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Oh! Calcutta...

Dec. 7th, 2006 | 06:29 pm

It was late afternoon and I had just finished a bong lunch at one of the much talked about places, Oh! Calcutta...Myabe I would have enjoyed the fish dishes more had I not been a vegetarian as the veg. grub was passable though the dish sounded authentic bong...Was it bhapa aloo or sukhto? I forget and it doesnt really matter...On my way back I passed through Victoria Memorial and some of the old buildings...Opposite the Victoria Memorial, hundreds of people were playing cricket in the large grounds, dressed in the most appropriate cricketing attire...The Eden Gardens was faintly visible in the background and it almost seemed as if cricket had come alive in city after Dada's inclusion the team...It was a pleasant winter afternoon and driving slowly thru the tree lined roads in an old Ambassodar cab and watching the sights around was most relaxing...Oh! Calcutta...

The meeting got over early evening and it was time for me to get back to the airport...As I stepped down on the main road, I saw a huge crowd gathered around a guy shouting stridently into a mike...The 'Workers Solidarity Union' was upset about something and I could hear the words 'Mahanagar', 'Udyog', 'China' repeatedly in the speech...The entire street slowly came to a halt and the silver lining was that I dont have to go too far to find a cab...The ride in the evening never seemed to end...Dodging trams, colorful buses, hand-pulled rickshaws and a sea of humanity for nearly 2 hours was a bit maddening...I reach the ISO 9001 certified Airport to find another long queue and news that my flight is delayed...Oh Calcutta...

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Cab ride to Changi...

Dec. 7th, 2006 | 06:12 pm

It was a long tiring day last week in Singapore. After a hearty meal at my cousin's place we walked down to the road to take a cab to Changi Airport for my flight back home...A cab pulled up and soon I was on my way relfecting on the happenings of the day and absorbing Singapore...The cabbie said hello and started chatting...I was a bit suspicious in the beginning but then I realized he was a pretty harmless guy...His name was Dennis and he started telling stories about his travels to more than 15 countries on backpack...The trans-siberain ride in Russia, his travels in the Chezh republic, his desire to backpack in India...It was easily one of the most intersting conversations I have ever had with a cabbie and one that I would remember for a long time...

A well-educated, well-travelled guy who was proud of his country and proud to be an efficient guy at his job...Would love to see the same spirit and attitude in my countrymen...

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Tea breaks in LSC...

Sep. 16th, 2006 | 11:53 am
mood: creativecreative

The postal address of my office would indicate the locality of Panchsheel Park, whereas it’s located close to a relatively unknown area known as Shahpur Jat. I never tried to get into the origins of the name Shahpur Jat which doesn’t sound too exciting anyway. Close to the Hauz Khas and Siri Fort monuments, Shahpur Jat comprises of a few congested lanes full of small shops and roadside vendors. The Local Shopping Centre, more conveniently written as LSC, is on the periphery of Shahpur Jat and it houses my workplace…

At the back of my office building is the square of LSC with an open area in the middle and small shops on the periphery. Shukhlaji or Panditji’s paan shop is the favorite hangout of most of my colleagues. Shuklaji's paan shop is made up a shelf/rack which displays the name 'Shukla Paan Bhandar' and stores an assortment of mint, paan masala, cigarettes and toffees. One can always bump into someone familiar at his shop and catch up on topics ranging from cricket matches to structuring client presentations. Shukhlaji knows the smoking and gum chewing preferences of his customers, and has an uncanny ability to track everyone’s weekly or monthly purchases to the last rupee. These days, a list of defaulters can also be seen hanging on his shelf...

Right next to Shuklaji’s shop is Natwar Tea Stall run by a guy who seems to perennially busy in heating oil for samosa or making tea. He hardly smiles or talks but makes decent samosas for us to hit his shop once in a while. Opposite Natwar Tea Stall is the guy selling eggs and ‘mix’ on his cart. ‘Mix’ is delicately proportioned blend of around 20 things including green chillies, namkeen, onion, chana, etc. and it can be nice on a rainy day. The popularity of Anand Cafeteria seems to have gone down. We used to frequent this place as it offered some plastic chairs to sit around but inordinate delays in making tea and sorry quality of coffee have all made this place the last resort.

