Category Archives: Chinni

My encounter with a tiger

Well, all right, it wasn’t really an encounter. It happened at the safari, at Bannerghatta National Park. And, at the risk of sounding a tad dramatic, it was a defining moment in my life.

Murali and I love the zoo. Our son too loves animals. He also has obsessive-compulsive disorder, or maybe, he is just a normal three-year old. One fine day, he declares that he wants to go to the zoo. Within forty-eight hours of his declaration, he is consumed with his obsession of visiting the zoo. Usually, he has episodes of sitting up in the middle of the night, mumbling something about tigers eating grass and squirrels. Come weekend, therefore, we drop all our plans and rush to the zoo – to prevent lasting psychological damage to him, and of course, to ourselves.

The trick to enjoying the safari is getting there early. There is a cool breeze and all the animals, their breakfast taken care of by friendly zoo-keepers, prefer to use late mornings to lounge around. Waiting for the safari buses to arrive, I would imagine. The safari route goes along a rugged road winding through beautiful forest, passing by cheetal, sambar, nilgai, blackbuck and gaur. Soon enough you reach an enclosure with double doors, reminiscent of Jurassic park, and a sign welcoming you to the black bear safari. The black bears seem to enjoy rubbing their noses against the cold metal of the bus. They have scary claws and big paws. Once, we saw a bear digging the soil frantically. He is looking for ants, my son announced, completely convinced. The next set of double doors leads to lions. They are truly social animals, and you often get to see the male with its pride. But what always takes our breath away, even after multiple trips to the safari, are the tigers. They are truly magnificent animals. With measured tread and fiery eyes, they never fail to inspire awe.

The tigers at Bannerghatta are accustomed to humans. Several trips to the zoo later, I imagine that they have developed a certain degree of showmanship. How else would you explain this tiger we saw at our last visit, laying on its back with its head tilted backward at an enticing angle, while it stared vacantly into space? Almost like those models on glossy magazines. Or this other tiger that pretended to peck at some leaves on a tree and then strutted towards us in a calculated wide arc, ensuring that everyone in the bus got a good look at him.

The encounter I spoke of earlier happened during our third visit. A handsome male stood about a meter away from our bus. As I looked at him admiringly, he stared right back at me, for what seemed like an eternity. And I knew I was in divine presence. I was now part of an elite club, whose members could boast of having made eye-contact with a tiger.

My encounter with the tiger is now part of family lore. Every time we have someone visiting us, and the idea of going to the zoo gets tossed around, the conversation invariably gravitates towards my moment with the tiger. Unfortunately, it is always Murali that tells the story. And, as you can imagine, in his version, he mercilessly mocks me, while everyone else thinks it is side-splittingly funny. I have to admit it, Murali can be hilarious sometimes, especially if it involves poking fun at me. However, in this instance, I can see his humor for what it really is – poorly veiled jealousy. And I tell him, rather patronizingly, “Don’t worry, Murali. We always spot tigers at Bannerghatta. You too will have your moment one day.”



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Driving on the roads of Bangalore

When I returned to India after ten years in the United States, the idea of driving on the roads of Bangalore gave me nightmares. Silly, I know, considering I was born and raised in India. No wonder then, that it took me two years to get behind the wheel again, in spite of having eight years of driving experience. It has been six months since I started driving, and I must say that the chaos of Bangalore’s roads is growing on me. I might even go so far as to say that I am beginning to enjoy my twenty five kilometer commute to work. The truth is, there is never a dull moment.

Sharing and caring: Driving in India means sharing the roads with a lot of odd characters – rabid mongrels, two-wheelers that drive like rabid mongrels, nonchalant cows, distracted pedestrians, frustrated auto-drivers, buses that stop wherever they please, trucks of all sizes driving at all kinds of speeds, vehicles driving on the wrong side of the road, cars parked in the middle of busy traffic, peddlers at traffic lights, wedding processions, and the occasional donkeys and camels.

The truth about autos: Imagine you are a software programmer and your aging computer crashes on you twice a day. Or, you are a cook, and your kitchen is frustrating small and stuffy. Such is the life of auto drivers. The other day, I had to cross the road. About a meter away was an auto with two passengers, driving uphill on this rather steep road. I had two options – wait for it to cross, or just go ahead. I decided to go ahead. There was even enough time for me to cross the road again if I wished to, before the auto would get past me. He had such poor pick-up, that for a moment I thought he was moving backwards. Now imagine you were an auto-driver. You spent most of your day on the roads, driving. And, even a bicyclist could pass you with just a little bit of effort. What would it do to you? The attitude you get from them, therefore, is totally justified. My suggestion – get rid of autos. They are breeding a generation of eternally frustrated men.

If you ever get into a scrape with an auto-driver your safest bet is to drive the hell out of there. If that does not work, yell at him at the top of your lungs before his mafia gathers around. Give him all the cash you have in your wallet and then drive the hell out of there. Remember, whatever your course of action, you have only one advantage – the superior pick-up of your vehicle against his.

Pedestrians: Insects have mosaic vision. It means that they can detect motion better than they can discern outlines of objects. Ditto with the pedestrians of Bangalore. The only way to get their attention is to drive like a maniac, at the risk of mowing them down. Or, you wait patiently and give them way, while some other motor vehicle decides to mow them down in the meantime. Tough choices like these are a daily reality on Indian roads. The pedestrians, meanwhile, are an enlightened lot. They live in the moment, unafraid of death.

Bus drivers: Once I saw a bus driver navigate a really difficult turn, while autos, two-wheelers and everything else on the road was dangerously closing in on him from all directions. In my frustration, I imagined an interminable traffic jam, wondering if I was going to make it to work that day. Amazingly, there was no jam. In what seemed like a violation of the laws of physics, he cleared the intersection in record time. What extraordinary skill. My driving instructor told me that according to Indian law, a bus driver, if responsible for a fatality, can resume driving after a month. However, if the accident results merely in injuries, it is a nuisance for the driver as he cannot drive again until the case against him is cleared in court. True or not, the message is clear – stay out of their way!

The divider straddlers: There is this breed of car drivers that stubbornly drive on the dividers between the lanes. Do they think that it is there for them to drive on? Or perhaps, they are just indecisive. “Should I go on the rightmost lane or the middle one? Maybe I will drive on both”. They are also completely oblivious to the traffic on the road. So there you are, desperately honking, hoping to get past, but no!

To honk or not to honk: Two-wheeler drivers use their horn as a proxy for the brake, especially when they have to go around corners in residential areas. Their driving philosophy runs like this: why slow down and unnecessarily wear down our brake-pads when a nice honk will do the job? It also extends to these other miscellaneous points – never bother to look before changing lanes; if you are a car driver, then hanging around in your blind-spot for several minutes at a time is our birthright; your left turn and right turn signals are of no concern to us, we just ignore them. And finally, before you pointless argue with us – Yes! We are completely suicidal.

Good offense is your best defense: When I started driving, I was a nervous wreck. The toughest part was anticipating the actions of erratic two-wheeler drivers. I cursed and I plodded along. Slowly, I learnt a few tricks. And these days, the morning commute is an adrenaline rush. I arrive at work awake and alert, ready to take on the day. So what is my secret to enjoying driving in Bangalore? If you are brainwashed with western ideas of defensive driving, here is what I have to say – ha, ha, good one. Enjoy watching people drive past you. Drive aggressively instead, and watch driving lanes magically open up for you. So, here is the mantra – drive aggressive and drive safe. Until, of course, the traffic policeman decides to slap fines on you.


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