Monday, January 20, 2014

A friend remembers.

It would have been Harsh's 26th birthday today [7th January]. It's very, very difficult for me to write a proper tribute to him as I really have not forgotten or let go of this dear friend of mine. I think frequently of him and his talks. Recently someone mentioned Jaipur to me and my first thought was of how much Harsh had enjoyed his trip to that city and how he said we should both visit the beautiful city palace someday. [Which we never will now.] And when I got a copy of Dirty Harry, the movie, I smiled a bit and shook my head. My friend asked me why and I said I was once derided very strongly for being a “fake” Clint Eastwood fan since I had not seen Dirty Harry. Of course, it was Harsh Pande who said that to me :).

It seems like so many things have happened since his 24th birthday. And yet, every time it is 7th January, it's like I travel back in time to when I knew him and remember Harsh. His talks, his sharp mind, his original jokes, his sincere compliments(I miss these terribly), his movie reviews, his descriptions of places, his friends, his girls, his family, his dreams, his ambitions, his books. One afternoon over lunch, we stayed till the restaurant kicked us out. And then we sat on the porch under a tree right outside the same restaurant and continued our chatter as if we had not been interrupted at all. Time and words just flowed so well with him. I remember how he used to call me up and talk for hours and then apologize profusely because he knew I hated talking on the phone. But he called me up anyway. And how, he discussed ideas for Project Breakup with me. And how he used to email me songs the moment he found a good one. And how he used to force me to watch movies he liked. I remember I could talk with him for hours, literally. And how, he was just a very nice and a caring friend.

One thing I will never forget about Harsh is that he was the first person who said to me, very seriously, "It's really nice talking to you". That was the first time someone had said that talking to me was actually interesting and fun and not a waste of time (considering I talk about anything and everything under the sun and argue incessantly).  Since then, a couple of my very close and old time friends have said the exact same words to me. And each time I heard that, I immediately thought of Harsh and realized that he felt it and said it to me long before anyone else. It makes me smile.

When I was with him, I knew him as just another one of my many odd friends. When I read all the tributes and the remembrances about him, I realized I knew just a little bit of the person called Harsh Pande. His co-workers remembered him as hard working, responsible and a star performer. His friends - ah his many, many friends - all wrote such glowing tributes and poems and remembrances that I wondered if they were talking about the same Harsh Pande that I knew? To me, he always spoke in such a casual, easy-going, friendly manner that I never had an inkling he was so much more than what he let on. His teachers especially those from his school remembered him achieving and excelling in spite of all his surgeries. [His surgeries. I never knew he had to bear so many of them - 14 of them. Sigh.] And here is the thing I admire most about Harsh - his poise in his life. There is a phrase that is a favorite of mine: "grace under pressure". And I think he lived that. Each one of us has difficult lives, no doubt. But I believe about putting on a brave face and smiling to the world. Chin up. Face the world. No one will give it to you easy just because you had some difficulties back home. He did this so well that I never felt that he had any problem or was in pain at all. Ever. I remember that he told me he was in pain exactly once, and then he quickly changed the topic - saying firmly "I do not like talking about sad things. Waste of your time and waste of my time." Since I share the exact same philosophy, I picked up the cue immediately and we jumped to another topic - most probably movies. I salute, still, this quality in him - his grace. His brother Digvijay told stories that made me laugh and again, made me cry inside. Why did I not know all this before? And then I heard someone refer to him as Harshi. I felt terrible that I didn't know people close to him called him Harshi. Harshi. It felt like another piece of information about him I had to hold, and remember forever, in my mind.

I'm out of things to write or maybe I have so many more to write, I could do it for days together. In the end, I think that as long as I remember him, and as long as you and all his other friends, and his family remember him, and as long as his readers remember him, he is not gone, not really, not ever. Here's to Harsh Pande, one of the greatest men I ever knew.

