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Prelude to Okinawa

This weekend I had the chance and privilege of returning, after a little more than a year, to my favourite place in Japan – Okinawa.

Despite the lingering winter chill, the sun was up bright and sunny on Saturday morning as I rushed to catch my early morning flight from Haneda airport. By the time I had figured out how to operate the ticket machine (or whatever it is called) and obtained my ticket, I was already beginning to regret my decision to go fully suited and tie-d up so that I could rush straight to my appointment without having to change. I greatly looked forward to changing into my jeans and exploring whatever I could of the southernmost part of Japan. But I first had to contend with the dreary 3 hours I would be spending in the air to get there.

By the time I found my seat and sat down, I could feel my stomach rumbling because, in my rush to get up and dress up, I had barely managed a cup of tea for breakfast. From past experience I already knew that, apart from a single (half-filled) paper cup of juice/coffee/oolan tea/soft drink, there would be no breakfast on flight to look forward to, even if it was breakfast time. I remember my first domestic flight in Japan when I kept waiting for the snacks which never came after that measly half-cup of juice. Unlike in India, and all other places that I have flown in, they don’t serve snacks on domestic flights no matter how long the flight is except in Business/First class. And you don’t even have the option of buying something to eat during the flight like you do on budget airlines in India. This realization only served to increase my hunger pang.

I flipped through the inflight magazine, checking the entertainment options – apart from some dreary documentary-types, all in Japanese, no movies. The only English programme available was the ‘international pops’ audio channel on Channel 6 called ‘cool cuts’ featuring a wide range of so-called hits which, in normal circumstances, you wouldn’t catch me listening to, ever. But I could see some interesting 70s numbers which included ‘I think I love you’ by the Partridge Family which sounded familiar, ‘Bridge Over Troubled Waters’ by Simon and Garfunkel and another number by Diana Ross. The programme ran for exactly an hour and would be repeated from the beginning each time it finished and in the end, counting my return trip, I ended up listening to the Partridge Family 6 times. Which, I suppose, was some sort of highlight of my trip.

And so, trying not to think of the 3 hours I would be cooped up, I settled in with the Partridge Family and a copy of Bill Bryson’s ‘Neither Here Nor There’ for company. Bill Bryson, for those who haven’t yet had the pleasure of reading his books, is one of the funniest writers around. In fact, his books should come with some sort of statutory warning (like on cigarette packets) ‘Not to be read in public’ or some such thing because they are so hilariously perceptive and funny that it takes great effort not to suddenly burst out laughing and make a spectacle of oneself in public (I had several such urges but managed to control myself and mostly just had a sort of permanent smile till the time we landed). Instead, my copy of the book only had blurbs like ‘It’s very, very funny’ (Sunday Times) and ‘Hugely funny (not snigger-snigger funny, but great-big-belly-laugh-till-you-cry funny)’ (Daily Telegraph). Seriously.

Though I felt drowsiness sweeping over me several times, I managed to keep my eyes open with Bill Bryson and David Cassidy. Another big reason was my quota of the half paper cup of juice. I once dozed off for maybe half a minute on another flight during which the air hostess managed to pass by with her tray and I ended up not having even the measly half-cup of juice that was rightfully mine. Ever since, I’ve had this feeling that the air hostesses keep an eye on me and the moment I doze off, rush to serve the one and only half-cup of juice they serve on the flights. And, ever since then, I keep an eye on their movements to make sure that I don’t get passed over when the time comes.

In between the times I had to put down the book and try to ward off sleep, I dreamed up various topics for blogs I could be writing. Such as the Eric Clapton (‘legendary guitarist, only rumored to be God’, as the publicity read) concert on 15 Feb which my son and I had been planning to attend, but could not because by the time I enquired, the tickets had long sold out. Or an account of the most exhausting thing I have ever done – climbing Mt. Fuji, and how I cursed myself for being so stupid and swearing to never, ever do it again but will probably be there again when the climbing season opens this year in August. With all the time on my hand, I actually dreamt up quite a few topics I could blog on. I remember thinking that I should write all the topics down so I could expand on them later on. But I didn’t, and here I am now, not able to recall any of them. Apart from the two above. I must really be getting old.

