07 January 2010

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!

It’s snowing here in Atlanta. Tiny snowflakes are drifting down at a leisurely pace and melt as soon as they hit the ground. My daughter has been waiting for this since the past four days, and she is disappointed that there is no snow accumulation.

I can recall being similarly disappointed, albeit seven years earlier. We had just moved from California. The only visual that we had of snow in California was the sight of snow capped mountains from our living room window in California; we didn’t even know the name of those mountains. Snow had been forecast one gray Atlanta winter day, but there wasn’t a trace of snow through the day. The forecast also had some snow for the night. My wife and I lay awake for the snow to come down; all we got was 15-30 minutes of flurries. We both rushed out to take videos of the flurries, which barely left small little patches on the ground. We were very disappointed and we thought we’d never see real live snow.

Our romance with snow started long ago and continues unbroken. Well actually, only my romance continues, not my wife's. Right after our marriage, we had gone to Sikkim and Darjeeling. We had gone in late October and it was fairly cold by then; Gangtok, the capital city of Sikkim, is located at an average elevation of 1640 meters above sea level. But we did not get any rain/ snow throughout our stay. In fact, we did not even get a glimpse of the Kanchenjunga till we were about to leave. From Gangtok, we went on to Darjeeling – once again, there was hardly any snow. Let me clarify that till that time we subscribed to the common misconception that it snows when there is extreme cold. Logical though it may sound to Snow Belt inhabitants, we did not realize that moisture/ rain is required for the snowfall in addition to the cold conditions. And, in India, the monsoons are almost gone by mid October. However, we got excellent views of the Himalayan range when we went to see the famous Darjeeling Sun rise from Tiger Hills.

Back to snow in Atlanta, or back to the lack of snow in Atlanta. We did not stay in Atlanta very long and moved to Knoxville in Tennessee. Now, Knoxville is just 200 miles away from Atlanta but temperatures are generally 4-5 degrees lower, and humidity is quite high. Knoxville generally gets 2-3 snow days a year. We were lucky to get almost 3 inches of snow the first day it snowed in Knoxville that winter. We simply went crazy. My daughter dressed up in her hooded jacket, shoes, mittens and she went out to make her first snowman. We were busy taking pictures of anything that had snow on it, the road, the roof of the apartment building, the trees, the cars, and of course, of our daughter and her snow man. We stayed in Knoxville for approximately four and half years and we got to see snow a number of times. However, it never snowed so much as to deter people from going out – the most snow that we got in Knoxville, barely managed to cover the dead winter grass.

I was still dissatisfied and still wanted to see real snow. I got my chance in late 2006, when I started traveling again. One of my first projects was in Brimfield, a quaint little town close to the Massachusetts/ Connecticut border. My project had started right after Thanksgiving and it was fairly cold by then. All of December went by, the temperature kept dropping and still no sign of snow. I was cursing my luck and thinking that I would miss the snow again. I was wrong. One week, snow had been forecast for Tuesday and Wednesday; the best days from a traveling consultant’s point of view! Mondays and Thursdays are the commute days, you see, and therefore, you wish for nice weather on these days. Monday was nice and snow free and we made it back to the hotel in the evening with hardly a trace of snow. On Tuesday, it was snowing lightly in the morning, and the morning commute was hardly any different from the other days. There were five of us and we generally took turns to get lunch for the entire group. It was the turn of one of the other guys to get lunch that day, so I never really got to see the extent of the snowfall during the day. Around 6:30 in the evening, one of my colleagues decided to leave. There were two us remaining; we had more work to do. About 45 minutes later, the aforementioned colleague walked back in, announcing that he had cleaned our cars in addition to his own! I walked out with him and was astounded to see the snow. My colleague had cleaned the snow off the glass, but the roof of the car still had a eight-inch layer of snow on it. I immediately went back in to get my stuff and get back to the hotel. That was my first attempt at driving in the snow. It was a scary moment when the car suddenly decided to go in a direction that I hadn’t intended it to. However, Massachusetts is well-prepared for snow and the snow was being continuously cleared off the main roads. The ride back to the hotel was a bit tense, but uneventful.

