebastian in the end. But the legal battle whether Harry could marry Emma still continues. In fact, the issue is no longer a personal battle for the Clifton and Barrington families, but had become one of the political issue which could affect the fate of elections soon to be held.

Neither Cliftons nor Barringtons could help solve Harry and Emma the mystery anymore, for now it now depends on the outcome of the voting at House of Lords. Should the Law Lords vote for Harry to be Sir Harry Barrington, Harry can never unite with Emma.

The voting had a dramatic finish with the House divided with 273 votes for and against Harry. The decisive vote by the Lord Chancellor would settle the issue. But for that to happen, we should all wait for Jeffrey to finish writing the third and final part of the Clifton Chronicles.

Dec 18, 2012

Nostalgic trip to Fort Collins Public Library

Entrance to Fort Collins Public Library

I had been to the Fort Collins Public Library many times before, but never took a bus to reach there. Usually I would get down at Downtown Transit Center or at U.S Post Office and walk to the library. Once I had asked the driver to stop at Olive and Mason, the closest one can get by bus on Route 15.

When wife accompanied me last time, we decided to take the bus all the way and minimize the walk.  From Transfort route maps, we found that Route 18 has a stop just outside the library. We timed other buses that connected us with CSU and Downtown transit centers and reached the library via Route 18.

Nostalgia hit me when I got down from the bus. About two summers ago, when I came to Fort Collins for the first time, I somehow managed to find the location of the library using a map. But I lost my way while returning, and went to an unrecognized place. If I were in India, I would have asked a chai wala or some localites how to reach the nearest bus stop. But I was in U.S then! I was trying to cope with the change. A couple of localites were scared to offer any help thinking either I am begging for alms or trying to steal their valuables.

I almost cried, but felt relieved when I spotted a green metallic shelter with a Transfort post from a distance. An old lady had just arrived at the bus stop when I reached. She assured me that a bus would come in another few minutes, and would take us to the Downtown Transit Center, a place from where I know how to reach my apartment.

"Bus had come", my wife broke my reverie. We boarded Route 18 on its way back, timed other buses and reached our apartment.

Dec 17, 2012

Ping Pong


A fierce battle was going on between the two opponents playing ping pong, an activity organized as part of Friday Afternoon Club meeting at the International House.

"What is the score?", I asked one of the audience who seemed to have watching the game from the start.

"9-10 serving", he replied, his eyes fixed towards the game.

The game had attracted quite an audience who were cheering for every point won. After all, no one knew both the players well to take a side.

I joined the crowd and decided to cheer up for one of them simply because he was closer to me than his opponent.

"You play well. Do you play ping pong often?", I asked him between the game.

"This is my first time", he replied.

"Where are you from?"

"India. In my country we call this game as table tennis", he replied. "I had watched the game often in TV during Olympics or Asian games, but haven't played it before".

His opponent's service came too fast that he did not have a chance to make a contact. "10-10. Play for two points", an audience who took the role of a referee announced.

I shifted my position and move towards his opponent. He had scored an important point to even the game. Two more services like the last one will surely make him the winner of the game tonight.

He was as tensed as the other player who had just lost a point and was ready to break the service. He relaxed only when he heard a loud cheer followed after the Indian player losing yet another point. 

"Good come back", yelled the crowd in support.

One more serve and the game was over. I moved closer to the other player and asked him where he was from. The Indian player conceded his defeat, walked closer towards the winner and shook his hands when the winner said, "I am from Pakistan".

There was a momentary silence between the players which was broken sooner than it formed.

"Good game", the Indian patted. "Thank you! You played well too. Can't believe its your first game!", his opponent replied.

Dec 16, 2012

Orphaned


The morning sun was playing hide and seek in between the clouds. Vanitha wanted to go out and play the game with her friends. "Your father will be home in a while Vani. We are going out today. Don't go out for playing. Get ready soon", her mother ordered.

She does not have a new dress to change, nor does she have a soap and water to wash her face. She limped back inside and waited for her father to arrive.

"Are you ready?", she heard her father's voice as he was entering.

Muthu whispered something in Banu's ears as they were leaving. They walked to the bus stand nearby. 

