London travails – II

So I take the tube back to Paddington, looking around in case this be the same train and a blue rucksack peeked out of somewhere.

No such luck as I step out of the station half an hour later into the chilly winter night. It was February end so winter was on its last leg but its kick was nevertheless quite teeth chattering. It didn’t help looking at a window display that read “End of winter sales”.

Anyway, I was back at the small family-run hotel, very down if I may add, even though the guy at the Air India counter told me the airline would put me back on a plane to Kolkata as soon as I got a Transfer Certificate (TC – a one-time document allowing me to fly back) from the Indian High Commission.

The lady at the hotel comforted me like a mother and I had my room back, the one I had checked out in the morning. It was so comforting.

After spending a sleepless night, woke up early nervous as hell not knowing what awaited me at the India House.

I was told the high commission in Aldwych was a walking distance from Covent Garden tube station. But I was in such a disturbed state of mind that it often eluded me while walking past historic buildings such as the BBC World Service headquarters that I was in London and I should look around.

A glimpse of the India House, a quarter of the iconic red phone booth, and the rear of the famous London black cab!

After much walking and not noticing some more landmarks I reached the gates of India House — a marvellous edifice that I’m told was inaugurated by Nehru himself (but don’t rely on my GK). I would like to call the building a fine example of Victorian architecture but I’m not sure if it is one!

It was London when I entered  the compound but the moment I stepped inside the building I wasn’t so sure. “Oye katthey ja riya hai?”  A burly Jat securityman accosted me. I was apparently going towards a restricted area inside the main hall.

I had the uneasy feeling of being at home with unknown relatives — lots of them. It was as chaotic and noisy as a government office is back home.

Somehow I managed to make my way through to the restricted area and found the PR manager. Showed him my Times of India, Kolkata press card and begged for help. It turned out he knew some journos from The Telegraph where I worked previously.

Things became easy. The good man, I forget his name, fast-tracked my application. I was told I could get a new passport for 170 pounds but I settled for the TC which was 40 pounds or something.

Then it was over to Mr Desai at the passport counter. He accepted my application and wrote me a receipt  that had my name spelt wrong. I pointed this out to him in Hindi and he replied: “Arey bhai fikar mat karo tumhara pura agla pichla itihaas dekhne ke baad he TC milega.”

I settled for his assurance and asked when will I get it. He said come on Monday. Monday? I panicked. It was Thursday and I couldn’t possibly wait that long. So played the media card again and told him Mr X the PR man said I could get it today. Mr Desai relented and asked me to come after 3 in the afternoon, which meant I had more than four hours to kill.

The five days in London before the tragedy were bright and sunny and this day was as gloomy as my mood. When I stepped out of India House it had begun to rain.

But now that I knew I was not going to have to seek asylum in Britain or live the life of an illegal immigrant, my mood lifted a bit with the realisation that I could catch a flight home tonight if I got the TC by afternoon.

So walking aimlessly around I began to see the landmarks that I missed while coming here. I figured I was in West End where most of the famous London theatres are located. Walking a bit more it was the London School of Economics where I always wanted to study. Got myself photographed in front of the LSE signboard with the intention of showing it to my grandchildren that I studied here.

After wondering some more reached Trafalgar Square, by now it was sunny. Sat down on the steps of the National Gallery wolfed down a mcburger, smoked a few cigarettes and watched the birds (both varieties).

Soon it was time to go back to India House for my rendezvous with Mr Desai. Back at the main hall, the crowd was getting thinner. It was 4 pm now but no trace of my TC yet. I was told it had to be signed by some top boss of the high commission so it’ll  take time.

By 5, the crowd was down to just seven of us and I was glad to note that contrary to my belief I was not the only idiot on earth to have lost his passport.

Like us, the securityman who had stopped me earlier in the day, was also getting impatient — it was 5.30 and time to shut shop for the extended weekend.

