Imagine you are standing in a queue for security checking in an airport. While checking your pockets, you realise that you forgot to put your swiss knife in your check-in baggage. What can be your options then?
You can go back to check-in desk and request if they can retrieve your luggage and you can put in your knife. But, what if the staff says no? Then you can put the knife in your hand baggage and hope that it miraculously goes through the scanning. But you fear that if it gets detected, they will simply throw it away. You like your knife very much and you know that seeing it being thrown in the dustbin is going to hurt you. May be you can give it to someone – someone who will value it. But how will you find that someone?
There is a huge queue at the security checking and the boarding of your flight closes in 30 mins. What can you do in this situation? I guess there are no options, except taking chances with the scanner. Will you think of selling the knife? At least, I wouldn’t.
However, our Tikipedia thought of it. That’s the nickname of our friend, Tiannan. Why? That’s a different story altogether :). This was the scene at Cagliari airport when we were returning from Sardinia. Tiannan realised that he was still carrying his swiss knife in his jacket. He tried the first option but without any success. He evaluated the other two options but wasn’t convinced. Finally, he decided to try to sell it.
“Guys, you go ahead. I will try to sell it and join you at the gate”, said Tiannan. “Man, it’s only 30 mins and there’s a huge crowd. Aren’t you risking missing your flight?”, Hari asked him. “I understand, but I can’t let it be thrown into the dustbin. Let me try. I promise that I’ll not miss the flight”, replied Tiannan and he ran towards the check-in area.
Frankly speaking, we were skeptical about Tiannan’s idea. However, we also secretly hoped that he is able to do it. We knew that he liked the knife very much. The queue was moving slowly. But the clock seemed to tick fast. Finally, we got through the security. Tiannan still didn’t return. We walked slowly towards the gate, hoping Tiannan will catch up. But still no sign of him. He is not even answering his mobile. Probably it’s in his jacket which he was holding in his hands, when he left.
Lei, Hari and I were at the queue of the gate for boarding the flight. It was almost time. Tiannan hadn’t returned and he was also not answering his phone. A few minutes later, we finally got a glimpse of him, running down the escalator carrying his jacket, belt, bag, etc in his hands. It was a relieve to see him.
When he came near us, all of us gave him the same quizzical look. He knew the question but didn’t reply for sometime. He was out of breath. Finally, he smiled and we understood. “Wow, man! That’s awesome!”, we exclaimed together.
He sold the knife for 20 euros to a British couple. He had bought it for 30 euros, after a big discount, about a year back. He had asked for 10-15 euros, but the couple gave him 20 euros. Now, that’s what I call “Business in 60 seconds” :).
“When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.” — These are Paulo Coelho’s words in Alchemist. I do believe in what he says. I have experienced it myself before and very recently again.
On our way to Charleroi airport, as we got on to E40 outside Leuven, an Alfa Romeo overtook us. It immediately caught my attention. One, I am a car enthusiast and I notice cars on the roads. Two, it was an Alfa Romeo. A black 159! I have always found them appealing. There designs are bold. They look sleek and sportive, yet solid. However, I never got a chance to drive one. “Wow, that’s a cool car!”, I remarked.
We reached Charleroi airport in about an hour. We planned to park our car in the airport parking for 5 days until we returned from our trip to Sardinia. Both P1 and P2, the parkings close to the terminal, were full. We parked in P3 which is at some distance from terminal. As we were getting off the car, I saw another Alfa Romeo pulling into the parking right behind us. It was a black Cabrio.
“Man, what’s happening today. We are being followed by Alfa Romeos”, I said. “Anyways, cool car. Would love to drive it”, I told Hari. “Yaa, yaa”, Hari responded. His response was like a married man’s response. Someone who wouldn’t or couldn’t acknowledge other beautiful women around. After all he is now married to his Ford Mondeo whom he is leaving in the parking ;).
After landing at Cagliari airport in Sardinia, Lei and I rushed to the car rental while Hari and Tiannan collected the baggage. We had booked a Renault Megane Sports Tourer at Sixt. I handed the booking printout, my Sixt card and my Miles-n-More card at the counter.
“Sir, we have a problem”, the Sixt staff said after sometime. “What is it?”, I asked. “I can’t find your booking in the system”, he replied. “Probably your booking has been cancelled, since its more than 2 hours past your pick up time”, he said. He was the most unfriendly Sixt staff I had ever met. He simply pleaded helplessness in helping us, without even trying. Calling the Sixt customer care and the office at Brussels also didn’t help. They said that it’s the staff at Cagliari airport who can do something. And this guy was hopeless!
