Sunday, July 24, 2005

Day 3 - Statue of Liberty

There it was.The first glimpse of the towering structure.The most televised statue from the United States.The most powerful gift that the US had ever received possibly from the world - the Statue of Liberty was a gift by the French government to the US.Auguste Bartholdi was the architect of this wonder.

I just gave the camera to Vali and told him to click as many snaps of the Statue from as many angle as he could, even as the ferry was approaching the Statue.In a way it was good, as the ferry went right around the Statue before laying anchor,so our snaps captured every describable angle of focus on the famous Statue.We were to later discover the wisdom of our judgement in clicking snaps from different angles,when we put the pictures onto the laptop!

Anyway,the ferry stand at the Statue of Liberty was choc-a-bloc.It was a weekend ofcourse,and my first reaction was,people sure are travelling these days.And the massive crowd also told me how much of an attraction some of these world monuments have become.

Scouted around the island on which the Statue was erected,took a few snaps there as well.Slowly and steadily,trudged along the aisles on the edge of the island towards the Statue.Discovered that the Statue of Liberty is actually made of copper and due to oxidation and pallination(some scientific stuff,I don't have a clue what they are!),the Statue appears green.Learnt that this is the case with most buildings which have copper platings on their roofs or any part of their buildings on the outside.

The first glimpse of the Statue of Liberty didn't make my jaw dropped. Possibly because,the charm and novelty of the first glimpse of the Statue was...

to be to rush now.

Day 3 - Stopover at Ellis Island

On the way to the Statue of Liberty,the ferry took a brief detour and stopped at the Ellis Island. This was the original port of entry to the US and one needed a visa etc,just as one would at an international airport these days!

I didn't get off the ferry to see this island, as the stopover was very short and we were running short on time. But there was not much to see here, and Vali's recommendation was also that it was a drab place.Seemed like I would not miss anything if I didn't see it.Almost like one of those islands off the Cochin coast,so to speak!!!!

The ferry then did an about turn and went straight toward the most televised structure from this belt of the world - the Statue of Liberty.My heart was racing,but well, had gotten used to this excitement over the last 3 days.

Day 3 - Ferry ride to the Statue of Liberty

The wait for the ferry to start off from Liberty Park was painful.The organisers were waiting for the boat to get full and we had to wait for a long time for it to depart.Finally,it did,mid-morning or so.

I enjoyed the ferry ride.It gave me a nice,hard,long look at New Jersey on the left and New York on the right.I could see the new Goldman Sachs building in Jersey city, towering over the small Jersey skyline.Apparently,the i-bank giant has struck a deal with the Jersey city municipal authorities not to sanction any building taller than their for the next 5 years! I wonder if the Jersey city municipal authorities are harbouring thoughts of building a New Jersey skyline!Now,as wild as that may sound, I think its best to leave the skyline in this geography to the Big Apple!Just my thought though..!

Vali and I clicked endless snaps from the ferry.Captured NY & NJ on film as the ferry hit the heart of the Hudson river.I continued to be fascinated by the NY skyline as to how mankind can actually erect such architectural wonders huddled together in just a few square miles.Amazing.And each of those buildings in that skyline is unique,has its own story to tell and sure has its own flavour.

One of the classic features of the ferry ride to the Statue of Liberty is the breeze that hits you. It can pretty much blow you off the boat,that's how strong it can get.The waves of the Hudson river, the speed of the ferry,the mesmerising NY skyline(sorry,to repeat this endlessly,but it was awesome!),the snapshot of the twin cities(NJ & NY)on either side of the river and not to miss, the distant sights of the Brooklyn Bridge,make it an enjoyable experience.Especially with that type of breeze blowing in the New York summer!Wow!

Another key element to this ferry ride is the helicopter ride that one gets to see up in the sky.There are copter rides in NY for visitors, where one gets to sit in a chopper and go around the NY skyline,and all the major landmarks in NY for USD 100!Costs a bomb,that's for sure!Will go on that someday,hopefully!And would be nice to write in this blog on that day, capturing an aerial view of the mega city!Let's see!