The only permanent occupant of the market square is an old woman who lives on a cot in one of the corridors with a dog for company. Double bent and haggard, the old woman continues to live on peacefully with her meager possessions and her loyal dog. Recently some 4-5 pups have appeared on the scene and can be chasing each other or running around people’s feet. Getting to shops can be a pain sometimes having to dodge motorbikes in the narrow lanes or saving oneself from water dripping off some construction activity happening nearby. Nevertheless, the market square has a life of its own and it adds some nice flavor to our tea breaks…

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Mirror with a View

Sep. 5th, 2006 | 08:53 pm

It had been quite some days of long hours at work. Finally today I could leave home at a saner hour. The roads were jam-packed and my 6 km journey home was going to be long and boring. I turned on outer ring road beside the flyover and crossed on to the main lane. I looked at my side rear view mirror to make sure I stay clear of the this-road-belongs-to-my-unruly-self variety.

The top right corner of the mirror had caught the setting sun passing between two clouds. The dull orange glow between two silvery clouds made even more beautiful by the slow descent of the cars over the flyover. Sunsets in Delhi are best viewed from one of its numerous flyovers, and the unforgettable ones get caught in rear view mirrors.

The view in the mirror was perfect. It had nothing that was unnecessary and had everything in it to get lost for a moment...

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Celebrating Freedom...

Aug. 20th, 2006 | 07:03 pm

Independence Day on the way to Mana…

It was the 15th of August and we were traveling from Govindghat to Badrinath along the Alaknanda river. We had risen early to make the morning gate to Badrinath and were looking forward to trek to the source of the Alaknanda from Mana, the last village in India near the Tibet border. The vehicle stopped at the gate – there was a landslide ahead it would take at least an hour to clear.

The place was Pandukeshwar, a small sleepy village on the banks of the Alaknanda in the Garhwal Himalayas. The sun started to beat down just a little and we got out to stroll around the area. The Primary School in Pandukeshwar is on a small lane of the main road and was busy readying itself for the Independence Day. Two teachers were setting up the flag pole and around forty kids were playing around in the small field. Dressed in white and grey with tricolor bands across the shoulders, the kids had turned up smartly for the occasion. The Guest of Honor for the day was a small chubby baby who was enjoying the attention of most people around, including the small girls with their neatly tied bright red ribbons…

The teachers were done with the flagpole and were ready. Lines were soon formed and the singing started with ‘Hum honge kamayaab’ and ‘Hum Noujawan’ being sung with lot of hand waving and glee. A boy came up to the stage and recited with passion and fervor – ‘Sarfaroshi ki tammana ab hamare dil mein hai...”

The flag was hoisted with help of a boy who ran up to the roof to unfurl it and it was time for the National Anthem. A cultural program followed with six girls dancing to a Garhwali song and later a bunch of boys singing ‘Hum Noujawan’. Singing with forty enthusiastic kids and watching them cheerfully perform on stage was heartwarming and special.

An Independence Day most memorable…

Rishikesh to Joshimath…

We had left Rishikesh a couple of days ago, beginning our journey on the hills of the Garhwal Himalaya. There were the eight of us - Cosmo, Anu, Parul, Abhilesh, Ranveer, Gobu, Bala, tired and sleepy from the overnight journey from Delhi moving towards Joshimath, our destination for the day. I was woken up from my slumber at Devprayag, where the Bhagirathi merges with the Alaknanda to form the holy Ganga. Alaknanda was to stay in our minds and hearts for the next few days as we followed her from Devprayag. The calm disposition of the river in its last stretches was to last only for a few more miles till Rudraprayag where its roaring, frothy and muddy brown waters merge with the calm, dark and gentle waters of its sister Mandakini. We followed the Alaknanda valley reaching Joshimath late in the evening…

