India Recap

A recap of what I unexpectedly did and unfortunately didn’t on a recent whirlwind tour of home, sweet home:

 

Not accomplished on the To-Do list:

  • Go to the beach (not once in all of the 2 weeks in Chennai!)
  • Watch an IMAX movie, a stone’s throw away from home in Hyderabad
  • Watch ANY movie, at least at the multiplex across the road
  • Meet friends from school
  • Eat at Saravana Bhavan (kill me, kill me now!)
  • Get annoyed by Vimal singing behind me on the bike

 

Not on the list, but did anyway:

  • Fly over the Burj al-Khalifa at night
  • Watch an R-rated movie on the plane (127 Hours, pipe down)
  • Watch my best friends get married, sitting right next to them on the dais (Best Man #2, yo!)
  • Gatecrash a private family event at said friends’ wedding, just to see the look on their faces (thanks for all the help, Nam!)
  • See the (fake) look of surprise on Vimal’s face by showing up at Chennai, unannounced (thanks for all the help, Nam!)
  • Babysit my wife’s family dog, while everyone played with the cool, new Lab pup
  • Talk to the dog at 3:00AM, thinking it was my mother-in-law
  • Describe American dog-poop-picking regulations to the in-laws over lunch
  • Walk into a bar and buy drinks (don’t worry Mum and Dad, I’m still ‘unspoiled’)
  • Kill my beloved Vaio, thanks to a power surge
  • Check into the hospital, hours before a family wedding
  • Steal the thunder by making a special guest appearance at the wedding
  • Fall asleep in a mall
  • Fall asleep in a mall on the very next day
  • Shop for jewelry for the missus. Alone.

 

Try and top that.

 

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And then dolphins saved my job

It’s high time I got fired as the ‘Vacation Research Analyst’. You see, that’s the job I hold at home. Rather that’s the one thing I can do right, to put it in a certain someone else’s words. That is until a couple of weekends ago.

After two months of planning, cancelling and mostly daydreaming for our much-deserved break from the daily grind, I finally handed in the recommendation from my research to the Home Minister: Virginia Beach, here we come baby!

And then weather.com blew my recommendation to pieces. Turns out I was selling the prospect of spending an entire weekend wielding umbrellas and wearing raincoats on the beach. But hey, weather forecasts are always subject to change, right?. Who knows, we’ll probably see “Mostly Sunny” the day we land up there.

And then all the hotels got sold out. All of them! All the rooms! This is not even summer, for God’s sake! Moreover, it’s supposed to be LOUSY weather over there. I finally found a place and booked it before they too ran out of rooms. ‘Walking distance from the beach‘ was no more an option.

And then the wife finds a better hotel. Cheaper. Best of all, one-and-a-half blocks from the best part of the beach. If you have never haggled over the phone to wiggle out of cancellation charges, you should try it. It’s so much fun, you wont forget it for the next three or four lifetimes.

The next thing on my list was to come up with an itinerary that would let me keep my aforementioned job. Sand sculptures, fireworks, speed-boating on the sea, local food, the annual Neptune Festival Grand Parade… I crammed a week’s worth of stuff into a day and a half. I spent the better part of the week painting the picture of a perfect weekend. And packing day arrives! Clothes: check. Camera: check. Driving directions: check. Learner’s permit for me: hold on, still studying.

And then I failed the test. Well, I’m sure you saw that one coming, but Mrs. Ishu certainly didn’t. Five hours to go and I don’t have a valid license to share the burden of driving. I took advantage of the Magic of Telecommunication to convey the grand news. And that my friends, is the real reason I didn’t get run over by her that day. But by the time the anticipated hour arrives, all is fortunately forgotten in the excitement (Didn’t dare to ask if it was forgiven too).

So began the long, much-awaited drive. Wonder of wonders! Something’s wrong with the A/C unit. The fan is making weird noises and it’s getting really hot. After a quick browse through the manual, I try to make up for the morning by fixing the stupid thing.

And then… well, let me just skip ahead and not make things worse. By the time we got to Virginia Beach, the wife was too exhausted to whine about anything at all. Now there’s only one thing that can motivate her. “The Sand Sculpture Contest! Master artists from all over the globe! Are you sure you wanna miss watching them create stunning works of art?” Well I didn’t use those exact cliched words, but the gist of it did the trick. I grabbed the camera, she grabbed her sweatshirt and we shot off towards the beach. And…

What can I say, it was all over before we even left home that afternoon. No artwork-in-progress to witness. But all the exhibits were standing there, complete and awaiting the admiring stares and clicks. Now I’m one of those who never get paintings. By definition, my handwriting too should be classified as abstract art, but let’s not get into that now. The sculptures created out of the shapeless, insignificant sand around us were too gorgeous for the art-hater in me. So I set about doing what I do on vacations – clicking away, ignoring my driver completely.