Day 3 - Trip through New Jersey

It was very difficult for us to get up in the morning,after a marathon across New York city over the last 2 days. But the only drive for me was that I didn't know when I would get another opportunity to visit the Big Apple.So, was out of bed in a flash and ready to see the last leg of the mega city on the last day of my trip to this extraordinary city!

Vali and I went alone in the morning,and Pawan was to join us later in the day.We stopped by at the usual doughnut joint for breakfast near Hoboken station. For a change, we went to the extreme end of the Hoboken station, to board a train that would take us directly to Liberty Park,the place where we were to hop onto the ferry to the Statue of Liberty. As we waited for the train to depart,I saw yet another version of the NY skyline from across the Hudson River, standing in New Jersey.Simply mesmerising and never did get tired of seeing that exquisite skyline. I mean, technically,its a concrete jungle,but the design and symmetry of the NY skyline had me hooked right through the 3 days, from every vantage point that I could see if from!

Finally,we hopped onto the train and it was one of those classy trains, that I used to see,once again in the old movies.This time though, we didn't go underwater through dark tunnels shuttling between NJ and NY.Infact, the route to Liberty Park was very picturesque and I got to see some parts of New Jersey.What a quiet city it was,compared to its gigantic, action-packed partner city, across the Hudson River!The buildings in Jersey city reminded me a lot of Pune city, back in India. Quiet,classy,not very messy,extremely well -planned and quite picturesque too.There were cyclists,and cars visible too, unlike the cabs and trains and huge buses that I had been seeing in New York,where nobody likes to drive!Jersey city sure appeared to be a touch more laidback.And made sense to me why people shuttle between this quiet city and the razzmattazz of the Big Apple everyday.Its not just the cost of living,which is high anyway,but I got the distinct impression that people,after a hard day's work in bustling NY,would love to have some peace & quiet when they get back home.It would be nice to have some time to oneself,and a fair degree of solitude,in quiet surrounds too.Made eminent sense to me!

We reached Liberty Park station,and it was strange to see the place absolutely deserted.Got into a bus and reached the actual Liberty Park itself,with an old clock tower howering on top of the Park.This is where the ferry to the Statue of Liberty was to depart.And I found lots of Indians at this spot. That is when Vali told me, that in the US,in most of the famous venues,one would see tons of Indians - places like the Niagara Falls, will have ONLY Indians,apparently,with old aunts draped in sarees,scarfs and goggles to boot!!

Anyway,off to the Statue of Liberty now!

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Times Square on Saturday night!

I had seen this sight on TV for years.In all my growing years, in all those English movies that featured New York, the famous Times Square was shown as a larger than life venue.The buzz of the place is what I had always associated with this famous Square.

When we had our interval during the Broadway show,we stepped out into the balcony and saw the famous Square in action on a Saturday night.It was abuzz with activity with cabs running all over the place,huge ad banners ticking away electronically by the second,jazzy models being sported on the different corners of the Square,huge barricades erected at different points in the Square,massive crowds,people talking at the same time...there was action galore.Got my pulse racing.

I told Vali,that I was spellbound to see that Square and it takes a lot to get me speechless!Clicked tons of snaps there,but unfortunately,my camera gave up.It was low on battery.So I had to rely on the reserves of my memory and emotion to capture the moment for eternity!Did just that.Watched every single bit of Times Square that I could lay my eyes on with blaring horns hitting my ear by the second and the sounds of people in animated conversation in the background.The first half of the Broadway show had pretty much swept me off the ground, and to see this world famous Square in action amidst such bright settings sure did heighten the occasion.

I will never forget one poignant moment when I noticed a cop helping an old lady cross the street below as she could not make her way through the crowd.Well, they say, NY attracts people from all over the world and people of all ages.And at Times Square,irrespective of whether one is young or old, one would want to be there and feel the excitement!

My portrait & a Broadway show!

Once out of the UNO, we had a few choices to make.Either go to Central Park and walk around,or go on top of the Empire State Building or hit TimesSquare and a Broadway show.We figured that since we had been doing so much of walking, we will not be able to do full justice to Central Park - it involved a lot of walking inside the Park.So that option was eliminated.That decision reduced the choice of options to Empire State Building or TimesSquare.We picked TimesSquare on this Saturday night,as the ES Building would involve a long wait.And we were too tired to wait anymore.Much rather see TimesSquare on night,that too on a weekend!

