Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Another year, another band... Metallica 2011


Hordes of blank-eyed, lurching, shuffling black-clad zombies churn the field into a swamp, thick red mud oozing up around the feet. That's how I'll recognize them the next day at the airport - that caked layer of loam - the tshirts are off, but that clay - and the stiff, awkward walk, and the slowly-returning-to-reality stare, doesn't wash off so easily. 

Welcome to Metallica's Bangalore. 

The previous day, it was a sea of black - not just the concert, but the city. Metallica, Sepultra, Pantera, Maiden, Slayer, right down to corporate brands and Angry Birds - you can wear any design you want, as long as it's on black. 

(Henry Ford smiles in the grave, momentarily discomfiting his graveworms.) 

Humanity's herd instinct never ceases to amaze - a gigantic flock of lost sheep desperately searching for a shepherd, any shepherd, and it doesn't matter if he's from the dark and calling you in. We follow and obey, blind and deaf, uncaring and unheeding - all we want is the freedom from that insistent little voice in our heads that asks what you want to do, and all the responsibility it implies... easier to care for what they care, do what they do. Ironic, isn't it? 

Smoke roils through the crowd, thick, glowing white in the glare, redolent with the sweetsour tang of weed, mixed with the tamer and lighter, blue-tinged streams of tobacco, clove & cardamom, and menthol, contrasting against the warm earthy brown smell of humanity, sharp green of crushed grass and drifting grey rain-is-coming scent of the clouds on the wind. 

Camera LCDs hover over the heads of the twenty-five thousand, high tech stars in dark galaxy swaying in obeisance to the glaring suns of the stage floodlights. Beyond them, shockingly white and surreal against the orange-glared dark clouds, a flight of herons wheels silently through the sky, starkly pristine, a ghost squadron that vanishes almost as soon as you see them.  

The bass reaches through the mass of humanity, through clothes and flesh, through ear and mind, and settles straight at the bone. Your skeleton resonates, ribs rattling and joints humming to the drums... this is what you don't get at home however expensive and powerful your music system might be, the way the music can take your body and strum it, the deepest connect you can have not just with the player, but with every one person in that mass of humanity around you.

It's not as loud as it could have been, though. After Iron Maiden 2007, silence, for a week after, had a tinny, subconscious whine.

Sweat and hysteria, the crush of the crowd - warm breath on your face and neck, hair tickling the skin, the press of bodies... an audience is an organism, and you never feel it as much as at times like these. Some briefly rise above, climbing barricades, the shoulders of friends and random strangers, crowdsurfing, silhouettes against the blinding white. Sudden cool breezes, and brief little patters of rain never felt, never tasted so damned good. 

After six hours of standing still, straight, craning upwards, neck, shoulders, spine, knees ankles and toes fuse into one continuous solid cramped pillar of pain. You don't feel it while the music washes through you, but once it's over, that first step, that joint-cracking, bone-creaking movement to bend a knee, loosen shoulder, flex backbone is a sweet, stumbling agony, and you can barely stagger forward through the churned slush of the grounds, like an undead swarm emerging from a epic cataclysm. 

It's all worth it. Worth the safety lecture from a paranoid manager who spoke to us like retarded preschoolers, driving us batshit; worth the entire album-and-a-half from Biffy Clyro who made the maximum use they could from the hours-long wait, knowing they'll never get an opportunity like this again.

Leaving the grounds, the crowd's remarkably well-behaved; the Bangalore Police rolls along the road in a gypsy and loudhailer, asking us 'Dear friends' to please walk the footpath, and obediently, we do. Even during the concert, there are very few people crushed or passing out, nobody ODing on either substance or hysteria, and a few half-hearted attempts to start a mosh pit peter out fairly quickly. 

Hm, interesting train of thought - the nature of the crowd depends not just on the music, but everything they believe the music stands for. Iron Maiden was clearly wilder, louder, more extreme... this was almost mellow in comparison, though I refuse to believe the crowd was significantly different. 

And now, all too soon, it's time to go home. 

Monday, September 19, 2011

Living with the Raj

What I loved about living in the century-old, British Raj-era houses. 

Space. The ceilings are twenty, thirty feet high, the bathrooms are big enough to literally swing a cat around 360 degrees, the vast expanse of floor - I literally learned to ride a bicycle indoors - the average Raj house is bigger than the average Mumbai jogging park. Barked shins don't exist, can't happen. 
A museum sense of history. They're filled with these awesome little clues about a bygone era and what life was like - the strips of metal on the ceiling from where the fans hang, stretching across the room, with a little wheel-and-pulley arrangement. That was the original support for the punkha - the sheet that would manually swing from end to end on it's castors, pulled by a rope leading out through holes and pipes in the ceiling (scars of which are still visible under the plaster) out into the servants' passageways, where one guy would stand patiently fanning all day. 

The cast-ron fire escapes attached to the back, ensuring a safe and rapid exit when the main (wooden) staircase went up in flames. 

The giant arches and carved pillars visible under plaster, now replaced by smaller windows and walls. Thick pegs in the bathroom walls where giant geysers and cast-iron cisterns once hung... and sometimes, still hang, creaking and groaning ominously. 

The furniture. Like the house, it's older than you, your parents, and likely your grandparents, and built so solidly it can withstand almost anything you throw at it. And perfectly built - not one warp, not one crack, not one sticking drawer or stuck door. 

