Friday, May 27, 2005

Here's to Hail..

That's what I feel like saying to nature. What chance does a mere mortal like me stand against nature's wrath?? Or for that matter what chance does my car have against it?

Last Tuesday, I walk into my company gym for my usual workout at about 5.30 in the evening. There were a few people in the gym. I headed to the locker room to change. While I was changing, I suddenly heard sounds from the ceiling. It felt like a few people were walking on the false roofing above the gym.. In a couple of seconds it turned to a deafening roar.. I rushed out of the locker room into the main workout area and I couldn't find anyone.. I turned a corner and found everyone lined up near the windows overlooking the car park. A few of them even had their hands on their heads.. I rushed to the window too and I exclaimed something to the effect of "Holy Mother of God!".
We were in the middle of a hail storm... MILLIONS of golf-ball sized ice blocks were pummeling the place. The ground seemed to explode with the force of so many solid pieces blasting down on it. It reminded me of a scene from the "Band of Brothers", where the American soldiers were entrenched in the siege of Bastone and the Germans were shelling them with mortar and trees were exploding all around them. This was on a smaller scale ofcourse. I could see thin branches of trees literally exploding under the impact of the constant hail bombardment.
And then it struck me! My car was out there in the car park completely unprotected. And then I realized why a few people had their hands over their heads. The damage was going to be quite a bit. I steeled myself and went ahead with my work out. Later when I inspected my poor baby, I found quite a few hail dents :-(. Somewhere close to 20 dents. One of my rear tail lights was broken. Hail had peppered the car from one side. It almost looked like someone took a shot at my car with a giant shotgun from the sky with one of those spread bullets. It was going to be a field day for the mechanics and body shops around Boulder, I thought.
The next day I went to get a damage assessment done and I was shocked out of my wits. It was going to cost me 2600$ to get those damages fixed. The body shop guy told me that they would have to put in (only) about 7-8 hours of work on my car and it would be back to ship-shape. Holy macaroni.. If I'd known that body shops and mechanics earn so much in the US.. heck, I'd have done my masters to become one of them.
I turned in my car on Tuesday and I've been driving a rented Ford Focus for the last couple of days. If the Focus is any representation of American cars, NO WONDER they're not making any money. Heck, I'm sure if there were bicycle pedals under the drivers seat in the car, I could've made it move faster. What a load of crap!!
After two days of 'Focus'sed torture, I finally got a call from the body shop saying that they finished their work on my car one day early and I could pick it up today if I wanted. I immediately rushed to the shop and inspected my baby. WHAT a beauty.. they had done a good job on it and it was all shiny and sparkling. I never realized how much I had become attached to my car.
After handing over my insurance deductible (thank god for insurance), I proudly zoomed out of the body shop like Batman streaks out of the BatCave on his BatMobile. I worked the entire 220 horses under the hood all the way to the next traffic lights. One flick and I had the Bose system pumping out some Metallica into the entire neighborhood. Now, that felt.. complete. A man.. his machine.. and his Bose. An epic symphony!