International Sand Sculpture Contest, Neptune Festival, Virginia Beach

After sunset it’s time for the arts and crafts stalls which reminded me a lot of the handicrafts fairs that happen back home. There was also a Pakistani lady who set up a mehendi stall. “Herbal Tattoos. Painless. Comes off in 3 weeks! Go Green!” Fact: You can sell just about anything here if only you use the right words.

And then the speedboats and the fireworks got cancelled. Unfavorable wind conditions, my ass. Serves me right for studying the camera manual instead of traffic signs. The remaining highlight of the next day’s itinerary was the Grand Parade. The only highlight left. But of course we did rent bikes and rode up and down the length of the beach on the boardwalk, so that did a lot of cheering up.

By the next day we were in for a surprise. No, not a bad one this time. The cruise operators said the dolphin-sighting trips are still running.

“But the dolphin season is only until September. And the forecast says it’s gonna rain today”, I offer my keen internet wisdom.

“Sir, the cruise is still on and we have one today at 11am. Are you interested?” (That’s customer-service lingo for Stop whining. Are you in or out?)

We’re in. We were also the last two souls to board, keeping the entire boatload of tourists waiting for the highly anticipated tour to begin. “Captain, do you still have a minute? I’ll just run to my car and get my sunglasses.” If the guy was pissed, I didn’t know it because I was already running across the parking lot. Of course, my darling wife made sure they didn’t leave me behind. I had the camera, after all.

And then it began to pour. That’s right! Little note: when you’re out in the open sea, ‘cats and dogs’ doesn’t even come close to describing torrential rain. I pretended to act busy protecting the camera with my thin shirt. Half  an hour into the cruise, all we can see are gulls and pelicans. Not too bad, but that’s not what we paid for.  Just when I’m ready to jump overboard before a certain someone pushes me, the guide calls everyone to the left side.

Dolphins, ahoy! Unknown fact: When the wind makes the boat sway, the dolphins come out to play.

BellyFlop

Thanks God, for making these dumb creatures freakishly happy whenever the waves roll. The Weather Gods have finally given us something good. Those last ninety minutes of the weekend were the best for every one of us on board, as we watched the graceful arcs the beasts made whenever they came up for air. Even in reality it feels like watching a nature show or a Sea World ad in slow motion. Not kidding.

The most surreal hour and a half. Towards the end every one calmed down from excited whoops to silent reverence. To all those people, the cruise saved the weekend. As for me, I get to continue to do the one thing I can do right.

Dive

So while I get busy researching how to wreck the next big getaway, go take a look at snapshots from Virginia Beach on the other blog (of course, I don’t need to remind you about those pain-in-the-ass navigation arrows).

And then we clicked a ‘Titanic’ pic together

It seemed like a regular feature at first glance; a weekend crowd-puller event or something. But this group of dancers and the orchestra members looked and dressed quite different from everyone else on the marina deck at the Old Town Alexandria waterfront. The 50’s village-like attire, bare feet, rosy cheeks and the bright smile of a worry-free person who doesnt live in the 21st century – those were the visual cues.

The whole crowd just stood there watching. “It’s a very easy dance! You can come and join if you like”, called out a lady before falling into step with her group. It felt so surreal, I looked around to see if there was a camera crew filming a publicity stunt of some kind. None. It was just a group of people dancing and celebrating and the rest of us just happened to be on that deck that Saturday evening.

One of them handed out flyers to the watching crowd. “The Peacemaker” it read, with the picture of a beautiful Class-A tallship on it. To cut a long story short, some guy built a private yacht, sailed around just a bit and wanted to improvise before setting off on a longer journey. The Avany (1989) then remained neglected and forgotten for years, slowly eaten away by nature’s elements.

The Twelve Tribes, a religious group comprising people from many countries bought the ship in 2000 and set about restoring it by themselves. They worked odd jobs and ran cottage industries to make money for the ship. In 2008 the fruit of their labor and love was finally ready to hit the waves. The Peacemaker they named it, saying it symbolized who they are and what they stand for.

“Can we see it?” was the first question that popped into my head and even before I could say it out loud, I caught a glimpse of 12 national flags fluttering on a 100-ft tall mast. The rest of the ship was hidden by the buildings on the marina. Samuel, the guy who handed out the flyers, invited us on board, “This is not my ship. This is not our ship. It belongs to everyone. That’s what we believe in”.

As we impatiently walked around the obstructing structures, our gaze settled on the remarkably beautiful vessel. It’s not like it was made of gold or had fairies escorting it. But standing next to a long line of plastic boats and fiber yachts, The Peacemaker stood out like a tall, REALLY REALLY TALL work of art.

On board, it was hard not to feel amazed at how simple and ancient everything seemed: the bronze bell (which gave out a loud clang when my wife’s ring touched it), the mahogany upper deck, the enormous canvas sails (total area: 10,000 sq.ft!)… one couldnt help making a mental reference to The Pirates of the Carribean. The large, rustic community-family  invited everyone into their home with a warm smile and answered all questions very patiently. “I live for them, they live for me” said the captain, who looked like a fairytale character with his long brown beard and wise eyes.

