Wednesday, 14 March 2012

India Travelogue - surviving a long haul flight

Feb – March 2012.

V and I recently went back home to India for a short break. No particular purpose such as a family wedding or event – though as it happens we did turn up for a wedding in Chennai – just to visit family,  laze about and yes visit a place we’d always heard about and have always talked about but never visited before -God’s Own Country.

Day 1.
I don’t usually enjoy long haul flights; the stress, the claustrophobic feeling and the sleeplessness giving me a migraine more often than not. But I think I’ve finally discovered the secret to emerging at the other end in good spirits. 

Here’s my tip: don’t look at the watch and keep asking: are we nearly there yet? Instead immerse yourself in carefully selected films and you'll find yourself saying 'are we there already' when they come to collect your head sets just as you're about to discover how it all ends.  

Applying this rule I selected the following  films to watch when i checked in on line.
 1. Margin Call. Its about the experiences of the traders in a big bank and how they experience the financial meltdown of 2007. Jeremy Irons was great when he says to the young guy with a PhD in particle physics – Hey kid, explain this to me in English, and like I am a 5-year old.

2. Aarakshan - Caste is a dangerous subject to explore in public in India and no wonder this film got banned in some states where caste has the same implications as race or color has in some parts of the world. But it turned out to be a good film; a social commentary on all that is wrong with an education system that is all about commercial opportunity, and where learning has been sacrificed in favour of a race towards exam grades. The poor kids who are caught up in the mad world of the Indian educational system seem to fall into two camps: those no one cares about – whether they turn up at all, and if they do whether they learn anything useful; and those who are constantly under pressure to achieve higher and higher grades. Both groups sacrifice their childhood, the former as a result of neglect, and the latter, paradoxically, of too much attention, all of it on the wrong outcome.  
3.  And a chance find: 'The Sound of Mumbai' a 70 minute long docudrama about kids from Mumbai’s slums training for a choir performance in the city’s National Centre for Performing Arts of the songs from The Sound of Music. Uplifting yet depressing but altogether unmissable.
11 year old Ashish from the slums gets to perform a small solo piece and takes up the challenge at some personal cost. The contrast between his life in the slum and that of a 10 year old parsi girl in her middle class apartment is stark.  It’s probably true of any city in the world that 10 and 11 year old kids a few  miles apart can have very different lives, but in Mumbai they might as well be living in separate worlds of hope and expectation while sharing the same if unequally realisable dreams.  I’d give it 5 stars, Catch it here on the net if you can, or get the DVD
Hyderabad, Rajiv Gandhi International Airport.
A gleaming marvel of architectural class and technological efficiency, set in arid fields 30 miles south of the city, like an oasis with broadband and air conditioning in a dusty desert of settlements without sewerage or piped water. Pity they didn’t think to connect it to the city with a rail or metro link yet. Instead they built an 18 kilometer long elevated expressway that has the remarkable feature that you can only go from one end to the other; there are no entry and exit points en route. The road goes through villages that were always there and townships that have sprung up since the airport opened a few years ago. But all the development and economic opportunity seems to be only at either end of the expressway, not along it.  Lopsided priorities but that’s what you get when the decision makers think of the needs only of the class they represent. After all the expressway allows the denizens of Banjara Hills and HiTech city to get to the airport without the inconvenience of negotiating the bastis beneath it.

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