From January to February, we had maybe five more heavy snow days – during the days that I stayed there. I made it a point to go out on those days during the daytime, so that I could actually see the snow falling and settling down on cars, trees, buildings. I really enjoyed all the snow and really liked the place. My family and I were getting ready to move out of Knoxville and were looking at several possibilities. Having spent almost the entire winter in Massachusetts, I was ready to add it to our list of possibilities and I invited my family to join me there for the spring break.

My family came to join me on a March 14, 2007 – it was a Wednesday afternoon. On the drive back from the airport to the hotel, my wife and daughter were really impressed with the beautiful snow clad countryside. That was the last time I've seen my wife liking snow! The next day, we were planning to drive down to a friend’s place close to Boston so that we could explore Boston over the weekend. Boston is approximately 60 miles away from Brimfield and the best way to get there is to take I-90, a 5-lane wide highway for the most part. By the time we left the hotel at 2:00 pm, it was snowing lightly. We had barely made it for 5 miles on the highway before the snow started to fall really heavily. Traffic was heavy; it seemed everybody was in a hurry to get back home before dark. We made heavy weather of the drive, literally, and by 5:00 pm had barely made it Westford, still some 35 miles away from Boston. My daughters were hungry and we decided to take a break. While they were eating, we had a change in plans. Westford is also home to a relative of my wife’s, who we had planned to visit, but later in the weekend. We decided to take advantage of the break and visit them that evening itself.

We made it to our relative’s house just before dark. I had never met them before, and my wife was meeting them after, maybe 15-20 years! They were relative, pun fully intended, unknowns to us! After about an hour or so, we wanted to leave, but they would hear none of it. It had got dark, and it was still snowing heavily. Staying there the night seemed to be the best course of action for us. We woke in the morning to discover that we were snowed in. We had approximately 15 inches of snow through the night. Our car which had been parked in the driveway, was nowhere to be seen; all we could see was a huge mound of snow. The contractor who cleaned the private driveways would come only the next day. We couldn’t go anywhere. We tried to make the best of a bad situation; the children played in the snow and tried all snow activities that they knew. I offered to clear the snow from near the door. I managed to clear only a 5X3 path before I had had enough of that backbreaking work.

I came back inside to discover our relatives trying to convince my wife that this much snow was rare, and not a regular phenomenon. They wanted us to move as soon as our daughter's school session was over. They even offered to host us for the initial couple of months in the time that it took for us to search for a house. My wife’s mind was made up, all that snow had removed Massachusetts from the list of possible locations to move to. In the winter of 2007, we moved back to Atlanta, where there’s hardly any snow.

My romance with snow continues and it may take something like what’s mentioned in this joke(http://www.surfminnesota.net/shoveler.html, or at http://baetzler.de/humor/snow_shoveler.html) to break my love affair with snow.

(Our relative has just released his first Indipop music album titled "My Name Is Ajitabh" - more details at www.ajitabhranjan.com).

03 January 2010

Happy New Year!