Vanitha was jumping in joy when they reached the bus stand. She had never been to the bus stand even though her slum is only a stone throw away from there. The bus stand which was buzzing with activity, buses coming in and leaving out boarding and dropping passengers to and from their destinations. 

Muthu helped Vanitha who was walking with a limp as he was searching for the bus that would take them to their destination, if only he had one in his mind. He found an empty seat in the waiting area and said, "Vanitha, sit here. Mom and myself will be here in a while", leaving her on her own.

After a few footsteps, her mother turned back, hugged her, planted a kiss on her cheeks and gave a biscuit packet to her. "Here Vani, take this. If you feel hungry, you can open this and eat", she said. 

Vanitha looked at her mom with a puzzled expression. She had never given her a biscuit to eat, leave alone a full packet for herself!

"May I eat all the biscuits mom?", she asked.

"Yes dear", she replied and left before she could hold the tear that rolled off her cheeks and disappeared in her lips.

"Mom had changed ever since she met the doctor today morning", Vanitha thought to herself.

"I will wait for you mom. Come back soon.", she said.

Little did Vanitha realized that her name would appear next day in all the newspapers, "A three year old polio attacked girl was found abandoned at a bus stand. If you have any information about this girl, please contact the nearest police station with details".

Dec 15, 2012

Fish and a bait - a true story


The sun shone directly above the head announcing the arrival of noon without wasting anyone's time looking at their watches. The last person in the street disappeared into one of the houses giving the street a deserted look. No one dares to take the wrath of the noon sun. "This is the time conmen would make an attempt", the police commissioner alerted the Trichy residents, "for they will be able to rob and leave without anyone to notice".

Pankajam finished her lunch and was about to take a midday nap when she heard the bell. Her instict warned her to call the police and see who the caller was.

"Hello Grandma. My name is Saravanan", he introduced himself with a sugar coated voice when she answered the door, with a safety chain latched. She took a closer look at him. He appeared to be in his early thirtees, neatly dressed in formals, two carton boxes in one of his hands and a briefcase in another.

"What does the briefcase contain?", she wondered. "I do not remember anyone named Saravanan. What do you want?", she asked him, her voice raised giving away her fear.

Pankajam was eighty three, a widow who spent most of her time in solitude watching tv or sleeping. Both her son and daughter were married and settled in their respective lives. When they insisted to stay with one of them, Pankajam decided to spend her last days in the house that was built brick-by-brick by her husband. She survived with the pension money provided by the government after her husband died a decade ago.

"Grandma, I have come here to help you", he said. "I am a sales executive. Our company had recently launched a new product specifically for old people to help them preparing food faster with no extra effort", he explained. 

He showed one of the carton boxes to her and asked if he could demonstrate the product. Without waiting for an answer, he opened the box and took the induction stove outside.

"The induction stove helps you cook food in no time Grandma. You can sit comfortably watching your favourite serials in TV while the stove cooks your food", Saravanan canvassed for the product.

"I don't need a induction stove. I already have one", she said.

"Look at our fingers grandma. There are five of them, but each one is different and serves a different purpose. Our company product is certainly different from the one you already have", he replied, without even bothering to have a look at the model she had.

"I am still not interested", she said.

Saravanan felt disappointed, put the stove inside the carton again and was about to leave when he said, "I'm sure you aren't interested with the freebies that we are giving to promote sales of our product too".

"What freebies?"

Saravanan knew that the fish had caught the bait. He opened another carton and took out a few vessels.

"As an introductory offer, we are giving you a complete set of cooking vessels in three different sizes and a non-stick tawa for free. You only pay Rs. 4200 for the induction stove, and the complete set is all yours", he said.

"Rs. 4200? No way", she bargained. They finally agreed to Rs. 3500 and struck a deal.

Pleased with the bargain, she offerend him for the first time to come inside her home and have a seat. "Show me the freebies, or else I would not trust you", she demanded.

Saravanan opened another carton from which he took out a set of kitchen utensils, three of them in different sizes, all made of stainless steel, a non-stick tawa and spread them in front of her.