Dark grey clouds hovered around the peaks surrounding Joshimath early morning and a blanket of mist was following the course of the river below. The air was still and chilly and a flock of black birds flew towards the sky, filling the valley with sweet chirping sounds. The streams flowing from the hills were white, fresh and pristine as they splashed around small rocks to reach the Alaknanda. The sun struggled to break through the grey skies with intermittent beams lighting up the dew laden shrubs, sunflowers and tall pine trees. The sky was clearer with patches of blue a few hours later as we boarded the cable car towards Auli, hoping to sight the Nanda Devi. We moved over apple orchards, pine forests and deodhar plantations and watched in anticipation towards the mountains for the goddess to reveal herself. The wait wasn’t too long and excited shouts filled the car when the clouds moved away to let the sun shine on the Devi. Ensconced in white clouds, the Nanda Devi shimmered from the snow enveloping her dark façade. The Goddess of Bliss soon disappeared into the clouds leaving us with a sense of wonder and delight. Open meadows and crystal blue skies greeted us in Auli and we roamed around the place to catch more sights of the magical Devi and her compatriots…

Valley of Flowers (Phoolon ki Ghati)…

We started our afternoon walk from Govindghat towards Ghangaria, the base for Valley of Flowers National Park. The route was filled with Sikh pilgrims on their way to Hemkund Sahib from Ghangaria. Trudging along the path filled with broken stones wasn’t pleasant especially with the muck formed by rain and innumerable mules nonchalantly ferrying people up and down. The path rises alongside the ferocious and deafening Laxman Ganga river and is filled with small shops selling juice, tea and snacks. The Laxman Ganga roars past the valley with astounding energy and speed charting its course with arrogance and supremacy. We reached Ghangaria town late at night, sore and weary from the day long walk. A desperate hunt was rewarded with a dank and dingy single room for us to spend the night…

The walk to the valley next day morning was filled with relief and freshness of having left the mules and room behind us. The soft path to the valley filled with small moss covered stones rises gently and falls again to the Pushpavati river. The morning was rainy and dark and we had wrapped ourselves in raincoats (thin plastic sheets) as we walked the three kms leading to the entrance of the valley.

The magical moments of walking in the mountains are the sights that greet you behind the bend or over the hill and take your breath away. A melting glacier, glimpses of snow covered peaks, rain laden clouds being swept by the wind, thin freshwater streams falling from high flat rock faces and gently sloping meadows carpeted with wildflowers – all lay ahead of us as we crossed over from the dark woods below. The carpet of wildflowers was mostly pink sprinkled with brilliant violet and blue. A narrow path led us to the valley and we crossed the Pushpavati to stand in the middle of a vast expanse of wildflowers in full bloom. The sun had broken out at the right time and the flowers glistened as they swayed in the wind. The odd bee was busy deep inside a small flower, oblivious to the heavenly sights around. The beauty of the place was divine and captivating but the trek down to Govindghat was planned for the afternoon and we left the valley of flowers longing to stay more…

Back on the road to Mana and Vasundhara…

The Independence Day celebrations were over and the kids were happily munching chocolates. We left the small school in Pandukeshwar and soon reached Badrinath in the afternoon. The temple town sans pilgrims was quiet and we made our way to Mana village after a quick lunch of Maggi and parathas. Mana village wears a lonely look with little activity in the middle of its narrow streets. We followed the Alaknanda from Mana towards Vasundhara falls, which according to legend, falls from heaven. The five km walk from Mana started near the source of the Saraswati river which goes underground and resurfaces at the Prayag in Allahabad. The walk along the valley was easy and pleasant and with the newly formed Alaknanda running merrily to the left of us. Craggy cliffs to the right gave way to grassy meadows with cows and sheep grazing contently and shepherd dogs running around them. Vasundhara falls was high and grand with sprays of icy cold waters blown all over the place. The Alaknanda goes beyond Vasundhara but it’s meant to fall from heaven at this place. We had followed the river from its muddy and sedate state at Devprayag to a fresh and joyful state at Vasundhara where it begins its serpentine journey across the Himalaya…

The way back…

The overnight rain had taken its toll on the Badrinath - Joshimath - Chamoli road, with stretches of the road filled with rubble and huge boulders. Having realized the futility of cursing and ranting, angry and sullen faces slowly became resigned and calm. Chana and kheera sellers spotted the opportunity and started brisk business. Sikh pilgrims on either side of the blockade emerged from their packed vehicles. Some people gazed silently down the river, some busily munched whatever was munchable, photographers looked around for interesting snaps, mothers pacified irritable babies, drivers looked around for an opportunity to get ahead of the line and some others preferred to catch a nap. Curious faces gathered around the interestingly named Dharti Dhakel (Earthmover) and watched patiently as the rubble was strewn into the Alaknanda. The blockades were cleared after a seemingly endless wait and we reached Srinagar town at night.