Panic returned when I saw Desai preparing to leave. There were murmurs in the group how could he leave without us getting the TC?

Feeling brave I caught hold of him. “Sir why don’t you sit and chat with us till the papers come,” I said as politely as I could while the others joined in blocking his way.

Now it was his turn to plead, “Arey bhai mujhe jaane do, I have promised my wife and kids to take them out.”  To which I replied, “Sir hum bhi aapke bachche hain yahan videsh mein phanse hue hain!”

He smiled realising there was no escape. I tried to chat him up to keep him in good humour. Thirty more minutes passed and just as the burly guard was threatening to leave Desai with the keys, the papers came.

Not surprisingly mine was the last in the bunch. And not surprisingly either me and my dad’s surname was spelt wrong. So much for Desai’s filmy dialogue.

I accosted him again. In a hurry to go home, he took out his pen and corrected my spelling. But when I told him my father’s surname was wrong too he suddenly realised that he was not authorised to run his pen over a government of India document.

“Oh my god I shouldn’t have done that,” he murmured under his breath and I started counting my blessings — they would fall short I figured.

Now I was angry, diplomat or not I gave him a blasting. He tried to pacify me saying they’ll only be too happy to let you go you know UK has such a huge problem of illegal immigration.

Unfortunately, my anger subsides easily. I got back my humour looking at the man’s sweating face. He kept saying sorry. I said Desai saab if I’m stopped I’m coming back to live at your place because I don’t have any money. At this he took out his business card and wrote down his phone number and home address. Handing it to me he said, “You’re most welcome to stay at my place.”

We shook hands and I left for Heathrow to book my flight.

But my travails hadn’t ended yet. At the Air India counter, the manager recognised me from the other day and congratulated me for getting the TC so fast. But added that all flights to Kolkata were booked for the next two days because Bangladesh Biman flights to Dhaka have been cancelled for the entire week.

Wonderful! Anyhow I booked myself a place on the third day after paying a transfer fee of 75 pounds (nearly Rs 7,000). I also showed them the TC and Mr Desai’s overwriting on it. But the manager assured me that won’t be a problem.

Now with some relief I headed back clutching the TC like my life depended on it, which did depend on it. Reached hotel exhausted, skipped dinner to save money for the next two days having only a mcburger to keep alive.

But slept peacefully that night and woke up to a bright morning. Tried to enjoy my last two days of enforced holiday in London — taking a stroll in the Hyde Park, smoking away to glory by the Thames, checking out 21B Baker Street home of Sherlock Holmes and the “bargain market” of Portobello where I realised even the sight of biriyani can kill you if you’ve only had burgers for two days.

But again these are stories for another time!



London travails – I

Getting lost and losing things is a way of life for me, I have come to terms with this inadequacy.

I have lost many things many times, including love!  But the loss of one precious thing, the shock of which had the potential to cure me of this illness, was my passport that I had lost in London nearly three years ago.

You can only imagine how it feels after losing a passport — the only proof of identity acceptable in an alien land — unless you have lost one yourself.

Mine happened on the last day of the trip, in fact in the last hour. Or what could have been my last hour in London had I not left my hand luggage on the train at the Heathrow tube station.

It was only after I got on to one of those moving walkways at the airport that I realised my rucksack was not on my shoulders.

It took a few seconds for panic to set in. Then I started running back on the walkway towards the tube station realising I  must have left the bag on the train. But it is impossible to walk back on a moving walkway.

There was no option but to go all the way and then run back. Breathless I reached the entrance to the tube station and told one of the guards, an elderly black man, about my ordeal. He took pity and opened the gates and informed me that  my train’s still on the platform.

GHOST IN LONDON: I have no photos of London. Had lost my camera along with my passport. My memories of the city are only in my mind.

The train was there, but in my panic I forgot on which side of the platform it was because now there were two trains on both sides. I had to quickly start searching so I began with the train to my right but there was no trace of my blue rucksack. On the second train I could search only the first compartment before it left.