We walked back right through midtown,with my neck straining to see the top ends of all the skyscrapers.Was yet to digest the fact that man had managed to erect such concrete towers concentrated in blocks,all huddled together.I did make sincere attempts to capture the entire landscape of a few of the massive structures on film, but they were so huge that they just didn't fit into the camera focus area!I subsequently learnt that the famous picture of the New York skyline was actually a digital mirage, in that, numerous pictures of different parts of the NY skyline were jutted and attached together to make that one single snap!

Anyway,as we walked past 33rd Street for the umpteenth time,I saw the famous caricature artists.They were busy at work, sketching the outlines of numerous tourists like me,absolutely involved in their work,ensuring that even the eyeline and the bend of the nose of these tourists were truly reflected in their works of art. Amazing commitment to a very low profile job,but high attraction value,all the same. Scouted the block for a few of these caricature artists to gauge who would be the best guy around there to make a portrait of myself, and finally stopped at one of those East Asian guys who hardly spoke English.His eyes were narrower than the types I had seen on Jackie Chan movies and his nose rather bent.He had just completely sketching the portrait of a stout blonde and it did appear a lot like her and was looking good. Just as I firmed up my request with him to make my portrait,the NYPD constable made an appearance shooing this artist of the main street into the back alleys.Reminded me so much of the cops back home in India pushing their weight around on the street vendors!

Anyway,we trudged back to the back alley and this quiet Asian made me sit on one of the shortest chairs I have ever sat in my life.I was to sport a grin and keep a happy face nonstop for close to an hour!Ouch!That was painful,but well,I don't get to NY everyday and surely nobody ever makes my portrait everyday!So did manage to grin widely as this artist took out his paper easel,colours,eraser and a host of paraphernalia to decorate an otherwise straight-looking me!He took close to an hour to completely portrait.In this time,Vali sat on a bench behind us and Pawan ran up to the Broadway ticket counter to get hold of a discount ticket.

The artist gave my portrait lot of fine touches,brushes,sketched the tall buildings behind me as the background to my portrait,drew orange strings that reflected the stripes on my attention to detail.Well,as with most things in life, this effort to sit static for an hour in the heart of NY,did come at a price.$ 30, along with a photo frame.Well,I wasn't complaining,as I had just made a piece of memorablia for myself,for life!!!Thanked the artist profusely and realised that I was his last customer for the day,now,now now,I can't be that tough to sketch!!!

Vali,Pawan and I then walked the most famous Square in the US(Times Square) and had about 10 minutes to beat the start of the Broadway show, Fiddler on the Roof.We just about made it and I was soon to experience the thrill of the world's oldest theater!

It was a revelation.It was an experience.It was an insight into management.It was a learning curve.It was an evening of being in awe.It was something I would remember for the rest of my life.The show, the artists,the lights,the script,the story,the plot,the smoothness in movements,the synchronisation of music and the artists,the overall co-ordination,the magnificently appreciative audience,(with spellbound members like me!),the lead actor,the support cast,the props and the was fascinating and captivating to say the least.The story was about an old,poor villager who had 3 daughters and believed in the system of arranged marriages.And all his 3 daughters eventually end up finding their own guy,challenging the traditions and belief systems of this farmer and the village at large.But this farmer(the lead actor) gradually gets convinced that its happiness that matters and it doesn't really matter how his daughters attain them.And finally gives in.Beautiful story line,possibly contemporary in its own way,but incredibly realistic as well.The lead actor is apparently one of the legends of Broadway and he did receive a thunderous applause and a standing ovation!

My hands were clapping and my feet were up automatically when the play ended.Wow!

Part 3 of Day 2 in NY- Inside the UNO

Finally,our turn came and we had a Pakistani guide,who was to take us around the famous building.It turned out that he was actually a student from Columbia University,doing a part time job at the UNO,as a tour guide!Now,that is SOME part-time job!He gave us an excellent tour.Really loved it!He was well informed,but spoke a touch fast,as we were racing against time.