-And death shall have no dominion-

PS: His blog is here

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Soldering Fairies

Since I started putting up a Christmas tree at home each year, I always have some sort of decoration lights at my home. LED strings are cheap and very bright and work very well for Diwali lighting too. I got a new string recently – plain yellow and without any blinking pattern - to add to the red and green ones I had already. It seems these don't sell well as mostly people are more into multi-colored and blinking lights. The one I got was very cheaply made - it cost just Rs.30 for a length of 7 meter.  A slight hasty tug or two made many wires break at the LED contacts and I was left with a "dull" string. Of course no one would repair it, the cost of repairing was almost equal to buying a new string, so I was advised to chuck this and buy a new one; which I did, again after much hunting. The old string though wasn't beyond hope and it seemed like such a waste to trash a perfectly good thing.
So the following ensued:

1. A soldering gun - 25W
2. A solder wire - gauge 20
3. A Swiss knife
4. An old sponge
5. A magnifying glass
6. A crystal bowl - for the gun stand
7. Youtube
The means.
1. Put on some good music. My chosen band was Kakkmaddafakka.
2. Remove the insulation from the LED contacts and expose them properly. Do same for the ends of the connecting wires so that the wire is exposed. An electrical wire-cutter is used but I just settled for the strong scissor in my wonderful Swiss knife. For the wires, make gentle cuts on the plastic sheath, being careful not to cut through the wire inside, and then pinch and pull off the plastic with your fingers.[To the naked eye, the LED contacts were of the same length and I couldn't spot the flat edge of the kathode inside the LED, so I spent some time examining the them carefully under the magnifying glass, to figure out which was the positive and which was the negative. Irritatingly enough, both the contacts were exactly the same. So I just decided to trust my luck and solder them as I thought. I still do not know why these didn't have the kathode/anode differentiation. Do serial light LEDs work if connected any which way ?]
3. Dampen the sponge. Don't go overboard and make it soaking wet.
4. Plug in the gun and place it on the stand. [I used a glass bowl for this as I didn't get a stand with my gun.] Let it heat for about 2 minutes.
5. To see if it is ready to work with, touch the tip of the solder wire on the tip of the gun. It should melt and form a tiny, shiny blob on the gun tip. This is "tinning" the gun tip.
6. The solder blob on the tip can be wiped off easily with the damp sponge. Try it. Re-tin the tip.
7. Now place the two parts to be joined together - the led contact and the connecting wire end - and keep this on the tinned gun tip. Now from the other side, touch the solder wire slightly to the join and melt it. The join is totally covered by the melted solder now (From the solder on the gun tip, on one side, and the solder wire, from the other).Remove the solder wire. Remove the gun. A small blob of solder should remain on the join and it will immediately solidify in place, thereby making the join as desired.
8. If the join breaks or the solder doesn't stick, clean off the contacts and the wire, clean the gun tip and try the same process again. Try to "swipe off" the gun when removing so that at least some solder sticks and remains on the join. 
9. If there are many breaks in the string to be fixed, fix them all as you cannot test until all of them are joined properly to form the complete circuit.
10. Clean the gun tip and unplug the gun. Plug in the string and make sure it lights up. If not, re-check the string for any breaks.
11. Secure the fixed joins by wrapping some insulating tape strongly around the contacts. I think it’s a good idea to separate the two contacts by placing a small piece of rubber or plastic between them so they don't touch each other, and then wrap the tape around them tightly. Either way is fine. I forgot to buy this tape so I used normal cello-tape.
12. Your LED string is done and ready to serve [you].
It's alive!
> Soldering isn't that risky.  Just be careful not to touch the hot gun and not to drop the molten solder on yourself.
> The Internet has instructions to do almost anything! Thanks to the "Internet soldering teachers".
> A kind friend assured me that this plan of mine to solder for first time without any help or supervision was not a stupid idea [unlike scores of other ideas I have every day]. He will get a cool Mickey Mouse painting in return for his help.
> The shorter contact out of the LED is the kathode, the negative end. The longer one is the positive end, the anode. [HOW could I forget this?]
> They are called "serial" lights as the LED lights are all connected in serial. So if just one blows, it breaks the circuit and the whole string refuses to light up.
> Soldering iron does burn like hell if you touch it. Not just the tip but the whole metal part. Temperature is around 400°C I think.
> The solder can have some lead, so make sure you don't inhale the poisonous fumes.
> Soldering is actually pronounced as "soddering" in USA! Who knew? Stupid silent letters. L, in this case.
> Yellow fairies always beat the others in prettiness!
The end.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

What a waste of time

The worst thing is realizing that I wasted my time, unknowingly.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Maybe he flew away

Maybe he flew away
On a new journey
Tattered wings
Still whispering life
With a single fleeting memory...
Even if he found his way
Into the yellowing pages
of a child's notebook
Years later
Someone might chance on it
And feel
the strange lingering memory
of a girl bent anxious
peering with her large eyes,
and wonder
at their own involuntary smile
like an unknown smell
suddenly familiar and warm.