Last day of my trip and we are reaching Rishikesh after an overnight halt at Srinagar. The sun had broken out a while ago and the wind from the valley is fresh and cool. White clouds move across the sky, painting the valley in shades of green. The bright green terraced fields contrast with the dark trees shadowed by clouds. I look across the brownish green Ganga winding her way through the rain drenched valley and can’t help but wonder...The last five days were all about celebrating freedom and celebrating India in all its splendor...

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Something's cooking

Apr. 21st, 2006 | 09:06 am

After years of preapring boring and similar lookin resumes for wannabe MBAs, IT professionals, MBAs hunting for better jobs, etc., I finally got a chance to prepare a resume for the Cook at my guest house...Having worked in various guest houses and also 'Roti Restaurant' in Mumbai, he decided to get some international experience and made all preparations to go to Sudan...

Cook: Bhaisaab yeh Sudan South America mein hai kya?
Me: Nahin yeh Africa mein hai
Cook: Idhar se hum bore ho gaya. Aap mera bio data bana do
Me: Theek hai...

So I sat down and made a neat two-pager including all cuisines in the world and some highlights of my Cook's experience...

1. Effectively led a team of 22 cooks and helpers and ensured quality, taste and service levels as Kitchen Supervisor in a large 150 seater mutlicuisine restauarant in Mumbai
2. Chief Cook and Caretaker, Guest House of India's largest business house. Respsonsibilities include preparation of variety of cuisines, ensuring service levels and troubleshooting.
3. Managed a party of over 100 guests in a large corporate guest house and arranged a four course meal including starters, drinks, main course, desserts, etc.

alam also had some great ideas to contribute...


alam: someone's working early in the morning
Anand: hi am in bby, guest house, preparing resume of my cook, he wants to go to sudan
alam: resume for the cook
Anand: yes
alam: well india has become upwardly mobile
alam: contibuting to the globally available skill set
Anand: He has managed a party of 100 guests..
alam: cooking experise....mughlai..... udipi...
Anand: u hit it
alam: good command on exotic spices (javitri and jaifal), barbeque and outdoor cooking
Anand: good
alam: comfortable in cooking in large poroportions, command on estimating inputs and demand of food in buffet lunches, or something like that
Anand: ensuring all tastebuds are satiated
alam: 15 years experience on seafood, red meat and poulty...exposure to slughter (or whatereve is the right word) of poulty and mutton ( halal style or jhatka style, taken baking/roasting/steamed foood/whatever lessons under tutelage of a 30 year experienced cook in Bombay, have a treasure of grandma reciepes passed down from generation to gerneration from the land of nizaam ( oudh / chettinar/ whichever place he is from)
Anand: abe this guy can claim to king gyaannendras family not nizam
alam: also have experience in preparing folk dishes like sattu etc
alam: inheritor of royal mountain cooking traditions of nepal, quick hand on Indian-chinese
Anand: since im in between india and china
alam: famed for delicious momos/whateve they make in Nepal
Anand: manisha koirala became fat on my cooking
alam: Comming from hardworking cooking tradition of nepal,reportire includes most succulant roasts and an exotically delicately flavoured marrianted mountain trout
chal got to get on to work

The Cook was happy to see his years of toil reflected nicely in two pages...Interview stage next...

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Fun of chewing gum

Mar. 15th, 2006 | 06:18 pm
mood: hungryhungry

These days I'm almost addicted to Happydent, which comes in two neat packets, one with Xylitol and one without Xylitol. Plus, you have attractive offers like a Sachin signed tennis ball free with 20 six-gum packs of Happydent, which is enough supplies to last a month. And my stock of Sachin signed tennis balls has grown to 4 now..

Chewing gum has sure evolved a long way, and has now made its way right up the corporate ladder. Its one thing that can be found common right from the new joinee to the Directors, apart from the usual corporate pens, notebooks, etc...