When I was a child, the coming of the New Year was not that big of a deal! Television had not yet taken over the world; and the hospitality industry and the card companies still hadn’t made it into a mega marketing event. New Year came and we exchanged polite HNY’s with friends and family, with the ones that cared for it, that is. Yes, it was possible for people to not get caught up in all the hype around the New Year.
I spent most of my childhood and adolescent years in a small town. It was a sleepy little town; there wasn’t much to do on New Year’s Eve. Well, there wasn’t much to do any other day of the year too, but around the New Year, people would complain about the lack of fun activities. Personally, I was too young to try and find “fun-ner” activities – sports, comics, and similar childhood/ teenage activities were fun enough, never mind the time of the year. New Year came in the middle of our winter vacations; and the vacations were really long vacations – almost 5 weeks long, beginning in the second week of December and ending in the 2nd week of January. We were too busy vacationing – playing all kinds of games, reading books, generally tiring ourselves to sleep to bother too much about some silly New Year! And our parents didn’t care either.
However, there were things that marked the change in dates/ year. The first and foremost was the calendar. No, digital calendars were not around; they were probably just a figment of imagination then. I am referring to paper calendars – the ones that you hung on walls and which came with all kinds of pretty pictures. There were also table calendars, but they were meant for office use, for somebody who had a nice big desk to put it on. Calendars were a store’s way of letting you know that you were a valued customer; they were your office’s way of acknowledging your hard work. Calendars used to be in high demand and you felt let down if your regular grocery store didn’t give you one, or your bank did not give you one.
The wall calendars were usually of two types – the ones that had pictures and dates, and the others which had only dates (wall planers). The ones with dates (wall planners) were usually meant for offices, or if used in homes, they were used keep score - like to mark the supply of milk, newspaper and other variable supplies for which you made a one-time monthly payment, and needed to keep track of the irregular supply.  Picture calendars usually featured gods and goddesses, although calendars featuring film stars were not uncommon. The gods and goddesses are probably the reason why people did not throw away old calendars despite getting new ones - they could not throw away the presiding deity of their lives! I have to salute the marketing genius of whosoever thought up calendars with religious themes. To this date, my wife doesn’t throw away the calendars from previous years, the only concession she’s willing to make is to peel away the date refills. Our house is a virtual (?) smorgasbord of pictures of Hindu deities and has led me to totally believe in the omnipresence of Bhagwan. Some other calendars had really nice pictures – of snow clad mountains, flaming red forests et al. I remember saving one of two calendars of that kind, though I must have thrown them away later. These days, Mr. Mallya, he of Kingfisher fame, has started his own calendar – the Kingfisher Swimsuit Calendar. Needless to say, that calendar is a collector’s item. He makes sure of that; by marking the calendar as an “International award-winning, limited-edition et al.”
The other reminder of the New Year was the annual diary. Diaries came in all sizes – the pocket diary, obviously meant for the shirt pocket and to be used as a ready notebook. These diaries had little except dates, usually three to a page, and an owner’s information page. Then there were the bigger ones, the ones that you could carry only in your briefcase. These diaries usually had more information. There would usually be calendars for three years – the past year, the current year, and the next year. There would be an address/ phone book as well – usually about 10 pages, but the bigger ones could have more. Some of the diaries also had a world time zones page – usually accompanied by times in different cities of the world. These diaries were presumably meant for the business traveler. Then there were the executive diaries. These were much more than diaries. They had multiple features – world time zone pages, address book pages, annual planner, calculator, a notebook, and of course the annual diary. The diary usually had one page for each day. All this was usually contained in a single zipped unit. Needless to add, these executive diaries were not distributed to all and sundry, and were therefore much sought after.
My father was a college professor when I was a child; later on he went on to be the principal of a college he founded. He also used to teach occasionally in the local Management school, and also in the law school. His students came from all walks of life and quite a few of them were working professionals as well. In addition to the grocery store, bank et al, many of his students would get him calendars and diaries. Space to put up the numerous calendars was limited, and my father used to redistribute most of them. The same went for the diaries; my father would keep one or two for himself, and redistribute the rest. I was not old enough to actually use diaries, a diary was just another notebook for me. One of these years, I think I was Eight; my father got his usual quota of annual diaries. There were maybe four or five executive diaries as well. He kept one for himself, and decided to give away the rest. One of my friends/ neighbours had been pestering me, much before the New Year, to give me one diary from among the multiple that my father used to get every New Year. I decided to give him one diary. I opened my father’s cupboard and discovered that there was only one executive diary left.  I handed over that diary to my friend.
A couple of days later, my father noticed the missing diary. The needle of suspicion pointed to me. I received my father's summons, it didn’t take even a minute for me to admit/ confess (?) that I had given it to my friend. I was given the embarrassing task of getting it back. My friend had proved to be quick; he had written his name on not just the first page, but on the other pages as well. I returned shamefaced, but my misery was yet to end. Needless to say, I got the thrashing of my life; but what added to my misery was the fact that my father told me that he had meant to give that diary to me!