[Reprinted with permission from a poetess friend.]

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

In Strange Country

“Stop it!”
“Stop it!”
“What is your problem?”
“What is your problem?”
“Moooooooooommm....he is imitating me!”
“Moooooooooommm....he is imitating me!”
“Jack is an idiot!”
“June is an idiot!”
“Stop it you two. Jack, behave your age. And June, you should know better than to answer back.”
“But he ...”
“She said first ...”
“Not one word from either of you. BEHAVE!”
Both were interrupted sharply by Mom. Her angry eyes made them stay still. They sensed that she was on the edge this time. “If you two don't stop, prepare to be grounded when we get home.” Dad, he wasn't bugged yet. They had been fighting for only an hour. Jack, 10, pulled a face at June. June, 13, responded by tipping her nose at him. He folded his arms and turned his head, staring out the car window. She too turned to the window on her side and stared out. The scenery was whizzing past the window.

Jack started thinking of what his friend, Jonny, would be doing now - fishing happily in the great Mississippi river. He himself had never gone fishing, and when he had been invited these holidays by Jonny, he had had to miss it because his Dad had already made other plans. He remembered he had to go and check the world map to find out where this country, that Dad had mentioned they would be visiting, was. It was somewhere below Russia and near India. No amount of information given by their Dad had prepared him for the heat and the emptiness of land. Instead of blue skies and a flowing river and green trees, he had a desert land, plains and plains of scattered stones; more stubby hills, covered with boulders; no grass let alone trees; no sign of water anywhere and a bright glaring empty sky. His bad mood since the start of the trip had lasted till the end; he was glad that this trip was over now and they were heading back to the hotel. And they would be flying home that night. He was almost home.

Mom too was looking out the window. The kids were quiet now but she knew they would start again soon. Perhaps they could all go on a fishing trip when they were back at home. She looked over at her husband and thought, he will be glad to be home too.

Dad was not looking out his side of the window, but out the front. He was driving. His trip here had been a business one and his meetings had gone well. Meanwhile, he had expected the kids to explore and enjoy on their own; the hotel had even provided tour guides. But both kids complained of the heat and the "boringness" of the place. They just stayed in their room and watched TV. On the last day in the city, he had decided that they would go outside the city in a rented car, just the four of them. He wanted the kids to see how different a country can be, how different a people, how different a life can be - it was not baseball and malls for everyone. But of course, the complaints hadn't stopped and he had turned back towards the hotel, a little angry and disappointed in his efforts. He turned and saw his wife looking at him. He shrugged and smiled; she smiled a tight, supportive smile back at him. She looked ahead at the road and he too turned back to the driving.

“Mom he pinched me!”
“I did not! She's a liar. Liar - stop lying.”
Before either parent could scold them there was a sudden, very loud burst and the car swerved slightly. Dad, always alert, controlled it and pulled over at the roadside. That ended the bickering. They all filed out and went over to the back of the car. Sure enough, the rear left wheel was flat. Dad said they had a spare tyre and he got to work at fixing it. A big rocky hill was to the road’s left with a vast plain to the right, spotted with more hills on the horizon, again only covered with stones and pebbles and short stubby brownish grass. Everything seemed to be a shade of brown and ochre. Not a soul was in sight. The afternoon sun shone mutely at them in a blue sky. Mom went over to see if Dad needed any help; Jack and June walked towards the small hill.

Dad was almost done and was wiping his hands when June came running to him, excitedly. “Dad! There are two men coming, from over the hill. Can they help us?” Dad looked to where she was pointing and saw them. Two dark bearded men were running very fast downhill, towards their car. They stopped and yelled something at them, waving their hands in the air. Dad did not understand the local language, but he could sense that the shouts were not friendly. Dad acted quickly. “June get in the car, quick. Jack! Jack! Run. We're leaving. Run fast!” Mom, who had been sitting inside, stepped out when she heard Dad’s raised voice. Dad yelled at her now. “Stay inside. Thieves! I will get Jack.” June got in and slammed the door. Jack was running towards their car; Dad ran towards him and caught him. He lifted him and ran back towards the car. Somehow, he pushed Jack through the open back door. He lunged towards the front door and shot a quick look at the advancing men. One had reached them now! He got in the driver's seat, slammed the door, and turned the key with a shaking hand.