Gum chewing during schooldays was looked down upon, with threats of cancer and what not. Maybe grownups used to be plain irritated by the sight of bubbles being blown or having to deal with carelessly disposed ones. The earliest I can remember was called 'NP', with a pink wrapper and a tiny pink slab inside. The best was 'Big Fun' which had on the inside wrapper, a bowler or a batsman's picture with some wickets or runs assigned to him. The good ones like Richards had six runs or Kapil had some 3 wickets. On collecting some runs or wickets, one could get a flip book which would show Richards executing a cover drive or Kapil running in to bowl. There was a third one, 'Double Bubble' which had a two-color appearance. Much harder than Big Fun, it was great for blowing big bubbles...

Then came the barrage of chewing gums from abroad, including Wrigleys with its thin strips, in a pack of five. These gums did not have the fun value of 'Big Fun', and lacked character.

Happydent and Orbit are in a better league, are tasty and convenient and have made gum chewing universally acceptable. As I write this, my Mom is looking around in the house for chewing gum. But these small sized gums lack one basic chareceristic...
You cant blow a big bubble, watch it for a while, diffuse it, chew the gum again for a while and repeat...

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Bombay to Goa, Part I

Mar. 15th, 2006 | 05:07 pm
mood: awake

Its been more than a week since our whirlwind Goa visit and we want to go there again, preferably with more than a day to bike around and continue our Part I adventures...The decision to go to Goa was taken within less than 5 mins., with Raigad and other trekking options pushed aside for a while...So Babel, Ranveer and I decided to hit Goa for a Sunday and fill it with lot of biking and adventure...

Sudheer decided to join the fun, and soon the four of us boarded the Paulo Travels bus on Saturday night from Vashi, and we were on our way. The bus journey had all elements of a uninteresting ride including beautiful ghat rides at night, a dinner halt at a non-descript place and Salman Khan's attempt at comedy...

We reached Goa in the morning, tired from an uncomfortable journey which involved futile attempts at closing the AC vent. Babel and Ranveer were soon off to arrnange cruisers, while Sudheer and I waited for what seemed like an eternity...After lot of search and haggling, Babel arranged 4 grand cruisers (Avengers) and we went ahead to complete formalities with the owner...Formalities complete, petrol filled and putting behind an unconfortable bus journey and equally boring morning, we raced towards Mapusa on our heavy, low-slung and stylish cruisers...

The NH-17, which connects Goa and Bombay is a bike rider's dream, esepcially if he has endured nightmares of highways in U.P. while goin to Uttaranchal. Perfectly smooth and winding, green patches adorn both sides of the road. Traffic was minimal and there were no bullock carts or lunatics in Sumos to spoil our cruise...We stopped for a bit on Chapora river bridge and then took a detour on the road which runs along Tirakul river. A narrow, winding road thru took us thru villages and some beautiful sights of the placid Tirakul river...

We returned to the highway and continued our journey towards Amboli, a hill staion in Maharashtra. Our first hurdle was the Goa Police checkpost, who on seeing 4 cruisers, promptly lowered the barricade and proceeded with the usual questions. After filling pages of a notebook with our details, the Goa police reluctantly let us go and cautioned that the Maharashtra police ahead might have differnt ideas. The tea shop owner beside the checkpost provided the solution. Take a route thru the villages and bypass the Maharashtra police chekpost! What followed was a 2 hour country ride complete with all rustic charms of grazing cows, vast fields and small farms filled with plantain and the likes...A break at 'Sri Santoshi Prasad' tea stall provided us with some intresting soft drinks like 'Tiranga' and 'Have a good day'...

We thought that Murphy had had his share of laws thrust upon us during the day but were soon proved wrong. The heavy cruisers were behaving badly on the sand layered patches and Sudheers lost his balance and the footrest of the bike came apart. Babel and Sudheer switched bikes and we went back on the highway, negotiating some notoriously slippery patches. Our first objective was to find a welder and thankfully, we didnt have to go too far. The footrest back in place, we were on the last strecth of our journey, a 16 km ghat ride to Amboli. Jackfruit trees, monkeys, dried up waterfalls and refreshing wind from the valley below made the ride worth remembering...

