Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Difference Between Everyone Else and I

"Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive."

Howard Thurman

This story took place on a typical week back on a typical class day morning at about 8:00 am and typically, I was running late. It's this vicious psychological experiment my college is running on us, see. First year of medical school was all 8:00 am kick-starts the week through, Saturday in the package. Then, they softened us in the second year, cutting out Saturdays and letting us come to class at a more humane 9:00 am - then BAM! Reversion to the old first year routine in the third year. It's almost like they wanted us to hate coming to class at 8:00 am by showing us just how awesome a 9:00 am starter is. What senseless cruelty.

My class is located on the second floor of this lecture hall complex building they call the Interact, no doubt in the hope that its name would magically inspire students deprived of that last hour of sleep like me to be more interactive and involved in the learning process. I have made this pledge to completely refrain from using elevators a couple of years back and I am pleased to announce that I have kept to it religiously. I stuck to it even when I was running late on that typical class day in that typical week back.

It was when I got to my lecture hall's door that things stopped being typical.

To make this simpler, here's a highly scientific diagram to show you what I saw there,


It's that puppy which lives in my neighborhood - the sandy one with the dead sister in this post of mine (depressing read, by the way, but cute pictures). The absurdity of it made me wonder if I was actually still back home in bed, dreaming, my alarm clock still trying futilely beside me to wake me up for my 8:00 o'clock. The pup's in the Interact. On the second fucking floor. Waylaying class-goers outside my lecture hall! It was surreal. It was all wrong. Dogs don't belong here (neither do students at 8:00 am, if you ask me). My other colleagues who were also running late were trying their best to get past the pup to the door and it was lucky for them that I arrived then I think, because no one else is half as willing to get his hands dirty as I am.

Gripping the pup's collar, I peered into the class and saw that the lecturer had already begun her talk and for a fleeting moment, I thought of just leaving the pup to its own fate outside and popping right in. My attendance record isn't in very good shape and I didn't want to hurt it further by being overly tardy. I wondered what would happen if the security guy got to it - he does carry that awfully big stick. The pup's sister died a week before because of spinal injuries and bleeding into its insides due to someone hitting or kicking it too hard, and that could happen to this sandy one too. And I didn't think it could find its way out very well either. What would Jesus do?

Fuck it, I thought, and began dragging the very reluctant pup down the stairwell (still sticking to my no-elevator policy) and did I say very reluctant? Wait, I need a lot more emphasis on "VERY". It was giving me that canine "nuh uh" resistance every step of the way down - I think it must have really wanted to attend the 8:00 am medicine class badly. That's the sort of zeal our Dean wants from us. I considered carrying it at some point but then I realised that I couldn't without muddying my white coat. Whose idea was it to dress medicos in that colour anyway? I think black or red's more practical - both are way better than white when it comes to bloodstains.

Even past the Interact's entrance, the stupid pup wouldn't bloody yield. I dragged it out on the asphalt but there was still no surrender. As soon as I let go of its collar, it made for the lecture hall complex again. Long story short, I dragged it half a kilometre back to my place at Acharya Compound, giving negative reinforcements all the way in the form of smacks on its snout and growls (that's how I got it to stay out of my room even when I got my door open). People looked at me funny. Half of them probably thought I was being really mean to some dumb animal. Hey, someone's got to do it, okay?

I walked all the way back to the Interact after I deposited it in my verandah and latched the gate (so it couldn't follow me). It was 8:35 am by the time I walked into the class but thankfully, it was that nice postgraduate from the Medicine Department who was lecturing that morning so I got away with it without a snag.

What I mean to say is; there are more than a hundred people in my class. Of all those people who saw a lost pup which against its better judgement (non-existent), followed someone playfully there, not a single person actually did anything. I mean, the pup could have been killed for being a nuisance, all because someone thought it was a good game to lead the pup there. All these people, they just wanted to run around the pup to get into class. I know most of these people. Some of them are people who constantly remind everyone that they are dog lovers. Some of them have claimed to be morally superior because their God is the absolute-fucking-standard-of-morality. Two of them were actually the people who adopted the puppy and brought it to our neighborhood in the first place. ALL OF THEM are medical students, supposedly paragons of compassion and empathy, and all that I-want-to-save-lives and do-good-in-my-life shit (says so right there in their university entrance essays).

Only one person felt bad enough to do something.

Yes, it sounds like I'm bragging because I am. I'm proud of what I did. I'm proud that my conscience just bleeds that much more than everyone else's, and there's absolutely nothing wrong with that whatsoever. I didn't sign on to dog-sit the pup in the first place but I really didn't want the pup to get beaten or killed.

Everyone else just wants to get to class on time.

Has different priorities,
k0k s3n w4i

Monday, July 28, 2008

Our Lives on the Wheels of Mice

"Sometimes when I consider what tremendous consequences come from little things. I am tempted to think there are no little things."

Bruce Barton

It kind of really bugs me every time people tell me that I shouldn't sweat the little things. It really, really does. Okay, by being bugged I'm actually being the case in point here but we can't help that now, can we? Little things just bother me, and I'm not talking about those abstract little things like petty rivalries, baseless jealousy and tiffs with the girlfriend (I'm remarkably immune to those - just ask Phoebe). I'm talking about the littler things; miniscule micro-moments of fly-sized annoyances which we wade through on a daily basis like your professor's jarring verbal crutches, something stuck in your teeth which no amount of fiddling with your tongue can dislodge, or a toilet bowl which won't flush because someone flushed it a minute ago. Things like these frustrate me, mock me. They tell me that there's absolutely nothing I can do about them, in spite of how insultingly small they are.

I messed up my backspace key a couple of weeks back and now, it only registers half the time. It breaks my rhythm every time I punch a dud. It always take a second for me to realise that I have missed a beat, by which time I would have already ploughed on for another word or two, needing to backspace more than ever. That's why I haven't been blogging very diligently - it upset the system of my ordered world. It reminds me of that insect of a classmate I used to have in primary school who would stand beside me, reach behind my neck and tap me on my other shoulder to make me look the other way. Even after I knew it's just him and I no longer even bothered to turn my head, he wouldn't stop. He'd keep at it long after the novelty expired, all while laughing gleefully like a retard. I swear I can still feel him tap-tap-tapping deeper and deeper into a bleeding wound in my soul. That's how the tap-tap-tapping of my faulty backspace key feels like to me.

Yesterday, I broke my mouse wheel, and it really put into perspective just how much I've grown to depend on the thing. Every time I forget it's broken, it reminded me with that smooth, catchless rolling of a disengaged cogwheel - an impotent motion, a bloody waste of joules - and boy, did it bug me half to hell. I never knew just how many bajillion things on a computer screen were moved by it till it died. I remember when I first got a mouse with a wheel a few years back, I thought to myself "Wow, what a pointless invention." My life was all peachy and gay before they created it and I have no doubt that being able to scroll through things quicker won't make it a whole lot more peachier or gayer. Of that, I was completely right. It did not make things better. It just made me depend a whole lot on a really tiny little wheel that really doesn't give a lot in return. It was okay when I didn't have a mouse wheel back then. It's not fucking okay now.

