Monthly Archives: March 2014

Count the poles

The summer heat beat down upon the train. We were traveling by the Grand Trunk Express. Day 2 of the journey. An afternoon in May. We were somewhere in Madhya Pradesh. Maybe in Maharashtra. I was seated by the open window. The breeze was hot. The rexine seat was hot. My dad sat on the other window seat.  Dozing actually. Head propped up against the top of the window and bobbing up and down in tune with the rhythmic movement of the train. I reached out and shook him by his knee. He opened one eye. His eyebrow went up asking me the question that he did not mouth “What now?”. Well, I did have a question for him. “Why are we going so slow? Why can’t this train go faster?”  Dad looked out. Saw his watch. Looked out again. Silence. I knew that I had to wait. I would get an answer. Eventually. When he was ready to give it. He looked at his watch again. Murmured something to himself. Closed his eyes and said “He is not slow. We are going at approximately 70 kmph now.”

There was that moment again. I watched open mouthed…while thinking “How does he know the speed?” Of course, as any 5 year for whom his dad was his hero (He played Cricket. Regular leather ball cricket. He hit sixes. He took wickets. He took awesome catches. Yes, hero he was), it never occurred to me that he might be fibbing about the speed. It took me another 7 years, and perhaps 3-4 more such travels, before I got to understand the science behind those seemingly magic numbers.

So, here is what was happening. It was all about counting the poles. No, not the polish poles. Count the good old telephone poles. telephone pole

Put up right next to the railway tracks, connecting cities, making trunk calls possible. Yes, trunk calls. Remember them? If not watch “Chupke Chupke” here – skip to 20.49 to see what would happen when there was a trunk call.

But, we digress. Like links on the world wide web. So, lets get back to the poles. Telphone poles. Someone, I don’t know who, but sure would like to know who, used to number them. On these silver coloured poles would a patch of black paint. On it, would be painted in silver or white numbers like 511/1 or 841/9. The slash would be horizontal. The top number indicated the distance in kilometers from some city to the pole. The smaller number was an indicator of the pole number within the next kilometer. In different parts of the country, the Department of Telecom would have differing standards for the number of poles that would make a kilometer. Some had 15. Others 16.

So the trick, or the science was to look at the seconds needle on your wristwatch exactly as the train passed a pole with a fresh kilometer marked on it. And then you waited. Till you passed the pole, 10, 12 or 15 ones later, that marked the next kilometer. You counted the seconds in between the two events. You now had the time taken in seconds to traverse 1 km. You just had to divide 3600 (seconds in one hour…you knew that right?) by the number you had to get the speed in kilometers per hour or kmph.

Later, on my frequent trips between Delhi and Banglore in the mid 80’s, I used to do this to keep myself occupied. Or, at times, to impress the girls traveling in the same 2nd class cubicle. No. Not one of them was impressed. Ever. Not that I learnt. 🙂

Recently one my journey to Delhi and back, traveling in AC comfort, and with broad wide clean windows, I took the next step in impressing a 7 year old with this image as soon as he woke up on day 2 of our journey. I had made a deal with him the previous night that we both would stay awake and watch the journey unfold. His parents were suitably unimpressed with this deal. So, sleep he did. And me…well.. at 4.26 am, this is what I was doing 🙂

GPS showing speed of train

GPS showing speed of train

While he was suitably impressed, his dad, did not like this uncalled for  intrusion into the father-son relationship, and promptly showed his son the application on his smart phone that could do the same thing. The next night, both of them stayed up late into the night watching stations as we flew past them…after all, we were in the Rajdhani.

Maybe by the time he grows up, google glasses like devices will be common enough, for him to coolly say to no one in particular (but the girl  in the cubicle that is)…”You know, we are going at 180 kmph right now”, for him to be suitably rewarded with a smile. Then he can continue “I counted the poles, you know? Learnt it from this great guy who I traveled with when I was a 7 year old”

So, the next time you travel by Indian Railways…go slow.. and count the poles. Who knows…you may impress someone too? 😀

(Inspired to write this after viewing this… post … shared by my friend Chandana)

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Uncommon Wisdom

Yes, it is the name of the famous book by Fritjof Capra. But, you will find this one is more interesting.