Hey, this is becoming really long. One of the things I have noticed lately is that I never read the really long blogs. Unless they are really interesting or well-written. Some of my earlier blogs now really make me cringe because they were so long. No wonder nobody bothered to read them. So let me call a halt right now and blog about the wondrous thing I saw, witnessed and experienced in Okinawa at a later time. Provided I remember them.


Wintery Christmassy Feelings

I can feel it in the air. Though the sun was up and bright this morning and the sky was exceptionally clear and blue when I dropped the kids to school, there was a distinct chill in the air. The temperature read 15 degrees at the Akasaka-Mitsuke Crossing at around 9 in the morning. When I glanced at the temperature board on my way back this evening, it read 10 degrees. Yes, its that time of the year again. Some of you might think it a bit early, but suddenly it feels like Christmas, snow (hopefully), cold feet searching for warm skin under layers of blankets, snuggling under a blanket, listening to the cold wind blowing outside the window, downing a few to ensure the ‘inner’ blanket remains warm, hot miso soup on a cold morning, those old Christmas carols and songs on the car stereo, Jim Reeves’ Christmas songs, Anne Murray’s ‘sad old wintery feeling’, memories of Christmas carols back home, Christmas ‘lengkhawm’ songs….. And, most of all, we’ll be going home for Christmas and New Year. At least to Delhi.

With all these in mind, thought I’d also change my ‘theme’ to the same old Christmas theme with which I started this blog round about this time last year. 

Here’s me (probably the first in all of blogosphere) hoping we all have a Wonderful Christmas this year 🙂

Smokeless in Tokyo

I have decided to stop smoking, again. For the umpteenth time. The last time was about six months back. It lasted about a month. But the temptation became too much – especially after a good meal and with a wife like mine who is such a good cook that every meal is a class in itself, the temptation to prolong the enjoyment with a few after-meal puffs was just too much.

But the world is becoming increasingly smaller and smaller for confirmed smokaholics like me. With everyone, including the Government, doing their best to stop or at least restrict us, I figured I might as well give in, surrender to the inevitable, make my family happy, use the money saved for more useful things, live a more healthy life, etc.

So, this morning I smoked my last one. As I stubbed it out, I melo-dramatically thought of keeping the stub as a kind of souvenir – a reminder of when I used to smoke 🙂 It’s still there, across the table, in the ashtray which I will no longer need, hopefully. 


Its exactly 10pm as I start typing these words on my laptop, all alone, on the 26th floor of Prince Tower Hotel in Sapporo, capital of the northernmost island of Hokkaido in Japan. Just back from an official reception, its warm and cosy inside, but a chilly 9 degrees C outside.

As I log in and check my blog, I see that I’ve had exactly 911 visitors – a significant number, expecially for Americans. Significant for me too – I can hardly believe that I’ve had 911 visitors within the last 6 months since I started this blog. I do the math in my mind (ok ok, a little scribbling on the hotel stationery, mental math  or anything to do with math was never my strong point )- that’s about 150 a month, 5 a day! Insignificant for most of my blogger friends, but for me, a landmark. And I’ve even had a few complimentary comments – thanks guys.

I sit here with a glass of ‘Suntory’ (I’ll probably be trying to delete this when I next access my blog tomorrow evening when I get back home!). Maybe its the Suntory, but my mind flies back to the six months since I started this blog and I find that its been quite an eventful six months. I’ve been to Okinawa, the southernmost part of Japan (in Jan), and now I’m in the northernmost part of Japan!. In between, I had the privilege of visiting Osaka, Nara and Kyoto, the cultural capital of Japan, and even a visit to Sado island last weekend where I caught my first fish in the sea off the coast of Akadomari, a sleepy fishing village where I stayed overnight in the only hotel. A friend of a friend kindly agreed to take me out in his motor board for a one-hour ride (is that the right word?) in the sea. But I must admit that the first fish I caught was definitely not due to any skill, or even luck, on my part. It was all a result of the amazing and scientific way the Japanese go about their daily life. In this instance, it was all due to Sato-san (the friend of a friend)’s amazing GPS system fixed in his small boat which, when switched on, could scan the water beneath and identify the presence of fish below. Once the spot was identified, all I had to do was cast my line and, voila, a bite! I reel in my line and there’s a fish at the end of my line. Not the biggest fish, but definitely a fish. And I even have a photo which I will try and upload next time. 🙂