It bugs me how much we tacked ourselves to another eleventy billion other little things like this. Your standard QWERTY keyboard has more than a hundred keys (go count, I'll wait), each and every one integrated seamlessly into your routinal everydays; that's more than a hundred ways for your day to derail. Just knock out one and all of a sudden, your keyboard becomes a hostile animal. There's another twenty possible disappointments on your cellphones, some handful on your mp3 player, a few other hundred thousand odd ones spread all around your life in the form of electric switches, window catches, doorknobs, belt buckles, toilet tank levers, milk carton pop-caps... the full spectrum of the mundane out-of-focus background which only becomes high-def when your backspace keys and mouse wheels fail you.

We are all living in the comfort of a rickety hammock strung together using the littlest things in life. That's what's bugging me. Little things do matter.

Good ones included, fortunately.


Here's a random, unrelated list of another few things I can think of right off the bat which also bugs me;
  • People using the word 'creative' - even when it's used in praise of me. Its like a nail on a chalkboard screech to my soul, I don't know why. Hey, I didn't say it was rational.
  • Also, words like 'proactive', 'comprehensive', and 'mugging' (in reference to rote-learning, not the other one with the criminal). I hate the first two because people keep peppering their sentences with them like they are some universal placeholder words which automatically convey formality and scholarship. They don't. They just convey retardation. I have this feeling that the people who use them don't really know what they mean. As for 'mugging', I hear it every day coming out of the mouths of my lecturers and colleagues. Go learn some new words, for Pete's sake. I die a little inside every time I hear words like these.
  • Bloggers blogging with a Thesaurus on his or her lap. It's freaking obvious, okay. I hate to break this to you but using big words doesn't make you sound smarter. It just shows how big a fake you are. One simple thing everyone needs to know is that synonyms don't always mean the same thing. There are small nuances in their definitions which only (a lot of) reading can teach you. Quarrel and argue aren't the same. Joy and elation aren't the same. Thesaurus-suckling poseurs and writers aren't the same. Read, purple prose.
  • Medical students who blog about normal stuff using medical terms. Even when used by their intended meanings, they still sound stupid. Like 'nasal congestion' for stuffed nose, 'tachycardia' for heart beating fast, 'tachypnoea' for panting, 'lacrimate' for weep, 'rhinoviral infection' for cold... it's a very long and very ugly list. Those words belong on a medical report or in a case presentation, not in your blog unless you're writing a very factual post about diseases. It's very, very weird to see words and phrases like this when you're writing about your everyday life. I know you're a big time medical student but you don't need to show off and remind other people about it in every other sentence, okay.
  • Couples celebrating monthly anniversaries. Firstly, the prefix anni- refers to 'year', not 'month'. Secondly, is managing to stick to your boyfriend or girlfriend for a whole month such a monumental achievement for you that it warrants celebration? If yes, you might want to re-evaluate your relationship or something.

One peeved guy,
k0k s3n w4i

Sunday, July 20, 2008

The Clown Prince of Crime and The Dark Knight Review

"Why so serious?"

The Joker

I almost died when I first saw this.

This, dear readers, is not your standard-issue, objective and unbiased movie review. No, it's an unrestrained fan gush. I'm a huge fan from way back in the days when I was a teeny tot about waist high when I watched my first Batman cartoon series and my consequent foray into its many comic books and graphic novels. But I'm not a Batman fan, mind you. Nuh uh.

I'm a Joker fan. He's my favourite villain, nay, favourite fictional character ever conceived in any medium in the history of arts and literature.

I have this thing for fictional sociopathic killers; Hannibal Lecter, Tom Ripley, Patrick Bateman, Anton Chigurh... the lot of 'em. They fascinate me because they are so far removed from what we refer to as the human rationality. They have a maligned way of seeing the world, and make choices which make no sense to anyone except to themselves. The sick morality by which they operate is monstrous by the standards which society approves of. That's why in the movies and books which tell their stories, they were never ever given the death sentence after their capture - it's because what they think and do aren't morally wrong. They are just so very different from us that we can no longer recognise the humanity in them any more. They make me want to be them, even for a minute, just to see what it feels like to be in their minds. It's a twisted obsession, I admit, but there's no denying its seduction.

And the Joker is the perfect personification of absolute divorcement from humanity. He is the ultimate joke of this universe - the one which no one gets.

The Dark Knight is the movie which I anticipated most in the year 2008 and for one very, very good reason. It's going to be the first true live adaptation of the Joker. Jack Nicholson was reported to be "furious" that he wasn't asked to play the Joker in this reincarnation but I can only heave a deep sigh of relief at that. He got to face the fact that he's ridiculously old and out of shape, that the 1989 Joker he portrayed is, to put it bluntly, not the Joker I recognise from the comics, and that he's an anus. The concept of the Joker was bastardised in that movie by that pretentious art school nut Burton (as much as I like his other films, I can never forgive him for Nicholson's Joker). The very point of the Joker is that he has no fixed agendas, motives or ultimate plans. Nicholson's Joker was motivated by revenge, of all lame things, and all the major themes surrounding the iconic clown were flushed down Burton's artsy toilet bowl.

So listen to me, a true Joker fan, when I tell you that The Dark Knight's Joker is the definitive Joker. He's the Joker everyone will remember when they talk about the Batman movies. Not Nicholson's.

Now we move on with my dissection of the movie, and more gushing on the Joker. No spoilers ahead, by the way. I'll dish under three main headings; The Story, This Joker, The Themes and The Special Fucking Effects.

The picture which I used as my Friendster and MSN display picture a year ago.

The Story.

I will say a few things about The Dark Knight's story, and to an extent, about it's prequel, Batman Begins.

It is the first Batman movie(s) written and directed by someone who actually understands the comics (Burton admitted that he doesn't read comic books at all), and it shows. The very backbone of The Dark Knight was borrowed from The Long Halloween (1996-1997), which talked of the pact made by District Attorney Harvey Dent, then-Captain Jim Gordon and Batman to clean Gotham City of its criminal elements and more importantly, of the tragic, tragic rise of Two Face. If you can only read one Batman comic book in this lifetime, The Long Halloween is that comic book. It portrays Batman at his detective story finest and almost completely paraded his entire rogue gallery through the run of the series. The phrase "I believe in Harvey Dent" which was used by Harvey Dent's campaign in the film, was said many times in the graphic novel.

The tension was prevalent throughout the almost 3 hour long movie and at the end of it, I felt exhausted and drained - but I mean that in the best way possible. The scary anarchic rampage of the Joker is suppose to make you feel that way. Still, I found myself wishing it was longer.