I stood on the platform shell-shocked. What next?

Even the guard looked worried when I told him the train left before I could search it. He helpfully suggested that I talk to the station manager and see if he could get the train searched.

Coming from India it sounded like a far-fetched idea but when you are stranded without your passport you’ll try anything that anyone tells you.

So I walked in to the station manager’s office. The officer was a middle-aged Chinese man whose heavy accent suggested that his many years (I’m assuming) in London had not managed to add a Brit layer to his tongue.

Nevertheless, I told him about my rucksack that contained my passport. His first reaction was: “What have you done? (His expression said how could anyone be so careless!)”

I had no reply. He beckoned me to a room inside where there was large electronic map of the entire Heathrow line showing rectangular dots in motion. He pointed out the two trains that had by then left Heathrow — one had just reached a station and the other was on its way to another one.

What do you want me to do, he asked? If you could have them searched, I replied gingerly. And he actually had the trains stopped and searched, as little dots piled up on both lines on the electronic map.

After nearly seven minutes the manager got a call that confirmed my worst fears — no bag found. “I’m afraid I can’t do anything more than this,” he said.

I thanked him and walked in a daze towards the Air India counter.

Then I remembered the photocopy I had kept of my passport. “Sorry sir we can’t allow you to fly without the passport,” the man at the counter said rejecting the photocopies I was pinning my hopes on.

By this time I was numb. My official tour was over and with the little money left I was on my own in a foreign city without my passport.

After nearly three hours of running around, I was through with checking out all the lost & found counters at the airport and filing an FIR with the Heathrow police. It was 11 pm and my flight had already taken off. I was exhausted, famished and nowhere to spend the night.

Like a lightening it struck me that without my passport no hotel will give me a room.

I had checked in at a small hotel in Sussex Gardens near the Paddington station for the last two days of my stay and became quite friendly with the elderly lady who managed the hotel.

When I called up to say I’ve lost my passport and couldn’t leave she was as worried as my mother would have been and said: “Son don’t you worry. Come right back and I’ll have your room ready.”

At last some cheer! Can you imagine my relief?



The best part of a Jackie Chan movie is when the credits roll. Oh no I’m not trying to make a nasty comment about his movies, in fact, it’s a compliment.

His movies entertain you even after it ends, till the last of the credits have rolled. You get to see the funny bloopers of Chan and his co-stars while they were canning the movie.

It has been the hallmark of his movies, especially for me. I love them, these bloopers leave me in splits every time. I like the Rush Hour movies. Chan and Chris Tucker are hilarious. Both get to mouth some really crazy dialogues.

Chan’s movies are a great stress-buster for me. After a hard day’s work in office if I get to catch one of his movies on TV nothing like it! It’s not that I wait eagerly for his movies or rent them, but I’m always pleased if I catch one of his movies on TV — then I don’t flip channels, mostly!

You get a good dose of bone-cracking martial arts and rib-tickling comedy.

He’s been one my favourites ever since I saw Armour of the Gods 2 as a senior-school student. This is the one in which the action takes place in a desert where he is searching for gold hidden by a Nazi commander with help of two pretty blondes. The movie was hilarious I was nearly ROTFL!

I still remember my grandpa calling out from the other room saying this guy has gone mad laughing so hard at the dead of the night.  But my guffawing ended only after the last of the credits had rolled. Even the bloopers were as funny as the movie itself.

I hear Chan is training Will Smith’s kid Jaden in Kung Fu for a remake of the 80s classic Karate Kid. This movie is also one of my favourites.

I loved Mr Miyagi — played by Pat Morita — the reclusive but loveable Japanese martial arts teacher who becomes a mentor to the Karate Kid. I wished as a kid that I had a Karate teacher like Mr Miyagi!

Wonder how Chan would be in Mr Miyagi’s role — will he make the serious Mr Miyagi smile?