Today we visited the Rusutsu Resort and The Windsor Hotel – probably the most exclusive and luxurious hotel I’ve ever seen. If I ever win the loterry, that’s where I take my ‘valentine’. The view of Lake Toya from there was out of this world. Unbelieveably beautiful and breathtaking. I’ve seen some breath-takingly beautiful places in Italy and Switzerland, South Africa and Swaziland and, without meaning to be pretentious  or bragging, today’s sight of Toya Lake was out of this world. I have the photos which I will try and upload next time, though I doubt the photos will do justice to the beauty of the place.

Hey, gtg, as we used to say back in the good ole MIRC days. Maybe its the Suntory and thoughts of being home tomorrow, but its almost 11pm already and my comfortable-looking bed calls.

Almost There

What with him winning the Pulitzer Prize and all, I thought I’d see Bob Dylan’s biopic ‘I’m Not There’ yesterday. Turned out to be a strange, surreal and somehow disjointed experience, very much like one of his rambling, meditative songs. I would think that only die-hard Dylan fans would ‘get’ the film. I doubt any one who’s not a fan of Dylan would enjoy the film. Even I, a long-time fan, had a hard time understanding the movie as a whole. I thought Cate Blanchett was superb. She looked like she was having fun playing her role in the movie. And, among all the boys playing Dylan (or characters based on Dylan), she looked most like Dylan.

I wouldn’t be surprised at all if this film turns out to be one of those cult movies which die-hard fans watch over and over again. I wouldn’t mind watching it again, in fact. Even if the movie was a bit difficult to understand sometimes, the soundtrack of vintage Dylan made spending almost two hours in front of the screen made it worth the while for me.

Different Worlds

Last night I went back in time and saw a girl I used to have a crush on in school. She was as beautiful as I remembered and had not aged a bit. Though we did not speak to each other, she was as aware of my presence as I was of her. I know, because our eyes met more than once. Those smiling, beguiling eyes that I thought I would never see again. But, somehow, we did not speak to each other. It just did not seem right – as if speaking to each other would lead to something we would both regret. Even as I was contemplating the strange situation I found myself in, I could feel and sense her sizing up my wife. I sensed more than saw her smile disappear as she stole furtive glances at my wife. She seemed to be saying to herself, “Hmm, so that’s who he finally ended up with. She’s quite a beauty. I wonder how he ever landed such a catch!” I then felt her looking at me with a strange, strained smile as she slowly disappeared from my sight. A strange feeling of loss and loneliness came over me as past memories flooded my mind.

My bedside alarm bell suddenly rang and, as I reached over to switch it off, I realized that it was all a dream. But my dream seemed to have awoken some long forgotten memories and I lay there for some time trying to recall my dream. But the harder I tried, the hazier it all became until the only thing I seemed to remember was her smiling face.

Then, while dressing up for office after breakfast, I suddenly had the urge to dig out some old cassette I hadn’t played for ages. ‘The Best of Lobo’ was the first thing I laid my hands on. After dropping my daughter, I put the cassette in my car stereo and, for the next 30 minutes entered the sweet, simple world of Lobo. Songs like ‘How Can I Tell Her’, ‘Me And You And A Dog Named Boo’ somehow brought back memories of rainy days and our first tape-recorder when we were still in school. Those were the days before the ‘two or three-in-ones’, and ours was a simple tape-recorder which my uncle assembled from parts ordered by post from some company in Pune (somehow, I think it was Pune or Poona, as it was then called). Electricity was a luxury in those days which the powers-that-be would occasionally release for two-three hours in the evenings. So we basically depended on those ‘Eveready’ dry battery cells to listen to the tape-recorder. The batteries didn’t last very long, of course. So we would collect used batteries and join them together to make the tape-recorder sing a few more minutes. The tape-recorder needed 6 volts to run, which meant 4 batteries. But I remember joining together 8 or even more used batteries to get enough power to make it sing a little longer. Anyway, that was our world then – simple and uncomplicated. It was a world to which I slipped into for a few minutes, even as I drove to office in one of the most modern and complicated cities in the world.