The Long Halloween.

This Joker.

There had been derision from the fandom when Heath Ledger was announced as the new face and voice of the Joker but as soon as the first teaser trailer for The Dark Knight came out, all doubts were completely drowned out by the manic, soul-chilling Joker laugh at the end of that trailer. 'Unrestrained' is the keyword here. It was the Joker laugh I had in my mind all along, and it was eerie how Heath completely nailed it. I was initially apprehensive of the decision to change the origin of the Joker's clown face from its original chemical disfigurement root to a faceful of caked make-up and Chelsea grin scars carved from the corner of his lips but when I first saw Heath Ledger's Joker on screen, he had my absolute approval. I couldn't see Heath Ledger at all underneath the psycho clown. He didn't play the Joker so much as disappear completely into the character. As for Nicholson's Joker, Nicholson was obnoxiously showing through all the time. He's just way too much of a ham.

Gotta love that new Photobucket editting feature.

By the way, you do know about that story of Heath Ledger locking himself up for a month in a hotel room and talking to himself using the Joker voice, right? He also kept a diary to record the Joker's demented and fractured thoughts. It really begs the question of how much the role messed him up and just how big is its contribution, if any, in leading to the actor's eventual demise.

In a way, the perma-smile scars on Heath's Joker's face is actually more true to spirit than what is superficially visible. The original Joker conceived by Bill Finger and Bob Kane in 1940 was based on the character of Gwynplaine in the silent movie, The Man Who Laughs (1928), which was in turn based on the novel of the same name by Victor Hugo (that French bloke who wrote The Hunchback of Notre Dame). Gwynplaine's face was surgically mutilated into a permanent rictus grin by the order of King James II, so he can forever laugh at the folly of his father who offended the king.

A still from the old silent movie, The Man Who Laughs (1928).

And Heath's Joker actually scares me. He's twitchy and strung, and inspires the same fear that real-life crazy people scare us - mainly because we can't predict what made sense in their twisted minds to do next. Nicholson's Joker is so campy in comparison that he didn't even make me shudder - and I was just a little kid when I saw him, for Pete's sake!

Imagine yourself in Rachel Dawe's place.

Did I mention that Heath's Joker is also a freaking terrorist genius? He eclipsed everyone else so effortlessly. BatBale is a flat, one-note character beside him and this coming from a guy who thought that BatBale was the most complex and poignant Batman compared to all the other Batmans ever to grace the silver screen (I'm especially looking at you, BatNipple Clooney - why the fuck were there nipples on the Batsuit? To shoot bat-laser from? Fuck you, Joel Schumacher).

My only lament is that we will never see this Joker ever again. Heath Ledger, I'm telling you, will be the second person in history to receive a posthumous Oscar. It was a monumental performance.

The Themes.

I truly applaud Nolan's decision of not bothering with the Joker's origin story but instead, unleashed him directly on the citizens of Gotham City without warning like a freak force of nature - which he is, and in the movie, allusions were made about that theme in the Joker's own lines. The Dark Knight also centered on several other beloved themes in the Batman comic mythology which most pedestrian Batman fans have never had the exposure to, chiefly;

  • The Opposition of Order (which Batman represents) and Chaos (the Joker, evidently). Batman operates under the burden of law and rules while the Joker, well, he can do any damn thing he please. This is why the Joker is such a great foil for Batman. Batman uses reason, logic and strict methods in fighting crime but when he's pitted against the Joker, all of that fails. Batman is helpless against the Joker. The Joker is not afraid of Batman's ninja scare tactics, like the other criminals in Gotham. The Joker has no motives or goals by which Batman can predict his moves and actions. In one comic book, the Scarecrow used his fear gas to see what the Joker's afraid of. It had no effects on Joker who then proceeded to beat the shit out of Scarecrow with a chair. As Alfred so eloquently put it in the movie, "Some men aren't looking for anything logical. Some men just want to watch the world burn." There's a beautiful shot near the end of the movie when Batman and the Joker have That Last Conversation which underlined this theme. See if you can spot it.
  • One Bad Day Can Drive a Man Insane. It was the raison d'etre for The Killing Joke (1988) when The Joker broke out of Arkham Asylum, kidnapped Commissioner Gordon after shooting his daughter in the spine (paralysing her) and then forced Gordon to sit through a carnival ride where giant pictures of his wounded daughter in various stages of undress were shown to him. He wanted to prove that even the sanest man can go crazy like he did in the span of just one bad day. The comic book also gave a famous interpretation of the Joker's own "One Bad Day" origin story in the form of flashbacks but it was not definitive because as the Joker admitted himself; "Sometimes I remember it one way, sometimes another... If I'm going to have a past, I prefer it to be multiple choice!" This is brilliantly, yet subtly, depicted in the movie. You got to watch it to get it! Oh, and instead of Commissioner Jim Gordon, the victim of this theme in the movie is...
  • The Joker Exists Because of Batman. It was implied at the end of the first movie by Gordon Oldman when he talked about "escalation", and in Heath's Joker own words, "You complete me." In one of the comics, when the Joker supposedly succeeded in murdering Batman, he became sane, fixed his face and led a normal life. When Batman came back, he mutilated his face and went insane again. In The Dark Knight Returns (1986), a catatonic Joker incarcerated in Arkham becomes animated only after Batman resumed his crime-fighting career after a lengthy retirement. You see, the Joker needs Batman. It is one of the most unique hero-villain relationship in the history of fiction.
  • Batman is as Batshit Insane as the Joker. "See, to them, you're just a freak. Like me!" After all, how sane are you if you dress up as a bat to fight crime? I think The Killing Joke summed it best in a joke told to Batman by the Joker at the end of the comic after Batman defeated him, and offered to help him work out his insanity - an offer which the Joker refused; "See, there were these two guys in a lunatic asylum... and one night... one night they decide they don't like living in an asylum any more. They decide they’re going to escape! So they get up on to the roof, and there, just across the narrow gap, they see the rooftops of the town, stretching away in moon light... stretching away to freedom. Now the first guy he jumps right across with no problem. But his friend, his friend daren't make the leap. Y'see he's afraid of falling... So then the first guy has an idea. He says "Hey! I have my flash light with me. I will shine it across the gap between the buildings. You can walk across the beam and join me." But the second guy just shakes his head. He says... he says "What do you think I am, crazy? You would turn it off when I was half way across." The comic ended with both Batman and the Joker laughing at that. What do you mean you don't get it?

This is almost a literature study, I know. I'm just that obsessed.

Besides all of the above, Nolan himself came up with a few gems of his own on the fragility of ordered society and on heroism. I won't spoil it for you but the conclusion of the movie totally blew me away. If there's a comic book movie which deserves an Oscar, it's this one. This is truly the most matured take on the genre I've ever seen. It made Iron Man (2008) and Ang Lee's Hulk (2003) look painfully juvenile in comparison.