This didn’t look like a great start of our trip. Getting a car was crucial as the entire trip was planned around it. All other known rental companies, like Hertz, Budget, National, Avis, etc were sold out. They didn’t even have a damn Smart!
Left with no other options, we started checking the local rental companies. Atleast, they were not completely sold out. But they had either Fiat Panda or Fiat Punto. “Come on, we don’t get to drive a Punto or Panda on a trip like this”, I lamented and so did others. There was one small counter which we hadn’t checked. Left with no other option, we thought of checking it out before settling on either a Punto or a Panda!
“Hello. We would like to rent a car for 5 days. What do you have?”, I asked at the counter. “I can give a Punto”, the guy replied. “Please no Punto”, I uttered under my breath. “Anything better than Punto”, I asked him. “A moment please. Let me check”, he said. He opened his drawer and started checking the keys. After a while he said, “I have a Alfa Romeo Giulietta. It’s about 100 euros more expensive than Punto. It was returned only sometime back. The inside is clean but outside needs a bit of cleaning”. “I can give you this”, he continued.
The first thing that struck me at this point were the words from Alchemist – “When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.” The universe has been conspiring since morning, dropping us hints.
We loaded our baggage into the car’s trunk and got into the car. I was setting the GPS and checking the controls. “Let’s have some music”, I said. Tiannan was sitting besides me who started looking for AUX input. He couldn’t find one. All of us joined him in the search. We couldn’t find either. Dammit! There was no AUX input in the car!
Although the universe conspired, it didn’t conspire completely. We had to manage with Italian radio and Hari’s ingenious compositions :).
“Folks, let’s find a name for her”, I said to Hari, Lei and Tiannan as we drove out of our hotel for dinner. “Last year, we found a nice name for Hari’s. Monica! Now, let’s find one for mine.”
“Maria” “Julia” “Martha”… suggestions poured in but none felt right. After sometime, I said, “What about Alessandra?” I thought about it for sometime, “I like this name. She was nice and sweet”. Everyone agreed. “Yups, that’s a nice name”. “Ok then, Alessandra it is”. I was glad that we finally found a nice name for her :).
Earlier that evening, we checked in our hotel at Stintino in Sardinia. We had booked four single rooms. The lady at the front desk showed us the rooms. Although the rooms were nice and sea-facing, they were not together. We requested her to give us rooms near each other. She gladly agreed and showed us around.
Once the rooms were finalized, we started asking her lot of questions. “Which is a good restaurant here?” “Which are the nice spots?” “Where can we get good view of sunrise and sunsets for photography?” and many more. Although she struggled in her English, she tried her best. She patiently tried answering our queries.
She was leaving after handing us the room keys. I liked something about her. She had a very gentle and friendly demeanor, and she always had a smile. I asked her, “Senora, what is your name?”. “Alessandra”, she replied. “Grazie Alessandra :)”, I replied back.
And she is my Alessandra, always cheerful, like the Alessandra whom I had met :).
It’s been a long time wish of my mother to visit Shirdi Sai Baba. I have often heard my elders say that one cannot reach God’s altar unless He summons. Probably true! My mother’s wish remained unfulfilled for several years until few weeks back.
We left from our hotel in Shirdi and reached the temple around 8am. I went inside to get the VIP passes. As assured, our names were found in the register and the passes were issued to us. Due to these passes, we didn’t have to wait in queue for long and in about 15 mins we were all standing in front of Sai Baba. It’s pity that one doesn’t get more than a few moments in front of Baba. Everyone is pushed out to keep the queue moving. Finally, Sai Baba beckoned my mother and us.
It was our first visit to Shirdi. I couldn’t plan much for the trip and had little idea what to expect. We reached Mumbai on a Saturday morning. My friend, Mayank, had booked a taxi for our trip to Shirdi, Shani Shinganapur and Trambakeswar (near Nasik).
On our way from Mumbai to Shirdi, we passed by at least a few hundreds devotees of Sai Baba who were walking to Shirdi. Our driver, Sriram told us that during winter months this is very common where devotees from all around Shirdi walk more than 100 kms for Sai Baba’s darshan. As per him, it gets very crowded in November and December and especially in the weekends there are lot of visitors.
Our plan of darshan was next day morning, which was a Sunday in December. Mayank could not arrange VIP passes for us. As per Sriram, during this time and without the VIP passes, we must be prepared to queue up for couple of hours for the darshan. Looking at the rush and the crowd on reaching Shirdi, I believed him.