Wooden windows covered in a quarter-inch-think layer of white paint, blurring the outlines, softening the angles... wire mesh to keep out bugs, with little wooden doors to give access to the latches, and thick iron bars to keep out anything else. The windows and doors themselves, over an inch thick, armed with massive, elongated bolts, built for the possibility of insurrection. 

Every room with multiple doors - infinite permutations in wandering around. None of this one-room, one-door concept. 
Vast empty expanses of wall, sometimes filled with giant posters of mountains and nature. At one time, there would have been trophies there. 

The walls so thick - over a foot and a half, easy - that you have proper windowsills. Perfect insulation, too - between a complete block of all the day's heat, fans on poles and excellent cross-ventilation, you don't need an AC - not that they'll work anyway, given the giant room size. 
Blue, green and yellow light trickling in though the ventilators in the somnolent afternoons, with the occasional sparrow rustling in their nests ensconced in them.  

Talking of sparrows, there's an entire ecosystem built into these houses - the clouds of bugs that emerge in the evenings around the lamps, battalions of geckos emerging from the wall plaster to feast on them, raucous cacophony of sparrows and mynahs in the morning, pigeons and parrots in the afternoon, crows in the evening and then the silent whisper of owls and bats in the evening, broken by wailing cats and distant dogs. Fish ponds with frogs croaking in the lawns. 

Ah, the lawns - ponds and rockeries, flower beds and herb gardens, an entire miniature irrigation system, fruit trees, shade trees, bushes and fences, manicured lawns... garden furniture and swings... massive verandahs and sweeping driveways. 

Did you know the doors are color-coded? Green for the servants' entrances, black for outsiders, and white for inhabitants? 
Giant pantries attached to the kitchen, with a ingrained smell of dust, paint, wood, cardboard, varnish and metal. 
In every room, the heavy tick of ancient clocks... 

Time hasn't moved in here for decades. It's a place that belongs to a different time, a different era, a different way of life with a different notion of what life's all about. 

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Keralafornia Four: Kumarakom

No Kerala holiday is ever complete without the houseboat experience, and this time we had the extraordinary excellent opportunity of experiencing a houseboat in style - a giant 2-storeyed one all to ourselves, where ourselves is 30-odd twentysomethings and lots and lots of daru. 

the upper deck

and lots of daru

The lungi is likely to become a favorite; practical, seriously airy and comfortable, as long as certain people restrain themselves from trying to yank it off.

a rare moment of peace and breeze circulation 

On the way, we stopped off at a lakeside traditional eatery for a giant dose of fresh-from-the-lake lunch - fish, shrimp, rice and curry, assorted veggies, served on banana leaves, and (of course) coconut. 

fish, food
 Lake Vedambanad is huge, I mean, seriously gigantic. You can't see from one end to another. The lakes and backwaters were, before the roads got laid down, the veins of Kerala, carrying the lifeblood of trade and commerce from one end to the other in giant cargo boats laden with spices, coconuts, grain and more... the same boats that converted into the ultimate luxury experience now. 

The giant lake's on the right. This is just an access path. 

And no, it's not a GPS error this time

The afternoon went in a pleasant haze of alcohol, slowly digesting lunch, watching the water slide past in silence while music played in the background, feeling the breeze play softly on your face... punctuated by brief visits to the volcanic beef chilli fry plate, the single most devastating snack item I've ever tasted. It'll take the skin off the roof of your mouth, steam out of your ears, slide lava down your tongue, and trust me you do not want to know what it does the next morning... but man, does it taste sublime and make beer heavenly. Have a mouthful of this, and the next pint of beer comes with it's own angelic choir. 

not pictured: fire extinguisher (but mandatory)

add harps and music from the celestial spheres here

a day not wasted is a day wasted

Dusk falls quietly over the lake, and the sky slides imperceptibly from breathless, blinding blue into soft gold and indigo, setting the lake on fire with a billion broken setting suns; as we grow closer to the shore, the silently whispering wind changes to the ultrasonic, distant, hungry while of clouds of mosquitoes coming out for their dinner; we slowly haul ourselves back from the daydreams we were lost in...

 ...and it's time to go home. 

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Keralafornia Three: Kochi

Kochi is a few hours on from Guruvayur and Thrissur, the commercial hub of Kerala, and having a fairly popular airport, probably the most likely place you'll be starting your Kerala trip from. We'd landed here 2 days ago and headed down to Thrissur; Now we're back, and again, Kochi is a stopover before the next leg. 
But even as stopovers go, there's plenty to see and do; most obvious first being the iconic Chinese fishing nets at Fort Kochi. This is an image that's been splashed across all the tourism posters, along with the ubiquitous houseboat and coconut tree, and here at sunset, gives some awesome shots. 

an awesome shot

the brightness of boats

a satyajit ray moment for some reason

 For some reason, Fort Kochi seems to be terribly fond of Bob Marley. Maybe it's the trickle-down from Goa, maybe just the generic ambiance, but... there you go. 

There's also tons of stalls all over the place selling freshly-caught seafood, which you can take across to the restaurants and have them grill it up for you while you have your beers. Seafood + Tourists = Lots of Lazy Cats. 

lazy cats

fresh seafood

nice foto

Another place you can check out while you're here is the Kashi Art Cafe, which had some truly mind-blowing food - don't leave without at least one visit. We had the banana cream pie and it was worth coming to Kochi for. 

tip of the Chinese fishing nets

Fort Kochi turns very Goa in the evenings, and a little bit of the Himalayan, too, despite the mosquitoes and the humid heat - dim lights, Konkani music, cobblestones and the water...



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