However, I am sorry to report that Harvey Dent's line in the trailers - "You either die a hero, or live long enough to see yourself become the villain" - wasn't thematically significant. It's more of a foreshadowing, really.

The Killing Joke.

The Special Fucking Effects.

One word: Batpod.

The way the Batpod was introduced in The Dark Knight ought to win an Oscar on its own. If there isn't a category for it, they ought to create one. Something along the lines of Most Bad Ass Debut of Some Cool Shit Gadget Award would do nicely. The whole freaking audience in the cineplex stood up and clapped hands when the Batpod came in and it took me heckuva lot of willpower just to stay in my seat and not join them. I rank the Batpod right up there with Heath's Joker in my list of reasons why you should watch The Dark Knight. Watch out for the wall-assisted direction reversal! And the truck-flipping! Bloody insane.


Batman's escape from Hong Kong also qualifies as one of the greatest moments in cinematic history. Wait, everything else which happened in Hong Kong is just as awesome. And when Batman leapt off the top of the skyscraper, you can practically feel the awesome jump out of the screen and make sweet, sweet love to you, leaving you pregnant with little baby awesomes.

Also, they almost went overboard with Two Face's scarred side. Almost. I kept myself from Googling a picture of that because I wanted to be surprised and when I saw it, God, it was worth the wait. It's very reminiscent of The Long Halloween version of Two Face and it will make your skin crawl;

It's the eyeball and the snarl, man. Gets to me every time.

I spent a good part of the night before reading reviews of The Dark Knight and I was so psyched to watch it that I decided to travel to the nearest cineplex, which is two hours away in Mangalore, the next day. My Community Medicine lecturer actually remarked twice about how I eager I seemed for the class to end. I practically ran to the bus station and instead of sleeping through the journey like I always did, I stayed awake and swam in the buzz of excitement which totally permeated every cell in my body. Right after the flick, I power-shopped for an outfit for my college's annual ball and hopped onto the next bus back, reaching Manipal at 6.00 pm - with only half an hour to bathe, spruce up and make my way to the Valley View Hotel where the ball was hosted. I actually planned to watch the movie on Sunday, today, but I just couldn't wait. I was so bushed that I actually fell asleep at times during the ball.

You know that great expectations often ruin the experience of anything, right *coughdeathlyhallowscough*? I can tell you that nothing in this world has greater expectations from me than The Dark Knight. It delivered everything I wanted. And so much more.

It's not just the best comic book movie ever, man. It's the best anything movie ever.

Score: ∞/10, baby.


P.S. All I need now is to watch the Watchmen movie, and I'll die a happy man. For the uninitiated, Watchmen is possibly one of the most beloved graphic novels of all time, and it completely deconstructed the superhero genre, and it's the only graphic novel to ever win the Hugo Award and also the only graphic novel to be on the Time Magazine's 2005 list of "The 100 best English-language novels from 1923 to the present". The film adaptation had been in development hell for the past 20 years. Here's its amazing, boner-inducing trailer and if you've read the Watchmen graphic novel, you'll recognise all the landmark scenes in this. Love the Smashing Pumpkin track. So appropriate. It is going to be fucking epic.

Rabid Joker fan,
k0k s3n w4i

Thursday, July 17, 2008

A Death on the Anniversary of My Birth

"Twilight and the evening bell
And after that the dark!
And may there be no sadness of farewell
When I Embark."

Alfred Tennyson, Crossing the Bar

Good bye.

11th of July, 2008

I came home from class to one of my favourite chapters of the day when the puppies would gambol towards me, with all the sincerity of seeing me again though they have only seen me that very morning. Puppies just love without restrain like that. It's refreshing. It's one of those things which make life worth the trouble to have.

The pups aren't mine though. They were brought to Acharya Compound by Li Lian and Tze Yong to replace Charlie, after she was stolen - but in the strictest sense of ownership, they belong to everyone who lives here in this neighborhood. Having dogs keep away the snakes and here in India, we have a lot of those.

Our resident snake-catcher who went missing earlier this year. Picture from this old post.

That day, I realised that the black puppy was acting queer. She ran towards me, but stopped short of the last few steps. She regarded me warily from that distance, turned her head to one side and stared suspiciously at me out of one eye - something animals do when one of their eyes is damaged or blind. She wanted to come to me but at the same time, she was very, very afraid of something.

I reached out for her to get a closer look at her other eye but as soon as I raised a hand, she shrank away fearfully as if she's afraid that I would strike her. It distressed me greatly to see the poor little thing behaving like this. Someone must have been hitting her really hard to make her this nervous, and maybe, in the process, injured her other eye. It took me a minute to coax it to come back to me and let me get a good look at her, but I found nothing amiss. The other eye looked perfectly fine. Something else must have affected her sight. Brain damage? More than likely, given the fact that she had recently received a brutal beating.

I was worried that she would not recover but a fundamental damage was already done; she was no longer the sweet, trusting creature she used to be.

Morning, 13th July, 2008

I was woken up in the early hours of the morning on that Sunday by a junior from another batch which I am not very well acquainted with who told me that the same black puppy appeared to be paralysed at the back of his house - which surprised me greatly because she had shown no signs of being that ill. Because I had plans to travel to Mangalore that day, I rang Tze Yong up and told him that he should get a vet to look at the poor thing and he said he would. Before I left for the bus station, I went to take a look at her.

What I saw haunted me for the rest of the day. She was emaciated with all her bones showing through her skin and large flies, feral striped ones about three times the size of a housefly, covered it like a grotesque, squirming blanket. I shooed the flies away but they kept coming back. The puppy was wet and it was possible that she was already lying there the night before, too weak to even move herself out of the rain. I'd have thought her dead if I hadn't see the subtle, almost imperceptible heaving of her tiny chest. She was struggling to breath, barely clinging on to the tattered remains of her life.

She opened her eyes a little as I approached her and call me crazy but I could see it in her eyes - I could see how afraid she was. She was afraid that I was going to hit her.

I hated to leave her but I had a bus to catch and besides, Tze Yong would look into it, I supposed.
I received an SMS from him later that day telling me that the puppy was already sick the evening before; she couldn't support herself and she kept falling down heavily into her bowl even when she was eating. He had already asked the vet to look at her then. The vet only gave her an antibiotic jab which, evidently, did not work.

The flies, they knew it was about time.

Evening, 13th July 2008

I came home from Mangalore and immediately ran to the back where I saw the puppy that morning and found her at the exact same spot I left her. I phoned Tze Yong and found that he had not called the vet in the entirety of the day I spent in Mangalore! I decided that she couldn't wait anymore so I asked Tze Yong for the number and made the call myself. By the time the vet arrived, it was two hours later and it was already dark out.