We were there together….cant tell you where. Rahul Dravid and me. Watching Times Now. Sunny Gavaskar was on it. And he was very angry. About the present state of Indian Cricket. About coach Duncan Fletcher. He rated him 1.5 out of 10 as a coach. Dismiss him was Sunny’s call.

The next part is where it got a lot more interesting. Sunny was asked as to who should replace Duncan. First, he said he did not want to take names. Then he did. Rahul Dravid could coach India he said. He said it.

Our jaws fell down. Dravid’s more than mine. Yup. I saw it. Poor chap. He could not believe it. “Abbey teri!” he said. “What this Sunny bhai is doing? Why is he saying this on national TV now? Mujhe nahin banna coach voach yaar. I am happy as is.”

“I know why. He does not like competition” were the words of wisdom that came out of my mouth. “He and Ravi Shastri, both. See, Rahul (yeah first name…we are close na…)…they both have been the preferred two on the commentary team for donkey’s years. You toh recently retired shetired and decided to get on the same band-baja-hua-wagon. And you have dressing room stories to share also. You are too good only na? In the Asia Cup, son Rohan also joined him. Father and son commentary jugalbandi just started. So…like any good father, he decided to protect his family interests. With you off as coach of the cricket team, it is full balle balle (autocorrect did try to say balls balls instead) for the Gavaskars. Yes. Shastri too. Samjha kya?”

I wish I could have captured Dravid’s expression. Full of admiration for my intellect and my wisdom. And for sharing it so freely with him.

(With due apologies to the fans of the Gavaskars, Shastri and Dravid)

Charged with sedition

“Kashmiri students charged with sedition” says the headline. These students studying in Meerut, apparently celebrated the win of Pakistan over India in the Asia cup 3-4 days back. Some of them broke a few window panes and caused some other damage in the college. But charging them with sedition? Because you support the Pakistani cricket team while you are an Indian citizen?

The Kashmiri student’s behaviour is not new. Way back in the 1970’s my dad used to travel there to approve or supervise projects funded by the Central Government in the area of water supply and sanitation. In Srinagar, he would be introduced as Mr. Parthasarathy from India. Or at best Indian Govt. At a personal level, he would be treated very well, and Kashmiri hospitality was always excellent.

What I struggled to understand then – and this was way before the militancy set in there – were the reasons behind this hostility towards India. There was not yet a pro-Pakistan sentiment expressed. Not openly at least. Later I read about the historical blunders made and how our botched-up political establishment managed to alienate our fellow citizens over time. Of course, it is not all one sided, but I am no longer surprised how the common man has let down again and again over the last 66 years, while those “connected” get away with murder.

Let us get back to cricket, and Kashmir.  One of the incidents worth recounting took place before the Indo-Pak cricket matches became a craze in the mid 80’s. This was in a one-day India-WI match that was played in Srinagar. This was a “revenge” series in 83/84 for the WI, who we had beaten in the World Cup final earlier in the year. This was probably the last ever series in which more number of tests were played – 6 – than the ODI’s – 5. While they thrashed India in India 5-0 in the ODI’s, the support that the WI team got in Srinagar – the first ODI – had them puzzled and smiling. It was a low scoring match, that was won in bad light. Lloyd thanked the crowd for making them feel at home. Seditious behaviour, right?

If you said “right!”, then you may want to think again.  When India plays abroad, and we see all those fans supporting India, do we expect them to be charged with sedition too if they are citizens of those countries? We seem to gladly accept the support. Of course a few of them must be folks who are there on an Indian passport, whose support is most welcome.

Pakistan is not really a friend of India. They have shown it time and again. They have a lot to do before we can trust them again as a nation. However, by no stretch of imagination, can supporting the Pakistan cricket team be construed as sedition. It is sad that most, if not all, of these students were on a PM scholarship program, and some of them, still harbour anti-India sentiments.

My point is that charging these youngsters with sedition will not help change that. I hope better sense prevails.