Each morning, there’s an aarti at the temple at 4:30am which is called Kakad aarti. It is said to be very good and everyone who comes to Shirdi wishes to attend it. This results in a long queue for this aarti. It being a Saturday evening, the queue was expected to be much longer. The receptionist at our hotel suggested us to queue up from 11pm onwards. Even for normal darshan in the morning hours, he suggested a queuing time of at least 3 to4 hours. “Doesn’t sound good”, I said to myself.
Sriram offered to help. He called up one of his friends to see if he can help with the VIP passes for Kakad aarti but he couldn’t. He then said to me, “Let me call the PA of my boss. If he makes a call here, it might help”. He came back to me after sometime and said, “The PA said that it is too late for Kakad aarti as the temple’s office is closed now. He can call in the morning at 8am when the office opens. We can then go, get the passes and have darshan”. I said, “Ok, this sounds good. Please go ahead”. I wrote down our names which he then SMSed to the PA.
Earlier that evening, we had stopped on our way for a tea and a restroom break. Over the tea, Sriram told me that he is a driver of a MLA. Since the politician was out on a tour, he was driving for the rental agency. This was impressive to know that we were being chauffered by a politician’s driver :).
My mother later told me, “Baba descended in form of Sriram. When he beckons, he also creates bridges for us to cross.”
“Bhaiya, Chattarpur Mandir”, I asked an autowala who was reading newspaper sitting inside his auto. He didn’t even care to look at me and nudged his head, signaling he won’t go. “These Delhi auto walas will never change”, I said to myself as I walked to the next auto. I asked again, “Bhaiya chaloge Chattarpur Mandir”. “Haan chalunga, par meter se 10 rupaye jyada dene padenge”, replied the autowala. “Kyon? 10 rupaye kis baat ke?”, I asked. “Nahin 10 rupaye to extra dene padenge”, continued the autowala. He couldn’t convince me why he needed 10 rupees extra. Then a young school student approached and asked if he can share the auto with me. He had to go to Chattarpur Metro station which was close to the temple. I said, “Sure”. The autowala then said, “Dono ka double meter lagega”. “Sahi he! Loot macha rakhi he! Nahin jana he tumhare saath”, I told him and walked away.
Right then, another auto reached the spot. I approached and asked him. He said, “Haan chalunga. 60 rupaye lagenge”. My friend had told me that auto fare would be about 45-50 rupees. I tried bargaining to settle for 50 rupees. He then said, “Mandir ke andar jaoge? Puja karne ja rahe ho?”. I nodded yes. He continued, “Tab to aapko free me le jaunga. Baitho andar”. “Bhaiya aise nahin hota he. Sahi batao, kitna loge?”, I asked. “Arrey bhaiya baitho. Subah subah todha punya kama lunga”, continued autowala.
The young school student, who wanted to get down at the metro station, approached again. The autowala told him, “Aap mujhe 50 rupaye de dena. Ab aap dono andar baitho.” Unconvinced I sat inside, thinking I will pay him once I reach the spot.
When we reached the metro station, my co-passenger was about to pull out his wallet to pay the autowala. I said, “Bhai, it’s okay. I will pay him. I was anyways coming this way.” However, he wanted to share the fare but he didn’t have change of 25/30 rupees. He pulled out a 50 rupee note which the autowala took saying, “yeh 50 rupaye aap mujhe de do, baki aap aapas apna hisab kar lo”. I gave the boy 30 rupees and he got off.
A few minutes later we reached the temple. As I was getting down, the autowala wanted to give me 30 rupees. I said, “Nahin, rakho aap. Mujhe free me pahuchakar aap to punya kama loge, par mujhe to paap laga doge”. He then wanted to give me 10 rupees asking me to give it in the temple. I smiled and said to him, “Me aapke naam ka bhi chadawa de dunga. Thank you. Aap se mil kar acha laga”.
This entire incident left me with a very good feeling. It is a very rare experience, especially with autowalas in Delhi.
I left office early this evening because the weather looked promising for exploring Leiden through my lenses. It was cloudy the entire day. However towards the evening, sun peeked out through the clouds and the sky began to look quite dramatic. Once in the Leiden center, several things caught my attention. One of them was the Marekerk church besides a canal. The domb of the church looked beautiful which was further enhanced by the soft light from the sun playing hide-n-seek through the clouds. I took a few pictures of the church and was walking back. I then passed by a man who was squatting by the side of the road and carefully pulling out a camera from his bag. I tried to take a look at the camera and it looked like an old camera. I wasn’t sure if it was a film camera. For a moment, I thought it’s a Leica.
As I walked pass by him, we had a brief eye contact and seeing that we belong to the photography fraternity, we exchanged smiles. All the while, I was trying to figure out his camera but couldn’t! After walking for a few more yards, I turned back to see him again. I saw him pointing his camera towards the church dome and taking pictures. This surprised me as the spot where he was standing, in my opinion, was not a good spot as it didn’t provide a clear view to the church — only the dome was visible. I myself didn’t shoot the church from this spot and had walked couple of meters further.