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Hike to Emerald Lake

I have never done a major hike to the high country. This is sort of a sin considering the fact that I live in Colorado and the people here are as outdoors as it can ever get. I guess, some of that has finally started rubbing off onto me. I had often wondered why people would ever strain themselves so much. A hike in the mountains to me just sounded like an extravagant walk in the park. But after my climb to the top of the dunes two weeks back, I have come to the conclusion that just the view from the top is TOTALLY worth the climb.. And well, if I do lose a few pounds in the process, I'm not complaining :-).
The 2 hour climb to the top of the dunes gave me new confidence and enthusiasm to try out some more. Last weekend, I had gone with a few friends to this small place called Boulder Falls.. which is about a half hour drive from where I live in Boulder. Suddenly, on an adrenalin high, we decided to climb the rocks on the side of the falls, to get to the top. It took us just about 20 min to get to the top, and the climb would have probably qualified as a easy/low moderate difficulty climb. But the feeling again of being at the top was inspiring.
Sometime during the last week, I remembered that when I had gone for a walk around Bear Lake (which was frozen) last December, I had seen a map indicating a hike to the top of the continental divide. I thought well, it would be cool to get to the top of the continental divide and take a picture of the view from there especially since the snow had started to recede just to the caps of the mountains. A bunch of my friends were also interested in this hike. This hike to the top is supposed to be a 4.4 mile hike from the Lake, with an elevation change of 2,849 Ft. Final elevation is about 12,324 ft.
Unfortunately for us, this trail was still caked in snow and ice near the top. So, we decided to hike up from Bear Lake to Emerald Lake instead. The hike to Emerald Lake is about 1.8 miles with an elevation change of 685 ft. Final elevation is about 10,080 ft.
Today, I gladly say that I'm thankful for not attempting to do the hike to the Continental Divide. The hike to Emerald Lake was a good learning experience since there was still a lot of snow around and in a lot of places, we found ourself wading in knee deep snow. The entire hike to Emerald Lake and back took us about 5 and a half hours and we were BUSHED. It hit us hard that the air is much thinner up there than we'd expected. We consumed more water than we thought we would. There were many points at which we thought we'd turn back, but thankfully other hikers who were returning from Emerald Lake encouraged us to keep going.
The hike to Emerald Lake took us past two other lake.. Nymph Lake and Dream Lake. Both were at different stages of their melting cycle according to their elevation.
A few pictures from the hike..
Starting out from Bear Lake.. Green trees and white snow, a beautiful combination in spring. 
Nymph Lake, about 0.5 miles into the hike. 
Pristine waters of the lake.. I liked this particular view because of the reflection. 
Me wondering when the heck the rest of the guys were going to get up from their break.. 
Zoomed in view of the snow above the treeline from just above Nymph Lake.. 
A little zoomed out view of the same. You can see Nymph lake below. 
View from Dream Lake.. 
Dream lake had also started to melt.. 
View from somewhere above Emerald Lake.. We were lost at this point.. 
Emerald Lake, still almost completely frozen. 
Thats the continental divide towering about 2000ft above Emerald Lake..  
If we'd been more experienced hikers/climbers, we could've probably made it up to the top.. but right now, we were just content to get some rest. 

If you look carefully into the last few pics, you might actually spot some feet tracks leading up to the top of the continental divide directly above Emerald Lake. Someone had actually hiked 2000ft up those nearly vertical slopes and skied back down to the lake.
We were too tired on our way back to shoot any more pictures. Again, we hadn't rationed out our water very well, so we just concentrated on getting back to BearLake in one piece.
Hopefully I will get fit enough to actually make it up to the continental divide in the near future :-).

p.s. I don't know how to get rid of the yawning gap in this post, just before the pics. Still trying to figure out where it came from. My HTML is still quite rusty..

p.p.s. FINALLY! Figured it out! (21st June, 2005)

Labels: , , ,

Monday, May 23, 2005

Rajni - India's Biggest Star..

Not Amitabh, not Shah Rukh, not Aamir, not Kamalhassan, not Chiranjeevi... Yes people, that's the truth. 30 years in the industry, with 36 Best Actor Awards between 1977 and 2000, I am talking about the one and only Rajnikanth. Though personally I'd like to forget Baba and Chandramukhi as his movies, the statistics remain that Chandramukhi has already grossed 10 million US dollars (yes.. I said it right.. DOLLARS). With that, Rajni overtakes all the above mentioned stars and has become the highest paid actor in India once again. He is probably the ONLY actor in India who has people of other nationality rushing to see his movies on the first day. I'm talking about the few Japanese who flew to Chennai to watch the release of Chandramukhi - first day first show!

Chandramukhi was my first experience of watching a Rajni movie in the US. And the experience was totally worth every buck I paid for it. Its been more than a month since this happened, but I guess I finally got down to writing about it only now. I was prompted to wake up from my slumber by a slide show on the IndiaTimes website.
Here's a link to the article.. Rajnikanth: Return of the King

Chandramukhi was the first Tamil movie to have a sold out show here in Denver in the last 5 years. Infact, it had two sold out shows! Ofcourse, you would've guessed by the time frame, that the last Tamil movie which had a sold out show here was Padayappa. The amount of excitement that Chandramukhi generated here in the Denver metro area was unbelievable. Every Tamilian I knew was excited about the movie. The movie ticket was bundled with a lunch buffet at the Denver Woodlands for a decent deal of 15$ (considering the fact that we usually pay 10$ for any Indian movie at the theater).

A bunch of my friends and I landed up at Woodlands at 11.30 sharp to have lunch quickly and get to the theater to get good seats. The movie was to start at 2.00pm. I walk into Woodlands and I walk into blaring Thalaivar music. They had actually got a Tamil DJ (didn't know one of those existed) to belt out some super hit SuperStar music during the entire lunch. Initially, We were seated in the waiting area. All I could hear around me were people discussing his previous hits and punch dialogues. After a few minutes, we made our way to our table. We were handed over a sheet of paper with a SuperStar quiz on it. We made our way to the buffet and voila.. I see tags on each dish which read something like "Chandramukhi Fried Rice", "Padayappa Poriyal", etc. etc.