Learnt that the UNO building is treated as international territory and is NOT considered as part of the US.Now,that left me wondering why they didn't ask me for my passport,at the security check in the front of the building!Anyways...

As the guide took us into the interiors of the UNO,I saw for myself,why the UNO is as powerful as it is, what prompted it to be formed,how the evolution of man in the mid-20th century propelled the need for peace etc.And how all those different segments - General Assembly,Security Council- came into being.

We first went to the Security Council.It was a huge auditorium, sound proof,with state-of-the-art technology in it.The seating arrangements,the speakers,the language translation capabilities,the sound control systems within the Council were explained in great detail by our guide.He was pretty knowledgeable and fielded questions from us quite efficiently.Learnt that the UN recognises 6 languages in the world as official languages.Also learnt that the universal system of traffic symbols is a from a Security Council lineage.It was also a novel learning experience that the Security Council created the system of immigration,passports,customs and such international travel procedures!Ensured that I took snaps inside this historic auditorium,where scores of the power leaders of the world have treaded on!

Exited from the Security Council and walked through the corridors of the UNO,seeing signs, gifts from other countries to the UNO.There were a few gifts from China(an ivory model,before the trade in ivory was banned),a small memorial from the Japanese government,and a huge ship model from the Indonesian government.Very interesting indeed!

The walls of the UNO are studded with snaps - war against terror,disarmament,social issues,education,deprivation of children - the range of issues that the UNO works on is amazing.What staggered me most was the minimal budget that they operate on.It was really shameful that such a powerful,global organization operates on a budget that would well be the turnover of a small division of a Fortune 100 company.That's how bad the budgetary outlay for the UNO is.Sorry,we are not supposed to state anything outside the UNO,so not appropriate for me to quote the budgetary figure.Will suffice to say that its paltry,to say the least!

We then entered the hallowed portals of the General Assembly.I stood blank at the door.I was actually at the General Assembly.Couldn't quite take this element off me right through the NY trip, every place I went,shook me,made me believe that what I was seeing was unreal etc.

Our guide explained to us how the General Assembly works.There are 3 seats on the podium of the General Assembly.All sessions of the Assembly is chaired by the Secretary General,and his absence the Asst.Secretary-General.The UN budget is presented and passed in the General Assembly.There are broadcasting and television studios right around the General Assembly,which is where we get all the live telecast from!As usual,took snaps,though will treasure the first glimpse of the General Assembly forever.It HIT hard!The UNO is not just a building you see.Its a world by itself!

After a quick round of the Economic & Social Council,our guided tour ended,as we handed over the badges that were given to us at the entrance gate.

Came down the elevator,stepped outside the UNO and clicked a lot of snaps of this world famous building.

Part 2 of Day 2 in New York

Didn't realise how 4 hours went by in the Museum of Modern Art. Loved every bit of it though!

Once we exited from the museum, we walked down Times Square again,looked at the NY map again.Finally, decided to head to the UNO! There is a guided tour of the UNO for visitors and I didn't want to miss that for the world!Had to walk quite a bit through the different blocks in midtown NY.Our legs were giving up and it was really, really hot.

Just outside the UNO, was yet another skyscraper that read, The Donald Trump Tower.Hmm, that guy owns half a dozen buildings in New York!It was an amazing piece of architecture and didn't fit in the frame of my new camera.But took a snap all the same, and then walked into the UNO building. My eyes feasted on the famous globe outside the UNO office.It was not very well maintained though and it was actually broken quite a bit.Felt bad that such a global organization had a globe that was all screwed up!Took a few snaps in front of the globe and then entered the UNO building.Felt as if I had entered yet another office,till I was to discover otherwise in a few minutes.

As we walked the corridors of the ground floor in the UNO,there were a bunch of portraits along the wall. These were portraits of all the Secretary Generals that the UNO has ever had, ending with the current one, Kofi Annan.It was an exhilirating feeling to be in the same building where the UNO's Secretary General sits!And 9 of them have sat since 1945,when the UNO was founded!