Amboli is a very small hill station with a line of houses and nothing much. Lunch in Amboli at around 330 PM consisted of misal pav and tea, which wasnt enough for four hungry souls. Moving on from Amboli, we reached an awesome viewpoint (Babel, I forget the name?). The rugged cliffs and the vast valley below made for some good views...

5 PM and it was time to turn back to reach Goa by 8 PM to catch the bus back home to Bombay. This time around, the ride was smooth, though our backs has started to turn sore...Riding back the way we came, thru the ghats, the countryside and the highway, we reached Goa just in time to hand back the bikes, catch some quick grub and board Paulo Travels again...

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Train journey from Bellary and more...

Feb. 27th, 2006 | 11:09 pm
mood: refreshedrefreshed

The week didnt start off the way I would have liked. Down with fever and cold, I was bored and tired. And when I got a call from client to visit Bellary, my mood soured even more. The visit happened and thankfully, it was time to take the Hampi Express from Bellary on 23rd night. Tornangallu is a small desolate station in the Hospet Bellary route with nothing more than a few porters and 1-2 station staff. The Hampi express to Bangalore was late and there was nothing to do except star gazing and waiting patiently for the train to arrive. The wait wasnt too long and soon I was inside the AC coach, looking forward to a nice sleep. I reached my seat to find two travelers from Hampi. Hatem, the Egyptian and Bobby, the biker from Delhi were just the right company for a relaxed evening. Slowly sipping a bottle of dark rum n cola, we chatted about biking, Angkor Vat, Hampi, travel, books and more. We then went to the footboard to feel the cool wind on our faces and the gentle rhythmic sound of the train breaking through the night...

Hatem and Bobby carried on to Mysore and I went from Bangalore to Bombay for work work and more work till Saturday. Cosmo had come down from Dehi and we went for lunch on Saturday. We decided to try something new and decided on Parsi grub. 'Jimmy Boy' in the Fort area seemed worth a try. The place looked more than 100 years old. Known as some cafe earlier, it was taken over by a Parsi around 6 years back. We ordered dhansak and some kinda stew to go along with it. The dhansak with its brown rice, Parsi dal and cutlet was quite tasty but the stew with sweet and sour carrots wasnt so great though Cosmo seemed to like it. Parsi grub wasnt too bad for a start and definitely worth more expermentation.

Sunday morning and the alarm started buzzing at 6 AM. Too lazy to wake up, I decided to sleep on till 10 and Ranveer, Sivi and I started off to Karnala at noon, 6 hours later than what we had planned the night before. Karnala bird sanctuary on the Bombay Goa highway is a nice hilly area without any noisy tourists or pesky tour guides. We were handed a map at the gate which had over a 100 varieties of 'Birds that frequent Karnala'on one side and a rough map with 4-5 nature trails on the other side. We followed a trail that would have led us to the fort on the top of the hill in about 2 hours. After about 2-3 hours, we figured out that we were totally lost with little hope of even tracing our way back. We kept walking and soon found a way that led to a steep climb towards the fort. After walking for more than 3 hours, the steep climb was totally exhausting but we made it to the top before sunset. We watched the sun go down and then made our way back through a shortcut. Climbing down in near darkness, we were glad to reach down without a fall. We had seen less than 2-3 birds the whole day but the climb and the sunset more than made up for it.

A nice week overall.

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Running during summer evenings...

Feb. 15th, 2006 | 06:54 pm
mood: calmcalm

Went to Jahanpanah forest yesterday evening for a jog... There werent too many people running or walking and save the odd villagers crossing across to Tughlakabad village, the forest was nearly deserted...The air was absolutely still and the only sounds i could hear was my own breathing and that of my shoes hitting the road...All the other sounds were coming from a distance, a group of crows cawing, a prayer call from a mosque, an aeroplane in the sky...The sun was disappearing and the orange glow on the trees started to darken...

Theres something about running in the evening especially on summer days...When the trees wear a weary brownish look and dry leaves get crushed beneath your feet...when you come across a stray dog beside every leaking pipe or puddle...when it doesnt take too long for your body to warm up or the tshirt to get soaked...

and when a drink afterward feels like heaven...

It was one such evening...

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