After the sumptuous meal, we headed to the movie. The movie in my opinion was very ordinary.. However, it did perk up my interest in Manichitrathazhu. I'm sure that Mohanlal would've done an awesome job in Thalaivar's role without the superstardom affecting the role itself. And to me, Jyothika looked like she had an ants-in-her-pants probmlem, when she danced for Sarasuku Ra Ra. I can imagine Shobana sweeping the dance floor and holding the audience captive with her expressive eyes. A mental note made to watch Manichitrathazhu. The good thing about watching the movie is that I have really started liking the songs after watching the movie. Overall, the movie was ordinary, but the experience was a 'once in a lifetime' experience.

Another thing I noticed was that Rajni's voice seems to have changed a little. He sounded a lot older than himself in Baba. I think his age is starting to tell. What I'd like to see in his future movies, is him being a character artist doing cameo roles. He needs to age gracefully. He definitely needs to stop trying to lock lips with 18 year olds! :-).

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Trip to the Sand Dunes National Park

Its spring and the temperature has been awesome. So a couple of friends and I decided to go on short trip somewhere in Colorado. One of my friends had described the sand dunes of Colorado to me when I first moved here. It has been on my list of "places to be visited" since then. Sometime last week, we decided to make a trip there.

The area was previously a state park and just recently it was changed to a national park. For those who visit a lot of national parks, this is a blessing in disguise. Your 50$ annual National Park Pass can get you (one car) in without having to pay anything.

History behind the sand dunes
Most people's first reaction on seeing the dunes is "What the??? How the heck did desert sand make it all the way to 8000feet above sealevel. How is it that there's this type of topography right next to snow covered mountains?". Or something to that effect :-)! Probably the only place where you'll find the two contrasting geographical features right next to each other.
The following is an excerpt from an article on by Sarah Lane.
"Tucked against the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in south-central Colorado, the San Luis Valley is home to the tallest sand dunes in North America. Reaching heights of over 700 ft., the Great Sand Dunes National Monument and Preserve is constantly being restructured by the southwest winds that blow across the valley. The massive dunes hide a complicated system of wind, erosion, and sand deposition. For several thousand years westerly winds have traveled over the Rockies and down over the river flood plain, picking up sand particles from the valley and the Rio Grande River. The winds then deposit the finely-ground pumice, ash, quartz, and lava at the eastern edge of the valley before it rises to cross the Sangre de Cristo mountains. The process continues and the seemingly tiny sand particles group together to form the continuously changing dunes.
Aside from the attributes already mentioned, this park also contains the largest known stand in the United States of ponderosa pine trees bearing ancient tribal markings. Another amazing feature of the Great Sand Dunes is Medano Creek. This crazy stream starts in the Sangre de Cristo mountains, flows along the eastern edge of the dunes, and periodically disappears below ground in the valley. You can be standing in a fast-moving current measuring over a foot deep and then suddenly the water will stop and flow several meters away instead."

The trip

It was to be a 4-5 drive from Boulder to the sand dunes. We wanted to be at the park by about 10.00am. The official website recommends a 4-wheel drive vehicle for those who want to drive the single lane sand track between the dunes and the mountains. So, we made a rental reservation for an SUV. We went to the Denver International Airport to pick up the SUV at about 5.30am. This is probably the first time I've woken up early enough to see a full blooded sunrise out in the open here in Colorado. I've always headed straight into the mountains while skiing and so was driving away from the Sunrise. The sight was breath-taking. And I was lucky to have caught this particular scene.

The lighting across the plains changed so rapidly. Here's another picture taken about 30 seconds later.

We drove past Colorado Springs. Pikes Peak is the 14K+ moutain right next to Springs. Here's a picture of Pikes Peak.

Another snow capped peak on the way to the sand dunes. This is what I like best about spring. You have green everywhere on the plains and only the peaks are covered in snow. Its a nice feeling to be able to appreciate snow without feeling cold.

On the southern side of the Sangre de Cristo mountains. The dunes were on the other side of this range.

We drove around the range and here's a first view of the dunes..

View of the sand dunes from across the Rio Grande river. Notice the miniscule human beings down at the bottom of the dunes..

San Luis Mountains across the valley.

The Rio Grande river bed..the sand dunes meet the mountains.

Miles and miles of sand..

On my hike to the top.

Getting sandblasted on the top. The wind was extremely strong.