Rushed to the ticket counter,as we had to beat time - had reached the UNO at the fag end of the day and there were just 2 more guided tours left for the day.Got the tickets,and headed to the basement to grab a bite.We were famished,to say the least!Gobbled down a tart and a cranberry juice, exited the cafe and took a snap in front of the UNO logo and flag.It was a very different feeling to actually be holding the UNO flag in my hands.Hmm,it carries weight,I realised,in those couple of moments!Just before we left the basement,took a snap of the UNICEF office as well.

Hurried back upstairs to the main lobby to join the guided tour, only to be told that we had just missed our token number.Fortunately, they said that they would put us into the last tour for the day, which would start in a few minutes.Thank god!Would've felt miserable not to have seen the interiors of the UNO,after entering it and getting hold of those tickets!

Read on for more in the next blog!

Day 2 in the Big Apple!

Got up really late, at around 9.30 a.m.Uploaded all the 72 snaps that I had taken from my new digital camera into Vali's laptop and viewed a slide show of the same. The snaps had come out wonderfully and I relived every moment of the previous evening in those snaps,just like I will do for the rest of my life!

Got ready,had a quick bite at a doughnut joint,hopped onto the Path train to New York.The train was a touch crowded and I had my first taste of crowds in New York.Almost reminded me of good old Bombay city!

Got off at the 33rd Street station near 5th Avenue and headed for the Museum of Modern Art.As we crossed the different lanes and bylanes in midtown New York,my eyes hit the Times Square.I just stood still and saw the famous vertical structure of advertisements that are aired all over the world, in every describable TV channel. And next to the Times Square was the famous NASDAQ board,with great illuminations.Stopped at this famous Square and clicked numerous snaps,digesting the significance and popularity of the location every second.The famous ads in Times Square were actually rolling ads,erected in motion in a tall wall hanging on to the edge of yet another skyscraper in the vicinity.It was not actually a Square,but had assumed significance because of the popularity,and centralisation of the location in New York.This was possibly the most expensive Square in NewYork to place ads.

Once we did that,my eyes were rolling along a bunch of movie screens stretching all around the Square.As I was reading the signs,Beauty & the Beast,the Lord of the Rings etc,Vali told me that,those boards had Broadway shows behind them in huge auditoriums.I gasped!I had just seen Broadway,the world's oldest theatre!Wow!And apparently,Beauty & the Beast has been running to houseful shows for the last 2 decades!Was convinced that such shows are still ruling the roost because of travel fanatics like me!

We were getting late and Vali got hold of a New York map from one of the officers around the corner of the Square.We found out directions to the Museum of Modern Art and finally located it after a 15 minute walk.It was a lovely museum and well, we had a free entry,as Goldman Sachs' employees have free access to all the museums in New York,except the Museum of Sex(groan!).

Spent the next 4 hours in this beautiful,artistic museum and was exposed to some of the world's greatest paintings.It was a sight to behold,the architecture,the decoration,the arrangement,the flow of the paintings and artifacts,the diversity of the items on display.....just got lost in it completely.There was also a mini- TV room where they were airing the evolution of sex as an art.Now,now now...!

Friday, July 22, 2005

First evening in New York- Manhattan & Brooklyn

I wasn't really ready for it.It was almost as if it was still too good to be true.The reason I am saying that is,Vali chalked out my program for the next 3 days in NY city.It was unbelievable.The different landmarks in the city were all clogged together in different belts.So if I were to leave home from Jersey city and head in a particular direction,I could cover almost all the major landmarks in that part of New York.Organised chaos,as it were!

Left home in the evening at around 5.30 p.m.First stop was at River Street in New Jersey.Lovely spot,with a great walkway and overlooking the entire NY skyline and the Hudson river.This was an overview of what I was going to see at much closer range later.Really nice start to the trip from this spot,actually.Almost etched a mental picture in me,before getting to the nitty-gritty of the trip!