Satisfied, she asked him to remain seated while she went inside her room in search of her purse. Rs. 4500 is all she had, from ten years of savings she had from the meagre pension amount that is just enough for her to survive. She carefully counted Rs. 3500 with denominations in hundreds, tens and even a few coins, put the remaining amount back into her purse, locked it in safe and came out.

After collecting the money from her, Saravanan said, "I forgot to mention about a lucky draw Grandma", sensing how far he can carry the fish with the bait.

"What lucky draw?".

"There is a good chance for you to win another induction stove with complete set of freebies, free of cost", he carefully prepared another bait.

"Oh! Really?", she gaped in amazement.

"Yes Grandma! I would let you know if you win the first prize. But you must promise me to pay the remaining Rs. 700 if you win", he added. "Please have my card. It has my mobile number. Please feel free to call me anytime if you have any problems with the product", he said.

The induction stove worked perfectly and cooked her food real fast. Pankajam was only happy that she had bought a good product with a bargain. But her happiness did not last for long. The stove started making troubles after its honeymoon phase.

"The stove is not heating up even after long time", she called Saravanan and made a complaint. "I will come to see you today itself Grandma", he assured her.

That afternoon, Saravanan came to attend her problems with the stove. "Customer satisfaction is our motto, profit comes only next", he said. "Let me take the stove and ask our technical representative to have a look at it Grandma. We will replace the product with a new one if you are not satisfied with our service".

"How long will it take for servicing it", she asked.

"If we could not get it ready by tomorrow, we will give you a new product", he replied.

When he was about to leave, he said "Grandma, by the way, I heard that your purchase has got the first prize in the lucky draw this month!"

"Wonderful", she exclaimed.

"Now that you had won the first prize, would you please give me the remaining Rs.700?", he reminded her of a promise made earlier.

"Wait a minute", she said, went inside, took Rs. 700 from her purse and gave it to him. "When will I get the gift?", she asked him.

"Tomorrow, along with your own purchase", he replied and left.

After two days, Pankajam tried calling Saravanan at his mobile number for umpteenth time. "The number you are calling is currently not reachable", is all she got as an answer to her calls.

Dec 14, 2012

Study, we did, to take a break from study!


"Aggie community is organizing a study hour between 8.00 and 9.00 pm this mid-week. Shall we go?", I asked my wife. "They are serving hot beverages and snacks", I added.

"Sure! I have been reading a book for the past few weeks. May be I can finish it today", she replied enthusiastically.

We reached the Aggie Center on the dot and knocked at the door. A young girl welcomed us with a smile. "We are here for the study hour", I told her displaying the books we had carried with us to read.

"Please come in", she welcomed us. "Another event was held here at this center and they are just winding up. We will be ready in another five minutes", she informed. "No problem", we said, found a couch and settled, and started reading the books we brought with us.

"Coffee is ready. There is tea as well. You can enjoy your drinks now", the young girl whom we assumed to be one of the coordinator made an announcement. "Some snacks will be made available soon", she continued.

The organizer helped us in pulling a coffee table in front of our couch. We went to the cafetaria, helped ourselves with a beverage, picked up a snack packet each and returned to the couch. "Cookies will be ready in a minute", the coordinator assured.

On our way back to the couch, we noticed that we are the only ones to join them tonight. One of the volunteers was turning the stereo on and was selecting a soft number for the background music setting.

A cookie was served to us at the couch. "I am sorry. It is still hot and not crispy yet", the coordinator said. We took a just baked cookie each which was soft and melted in our mouths.

For the next one hour, I read a few chapters on "The sins of the father" by Jeffrey Archer, while wife read "The voyage of the frog", a cast away story. After a while, a girl joined us, but she did not bring any book with her. She left her coat at the entrance, went to the cafeteria and started chatting with the organizer.

Both of us were immersed into our books that neither observed the chat nor paid attention to the background music. When the clock struck nine, we closed the book, thanked the organizers and left the center.

"I read a few chapters today", I boasted on our way back. "I'm almost done with my book", wife countered. While we were walking back to our apartment, she read the notice which said "Study break between 8.00 and 9.00 P.M on 11, 12 and 13th of December!"