On the top, with the mountains in the back ground.

Me on one of the dunes..

Steep climb back down. Considering the great slopes out there in the dunes, sledding should be a fun thing to try out there. I made a mental note to myself to take a sled next time I go out there.

View from the base of the mountains.

Panoramic view of the sand dunes framed against the Sangre de Cristo mountains.

Labels: , , ,

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Arvind Thiagarajan's trail-blazing invention!

Arvind Thiagarajan. Photo: Sreeram Selvaraj
Photo © Copyright Sreeram Selvaraj,

MatrixView. Sounds like the name of a Sci-Fi movie? Well, it's not. It is a young startup by one of my friends Arvind Thiagarajan. Today, I caught this headline on the front page of It screamed "Thiagarajan's trail-blazing invention". One click on the link and I was staring at one of my closest friends' face. Initially, my jaw dropped. Then my pride soared. I had no idea that he had been interviewed by Rediff. The article spoke about Arvind and his startup "MatrixView" and its path-breaking innovations in the field of Medical Image Compression. His company went public in Aug 2004 in Australia and is traded on the Australian Stock Exchange [ASX ticker symbol : MUV].

To be very emphatic about how I feel, I proudly claim that we both ate from the same lunch boxes back in school, ogled at the same women, sat on the same bench, and even got thrown out of classes together. Arvind studied with me at St.Michael's Academy.

It amazes me that someone my age can achieve so much at such an early stage in life. Four years back, just before I left India for my Masters, I remember watching Lagaan with him as a "parting" movie. Heck, we were just two kids fresh out of college wondering what our future was going to be like.. What an achievement in 4 short years!

Kudos to you Arvind, and good luck for the future. I think I can speak for everyone who has known you over the years. We are all very proud of you! I am greatly inspired by you.

Read the article on Rediff here.
Read about MatrixView here.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005


Someone sent me this forward. It was so well written, I had to put it up. When I was reading it, I almost felt like I was there at the unknown author's house. Needless to say, I was grinning like an idiot at my monitor when I was reading this piece.

Grandmother was pretending to be lost in prayer, but her prayer-beads were spinning at top speed. That meant she was either excited or upset. Mother put the receiver down. "Some American girl in his office, she's coming to stay with us for a week." She sounded as if she had a deep foreboding. Father had no such doubt. He knew the worst was to come. He had been matching horoscopes for a year, but my brother Vivek had found a million excuses for not being able to visit India, call any of the chosen Iyer girls, or in any other way advance father's cause. Father always wore four parallel lines of sacred ash on his forehead. Now there were eight, so deep were the furrows of worry on his forehead. I sat in a corner, supposedly lost in a book, but furiously text-messaging my brother with a vivid description of the scene before me.

A few days later I stood outside the airport with father. He tried not to look directly at any American woman going past, and held up the card reading "Barbara". Finally a large woman stepped out, waved wildly and shouted "Hiiii! Mr. Aayyyezh, how ARE you?" Everyone turned and looked at us. Father shrank visibly before my eyes. Barbara took three long steps and covered father in a tight embrace. Father's jiggling out of it was too funny to watch. I could hear him whispering "Shiva shiva!". She shouted "you must be Vijaantee?" "Yes, Vyjayanthi" I said with a smile. I imagined little half-Indian children calling me "Vijaantee aunty!". Suddenly, my colorless existence in Madurai had perked up. For at least the next one week, life promised to be quite exciting.

Soon we were eating lunch at home. Barbara had changed into an even shorter skirt. The low neckline of her blouse was just in line with father's eyes. He was glaring at mother as if she had conjured up Barbara just to torture him. Barbara was asking "You only have vegetarian food? Always??" as if the idea was shocking to her. "You know what really goes well with Indian food, especially chicken? Indian beer!" she said with a pleasant smile, seemingly oblivious to the apoplexy of the gentleman in front of her, or the choking sounds coming from mother. I had to quickly duck under the table to hide my giggles.

Everyone tried to get the facts without asking the one question on all our minds: What was the exact nature of the relationship between Vivek and Barbara? She brought out a laptop computer. "I have some pictures of Vivek" she said. All of us crowded around her. The first picture was quite innocuous. Vivek was wearing shorts, and standing alone on the beach. In the next photo, he had Barbara draped all over him. She was wearing a skimpy bikini and leaning across, with her hand lovingly circling his neck. Father got up, and flicked the towel off his shoulder. It was a gesture we in the family had learned to fear. He literally ran to the door and went out. Barbara said "It must be hard for Mr. Aayyezh. He must be missing his son." We didn't have the heart to tell her that if said son had been within reach, father would have lovingly wrung his neck.