So what does the climate elephant look like?

I have been following, or at least trying to follow, the Copenhagen climate talks ever since it began nearly two weeks ago.

Wading through the viscous stream of jargons, I tried to make sense of the developments or the lack of it at the Danish capital, going through the news reports generated by the media every day.

The coverage, in the paper I work for and elsewhere, reminded me of the story of the blind men trying to figure out what an elephant looks like.

Each newspaper or news agency appeared to have a different take on what was brewing inside the Bella Centre in Copenhagen. Except for spot reports, little else bore any resemblance to each other. “It’s like a wall”, “a thick rope”, no “it’s like a tree trunk” they all seemed to say.

Only one thing was clear — Copenhagen was very cold, like the vibes between the rich, poor and the richer developing countries.

Late on Friday night, came the news that PM Manmohan Singh & US President Barack Obama deferred their return at the request of UN general secretary Ban Ki Moon to thrash out a deal.

Still later in the night or early on Saturday morning the news of some kind of a deal filtered in. Reports said the US had arrived at a “meaningful agreement” with the key developing countries like India, China and Brasil.

The said “deal” is not legally binding and does not talk of any carbon reduction target or any “peaking” deadline — in short it has every thing that the key “interested parties” wanted.

Hardly matters that many of the developing countries reportedly did not even know that there was such an agreement when it was being announced by the American representative.

To sum up, this is what a Green Peace official told the BBC on the last night of the summit: “The city of Copenhagen is a crime scene tonight, with the guilty men and women fleeing to the airport.”

With the blessings of Aergia

A good lazy day. It lasted a while longer than my usual off day! Had a blast doing absolutely nothing. Switched between reading a thriller, chatting on G-chat and watching movies — one after the other — and sipping a fine scotch (but that was only in the evening).

When I felt tired by all this nothing that I was doing, I took a nap. It was exquisite, like I was taking laziness to new heights. But the word laziness sounds course, so I’ll use indolence instead. To borrow a quote ” indolence makes my laziness sound classy”. Well said!

And as if to reward my planned indolence, god (or who ever it is) got me a bargain early in the day. I had ordered a mutton biriyani and some kakori kebabs from a local joint that promises the taste of authentic awadhi cuisine.

But they delivered chicken biriyani instead. Since this mistake was threatening to spoil my day, I called up the restaurant to give them a blasting. But before I could say anything more than ‘I got the wrong order’, the guy apologised and said, “Sir you could keep that order and we will also deliver the food you ordered at no extra charge.”

Wonderful! I could have chicken biriyani for lunch, mutton for dinner and kakori kebabs to go with my whiskey in the evening.

Besides, a long pending problem got solved without me moving a finger and i got the news on phone.

Now I seriously began to believe that there is a god of indolence. And sure enough the Greek pantheon has one. Google tells me the name is Aergia — the goddess of sloth and indolence!

The Father of Yin Hua

Amid the rising tension between India and China came a blink-and-miss news recently that Dr Kotnis has been voted among the top 10 international personalities who shaped China.

Dr Kotnis who?

I would have probably wondered myself had I not vaguely remembered watching a black & white movie on Doordarshan as a kid.

A hand-painted poster of the V. Shantaram classic.

It was called Dr Kotnis Ki Amar Kahani. Some  grainy images flickered in my mind as I tried to recall but all I could remember was a man in a doctor’s coat trying desperately to save a soldier in a war setting. It must have been nearly 20 years ago that I saw the movie.

So I Googled and came up with some surprises. It was a pre-Independence movie made in 1946 scripted by the legendary Khwaja Ahmad Abbas and directed by another legend V. Shantaram. And, like most of his movies, Shantaram also played the lead — Dr Dwarkanath Kotnis.

This 28-year-old doctor was sent as part of a five-member medical team to China in 1938 during the Sino-Japanese war. Subhash Chandra Bose, the then Indian National Congress president, made arrangements for the team to be sent as a mark of solidarity from a nation struggling for its own freedom to another fighting an aggressor.

