Sunday, December 25, 2011

My Christmas

Christmas Day makes me nostalgic. The weather also helps. There's this smell in the air, of chocolates, pastries and loads of freedom. I grew up at a time when December and January were months of uninterrupted fun, thanks to the "January-December" academic years. 

 I was lucky to have grown up in a huge residential complex, with quite a few kids of my age. I still remember my first Santa ! I was 8, and there was this huge party for kids in the complex. That was my first year there and by all means my first 'real" Christmas Party. At some point of time, the lights went out, and they came back after a minute, only to reveal a huge, smiling Santa Clause. He gave out packets to each one of us, and I still remember the contents !

I later found out that the Santa was none other than our very own "Military Jethu", a retired Army Major. We were all dead-scared of him, even though he never scolded a single soul. Probably his stature, the way he walked, and the way he went about things in everyday life left us a little wary. He still counts as one of the tallest and strongest men I've ever come across. He is no more, but how can I forget him, he was my first Santa !

I still believe in Santa. He doesn't bring me gifts anymore. But I found out that it's much easier than believing in God. Santa never expects you to Pray (and Pay), Santa brings in Winter, Santa is fatter than me, and he makes my daughter Happy. Do I need more reasons ?

Merry Christmas to all of you.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Next-door Netizen

Long, long ago, when we drank Campa Cola and cursed Mr. Jyoti Basu for all power-cuts, we did not have a social network. Does that mean we led a boring life ? No. Does that mean Facebook is bad ? No.

Social Network is an integral part of our lives now. It represents change, and we all need to embrace change. That is what keeps the human race going. You can still do without it, but only if you are willing to live behind closed doors, or if you already have a huge bunch of friends, and/or enough money to party every night.

I have neither. Hence, I'm on Facebook.

That doesn't guarantee me a smooth life though. I have over 800 friends on Facebook. They react, behave and express in 800+ different ways. While most of that is interesting, some of it range from utterly boring to purely insane. 

5 years back, what would you have done if your boyfriend/girlfriend dumped you and moved on ? How about taking a trumpet and blowing it while running around naked in the neighborhood ? Sounds crazy ? Well, then how would you explain these thousands of "Love hurts" or "I can't forget your smelly socks" blah blah blah ? 

If you're in Love, you're in Love, and Facebook has an option to let you tell the world what you're really up to. Keep your relationship status "updated" and the world surely knows how to take care of the rest. 

If you're not in Love, well, there's always Facebook ! 
And then, as if Love was not enough, you wake up in the morning and come to know that you've just made it to the "Top Ten Vampire Friends" list, courtesy one of your enterprising friends who thinks clicking on any link that comes across is his/her birthright. The funniest part is - almost everyone on Facebook complains about this and yet we somehow fall prey to the same menace over and over again. I was once declared "Casanova number 4" and my wife wasn't exactly amused.

I won't write anything about Photographs & Photographers on Facebook. I'm actually planning to write a book on it, a huge one. Once I've written it, and some moron agrees to publish it, I would surely let you know on Facebook. I may also write an App called "Who are your Top 10 Readers?". Do click on the Link as soon as you see one. If we can pay to watch Idiots on TV, we might as well watch them for free on Facebook.

I love Facebook.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Venice Travelogue - Day 1

When you are expected to fall in Love at first sight, and yet that doesn’t happen, it’s a strange feeling. As Maugham wrote in “The Lotus Eater”, it’s like you threw a stone up in the air but it did not come down !

While on the train to Venice, I was preparing myself to do exactly that, fall in love at first sight. With Venice.

And yet, that did not happen.

Approaching Venice by train is an interesting experience by itself. The Penultimate station is Venezia Mestre, that is the Venice Mainland. After this, the Train gets on to a l-o-n-g bridge and enters the city of Venice, or rather barely touches its borders, because all road and rail transport has to end at the border. Those who wish to drive in would cross the bridge and park their cars at Piazza Le Roma. A different world exists from there on.

Prior to that however, there is a very interesting transition while crossing the Swiss-Italian Border. A Station called “Chiasso” is where the train stops for a while and apparently there’s a switch in power transmission. However, it’s very unlike what you would expect on a cross-border train. No one comes and asks for your passports. No one scans your luggage. No sniffer dogs.

The change shows elsewhere. The moment you enter Italy, the view changes in a flash. It’s not fair to compare or to conclude which is good or bad, but suddenly you find torn down warehouses, clothes drying outside the houses. The Flowers on the windows become rarer by the minute, and the railway stations are suddenly not so sparkling clean.

Okay, coming back to Venice, the train smoothly rolls over the bridge and into the Santa Luzia Stazione, which happens to be the Railway Station in Venice. The excitement grew as the train came to a halt.

This has to be one of the best locations for a railway station. You come out of the station building and immediately find yourself standing on the banks of the Grand Canal. For someone like me who was born and brought up in Kolkata, the noise is so very familiar. Yet a couple of days spent in Switzerland prior to arriving in Venice gave me a mild startle. Suddenly there were thousands of people walking at a frantic pace, and trust me, 90% of them had to be tourists ! Tourists are known for their leisurely walks, and sometimes are a cause of disgust for the city dwellers. This is true anywhere in the world you go. However, that’s not the case in Venice.

This was my first view of Venice, and believe me, no where in the world would you be thrown into the heart of the city so instantly. No foreplay, straight in to the action !

My hotel was just a five minutes’ walk from the station. Before I could get a feel of the place, I arrived at the hotel. I had to wait for a couple of hours before I could get out and start exploring this wonderful city.