Jack had been surprised when he had seen the men appear from around the hill and run towards them. He had stood there wondering where they could have come from; he had seen no village or town. The men seemed to be waving too. By the time June had run back to tell Dad, he saw that they were yelling something in their own language. He had been unsure at first, but then they had come close enough for him to see them properly – both were tall, thin, with brown skin and black beards. They wore torn long caftans and dirty, white turbans. One man was lagging behind and Jack saw that he was limping badly. He had a suspiciously big bag. He heard their loud, hoarse shouts again, and it had scared him. That's when he had heard Dad telling him to run; he had turned back towards the car, running as fast as his legs could carry him. He had been sure he would not make it; at least the first man had been so close to him then. He had seen Dad dash at him and it was a relief to feel his strong arms around him first and not those of that man. Dad pushed him quickly at the open back door.

As Jack scrambled to get in, he saw the terrified look on June's face. He turned and banged shut the door but saw that the man had reached his window. He fell hard on the car - he had not slowed down as he reached them - and he now gripped the glass which was half way up. Jack noticed his dirty, black nails and broken skin on his hands. His face was up close- dark, bearded, with many lines. Those intense black eyes looked right in his blue ones. He shouted at Jack. Hekmat ! Hekmat ! . He sounded angry now. He shook the glass, trying to break it, and shouted again – hekmat!. The other man was still behind but would reach them soon.

“Dad, go! Go! Why don't you drive? Drive! He's here!”
Jack heard June yell. He was frozen to see that face so close, but June jumped across and started turning the glass up as fast as she could. Mom pulled at Jack when he didn't move and held him low in his seat. The glass was finally up, after what seemed like ages. The man's fingers were now caught; he yelled in pain and wedged them out somehow. He banged his dirty hand on the clear glass again, and they heard, faintly, the same words – hekmat, hekmat. Dad stepped on the gas pedal then and they drove off, leaving only a small cloud of dust behind them. June turned behind to see if they would be chased, but the men only stood there, looking at the fast receding car. The second man had reached the road too now, and if they had been even a second late in leaving, it would've all been over for them. June heard them shout again. She saw that Jack was shaking and she reached out, hugging him. She realized that she was shaking too. Dad kept asking, “Everybody okay? Everybody okay?” Mom couldn't believe what had happened in those few minutes.
“Oh my God! Who were they?”
“Thieves I'm sure. Or murderers, who knows? We're safe now. We're okay.”
The kids were too scared still to say anything at all and only hugged each other tight.

They drove on to the hotel in dead silence; Mom still turned around in her seat and gripping Jack's hand; June still holding him and crying silently; Dad tense and shaken by the narrow escape they had had. Not one word was said about the incident, all the long way back to the US. They were relieved to be back home and back to their familiar life. Next day, they visited Uncle's (Dad's younger brother) home for dinner. He was well travelled and loved to explore new places. He had not visited this East Asian country though and was much interested to hear about their experience. He added there was a chance that he might travel there soon himself. Dad told about his experience across through the city, the people and the culture that he had observed.
Finally, Uncle remarked, “Well! It was good you had a chance to visit such a very different country. And I’m sure you have some good memories of it; maybe even visit again, yes?”
Dad replied, reluctantly, “Well, we did have one unpleasant incident on the last day...”
He then recounted the whole story by the road side.
Uncle reacted, “But this is very shocking! It is lucky you all escaped unharmed.” Then, “But I’m curious. Do you know exactly what they were saying?”
Dad said, “Shouting you mean. Well I don't know their language so I cannot say.”
Jack added, “They were really shouting just that one word- hekmat”. June agreed with him. After much arguing, with Mom saying she had heard something else, they decided exactly what they had been shouting.
Uncle said, “Hmm, I have some knowledge of their language but this word is not familiar to me… I do have a dictionary of the language. Lets look this up afterwards.”

Dinner over, they moved to the library. A heavy dictionary was taken off the shelves and Uncle started flipping through the pages, searching for the word. They all looked at him expectantly. The kids especially were excited to learn what it might mean. Uncle didn’t look up for quite some time but they all saw that he wasn't turning the pages anymore- he was staring at the same spot on the open page on his left. Dad asked if he had found it and Uncle replied, without looking up, that he had.
He spoke again, softly. “Medicine. It means medicine.”