I then took a close look in the direction in which he was taking pictures. I then realized and rushed myself there to shoot. He was actually shooting the rainbow which beautifully curved along the church dome. Given the position of the rainbow, the spot he chose was perfect. After taking pictures, I crossed him again. This time, I stopped to thank him for the beautiful shot which I would have otherwise missed.
He then said, “I’m curious to see how the picture would come. This is a film camera”. I said, “Oh ok. Interesting! You are using a film camera”. He continued, “It’s a black-n-white roll camera”. I was surprised, “Black-n-white!!!” I asked, “Any specific reasons why you are using B-n-W”? He said, “I recently bought this camera from a flee market for about 10 euros. I often buy old cameras and try them out. I also use a Canon digital camera”. I further asked, “Did you develop any pictures from this camera until now”? “Nopes. This is my first outing with it”, he said. We then greeted each other good bye and I walked away. Before leaving him, I took a picture of him with his camera. I turned back after a while and saw him taking more pictures from the same spot in the same direction.
I wished that the man’s picture comes out well. I could sense a kid-like excitement in the man when he talked about his camera and his hope for the picture of rainbow.
As I kept walking, the thought kept me occupied – “How would the rainbow look like in B-n-W?” Still intrigued by B-n-W rainbow, I edited my picture into a B-n-W picture.
2:30 AM Saturday: Phone rings and it was Hari PS “Dude it’s 2:30. Time to go”. I replied, “Thanks man! Yups! C u in 30”. After sometime I received a SMS from SR Hari which read “Good morning man. Reply me if you’re awake. If not, I’ll give you a call”. I replied, “Gud mornin.Thanks for checkin. I was never asleep :). C u soon”. I completed the last few minutes of an episode of “Two and Half Men”, got up, put on my jacket and shoes. I pulled out my gear and did a last minute check. Time to go! I walked out, stood by the street waiting for my pick up. The street was empty. There was a thick mist after last night’s rain. I looked up the sky. It was clear and starry. I smiled. But it was cold – I pulled my jacket tighter and waited.
12:30 PM Friday: During the post lunch walk, Hari PS said, “The plan is for 3AM tomorrow morning”. I said, “Ok. I am in. Do you have place in the car?”. He said, “Yups. Will confirm you the plans by evening”. I replied, “Gr8. Let’s do it then. Let me know once you confirm”.
8:45 PM Thursday: “We are a big group today”, said Tomas outside IMEC in Leuven. He continued, “But the sky doesn’t look very promising. May be we are lucky and the sky clears out by the time we reach the spot. Ok let’s go hikers”. 23 hikers – a few seasoned, a few first timers and rest rookies, set out on the hike through IMEC woods and then into Heverlee woods and fields.
5:00 PM Friday: Hari PS emails “Plans are confirmed. I’ll pick you up at 3am. Be ready. We’ll go to a place in Loonbeek.”
3:00 AM Saturday: A car pulled over and I got in. It was warm inside and welcoming. “Where is SR Hari?”, I asked. “I’ll pick him and Lei in second trip after dropping you guys at the spot”, replied Hari PS. We picked up Sandeep & Parvathy and drove out of Leuven. It took us about 15 minutes to reach the spot in Loonbeek. It was a fantastic drive with curvy and sloped roads. We passed by few small towns. Soon we left behind human settlements and drove through woods and fields and stopped in the middle of no-where. Hari PS announced, “Gentlemen the spot is on your left”. We got out and it was an open field. There were no lights except for a street lamp at a distance and the head lights of the car. On the other side was a thick wood and it felt like we are in a rain forest. Sandeep and I got down, Hari PS and Parvathy drove back to Leuven to pick up SR Hari and Lei. It was pitch dark after the car left. We looked around. There was heavy mist over the fields but the sky looked clear and full of stars. Perfect! We lighted up candles to have some light while Sandeep set up his tripod.
10:00 PM Thursday: The sky was still covered with heavy clouds. Hopes were diminishing! Although it was fast getting dark the sky looked red as the clouds diffused the city lights. The walking trails were sloppy due to the rains during the day. The hikers stayed together and walked still hoping that sky will clear out. Guru and SR Hari, two of our seasoned hikers, did not have proper hiking shoes and walked the trail in sandals and chappals. They wanted to test themselves for upcoming tougher hikes :).