Dec 13, 2012

Two experiences

Experience # 1:

"Have a look at this", wife pointed out to an ad link on Facebook.

"Vintage Style Glass Ball Pocket Watch with Chain for $9. Free shipping with first order", the ad said.

"What a deal!", exclaiming thus, I placed the order online in an impulse fearing for a change of mind, without researching on the authenticity of the website.

After a couple of days since I placed the order, I googled for people's review of nomorerack more out of curiosity. To my dismay, I found plenty of irate and negative reviews about the website and their customer service!

It was quite a relief to receive a mail from nomorerack after a couple of days saying our order was shipped. However, the relief did not last long for the tracking id opened the order status page on nomorerack and not the status of shipping.

I became skeptic at this point and had almost convinced myself that I should forget my $9.

It was like a dream come true when I found a package delivered to my mailbox yesterday from nomorerack. I opened the package, anxious to find a wrong product or at least a damaged one. But the package contained exactly what I ordered for, all in one piece!

Does this mean I would recommend nomorerack to my friends and followers? May be not. This may just be one good experience after all!

Experience # 2:

"Try phoneindia. They have a plan for 1000 minutes call time to India which is valid for 30 days", my friend suggested.

I googled for phoneindia and found plenty of positive reviews about the website, their products and services. After enough research, I made up my mind and placed an order for $4.99 which offered 500 calling minutes with a 30 days validity. Since this was my first experience, I opted out of auto recharge plan while placing the order. After all, I had skype, viber and gtalk installed on my mobile to stay in touch with anyone in the world.

Everything went fine for a month. Placing the order was simple. There wasn't any hidden charges that normally gets adds up to your final billed amount. The call quality was good. With that positive note, I decided to stick to phoneindia in future, should a need arise.

It came as a shock when I found that phoneindia had billed my card for next month. I double checked my control panel to make sure the auto-recharge settings is turned OFF. Worse, the website did not allow me to delete my card, which I never gave my consent to save!

I tried to chat with customer care representative asking for an explanation, but the chat window closed without giving me a reason. I tried initiating the chat help again, and mailed to customer service about the mistake.

To my relief, a representative answered my chat query saying I had opted for $4.99 plan which offers 1000 minutes and comes with auto-recharge by default!

"If that was the plan I had subscribed to, why did my account control panel showed only 500 minutes?", I asked.

The representative paused briefly for a moment and replied, "Do you want me to cancel the plan?"

"Yes please", I said over chat.

Well, does this mean I would never recommend phoneindia to anyone? May be not. This may just be one bad experience after all.

Dec 12, 2012

Strange(r) acquaintance

"Are you going to the school?", an old woman sitting next to me in a Transfort bus asked.

I was wondering how to answer that question. Its true that I am going to school, but right now I am going to Walmart to buy some groceries. She must have read the confusion on my face for she rephrased her question after a pause,

"Are you studying at CSU?"

"Yes", I replied. 

"Its an excellent school. My daughter graduated from CSU", she said, "in 1985". 

1985! I started my schooling in that year! "What is she doing now?", I wanted to ask. But something told me to listen to the old lady instead of developing a conversation.

"My son, he too went to this school, but graduated from Denver and got a job there", she continued.

I checked my watch and noted that the bus has five more minutes to depart. There were no other passengers in the bus but for us.

She appeared to be in her sixties, her body frail with her face completely wrinkled. A green woolen shawl covered her head and her ears and she protected herself from cold with a leather jacket.

"Its terribly cold outside today", she complained, adjusting her gloves.

"I think the weather will become better tomorrow", I said. Forecasters had earlier predicted the day to be cold and windy with occasional snow near Denver. "Sky is clearing up and will be warmer tomorrow".

"Of course! This is winter", she said. After a contemplative pause, she continued, "There was a blizzard once during Christmas", she recollected the past from her memory.

"My son came home for Christmas, but he wanted to go back to Denver the next day to watch Broncos in action. You know, he was a die hard fan of Broncos"

"The blizzard had hit on Christmas night, and next morning the roads were covered with snow! He could not take his car out! Those days, the snow removal squad did not have technology to remove the snow from the road. It took several weeks to clear them manually"

She pointed out to a couple of buildings opposite to Downtown transit center and said, "those buildings were arsoned that time, so they say". My eyes went towards the direction she pointed out and found two new buildings. "Of course, now there is no hint of it", she commented.