We had decided to go towards the very name that defines the skylines of New York.The very name where former GE supremo Jack Welch bought a house with every amenity imaginable after his retirement.The vicinity that houses the biggest names in the financial world.The very place,where some absurd,insane anti-social elements demolished two pulsating skyscrapers in 2001 using a bunch of planes.The area that is the pulse of New York city on the global map - Manhattan!

Got onto the Path train again at Hoboken and still was staring stunned outside the train windows at the dark tunnels and feeling the speed of the ripping train.We got off at World Trade Center station.Oh!The venue brought back the memories and televised pictures of people scurrying for their lives near this station back in 2001.When I saw the actual venue of the erstwhile World Trade Center,I swallowed hard.Possibly my heart skipped a beat even.Even though I am not an American,I could feel the solemness in that place.It was renamed as Ground Zero,with a challenge thrown by the American authorities, that they would erect an even bigger building at the same place.But the rings around the devastated venue,the dug up sand,the hurled and shattered rocks and cement were all ringing in my ears and running in my mental eye.Was trying to imagine how people would have jumped off the 83rd floor of that WTC tower back in 2001.There could not have been a choice of living for them then.It was death all the way.Took a snap at the WTC station,and this was possibly the only snap where I felt genuinely sad in my trip.

Went to J & R electronics store and bought a 512 MB memory stick for my new Sony camera.I had just 32 MB,which would've just gotten over in less then half an hour!

But just like in life,we moved on,into the heart of Manhattan.For the first time in my life,I watched in awe,the huge,famous skyscrapers of New York,with my own eyes.Saw some great landmarks there - Trinity Church(gave me the feel of a haunted house!),St.Paul's Cathedral(wanted to go in,but it was closed).And then,the big moment arrived.I saw a small little board a few blocks ahead,between those tall buildings.The board read,Wall Street.

So this is it!This is where it happens all the time.This is where the famous investment bankers make or break,or at least contribute in making or breaking,so many lives.This is where the pulse of millions of human beings is tested.Stood under the board of Wall Street and took possibly one of the most memorable snaps of the trip.I was vibrating,and was thinking of the condition of the people who work on that street!We walked ahead into Manhattan and I saw one of the most symbolic structures that I had ever set my eyes on.It was a mad,raging,wild bull!What a brilliant piece of imagination and metaphor!To have the statue of a bull right near Wall Street spoke volumes of the reach of this Street and the sentiments emanating from it.It could have been a stag,or a bear or whatever else.But no,NY runs on energy and the BULL typified it for me!

Beside the bull, stood the American Museum of Financial History.Had it been open and had I entered it,I would've simply gotten lost there!This is one of the many museums in NY,and just,yet another attraction!This museum,as the name suggests,has tracked the evolution of the financial pulse of NY in Manhattan!

Backtracked into Wall Street and saw the massive(in every sense of the term!)New York Stock Exchange!How many lives were made or broken here.Vali told me that he had been on a full tour of the NYSE and had even reached the trading floor, but not traded there!Diagonally opposite the NYSE stood the memorial of George Washington.That is what struck me the most.The choice,placement and symbolisation of key landmarks in New York city!

We then just walked down the aisles of Wall Street,stopped by at a Starbucks Coffee, and trudged along to the Brooklyn bridge.Along the way saw the offices of one of the numerous investment banking houses, most notably, Vali's office - Goldman Sachs!Felt great that our man was working in one of the most renowned firms in the world!

Twilight had set in by now and we walked out of Wall Street and reached the Brooklyn Bridge.It was a sight to behold.The sun setting, the ripples on the river Hudson,the music near the Bridge,the colour and splendour of the place sure did make me feel that I was attending a festival!I just stood by the edge of the grills overlooking the Hudson river and the Brooklyn Bridge and watched the landscape in awe.It was a rather romantic setting,if I may add!Brooklyn Bridge,another of those names I had heard and seen on TV.Wow!

Didn't have the heart to get back,as the lights came on the bridge,once the sun set and it was looking absolutely beautiful.But we had to get back.I saw a bunch of boats going on the water and managed to con and pull Vali into taking me back to Hoboken by ferry!It was to turn out to be one of the good decisions of my trip,as I would get to see the entire NY skyline,a glimpse of the Statue of Liberty on one side and the Brooklyn Bridge on the other,and get hit by a stiff breeze on the ferry ride from Brooklyn to Jersey!It was really a great start to the trip!And was raring to go for more!