The Twelve Tribes set sail last fall and are currently on their way north to New England, along the eastern coast. A large chart listed their ports starting with Maryland and moving on to Virginia, New York and Massachussetts. Another presented a short list of items “The Peacemaker needs”: a pair of binoculars, a camera and a few others. A monitor on the wall ran a slideshow with the different stages of the vessel’s restoration, showing men, women and children of The Twelve Tribes working on everything from the rigs to the mast to the sails.

“So you just sail around?” we asked. “Yes. We have embraced this as our way of life and we want to share our philosophy and our belief in God by inviting everyone on board”, replied a member of the crew.

Even though most of us came away thinking, “I cant do that” at the end of the tour, there was a silent nod of acknowledgement we all gave to the crew: “But I just wish I could, just for a little while”.  There’s a reason why this way of life is given so much romantic and mystic importance in all our literature.

Bon Voyage to The Twelve Tribes! Good luck and best wishes to The Peacemaker (Link). [Look for Flickr link on the “Cam-Era” page]

Standing tall at Alexandria, VA

The Peacemaker standing tall

Marina at Old Town Alexandria (The Capitol in the backgrond)

King St. Waterfront, Old Town Alexandria

And then a thousand cameras clicked

Konnichiwa.

My name is Sakura. I’m from Japan and I’m a tree. Yep. A TREE.

I’m sitting here in DC with my family and friends. Don’t bother saying hi. There are over 6000 of us and I haven’t got all day.

My family and friends at the Washington Monument

My family and friends at the Washington Monument

My family and I immigrated into the US in 1912. The government in my country decided we’d look really cool as public space ornaments, so they shipped us off to the US of A as a gift. Like any good immigrant group, we spread wide and far as soon as we disembarked. Most of us stayed here in DC though (we like the view of what goes on inside that white-colored house over there). So we established our roots right here and spawned a lot of American-born kids. You should see the way we’re treated here. We’re friggin’ celebrities, man!

Every year we have a family reunion where we put on our best suits and dresses and gather for almost a week. That’s when the fun begins! People around here have certainly seen flowers at some point in their lives, I’m sure. But when all of us dress up at the same time, they just go wild! And I’m like “Yo, I’ve been right here all year long, guys! And you notice me only when I’m wearing a bunch of pretty flowers?”

You should see them go crazy over their weather forecasts and weekend schedules. Something they call the Cherry Blossom Festival. They close traffic. They walk miles on foot (an effort which is bottom-most on their list of ‘things to do when all cars are extinct’). They bring out all the kids, cameras and dogs. I have no choice but to admit we guys look pretty dashing when we gather to celebrate in the beginning of the spring season. It’s not like we can help it, okay? I’m sure even those Hollywoodies on the other side of the land sometimes wish there would be no camera-clickers around. But hey, I don’t fail to count my blessings: I have to put up with this only once a year unlike those poor bozos.

I really hated it when some random chick climbed on to my brother’s back and got her picture taken. A distant cousin of mine tried to do that to a human once and they called it some horror movie. Evil’s Death or something; I really don’t remember the na… WHOA!!

What in the name of the Emperor was that? Another freak just grabbed one of my shoulders and shook it till my sleeve fell off! That was supposed to be a good backdrop for her photograph? My disintegrating clothes? I thought you guys celebrated the full-bloom of these flowers, you psycho! Try doing that at the Oscars or something. Go grab Will Smith’s neck, rip his shirt to shreds, stand in front of him and grin stupidly at the camera. Let’s see you get away with that! Show some respect, child; some of us were born before your great-grandfather fled his country and came here. Now run along and lose yourself in the crowd before I enact a sequel to my cousin’s movie.

Speaking of crowds, I usually don’t see so many folks in one place in this country. But this is one of those rare occasions when everyone comes out into the open. My neighbor asked me, “Where the hell do they all hide all year long, dude?” That’s not even the funniest part. I claim not to be elitist so I’ll try not to ridicule the wannabe Picassos and Rembrandts who hire us as subjects for their ‘masterpieces’ (pretend I didn’t add the quotes). We do it for free though (See? I’m NOT an elitist). But you should see this one clown who actually painted my clothes green.

And that’s not the funniest part either. Another clown was visibly impressed by this guy and lingered around, striking up a conversation.

Clown 2: “Nice work, man. Looks really good

Clown 1: (doesn’t even look up) “Thanks a lot

Clown 2: “So you’re gonna sell this one?

Clown 1: “Yes” (still doesn’t take his eyes off the canvas. Atleast pretend to look at ME, you DOLT! I’M YOUR SUBJECT!!)

Clown 2: “How much are you willing to sell this one for?

Clown 1: “A hundred dollars” (Yeah, right! Slice off your ear and then we’ll talk)

If you’re still wondering, that was the funniest part. And before you leave to get a second opinion on your sense of humor, check me out here. Sayonara!