3:50 AM Saturday: Sandeep’s tripod was set and he was taking long exposure shots of the sky. I didn’t have a tripod. The candles on the grass caught my attention and I took a few pictures. I had never done such a crazy thing before – with a camera, at 3am in the morning, in a field with two candles and a friend. Sandeep and I alternated between taking pictures and watching the sky. In the meantime, we heard a car approaching and saw the lights slowly fading out the darkness engulfing us. It stopped at some distance from us. When the engine stopped, we heard familiar voices… “Hairreee”… Ok that’s Lei and “Fantastisso”… Ok that’s SR Hari :). In the silence of the night, even their low and far off voices were loud and clear to Sandeep and me.
11:00 PM Thursday: As we walked further, the sky still looked red which meant the clouds were still there. We expected that the sky would get darker as we approach the planned spot but unfortunately not.Tomas then decided to divert from the planned route to change our direction with a hope that the sky would be darker and may be also clearer. But it did not help. We decided to call it off. Probably tonight is not the night :(. The weather Gods were not in our favor. Tomas pulled out the map and we decided to start returning back to Leuven but by a different route. Tomas said, “Let’s still go to the planned spot. We will take the final decision there”. Hope never dies, particularly Tomas’ :).
4:10 AM Saturday: We suddenly heard the excited voices of Lei, Parvathy & Hari PS, “We saw it, we saw it”. “Where, where?” was the simultaneous response of Sandeep, SR Hari and myself, all of us had our eyes glued to our viewfinders :). They pointed towards the northern or may be north-eastern sky. What they saw was a shooting star. So the first sight of Perseids Meteor Shower has been caught. “Wow! Yes!”, exclaimed all of us.
This had eluded us on Thursday night. The meteor shower was predicted to reach it’s peak on Thursday night (Aug 13th). Thus Tomas had planned a short hike on Thursday night to a spot where the sky was expected to be dark and from where we would have watched the meteor showers. But we were not lucky with the weather that night and could not see even a single shooting star.
11:30 PM Thursday: We reached the planned spot but the conditions were no better. We decided to take a break, rest for sometime and then walk back to Leuven.
We were now somewhere between Leuven and Brussels and about 7kms from Leuven. Thanks to Jing and Yemiao that an apparently uneventful break turned out to be a fun filled one. They were playing with light and long exposure shots, creating patterns in air. This caught SR Hari and my imagination too. SR Hari wanted a heart with an arrow :). We created hearts (with arrow), SR Hari wrote his name and made a smiley, and Jonny did a shooting star. It was lot of fun and we all wanted it to go on, but it was time to hike back!
4:45 AM Saturday: We then stood with our eyes fixed towards the sky with a hope to see more shooting stars. Sandeep and SR Hari set up their camera in the direction where the last shooting star was sighted. We did see a few more. They were very fast and difficult to photograph. They came like a flash of light and were gone within seconds. Also they came one at a time, nothing like a shower of shooting stars which we had heard about and were expecting. But nevertheless we were happy that we saw a few and our efforts paid off :). Just then we got a marvelous view of a star which was slowly falling down vertically. It was a bright star and gave us enough time to photograph it. This was the star of the show. SR Hari, in his trademark way, exclaimed, “Fantastisso!… Maatterrr Ooverr!…”
12:30 AM Friday: All the while, while returning, we would look at the sky with a hope of seeing atleast one shooting star. We didn’t even see normal stars that night, except for one bright star which could have been some planet. The return walk was pretty uneventful. We walked, talked and had some fun amongst ourselves. Just outside Leuven, we crossed a dark tunnel under the highway. We decided not to switch on our lights and cross it in complete darkness. Well somebody started and soon the tunnel was filled up with strange and all sorts of screams and sounds. To an onlooker it would had appeared a little scary – a big group of people emerging from a dark tunnel in the middle of the night.
We reached IMEC around 1AM. Well everyone was disappointed but also agreed that we had a nice and short night hike of about 13 kms, the 3rd one this year.
5:30 AM Saturday: The dawn was breaking in and the mist was also increasing. The stars in the sky dimmed and it was time to wind up. Hari PS made the first trip to Leuven and dropped Parvathy. In the meantime, rest of us enjoyed the breaking dawn and the misty morning. We wanted to wait for the sunrise but the mist was getting thicker and we dropped the idea.
We especially missed India this morning. It was 6am and had it been Chennai or Bangalore, it would have been perfect for a breakfast of hot idlis, sambar, vada and filter coffee :(. We packed up, loaded the car and drove back to Leuven, satisfied with our attempt as amateur sky watchers and enthusiast photographers. I sat in the car watching the horizon getting lit up with the sun yet to rise and beautiful colors that spread over the clouds and the sky.