A stream of passengers entered the bus, swiped their passes or inserted a dollar bill and a quarter. A cold wind entered the bus and occupied every seat without buying a ticket. She adjusted her green shawl to make her feel comfortable, and asked me "Which country are you from?"

"India", I replied.

"Its a beautiful country, I have heard of her."

"Route 5 departing from Downtown transit center", the driver made an announcement pulling the bus out from the station.

Silence filled the space between us, which was now occupied by some thoughts. The ease with which she started the conversation and went on as if I am her old friend surprised me.

"Next stop, Walmart", the driver announced, pulling the bus to an edge bringing it to a stop.

"Have a good day", I wished her, thanked the driver for stopping the bus for me and walked in my direction.

Dec 11, 2012

5 strangers at a bus stop



There were five strangers waiting for a bus at a bus stop and I am one among them. My name is Sam. I live at an apartment down the road.

"What time does the bus comes?", a stranger was asking another when I reached the stop. His salt and pepper hair told me that he must be in his late fortees or early fiftees. He had a peculiar mannerism of cleaning his teeth with his tongue often.

"In about five minutes", came a reply.

"Five minutes?", he repeated with an accent. "We have an accent here buddy. Where are you from?"

"India", he replied nervously. If he was an atheist before, he wasn't one now for he was praying to all Gods for the bus to arrive and save him from this situation.

"India? You people are smart! My math is not as good as yours", he complimented with sarcasm.

I shifted my gaze to a girl who brought a cigarette to her lips slowly, inhaled it deeply and casually blew out the smoke, glancing at them every now and then as if she was not interested in a conversation, but was curious to know what's going on.

"Starbucks on your right at 200 feet, a Mexican restaurant across the road at 150 feet", someone was passing on the instructions to the fifth stranger at the bus stop. He appeared to be in his early twenties and gave me an impression that he was going to a college. He wore a fine trousers, cotton shirt and had a coolers on his eyes. His hands were inside his pockets and he was talking to someone over wireless. No! He wasn't talking, but only the person at the other end. After a closer observation, I realized he was blind with a talking GPS in his pocket.

"I've grown old now. I can't do any work", the salt and pepper gentleman lamented.

"Where did you work?"

"I was a carpenter. I am not as smart as you guys are to take up a computer job", he replied.

Silence pervaded the entire space for a minute and disappeared as soon as it came with the salt and pepper gentleman yelling "Go back to your country" from top of his voice.

I looked at the Indian guy who smiled and replied "I sure will".

When I was expecting a confrontation between the two of them, the bus came to a halt and accepted new passengers to board.

Dec 10, 2012

Taken - a short story

Hari stopped his car a few feet away from the entrance, swung the door open and walked to the gate. The gate was kept opened as if someone rushed out in a hurry and had no time to lock.

He entered the gate, walked cautiously to the patio. His mind alarmed him that something is wrong. The front door was ajar and there is no sign of life inside. He pushed the door open and went inside.

The hall was a mess. The coffee table was turned upside down with its legs broken, cushions in chairs were shredded as if somebody was searching for some valuables inside. TV was broken into small pieces. He imagined someone lifted the TV and forced it down with a thud.

The wall clock was misaligned from vertical, the glass broken. Hari found that the clock had stopped at 2:57, an hour ago from now. He cleared all the mess to make himself a path and rushed towards his bedroom. "Where is Meena?", his mind asked him.

"Meena", he cried while rushing towards the bedroom. His mind imagined everything it could imagine. He took a deep breath, cleared his mind and went inside. Articles and books he had preserved on the racks were shattered and scattered on the floor. The king size bed was intact, but the bedspread was pulled out from it as if someone had dragged the person sleeping on the bed along with the bedspread.

"They have taken Meena!", the thought suddenly dawned on him. His mind scanned the entire area searching for a clue, a clue which will take him closer to where she was taken. A clue which will help him understand the motive of kidnappers. Was she taken for a ransom? Are they expecting a secret document from me?