After examining her with a torch, the vet said that the puppy probably experienced some sort of spinal injury, due to trauma. Someone must have beaten or kicked her till her spine broke. He also said that the puppy seemed be suffering from an internal hemorrhage, also due to trauma.

I asked him if he had anything to give her to ease her pain or put her to sleep but he shook his head, saying "The drug for that is illegal in this part of India". I asked if I could move her to someplace warmer and dryer but he said it was best not to. I risked giving her more pain if I did. She was paralysed and couldn't move a paw, and blood was trickling out into her body cavities, choking her with cruel and excruciating slowness - and there was nothing I could do about it. I could only curse the person who brutalised her. I cursed all night and into my sleep but it offered me not one whit of comfort. Curses couldn't hurt the person who hurt her. I wish I could find out who it was but I know there are only dead ends there. I felt that I could do nothing. I couldn't even make her last few hours comfortable. It made me feel small and weak.

"It'll probably die on its own soon," said the vet, "but if it's still alive tomorrow, give me a call."

I hoped she would pass on soon, for her sake.

And selfishly, for mine.

14th July, 2008, My Birthday

That's the first thing I did before class that morning - I went to the back again, expecting to find the broken remnants of a puppy which no longer was, but against all the odds stacked against her, I found that she was still breathing - so slowly and softly that I could hardly make it out, but it was unmistakably there. She suffered and suffered, too weak to even whine, all through the cold monsoon night. She hadn't eaten - or even had a single drop of water - for two entire nights. She no longer even opened her eyes when I went close to her. It was one of the most heart-breaking things I had ever seen. She desperately wanted to live. There was so much frolicking left to do, so much more garbage to sniff at, slippers to chew, cats to chase and play-romps with her sister but no, never again. I could just imagine her lying there to die, unable to move and fighting to breathe, wondering why in her simple, innocent puppy mind she couldn't do all that anymore. She was going to die. She was going to die because some sick, sadistic human hit her. Some sick, sadistic monster hit her till her spine broke and made her bleed inside.

"The puppy's still alive," I told Tze Yong when I met Li Lian and him on the way to class that day. "The puppy's still alive," I said to Josephine and Sin Dee, who went to see the puppy with me in the previous evening. "The puppy's still alive," I told Nickson in class, and anyone else who knew about the poor creature dying slowly at the back of someone's house. I said that over and over again in anger, in frustration, in impotence; "The puppy's still alive, the puppy's still alive, the puppy's still alive..."

"... and there's nothing I can do about it," was what I did not say.

I came back in the afternoon and thankfully, it had ended. Virapa, the groundskeeper was standing over her when I got there. I wondered if he waited for me to return before taking care of the carcass. Maybe he did. He knows that I love the puppies - he saw me playing with them everyday after I got home from school. He said something to me in Kannada, but I could not understand it.

Then, he lifted the dead puppy by its legs and hurled it over the wall onto the hillside and the wilderness at the back of Acharya Compound - a strange act of finality. No hole in the ground. No gravestone to mark where it rests. I stayed for a little while after he left, feeling simultaneously glad and sombre. It felt like I was attending a funeral of a member of my family. Maybe it was because I know that dogs look at the humans they live with as members of their own pack. They are intensely social animals. The puppy probably considered every single person living in Acharya compound as friend and kin, even the vile beast who murdered her.

And when her family lashed out at her and hurt her, she began fearing everyone she thought she could trust. That was why she was afraid that I would hit her too.

Here are some old pictures of the puppies which I promised to show you, Phoebe, and it sucked that one of them is no longer here. I fear for the brown one now, living in the same place as the sociopath who killed her sister,








Please, don't hit dogs and especially, puppies. They aren't as tough as you think they are. Discipline them using a stern voice or even better, growl at them. It works. If you must hit them to train them, use a cane - the sort you whack children with. It wouldn't injure them.

If a puppy chewed your stuff to bits, you can scare it into not doing that again. Make loud noises, stamp your feet, or give a sharp smack to the snout. They'll get the message across. Don't hit or kick it under the pretext and pretense of "teaching it". There's a difference between that and lashing out to vent your anger. If you left your slippers out for them, it's your own damn fault. You cannot punish them for that. You cannot kill them for that.

The dogs and puppies in Acharya Compound, no matter how friendly and tame, are still essentially strays. Virapa let them live here to keep out the snakes, to keep your sorry asses safe.

It makes me sad that a puppy, a creature so frail and innocent, died in the place of someone evil who killed it, someone who deserves to die so much more.

I couldn't celebrate my birthday this year.

There's nothing to celebrate.

Sick of humans,
k0k s3n w4i

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Happy Birthday Beloved

Dear Baby,

I have attempted several times to draft a surprise post & rejected almost all of them for sounding too stiff & formal. I don't think this letter is much of an improvement but at least it feels more comfortable when I'm writing directly to you. I do so hope I can have this up by midnight.

To be perfectly honest, I know I am not as nice or as perfect as you make me out to be. There are times when I can be terribly demanding & ridiculously unreasonable over petty things & I am probably one of the most jealous girls you'll ever meet in your lifetime. Even so, you've always written nothing but beautiful, sweet things about me. I love so much the way you always tell me how lucky you are to have me & I don't think many people have had the privilege of hearing that.

I oft lie in bed at night, re-evaluating & reviewing the way I have behaved & it pains me when I realize there were times I have tried to suppress you or intrude into your life without meaning to. I just want you to know there has never been a day I've never yearned to be perfect for you. To be the one reason for your happiness & to be the one to carve a smile on your face. I'm trying really hard everyday to be perfect without appearing too stoic or reveal the fact that I'm actually trying hard. It is a blessing to be loved by you. To be loved for all my flaws & shortcomings.

And because I want so much for us to be happy together, I decided to immortalize it in plaster.

I really did carve your smile myself *beams with pride*

Happy 22nd Birthday Baby! I hope to always remain a part of every single one of your birthdays in the future. I love you.


P.S I hope you can fit into the AWESOME shirt I bought you T^T

Flawed but loved,

Sunday, July 13, 2008

How They Destroyed the Taj Mahal

"You know Shah Jahan, life and youth, wealth and glory, they all drift away in the flow of time. You strove therefore, to perpetuate only the sorrow of your heart... Let the splendour of diamond, pearl and ruby vanish... Only let this one teardrop, this Taj Mahal, glisten spotlessly bright on the cheek of time, forever and ever."

Rabindranath Tagore

In order to fully enjoy this phase of the trip, I've completely relinquished all shutterbuggery, leaving it in the able hands of Vincent and the rest.