Then, I reached office, and the real world. For the past 8 hours or so, I have been immersed what I do for a living. A meeting with my boss to discuss some pending work, a few minutes reading up on some cases, shuffling papers and files, going to the Library to get some books for the weekend (VS Naipaul’s ‘The Writer and the World – Essays’ and Chetan Bhagat’s ‘five point someone’) along with some old issues of ‘Femina’ and ‘Filmfare’ for the wife (OMG, how long has it been since I even saw – not to say, read – Filmfare?).

Now, I’m packing up for the day. Finish this thing, upload it to the blog, and rush down to enter another world before the day is over. I look at my watch and just 15 minutes are left before my daily dose of ‘Ed Shultz’ on my car radio. I look forward to the opening guitar riffs of Slash and GunNRoses’ ‘Sweet Child of Mine’ opening his show at exactly 6:05pm. Then I will be transported into the world of American politics as Ed gives his take on Obama, Hillary and McCain and the American elections.

So, that’s four worlds so far today. And the day’s not even over yet. The evening’s ahead and who knows what other worlds await before another new day breaks.

The American Elections, Ed Shultz and Me

Driving home from office today, I listened to someone making a fool of himself and, I must admit, I took some vicarious pleasure in it. The person was Ed Shultz, an American radio talk show host, whose show I’ve been tuning into for the past two weeks every evening as I drive home from office. I had just read of Hillary winning in Texas, Ohio and Rhode Island on the web before closing down for the day when I switched on my car radio and there was good ole Ed going on and on about how Obama would win Texas and Ohio, giving a thousand and one reasons. I don’t remember his exact words, but I clearly remember him saying he would ‘eat a thousand crows’ if Obama lost in these states. Obviously, the ‘live’ show I’ve been tuned into for the past two weeks is a recorded one. But, I must admit, Ed working himself up into a nice lather berating the Clinton campaign brought a whole new perspective to sayings like some people ‘tying their own noose’ or ‘putting one’s foot into one’s mouth’.

Listening to someone ‘predicting’ the (opposite) outcome of something when that someone is the only one who doesn’t know the outcome was a strange, eerie experience. I’m looking forward to tomorrow’s show and hearing how he will justify his confident ‘predictions’. Though I doubt he’ll be able to talk properly if he goes through with his promise to eat a thousand crows if Obama lost in these states! But I think I already know what he’ll say. One point he will be driving again and again is how Obama is eventually going to win the nomination anyway because the math just isn’t right for Hillary.

But, whatever his fault, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed listening to Ed these past few days. His confidence in and obvious admiration (bordering on hero-worship) for Obama, which he doesn’t hide at all, is itself admirable. Makes me wish I had an admirer like that 🙂 – though it would be a bit scary. From his show I’ve learned the difference between a ‘Clintonite’ and a ‘Clintonista’. The former is a loyal and faithful follower and believer in all that Hillary stands for and who would vote for her, no matter what, but still someone you can reason with. The latter, on the other hand, is an extremist version – a rabid and obsessive follower unwilling to even listen to anything remotely critical of Hillary and willing to practically kill anyone saying as much as a word against her. In other words, if the equivalent terms existed in the Obama camp, Ed would be an ‘Obamista’.

But whatever happens and whoever ultimately wins, it looks like I’m stuck with Ed till Election Day dawns in America for the simple reason that his show is the only English station I can catch on my car radio. Not that I’m against Obama or for him nor, for that matter, for or against Hillary or McCain or whoever. But I think I’ve become addicted to this fast-talkin’ dude who’s ever ready to take on any and all Clintonistas in the great tamasha that is the American Election. I just love the way he spars with his callers and mockingly puts down ‘Clintonista’ callers while at the same time fully agreeing with and prodding on his fellow ‘Obamista’ callers. I must also confess that the opening guitar riffs of Guns N Roses’ “Sweet Child of Mine” that open his show is as big a reason as any to look forward to 6pm every day. That, and the end of another day in office.

Tokyo 5 March 2008

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