He watched his steps carefully trying his best to avoid altering the scene. He was inching closer to bed examining for a clue when he placed a foot on the silky smooth bedspread and slipped.

"Honey, what happened?"

Hari got up from the floor, supported his sprained hips with his hand and asked her "Are you alright honey? Where did they take you? Did they torture you for something?"

Meena got up from the bed, turned on the lights and found Hari in a confused and alarmed state.  She reached for him, planted a kiss on his forehead and said, "Don't watch too many movies hon".


Dec 9, 2012

Taken 2 - a review


Watching Skyfall and Taken 2 back to back in that order is certainly not a good idea for James Bond fans. Taken 2 easily qualifies to be a James Bond level movie, for it has a smart hero with good physique, use innovative technologies and devise creative strategies to deceive the villain. Perhaps the only things that are missing from Taken 2 to be called a James Bond movie are the most popular dialogue "My name is Bond" and the theme music.

Does it mean that Taken 2 is a good movie? In my opinion, its a better movie than the recently released Bond movie, Skyfall. But I won't rate Taken 2 as a good movie, for there are some scenes which are quite similar to other movies as well. When the hero and his wife were blindfolded and taken by the father of a villain from Taken, he measures the ticks on his clock, senses the maneuvers, listens to sounds from outside world to find where they were taken to. Fans of Rajnikanth can easily identify this particular scene with one of his movies in which he was taken by a villain's gang blindfold, and he smartly traces back his path to reach the villain's place using the observations he made while he was taken.

There are scenes from Taken 2 which doesn't make sense to me. When the girl comes out of the room from hiding, the security guards were not alarmed. And then, she goes on dropping bombs at different locations to find how close she is to her father, all without alarming the villains or the police, and, well, not even the crowd!

Barring such mistakes which are common to most of the movies in this genre, Taken 2 is a movie which can be watched once.

Dec 8, 2012

Movies in Fort Collins

Fort Collins has a good number of cinema theaters screening a range of entertainment media in addition to movies, including opera and ballet performances. I haven't watched a ballet or opera yet, but the following are the movies wife and I had watched since we arrived here.

Breaking Dawn 2:
Though wife had seen all previous twilight movies, this is my first. I liked the powers vampires possess, be it travelling at lightning speed or read other person's mind. I have seen fantasy movies in the past, Lord of the Rings being my favorite. But breaking dawn (Part 2) beats my favorite in the climax scene. Go and watch it in theaters if you haven't  watched it yet.

Life of Pi:
Life of Pi, as the name indicates, is a story about the life of an Indian boy named Pi who was cast away in Pacific and has to share a lifeboat with a royal Bengal Tiger for his survival. If you have read the book before, go and watch the movie for its eye-pleasing actions in 3D.

Skyfall:
"My name is Bond, James Bond", is perhaps the simplest dialogue that no one can ever forget, no matter how many times we hear it from different Bond movies. Add a recurring Bond theme music in the background, people would come and watch the movie even when the movie does not have a compelling story to tell. Skyfall is such a film. I decided to watch this movie for all the hype it has created in the review circles. But the movie failed to amuse me in certain fronts; the theme music was not used properly in this movie, there is no innovative technology gadgets such as camouflage-able car. After watching this movie, I felt its no different from any of the other similar movies I had watched in the past, without the Bond tag. Even the booby traps laid by Bond at his family estate (from where the movie got its name) are novice, considering the traps a school kid laid in Home Alone series! Go and watch the movie only if you are a die-hard fan of Bond movies. For others, I would recommend you to buy any other Bond movies in DVDs, sit back at home and watch in your TV.

Taken 2:
Taken is a story of a CIA operative trying to find kidnappers who had taken his daughter for flesh trade. The crux of the movie lies in intelligent strategies devised by the CIA agent trying to extract information from scarce and limited observation he could make. I am planning to watch the second part of this movie in this weekend.

Dec 7, 2012

Two mistakes

Mistake # 1:

"The system was unable to authenticate your debit card. Please check that the data you entered is correct or use a different card", ATM displayed the error message.

