May 29, 2008

Desifest Vancouver 2008

Some of my friends were performing in the inaugural Vancouver edition of Desifest against the backdrop of the historic Gastown area of the city, so I commuted there using mass transit on a rainy Saturday morning. A friend of mine quipped that the Gastown setting was quite appropriate for a South Asian themed event. The free 12 hour open air festival took place on April 26, 2008. Slated to begin at 10am, it began a little over an hour behind schedule as the weather was poor and the audience sparse. At one time, I comprised 33% of it.As the weather began to improve, and the masses started arriving, the performances began to pick up steam. The crowd was well behaved and only needed the occasional reminder that this was a street festival so they did not have to stand on the sidewalks and block pedestrians from moving about.

Performers specializing in song, dance, and music from various parts of India participated. Bhangra dancing was a big part of the event, with one of the first all women teams in history, the UBC Girlz, performing a hyperactive routine, as well as an entertaining troupe of toddlers who drew considerable applause from an appreciative audience. Entouraas performed a Dandia Raas routine wearing dazzling turquoise and orange attire. Kathak and bharat natyam dances were also performed, while Cassius Khan played the tabla and sang ghazals simultaneously. The FootEdge Dance Company and Dhol Nation Academy provided quality dance and drum based entertainment respectively. I had come to support my friends and celebrate South Asian music and culture, so I did not notice the presence of any ARNABabes in the audience or on stage.

May 21, 2008

Relieving the Past

There are very few pleasures that match the joy of freeing oneself of a burden under the open sky; of pulling a vehicle over and emptying the tank; of creating intricate patterns against a wall and initialing them; and of creating a personal waterfall for a moment in time.

"Every sweet has its sour; every evil its good." -Ralph Waldo Emerson

The happiness that is derived from performing this liberating act must be tempered with a sense of social responsibility and profound shame. My friend James once described the horror he felt when he accidentally witnessed someone "pinching a loaf" for the first time on a Bangalore sidewalk. The trauma of being an unwitting spectator to the deed can sometimes leave a lifelong scar. On instances when the public good or personal modesty must be taken into account, privacy is desired. The noble origins of the water closet can be traced to this requirement.

If washroom facilities are within easy reach, there is no cause for concern. When there is nothing as far as the eye can see or the nose can smell, that is when the urge to purge rises to the top of to-do list. Agonizingly cruel "TO/LET" signs advertising empty flats available for rent fill the vision of an emergency bathroom seeker, as he frantically looks for a public restroom. In Europe, the "pay-to-pee" concept is quite popular and most people do not mind putting down a few euros for the privilege. But in India, an "anywhere, anytime" mentality exists, primarily among the male segment of the populace. Pay-per-use bathroom compounds do exist in larger cities or near tourist attractions. Usually, an attendant will charge an entrance fee and be responsible for its upkeep. Sometimes, imitation guards man free public bathrooms and collect a few rupees from unsuspecting bathroom goers, but that is the least of their worries.

May 19, 2008


During my days at Simon Fraser University, it was known for being a commuter campus. With a solitary location upon a mountain peak and a limited amount of on-campus housing available, students would make the trek to the campus just for their classes and immediately head home afterwards. In the same way, Bangalore is a commuter city with car, motorcycle, rickshaw, and bus loads of individuals being carted to and from work, followed by a mass exodus on weekends (in particular long ones) to the cities or towns that each calls home in Karnataka or the adjoining states of Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Goa. Most of these locations are within a 6 to 18 hour bus ride away from Bangalore.

On Friday evenings, a great many of these people will converge at the Majestic bus stand, which is conveniently located across the street from the Bangalore Central Railway Station. The whole area in fact bears the label "Majestic" for some unknown reason. Local lore says the name comes from the name of a nearby movie theatre, but this has not been verified. It is a well planned station with plenty of signage indicating where to wait for which bus. Amenities such as restaurants, cloak room, bathroom facilities, drinking water, phone booths, information counter, convenience store, and hair dresser are all available.

Officially named the Kempe Gowda Bus Station, the sprawling complex provides the hordes of travelers with many types of buses upon which to place themselves within or on top. Some buses have air conditioning (A/C), some have 1/2 A/C, some have windows that open, some do not have windows, some have A/C that is currently malfunctioning, and some make no mention whatsoever of A/C. Some buses accept advanced bookings, some sell tickets to passengers once they are aboard, and some sell the same seat twice using both methods. Most of the buses are operated by the state government sponsored KSRTC (Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation), and have "Majestic" names such as Airavat ("Elephant" - the carrier of the gods), Rajahamsa ("Royal Swan"), and Mayuri ("Peacock").

For longer rides, travelers may opt for sleeper buses where they can lie down and relax throughout the night. There are solo bunks available on most buses, but not always. Sleeper buses are not recommended for solo travelers who may have concerns about their mystery bedmate for the night. Once the sex of the traveler is verified by the operator of the bus, he or she is assigned a bed buddy of the same gender, which increases the likelihood of an unpleasant, though never unremarkable, journey.

May 13, 2008


Fifty thousand fans.

One stadium.

Two hunks.

For 72 minutes on November 7, 2007, Vancouver's homegrown heartthrob shared the spotlight with international soccer superstar David Beckham, as his LA Galaxy club participated in an exhibition match with the Vancouver Whitecaps. He did not play the full 90 minutes, but did stay on longer than the mandatory half a game appearance that his contract stipulated. The announced crowd of 48,172 at BC Place stadium was eagerly anticipating a chance to witness Beckham's ball bending antics and tattooed body. The game had already been postponed for a month due to injuries that Beckham had suffered that would have prevented him from playing on the originally scheduled date.

In traditional football fashion, the game was a 0-0 draw. There were several scoring chances, but mostly for the local squad. A streaker ran onto the field late in the game and mildly amused the crowd before being tackled. Beckham grinned. Once a ball was kicked into the stands and the spectators booed in unison when security guards demanded its return from the fan who had caught it. Beckham acknowledged the crowd before leaving, and everyone was left more or less satisfied by the outcome. With plans for a new downtown waterfront stadium in the works, the high turnout gave hope to the Whitecaps that Vancouver would have an increased appetite for hosting further large scale matches in the future.

May 04, 2008

Celebrity Sightings

One of the perks of working in the heart of a major metropolitan city such as Vancouver is that there are many opportunities to spot the celebrities who are out wandering the streets during the day. Actors, musicians, reporters, and politicians are all either working or relaxing in the general vicinity of my office. Apart from occasions when flocks of busy professionals and ESL students shriek with delight after spotting me in the downtown core during my lunch or coffee breaks, there have been two other prominent celebrity sightings during my days with ResponseTek so far.

Gene Simmons, member of the legendary rock band KISS, was at the L2 Leone fashion store inside Sinclair Centre to unveil his locally designed clothing line. Famous for wearing black and white makeup and wagging his tongue, Gene Simmons was in the guise of promoter rather than a rock star when I encountered him without any makeup on. He is an astute businessman who has his own reality TV series - Gene Simmons Family Jewels.

The other, and most delightful, celebrity encounter was with the lovely Liz Hurley. The actress and model was in town to raise awareness for breast cancer, as her grandmother had been a victim of the disease. I saw her and she saw me, quite possibly at the same time, at the upscale Holt Renfrew department store where she was signing autographs for her fans. We did not speak, but she smiled at me and I nodded in acknowledgment. I was accompanied by my friend Sri, who captured the event with his camera phone.