Dr Kotnis spent five years on various war fronts in China saving hundreds of soldiers. It is said that once he continuously operated upon wounded Chinese soldiers for 72 hours at a stretch.

Amid the frenzy of war, the good doctor also found time for love. He fell in love and married Guo Qinglan, a nurse who worked with him. A few months after a  son was born, Dr Kotnis died of epileptic seizure at the young age of 34.  The couple had named the baby boy Yin Hua (Yin for India and Hua for China in Mandarin).

Every year when the Chinese observe a festival remembering their ancestors, the grave of Dr Kotnis at a village in Hubei province, is covered with flowers.

They still remember their great Indian friend every year. Wonder how many of us Indians even know his name.

PS: Check out this link to know more about the Indian doctor who’s a legend in China:

Cinema, cinema

I love watching movies. Always have, for as long as I remember. I can watch any movie and enjoy it except for the ghost movies and some stupid superhero flicks.

When I was growing up in the late eighties and early nineties, Bollywood was probably going through its worst phase. The super heroes of Hindi cinema were getting older and to hold on to their careers they were starring in senseless potboilers peppered with mind-numbing action and stupid songs with pathetic dance sequences.

But I loved them. Growing up in a small town called Mughal Sarai near Varanasi, that was all you got those days. Cable television had yet to arrive so the two standalone cinema halls in the town were the only places of entertainment.

But even that was an occasional event. For, a 12-year-old kid wouldn’t be allowed to go for a movie alone or even with friends, you had to go with someone older than you. For me and my brother our uncle, who was twice my age, used to be our only hope.

Provided, he was in the mood to tag us along for a movie. And that happened only perhaps once in two or three months. So we had no option but to for the Sunday evening movies on Doordarshan even though they played old flicks from the sixties and seventies.

The most exciting parts of course were the action sequences that unfortunately came only in the last 20 mins when the hero would beat the villain to pulp and police would come only to say “you’re under arrest” to the villain who was by then half dead.

Slowly word started spreading that there was something called cable TV and if you got connection you could see as many movies as you like. I was told that there were channels that showed only movies throughout the day. And you even had English movie channels that showed movies of Hollywood stars you had only heard or read about.

Wow! That sounded so cool. Names like Stallone, Bruce Lee and Schwarzenegger (Arnold’s name I had heard for the first time from a friend who was bragging about having seen a movie called Terminator in Calcutta. But he couldn’t catch the  last name and called him ‘Swizenberger’ ) were filtering in through the grapevine. We couldn’t wait to get the cable connection.

But my parents obviously did not share our excitement. “Cable TV? Your board exams are only six months away,” my mother said, effectively putting an end to the conversation. However, there was a silver lining when after days of pleading she said, “Let your exams get over and if you score well, then we’ll see.”

That was enough motivation to take to studies with a religious zeal. Months passed, exams came and went, I did well despite many odds (a story for another time).

Then came the day we got our cable connection. A dream was fulfilled. Now I could see as many movies as I liked. But alas the Hollywood action flicks I used to dream about were not being shown. I checked the listings in the newspapers everyday and both Hindi & English channels were churning out duds (by my standards because they were not action flicks).

Finally after a few weeks I caught my first Bruce Lee film — “Enter the Dragon”. And my idea of an action film changed forever. Now all the punches of an ageing Dharmendra or Mithun Chakraborty couldn’t hold my attention. I had seen Lee in action.

Then one after the other came Rambo, Terminator, 36 Chambers of Shaolin the list was endless. Some I caught on TV some and on video cassettes (by then the only video shop in town was beginning to stock Hollywood flicks).

Years passed and I graduated to watching serious cinema both in Indian languages and world movies, but even now I feel as excited watching the reruns of those fantastic action flicks that blew me away from watching the tame stuff dished out by Bollywood.