"You have not seen India until you've seen the Taj Mahal," is the catchphrase which had been repeated to me ad nauseam and I am not certain which bugged me more; the pithy, annoying know-it-all tone which is often used to say it, or the fact that it's not true. Every time I tell anyone planning a North Indian backpacking trip that if their schedules are packed too tightly, they can give Agra (where the Taj's at) a miss, they'll shoot me this incredulous "you nuts?" look and then proceed to reiterate that dumb line like it's some brainwashing cult mantra. Look, I've actually been there and honestly, the Taj seriously didn't do it for me.

Traveling to Agra can be a real time eating detour at the best of time, and at the worst, a maddening experience. First, you have to make your way to the smog-filled capital of Delhi, where every breath you take makes you feel like you're getting cancer. Proceed from there to look for a mean of getting to Agra, which is easy considering the number of tour agencies scattered all over the city like flea powder over a flea-bitten bitch. Finding a deal which is actually reasonable is a much more epic labour, so be prepared to bargain the the trunk off Ganesha's face. After that, the heartache begins.

Going to Agra using the highway on either a bus or a hired minivan can take between 4 to 6 hours one-way, depending on traffic conditions and how big a bastard the guy running the tour agency you booked is. A particularly sleazy one would have your driver spend more time trying to shepherd you to souvenir emporiums and mindbogglingly expensive eateries, than actually bringing you - and allowing you sufficient time - to see the sights. Well, maybe taking the train there could have been a much more pleasant experience but I wouldn't know anything about that.

More on that later, but first,

Josephine stuck in a very scary zombie apocalypse nightmare.

I just thought that you ought to have a realistic idea of how Agra looks like when you stop pointing your camera at the Taj and turn around to see what's behind you. There's a palpable sensation permeating the streets that seems to be trying to tell you that the city of Agra is grievously diseased and leprous, and the air here, if it's even possible, is worse than Delhi's. As far as vacations spots go, it doesn't get more depressing than Agra.

But that's not the scariest part about the place. The scariest part is, everyone there has the ability to make you feel less than human. Everywhere you go, you have the distinct impression that you look nothing more to them than some stupid, fat cash cow with painfully swollen udders waiting to be milked for all you're worth. From the minute we got off our minivan, we were immediately beset by several pesky knickknack peddlers trying to sell us some really tacky looking mini-snow-globe Taj Mahal keychains exorbitantly priced almost ten times more than they're actually worth and they simply wouldn't take no for an answer. These peddlers then followed and badgered us all-the-fucking-way to the Taj's entrance, that's a whole kilometre's walk. Don't even bother gracing them with a reply. Just ignore them. Zen out and put a faraway smile on your face. Pretend to be engrossed in the sights and sounds (and smells) of Agra. That won't help the least bit in getting them to bugger off but at least, you're calm and somewhat serene by the time you get to see the Taj, which is kind of important. The moment you open your mouth, you're fighting a losing battle against escalating frustration and futility. By the time we actually reached the Taj's entrance, the number of knickknack peddlers following us had tripled. At one point, there were two of them to each of us. What made it even more dismal than it already was, was that all of them were children of the school-going age variety, and you know that they aren't getting much of an education tailing tourists about the place. That's what the sleazy merchants sicking these kids on you wanted you to feel; pity. And you know you aren't having much of a holiday pitying people all the time.

Even if you're really into crappy souvenirs that fall apart five minutes after you've paid for it, don't trouble yourself bargaining because the peddlers themselves will knock down their own prices as they buzz around you like flies. 100 rupees! 70 rupees! Okay boss, I give you 50 rupees! Very good price! Best price! Okay, okay, 30 rupees! Last price 10 rupees, boss! 10 rupees! 10 rupees! 10 rupees for two!

Just shut up, walk on and wait for the price to plateau. All of them goes through the same routine no matter what they are selling.

The red sandstone gateway to the Taj Mahal.

We hoped to make our way to the Taj early, hoping to catch that magical few hours in the morning when the bluish-white marble monument slowly turned yellow as the sun rose, and at the entrance, I got the first cruel slap of commercial tourism in Agra. The entrance fee was Rs 800 rupees per head, which isn't that much of an outrage till you realise that Indian citizens only need to shell out 20 rupees to get in. If you look like one of the locals, all's fine and dandy but when you look like some misplaced Chinese Communist like me, you can't dodge that. 800 rupees is about ten times what you pay elsewhere in India to get into any historical landmark, tomb or palace. I know it's the Taj Fucking Mahal, okay, but that didn't quite wash away the hurt.

By the time you got to this point, you're still grumbling about the 800 damn rupees.

Everybody busied themselves taking pictures and were generally zoning into their private "I-can't-believe-I'm-here" moments as soon as we got in. When the awe wore off a little, everyone, being the Malaysians we are, began camwhoring with one of the Seven Wonders in the World. It's always either these two invariable camera trick poses (a la propping the Torre pedente di Pisa up from its side); holding the Taj on the palm of your hand or pinching the tip. On hindsight, it's pretty stupid to try to make the Taj seem smaller than it really is because, well, it's the size of the thing that truly gets to you,


At one point when most-obliging Vincent was trying to get the generic poses down to pat, some friendly looking local guy offered to do it for us. He played the camera like a maestro, getting all the right angles and trick shots perfectly and there we were, thinking how nice he was to help us out while at the same time, wondering uneasily at the back of our minds why such a pro didn't have a camera of his own.

Or at least, we wondered till the moment he returned the camera and asked for a fee.

Congratulations. You just got conned right in front of one of the Seven Wonders of the World.

The fact that its only 20 rupees for the local rabble to get into Taj meant that it's very affordable for this unscrupulous breed of tourist milkers to turn a profit. They'd pretend to be tourists themselves, get in and then proceed to play the helpful bystander to anyone looking like they need some help with the camera. You'd think twice about asking anyone in the place to help you take a picture of you and your sweetheart because before you know it, he'd drag you through his entire repertoire of cheesy Taj Mahal photographic clichés and then guilt you out of a few bucks. Whether you pay him or not is not important because by that time, all the Wonder has already been knocked out of the Taj. Being conned, no matter how slightly, can potentially ruin your day. You realise, for the first time, that the entire garden of the Taj Mahal is crawling with these sleaze bags who, like the kids outside, visualise you as one giant walking stack of US dollar bills. And if they can get in, who knows who else got in? Very probably, several pickpockets had already got their eyes trained on you from the time you entered the grounds. You'll find yourself reflexively checking your wallet to see if its still there every five minutes.

For the record, we were gutted for 50 rupees. But we're still at the beginning here.

It's a fucking jungle out there.

I'm one of those persistently cheerful vacationer who tries to shrug off every annoyance that comes my way so I really tried to immerse myself with the experience and all. Inside the mausoleum, there were two sarcophagi. A small one in the centre, and a larger one to its left - the most obvious asymmetrical feature of the entire Taj.