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Moment of Truth

The dust rose as he kicked the ground. He was swinging on an old and creaky yellow swing. The play ground was almost deserted. Most kids were off to other exotic places for a vacation. Those here now were too young to play with. He got off the swing in a sudden jump. As he left the playground, a sudden gust of wind caught him, blowing the shiny black hair off his small forehead.

The dead leaves danced all around him as he walked towards his home. He missed his father. The visits seemed to have gotten more and more infrequent. And now he was gone on a business trip to some place which he didn’t bother finding out since he slammed the phone down as soon as he heard that he would not be coming for another 6 months at least. He saw Tommy on the road, playing catch with his Dad. He kept at a safe distance so they couldn't shout and invite him to join their game. She had told him many times to go play with them. But he wanted his Dad. Not anyone else. Why didn’t she get that?

He neared where his apartment was; looking up he saw the windows and the curtains fluttering softly in the afternoon heat. Suddenly, he hated that place, his home. That place - the complex, his nice neighbors, the tiny elevator, the green door, the smooth floors, the flowered walls, everything! He had to get away. The place which popped in his head immediately was the restaurant where she worked. It was her he missed now, though he would be seeing her in only an hour or so. He hated the place (why were there so many things he hated?), but he felt he just had to see her.

A small place, it was not exactly the most popular place in town. Besides her there were only two waitresses there. Today being Saturday evening, it would be crowded enough though to keep them all very busy.
The place was quite far away but he chose to walk. He noticed nothing and no one. When he reached there already the sun was starting to fade. He saw the big neon sign outside, and paused. Stupid place. He wouldn’t eat here if his life depended on it. He went around the back and peeped through a window. He could see the tables and the diners through the smoky air. The door opened for a moment and a sudden smell of boiled cabbage hit him. He twisted his nose in disgust and watched.

The door opened again and she came carrying someone's order. She was a slim lady with a soft face that had not aged at all. She wore her yellow hair in a neat bun on her nape. Still she managed to look like a college student who was only working part time. He watched her walk briskly with her small steps to a table, and lay the plates down deftly. With a brief smile that was hardly seen by the diners, she moved on to the next table - a group of old men playing cards. She chatted with them as she cleared their table of ash trays and mugs. One of the men said something, maybe a compliment and suddenly her face broke out into a smile. This time he knew it was real- it touched her eyes. She replied something, which made them laugh in return. She picked up the remaining trays and moved back into the kitchen. The smell of boiled cabbage came and went again.

He got up slowly and turned to go back. He did not remember the walk back, but surprisingly, he skipped the elevator and climbed the steps up to their home. He let himself in and instead of banging the door behind him, he locked it carefully. Instead of throwing his shoes on the carpet, he placed them neatly on the shoe rack. Instead of planting himself in front of the TV, he went to his room and cleaned it for the first time in his life without someone yelling at him. He came out and cleared the living room - putting everything in its right place. Next he vacuumed the whole apartment - their home. Then into the kitchen, he cleaned all the dishes from last night. From the fridge, instead of a coke he had a glass of cold milk. He felt really good inside.

There in the wooden cupboard was the expensive china that was used only for special occasions. He couldn’t remember the last time they had had one. He took it down and carefully cleaned it. The glasses were shined and the silver was polished next. He thought about what he would be the quickest thing to cook. An hour later, the cucumber and mayonnaise sandwiches were cut and ready. The table was set neatly with the china and silverware. He lighted two candles, set them in the center of the table and turned off the lights.

The door key turned and she entered. Frowning at the darkness, she called out to him,
"I’m home! Where are you? No TV today?!"
Then a sigh and she said again,
"Is it okay if we have sandwiches for dinner? I’m too tired to cook now."
No reply. Was he angry and shut up in his room again?
She reached the kitchen by now and she stopped, dumbstruck. She saw the clean shiny kitchen -the pans all hung clean, the bottles and jars all in a row, and the tiles all aglow. The two slim candles on the table shone warmly on the scene. He came and stood beside her.
He took her hand and said, "Dinner is served."

She smiled down at him and it was the most brilliant smile a mother ever smiled.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Whiteboard art


Red Blue Green Black