I pulled the ATM card from the slot, inserted it again, typed the PIN carefully and pressed the Enter key. The ATM took a moment to verify the data I entered and displayed the same error message.

"What? It can't go wrong! I haven't changed my PIN recently", I wondered. Fortunately, the ATM was located next to a branch of the bank. I entered the bank and proceeded towards help desk. 

"My ATM card is not working. I am getting an authentication failure error message", I gave my ATM card to a representative sitting at the desk asking for his assistance. He took my ATM card, observed it for a while and said, "Sir, this is 1st bank, and you have an account with 1st national bank".

Damn! How did I miss this!

Mistake # 2:

After waiting in the rush hour queue at a post office for about half an hour, I went to a counter when my turn came.

"Hi, how may I help you today?", the clerk at the counter asked me with a cheerful smile on his face.

"I have printed out a stamp for shipping this parcel. Could you please assist me with shipping?"

The clerk took the stamp from me, observed it for a while and said, "Sir, you have printed a UPS stamp. This is USPS".

Seriously, how did I miss this!

Dec 6, 2012

Good news and Bad news

I have a good news and a bad news to share. The good news is that I had cleared the written and visual tests for obtaining a learner's permit, a document which will allow me to drive a motor vehicle with a licensee sitting next to me.

The bad news is my alien identification number is not yet populated in Colorado database to find if I am eligible for entitlements. I should either wait now and re-apply after a few weeks time, or travel to Lakewood office and see if they can help with my case status. The catch is Lakewood office that works with alien entitlements cases is opened only on Wednesdays.

Fingers crossed.

Dec 5, 2012

Dreadful risk

I was welcomed officially today at the Colorado State University after about two months since I joined here as a postdoc research scholar. The orientation program welcoming all the newly recruited faculty/staff started with complimentary breakfast snacks and coffee/tea. Presentations were made explaining in brief various benefits and resources CSU has to offer. Presentations which has the information I was looking for for the past couple of months; those vital information for which I ran from pillar to post to understand and apply.

My wife's medical report came a day before we were planning to leave India to join as a postdoc in CSU. Her report confirmed that she is pregnant. First trimester risks due to extensive travelling, fatigue due to sitting for long time in a same posture, nausea and vomitting because of pregnancy hormones were some of the things my near and dear ones talked about at this time. With such a situation, travelling within the country was not recommended, leave alone the question of flying abroad. I had a decision to make then; take up a new job in my country and take good care of my wife with the support from family and friends, or leave abroad with wife to accept the postdoc offer.

I was aware then that whatever decision I take would change my life forever, a change that would eternally reflect in my personal character in future. It would have been a lot easier for me then to choose the "right" path, a path that was chosen by my well wishers. After all, they care about our well being, don't they?

I questioned my destiny trying to find which path to choose. One thing I like about destiny is it never commands. It allows us to take a pen and paper and write it by ourselves. Often, we aren't bold enough to take a pen and paper and ask someone else to write our destiny. The ones who take a bold step to explore the path less traveled are the ones who has experienced life. Success is only a nick name given to this experience.

I decided to take the path less travelled, a dreadfully risky path though. Taking a path less travelled would give me an opportunity to clear off the obstacles on the path by myself, moulding me into more responsible person. When I made my decision, my bank balance was just enough to apply for visa and buy tickets to travel. A thought never occured to me then to save some money for return, just in case something unexpected was to happen (Cortés would be happy to hear this!)

With not enough savings to return, we started a new life from scratch. I ran from pillar to post and found procedures to apply for insurance, finding a doctor, filing new papers for paying taxes and lot more. There were some moments during this phase when I felt its worth going back and take the path that has no unique footmarks. Those were the testing moments which I could overcome successfully, thanks to the love and support from my wife.

Has my decision changed me to a more responsible person now? Is the destiny that was scripted by myself kind enough not to punish me harsh for my actions? Its too early to find answers to these questions now. But what I do know for sure is that the path less travelled is not as dreadful as I thought earlier.

"Ladies and Gentlemen, our complimentary lunch will be served at the Long's Peak Dining Room", a personnel from training department made an announcement concluding the orientation session formally. With that announcement the crowed dispersed, and so did my reverie.