I tapped on the shoulder of a knowledgeable looking guy and asked which of the two belonged to Mumtaz Mahal, the woman who had the Taj built in her loving memory, and to Shah Jahan, the man who loved her enough to build it. That guy obligingly told me (Mumtaz's in the middle). But he didn't stop there. Oh no.

He launched into a full lecture about how the tombs were really located below the false sarcophagi in a plain chamber below because it was forbidden in Islam to adorn one's resting place (though how Shah Jahan figured being buried beneath one of the most achingly beautiful monuments in the world circumvented that is beyond my ken). Then he told me about the lamp hanging overhead. And explained to me how the floral and arabic pietra dura adorning the Taj are really gemstones encrusted into the marble. And he told me about the marble. And about how the Jali screens surrounding the cenotaphs were really cut out from single blocks of marble. And he tested the echo in the dome by shouting and inviting me to try it, though I bet that's not very high on the list of things to do in places where dead people are interred. He just wouldn't quit or let me get away, and he actually physically dragged me around by my arm!

"Shit," I thought to myself. He's going to ask me to pay him and sure enough, he did not disappoint. I paid him 20 rupees, leaving both him and I unhappy about the whole affair. You can't fucking ask where the toilet's at in the Taj Mahal without being charged for it, okay.

Me, coming out of the Taj Mahal in disappointment. It's freaking genius of Pei Min in capturing how my experience at the Taj was. Oh, and I finally got a haircut, by the way.

The reason anyone visits the Taj Mahal is to experience the grandiose melancholy of the Mughal Emperor's and his grief for the lost of his consort, his most trusted adviser, his best friend, and most of all, his Love. Without this powerful sentiment for which the tomb stands, the Taj Mahal is just a glorified block of marble - a very pretty block of marble, I'll give you that, but just a block of marble nonetheless. How then can you truly feel its magic when every single minute you spend there, you're being surrounded by people who defile its very meaning - people trying to earn money off a man's overwhelming sorrow for his wife's death? These people did not fail in breaking the illusion every time and it really brought out the cynic in me. I simply couldn't help but to see the Taj Mahal for what it is in this day and age; a pile of white, cold and hard cash. Whatever the Taj is trying to say to you through the centuries it endured, it's lost in the static of commerce and the mire of sleaze which now surrounds it - smothering it, destroying it.

I'm just sensitive that way. I consider myself a pretty discerning traveler and tourist, and above all else, I treasure the emotions invoked in me when I stand in the midst of history and the ages past and the experience of going to any city on the whole - and on the whole, I can say that Agra and the Taj Mahal is the worst experience I've had on this entire backpacking trip. When I was in the city of Udaipur, I could truly feel the living wonderment of the beauty of its many fairytale palaces and the serenity of its romantic lakes. When I was in Chittor, I could marvel at the indomitable spirit of the Rajput and the hideous strength of the stronghold of Chittorgarh. In Jodhpur, the monstrous Mehrangarh beckoned the child in me to explore its immensity (or maybe it was just the opium) while at Jaisalmer, its golden palace and living fort under siege by irreversible water damage and the efforts made to save it really made me feel that it was genuinely beloved and that its loss would be truly heartfelt. That's what all the other places I've just mentioned had in common; the people living there are proud of their heritage, proud of what they have to show the world. There is no such pride in Agra.

So no - seeing the Taj Mahal does not equate to seeing India. Maybe the postcard version of India, but I can assure you that you that if you've only seen the Taj Mahal, you truly have not seen India at all. I have had an infinitely better time in all the other places I've been to and that's really what's important in a vacation, right? Having a good time? Let us not forget that.

Just so you know the only place left in the city where the purity of the Taj Mahal can truly be appreciated is from the Agra Fort,

The Amar Singh Gate, one of the two entrances into Agra's Red Fort.

In his later years after the construction of the Taj Mahal, Shah Jahan took ill and his son, Aurangzeb, led a rebellion and publicly executed his brother and the heir apparent. Even after Shah Jahan recovered from his illness, Aurangzeb deemed Shah Jahan unfit to rule and placed him under house arrest,

Where Shah Jahan was imprisoned.

The view from his prison?


So sad.

He was locked in that room till he died 8 years later, and every single day of that 8 years, all he could do was look out sorrowfully out at the magnificent tomb he built of of his Love for - and his loss of - his beloved wife. That is what it really stands for; Loss. As Tagore beautifully put in words lesser men could only gape mutely at; it's one man's teardrop on the cheek of time.

It's sad that the only place a person can really see the Taj Mahal is not in the Taj Mahal itself.

One of the most exasperating things about my trip to Agra is the tour we booked ourselves into. We barely spent more than two hours in the Taj Mahal because our minivan driver kept calling us to make us leave because he was worried that we would miss seeing the other places in Agra, and we were compelled to obey because extending the time would mean that we have to pay extra. It turned out that the only thing he was worrying about was that we won't have enough time to visit all the souvenir emporiums he was collecting commission from. Even the restaurant he took us to for lunch were pricey beyond all reason, and the food was quite honestly bad, or so I've heard. I wouldn't know because I was so pissed that I simply walked out of there to look for eats outside on my own.

Finally, we told the driver that we have had enough of Agra, of its world's pushiest souvenir salesmen and its crappy souvenir shops and insisted that he take us back to Delhi as quickly as he could. He did a "I-don't-speaka-da-inglis-verrah-gud" number on us and took us to the grandmother of all souvenir emporiums located at the side of the highway. He parked the minivan there, turned off the A/C, insisted that he needed to get something to eat and disappeared for a full hour. Having no air-conditioning out in the middle of the parking lot in the sweltering Agra heat, we had no choice but to go in. The stuff for sale there were at least twice that of anywhere else we've seen and the dishes in the cafe there were priced more like jewelry than food. These guys really took the phrase "highway robbery" by its most literal sense and brought it to a whole new level. We simply had nothing to do but stare at cute American girls until the driver decided to reappear - and he had the cheek to ask us why we didn't go in to get something to eat too. Fuck, I don't think his entire week's salary could even buy him a decent half-meal in that thieves' den.

It was many long hours later before we got to Delhi because of the evening rush, and even then, the drama did not end. The driver told us that the amount we're paying the tour agency only covered the rental of the minivan and its fuel, and that we had to pay him for driving us around. By then, I was simply too tired to wave my middle finger in his face but still, we just wouldn't relent this time. We have had enough of relenting for a whole damn day.

Anyway, before I wrap up this crazy long post, here's a miscellany of pictures of my day there before it turned completely to shit,

Amazing India.

Ever wondered what's behind the Taj?

Jumping in the Agra Fort.

Me, sitting on the King's throne in the Diwan-i-Am, the Hall of Public Audience.

Not impressed,
k0k s3n w4i

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

The Best Train Ride Ever

"Yew Kong say the train ride not nice one. Not worth it."