My parents and grandmother apparently had reached an unspoken agreement. They would deal with Vivek later. Right now Barbara was a foreigner, a lone woman, and needed to be treated as an honored guest. It must be said that Barbara didn't make that one bit easy. Soon mother wore a perpetual frown. Father looked as though he could use some of that famous Indian beer.

Vivek had said he would be in a conference in Guatemala all week, and would be off both phone and email. But Barbara had long lovey-dovey conversations with two other men, one man named Steve and another named Keith. The rest of us strained to hear every interesting word. "I miss you!" she said to both. She also kept talking with us about Vivek, and about the places they'd visited together. She had pictures to prove it, too. It was all very confusing.

This was the best play I'd watched in a long time. It was even better than the day my cousin ran away with a Telugu Christian girl. My aunt had come howling through the door, though I noticed that she made it to the plushest sofa before falling in a faint. Father said that if it had been his child, the door would have been forever shut in his face. Aunt promptly revived and said "You'll know when it is your child!" How my aunt would rejoice if she knew of Barbara!

On day five of her visit, the family awoke to the awful sound of Barbara's retching. The bathroom door was shut, the water was running, but far louder was the sound of Barbara crying and throwing up at the same time. Mother and grandmother exchanged ominous glances. Barbara came out, and her face was red. "I don't know why", she said, "I feel queasy in the mornings now." If she had seen as many Indian movies as I'd seen, she'd know why. Mother was standing as if turned to stone. Was she supposed to react with the compassion reserved for pregnant women? With the criticism reserved for pregnant unmarried women? With the fear reserved for pregnant unmarried foreign women who could embroil one's son in a paternity suit? Mother, who navigated familiar flows of married life with the skill of a champion oarsman, now seemed completely taken off her moorings. She seemed to hope that if she didn't react it might all disappear like a bad dream.

I made a mental note to not leave home at all for the next week. Whatever my parents would say to Vivek when they finally got a-hold of him would be too interesting to miss. But they never got a chance. The day Barbara was to leave, we got a terse email from Vivek. "Sorry, still stuck in Guatemala. Just wanted to mention, another friend of mine, Sameera Sheikh, needs a place to stay. She'll fly in from Hyderabad tomorrow at 10am. Sorry for the trouble."

So there we were, father and I, with a board saying "Sameera". At last a pretty young woman in salwar-khameez saw the board, gave the smallest of smiles, and walked quietly towards us. When she did 'Namaste' to father, I thought I saw his eyes mist up. She took my hand in the friendliest way and said "Hello, Vyjayanthi, I've heard so much about you." I fell in love with her. In the car father was unusually friendly. She and Vivek had been in the same group of friends in Ohio University. She now worked as a Child Psychologist.

She didn't seem to be too bad at family psychology either. She took out a shawl for grandmother, a saree for mother and Hyderabadi bangles for me. "Just some small things. I have to meet a professor at Madurai university, and it's so nice of you to let me stay" she said. Everyone cheered up. Even grandmother smiled. At lunch she said "This is so nice. When I make sambar, it comes out like chole, and my chole tastes just like sambar". Mother was smiling. "Oh just watch for 2 days, you'll pick it up." Grandmother had never allowed a muslim to enter the kitchen. But mother seemed to have taken charge, and decided she would bring in who ever she felt was worthy. Sameera circumspectly stayed out of the puja room, but on the third day, I was stunned to see father inviting her in and telling her which idols had come to him from his father. "God is one" he said. Sameera nodded sagely.

By the fifth day, I could see the thought forming in the family's collective brains. If this fellow had to choose his own bride, why couldn't it be someone like Sameera? On the sixth day, when Vivek called from the airport saying he had cut short his Gautemala trip and was on his way home, all had a million things to discuss with him. He arrived by taxi at a time when Sameera had gone to the University. "So, how was Barbara's visit?" he asked blithely. "How do you know her?" mother asked sternly. "She's my secretary" he said. "She works very hard, and she'll do anything to help." He turned and winked at me. Oh, I got the plot now! By the time Sameera returned home that evening, it was almost as if her joining the family was the elders' idea. "Don't worry about anything", they said, "we'll talk with your parents."

On the wedding day a huge bouquet arrived from Barbara.
"Flight to India - $1500.
Indian kurta - $5.
Emetic to throw up - $1.
The look on your parents' faces - priceless!!" it said.