I was expecting to fall in Love instantly, and I was disappointed. A Hot Humid weather, a noisy crowd, screaming shopkeepers… this couldn’t be Europe, I thought.

The day passed and by the end of it, I was utterly confused and disgusted. The Hotel’s air conditioning refused to work. I kept telling myself – “This can’t be it, this can’t be happening to me”.

... to be continued

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Travelogue - May 23, 2011

Dear God (or whoever decides my Taxes),

Please bless me with more wisdom, more money and better Google-abilities. 

For 6 months I browsed through millions of travel websites, thousands of Deals and hundreds of Reviews, only to realize at the Airline check-in desk that one of my bags weighed 36 kgs, and they are not willing to fly any luggage that weighs more than 32 kgs. 

When we finally managed to fly, we did get through Transit on Schedule. Terminal 3 at Dubai was a new experience. The last time I flew through Dubai was in 2008 and Terminal 3 was still a heap of Rubble. 

One notable omission in the new Terminal : No Smoking Room. Earlier, any smoker passing through Terminal 1 used to be spoilt for choice. Smoking Rooms glowed like the Cabaret Billboards every 100 metres ! Alas, in Terminal 3, they've used the space for healthier purposes.

No need to worry though. Terminal 1 is only a 5-20 minutes' walk away (depending on which gate your next flight is leaving from). Both these terminals are seamlessly connected, and you barely even notice that you've walked across Terminals. Luckily, my Gate (Gste 211) was at the extreme end of Terminal 3 and barely a 5 minute walk / scamper from Terminal 1. And so I obliged. Twice in 2 hours.

Zurich : Zurich Airport (Kloten) is a weird mix of very unimpressive architecture blending with very state-of-the-art facilities. The rate of which either of these would face you every other minute is very confusing. If the corridors are narrow and long, the very next minute you pass through a Hall that dazzles with modern interior design, and then another boring room, and then suddenly the escalator drops you deep down on to a railway platform.

Now this was confusing. As per plan, we were to take a train from Zurich Airport Station (Zurich Flughafen) till Zurich Main Station (Zurich HB) and then change trains to board one that goes to Basel SBB where our journey was to end. But I read nothing about a Train station that meets you even before you've been handed back your checked luggage !

Well, as it turned out, this was a 10 minute ride to the Arrival Hall and Baggage Claim.

Changing trains at Zurich HB needed an Adrenaline rush because of the slim transfer time. The elevators on the Platforms made life a bit easier.

And so, the  journey finally ended. I sat on my friend's doorstep and burnt down a couple of cigarettes to call it a day.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

A Lens is a *Beep*

When I bought my first Digital SLR, it came with a 18-55 Kit Lens. The first few days were very exciting indeed. Every time my eyes were drawn to the two letters "VR" etched on the Lens body, I felt very proud, very powerful. It was like - nothing can stop me from taking great photographs. Incidentally "VR" stands for "Vibration Reduction" - a patented Nikon technology which prevents you from taking bad photographs (apparently). 

Very soon, VR wasn't that important any more. Focal length was. Almost everything that I wanted to photograph seemed to be too far away from me. Hence I dished out some hard-earned money to buy a Nikkor 55-200 (also with VR but it didn't matter much now). The subjects came closer, but then I read Ansel Adams saying once that "If the Photograph isn't good enough, then you are not Close Enough". Maybe these are not the exact words, but he said something similar. 
Therefore, I needed to go close, very close.

I bought a Nikkor 105mm F/2.8 Micro (Nikon, for some important reason, calls their Macro Lenses "Micro"). This Lens, again a VR enabled one, is a masterpiece. It weighs almost as much as your wife's shopping, costs double as much and can scare away the bravest of subjects with its sheer size. But it delivered what I wanted, and even more. The Dust, the Scratches, the Finger prints, they all started showing up in my photographs ! And then, there was this compelling need to break into the neighbor's house to obtain the desired distance from the subject if I wanted to shoot someone's portrait, such was the focal length. The Quality delivered was awesome no doubt, but then nobody appreciated a flawless reproduction of all the pimples that they managed to hide otherwise.
In July 2009, I was all set to go on a trip to Europe. Europe, they said, had magnificent Architecture. With a 105mm Focal Length I would need to stay back in Asia in order to cover entire structures and its surroundings. Thus entered a Sigma 10-20mm Ultrawide Lens. Suddenly, the world was a bigger place. All the Pillars were inclined. Every human being looked like an Alien, and my wife was very upset. But the Lens  served me well on the trip. I managed to take some good photographs which would otherwise have not looked so good at any other focal length.

When I returned home, I read a lot of bad things about this Ultrawide Lens. Flare, Distortion, Lack of Corner Sharpness. The list just went on.
Now, this was confusing. Which focal length should I concentrate on now ? 

My brother-in-Law decided to get married and I decided to carry my camera to the Wedding. He is a Nikon user (All sensible men are). He had a Nikkor AF 50mm F/1.8, and I decided to give it a try. A major chunk of all the photographs I shot during the wedding was in very challenging light conditions, and yet the Lens came out trumps ! I was impressed, for the umpteenth time, and decided to buy a similar one very soon. And I did. 
This is me now. A huge camera bag stares at me. Every time I open it, all the Lenses stare at me. My wife stares at me when I tell her that this is my Cabin Luggage for all flights.

Another Europe Trip is coming up in a couple of weeks, and I'm very scared.