The photographs in this post are all taken by Joon Keat and I because we are just better at it than the girls who actually own the cameras.

Joon Keat on the job.

I looked around today and realised that I'm in the thick of July, barely more than one more month before I embark on my next backpacking expedition (this time with Phoebe!) through the hill stations of the Western Ghats in the South. I also realised that I have yet to even reach the Taj Mahal in my travelogue updates, or rather backdates in this case. It'll seriously suck if I'm still writing about some half year old trip when I've already been on a new one - suck for you that is, because you're the one reading it. I've got a feeling that some of the sights I'll write about might not even exist anymore when I finally get down to them. We are a destructive race, us human types. What bastards we are. Given chance, some sleazy business guy will transform the Taj Mahal garden into a theme park with crappy rides and lousy cotton candy.

It was in Shimla that our backpacking team actually split for real because of an unforeseen conflict of interest and by "unforeseen conflict of interest", what I really mean is "I'm sticking to my own plan because I'm a stubborn dick, that's why". It's really nothing personal. I'm the sort of guy who would not cave in to a popular vote. I have a holiday in my mind which I meant to enjoy, and if I have to break from the main group on my own and then meet up in some other city later, I'd do it. I'm not a very good team player that way and I can be quite a pain to include in anyone's master plan, but the least you can say about me is that I am often interested enough to read quite extensively about the places I'm going to visit because I like to make informed choices and have a realistic idea of what I'm in for. So, if you can sift through most of the cock I talk, you'll usually find something that sounded like cock, but isn't quite entirely cock after all.

First class. A whole car for the four of us. We like our luxuries.

Anyway, the Kalka-Shimla railway takes a longer time to get to Delhi, our next stop, than say a bus, which the team opted for. Also, because the number of trains still servicing this old, old narrow-gauge line (it's more than a hundred years old!) are few, and the fact that I would like to take the ride in daylight so I can actually look outside my carriage's window and not just see black, my choices in departure time are pretty narrow. I had to wake up really early that day in Shimla to the railway office to get our tickets. It was pure luck that I managed to score not just seats for us, but a whole first class cabin as well (it was surprisingly pretty cheap per head by the way). The catch was that we had to leave immediately after breakfast, missing out on some of the other things I would have liked to see in Shimla but the way I figured, given the pittance of time we alloted for each town or city we stopped at, I had to be a pretty discerning and shrewd traveler. I don't know about discerning but I can certainly do shrewd very well.

Joon Keat, Josephine and Dhivya were the only three out of the other ten who decided that I'm the sort of guy who make kickass calls on a regular basis, and chose to let me lead them fearlessly into the wild,

So to speak,

Just wow.

Okay, here's the obligatory educational and boring bit which I insist on writing in ever travelogue but for you pleasure, I have condensed it into just one sentence;

The Kalka-Shimla (or in this case, Shimla-Kalka) Railway travels through a panoramic gallery of some of the most awesome sceneries on this side of the Himalayas and unlike the much more popular and very, very, very, very, very overrated Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (which I've also been on, by the way so you know that I know what I'm talking about), the Kalka-Shimla tracks does not run beside any roads or highways at all, charting a course right through the lovely hills with just the raw wilderness on both sides of the train throughout the journey.

See? That wasn't so hard to read through, right?

And it gets better.

You know those awesome sets that obsessive model train hobbyists always try to build? They all have something like the Kalka-Shimla countryside in their minds; beautiful trees, rolling hills and valleys, a smattering of terraced farmlands here, and a spot of über quaint railway town there - y'know how the recipe goes.

I have this really, really annoying habit of gloating whenever I'm right about something and the reason I gloat at all is because I actually aim to annoy. I do it consciously and purposefully, and It's like I always say, you don't get many chances in life to gloat, so grab a glass, break the keg and let it spilleth forth.

Vincent, got regret or not? Here, have a big frosty mug of Root Beer Gloat - and another picture to go with that,

Ho boy.

The picture above was pretty hard to snap but luckily, the croplands were located in a natural cul-de-sac in the mountains and the tracks went all around it in a huge semicircle. The engineers who built this thing seriously knew what they were doing.

The best part is that the whole ride lasted a whooping 8 hours! So, we get a full 8-fucking-unbelievable hours of this sort of view and quite unexpectedly, it wasn't monotonous in the least bit because of the rather steep descent, and the vegetations change in accordance to altitude. We started out at about 2000 metres above sea level in Shimla, and to put a scale on things, that's like a quarter of the height of Mount Everest.

Of course, nobody can sit quietly for 8 hours and just stare like a zombie at the scenery,

Awesome sights make me emo.

I have no fucking idea how people can stand having long hair without wanting to rip them out of their roots.

Here's Joon Keat messing up my camwhore moment with the moving train. He then accidentally bit off his freaky long tongue when the train accidentally ran over a conveniently placed plot device, and his girlfriend mourns its loss, ifyouknowwhatImean.

One of the cool things about the ride was these tunnels we passed through. There were like, 102? Josephine tried to count them but she stopped bothering at about 20,

"Strap yourselves in, gentlemen. We're blasting into hyperspace in 3, 2..."

Technically, this doesn't count as a tunnel.

You know what else is cool? We traveled over 864 bridges along the ride and most of them looked like this,

This is the only passable picture we got of any one of the bridges. It's a moving train, okay, and we had to like lean out of the carriage to take them.

These are old-school bridges, and I'm talking Ancient Rome old school, here. They are built viaduct-style, which is just fancy Latin saying, "We lack the tech to built a single bridge spanning across a chasm so we built one consisting of several smaller, manageable spans joined together."

You got to hand it in to these toga-wearing, olive-sucking, bulimia-inventing pinnacles of decadence and hedonism though. Their bridges look freaking awesome,

Wikipedia to the rescue!

An ingenious dried leaf plate we ate curry and chapatis from in one of the hill stations we stopped at along the journey.

Some hill kid and presumably, his mom. If he was younger, he'd be waving like mad saying "HELLO!" over and over again to foreigners like us in a moving train, just like those kids you see in National Geographic Specials.

I'm going on a similar train ride in Ooty (short for Udhagamandalam) this August and it was reputedly as good as the one in Shimla though I have this preconception that the hills in the south of India won't be nearly as stirring as the ones they have up in the Himalayan north, but hey, I'll find out real soon, eh?

The moral of this post is, it's always better to find out about anything on your own than going on the words of someone else who may or may not know better don't listen to Vincent listen to me because I'm damn smart.

Just joking only lah, Vince. I'll stop teasing you about it now. After all, you already missed one of the best parts in the entire trip. Okay, I'll stop gloating as well.

Readers, do you know the English word "glee"? I think it's coined just to describe how I'm feeling right this moment.

Next post: The Taj Mahal, and why it sucked.

The irrepressible gloat,
k0k s3n w4i