Came back home, had dinner,uploaded the snaps into the computer and went to sleep at around 2 a.m.

LaGuardia to New Jersey

I exited from the airport terminal, with my heart absolutely racing. I couldn't quite believe that I had landed in New York.I mean, it just couldn't have been me.But there I was,walking down the aisle to the exit door, and going through those first exciting moments of having landed in a city that I had dreamt of seeing for close to a decade and a half.

Got out of the terminal and looked for Vali,my good old school friend.And there he was,lazily leaning against a pillar,with an iPod in his ears and lost in oblivion,almost!It just didn't feel that I was meeting him after close to a decade.Almost felt as if I had just bumped into him outside the classroom in school and was meeting him the next day.I guess those are the little things and charms of life - seeds of friendship sown and grown naturally, without one having to water it too much. Felt damn good to meet him after so many years. He had lost a lot of hair, but if anything, had gotten wiser,which tended to get reconfirmed in the course of my conversations with him over the next 72 hours!

Hopped onto a bus from LaGuardia to Penn State station.It was a nice long drive through the entry roads to New York.Both Vali & I got into some serious, animated conversation during this bus drive, catching up on old times,updating each other of a few happenings in our lives,and not to miss capture the essential differences from the times we grew up till today.It sure had been an action-packed journey for both of us,in our own individual ways.I strongly felt our personalities coming through, as the bus treaded along the interiors of New York.Almost made me forget that I had come to the big city,and ended up enjoying the deep conversation with an old,deep friend!

We then walked through Fifth Avenue - one of the many landmarks that I had seen on TV all those years ago and would see for myself in flesh and blood in the next 3 days. The first big landmark I saw on Fifth Avenue was the NY Public Library.Vali told me that its one of the largest and members can borrow up to 30 books at a time!Now,that's an ocean of books for sure.Imagine the scale of operations,the magnitude and volume of books that a library would be having to cater to the needs of tons of New Yorkers!Granted,not all New Yorkers are voracious readers,but still,servicing even a miniscule percentage of readers from the Big Apple,would need a reservoir of books!Well, this was just the start of the numerous stunning moments I was to have!

We then crossed Macys' Departmental Store.Vali told me that it was the world's largest departmental store.I almost shook simply because, I found it hard to believe how a store can be coined as the world's largest.On seeing the board outside Macys, I remember Forum Mall in good old Bangalore.And that was the biggest "mall"(not a store,though!)that I had ever seen in my life before.Well,everything is BIG in New York,king-size,almost!

Finally,my eyes rested on that magical building with historical significance - the Empire State Building.My eyes narrowed when I saw that building.My heart was racing as usual.And I was hit hard by the sheer size and power of the imposing bit of architecture staring down at me.Once upon a time, before skyscrapers hit the other parts of the globe, this was the tallest building in the world.I just said, WOW ,to myself.

Following this poignant moment,we entered an underground station.I thought it was the famous New York subway,only to be corrected by Vali that it was a Path train station - one that connects NY and New Jersey.I got into the train with all my baggage and froze when the train entered a dark tunnel.It was pitch dark and the train was ripping at the rate of knots.I refused to believe what I was seeing. I mean, how in the wild world,can a train run with such pinpointed accuracy at such crazy speeds, underground,without an iota of light?Beyond my comprehension!The only 'light at the end of the tunnel', were at the stations.That's when I understood the whole mechanism, that the Path trains are not meant to disturb the traffic above,nor can they actually travel above the earth- one has to cross the Hudson river to get to Jersey city you see!That's where we got to eventually,and I liked the quiet and peace of Hoboken in New Jersey,where Vali and his roommate lived.

Touchdown at LaGuardia airport,NY!

This was the moment!This is it,as the sports commentators say.The Northwest Airlines Boeing aircraft glided over the New York skyline for about 15 minutes,giving me an aerial picture of the great city.My heart was pounding when I saw the Statue of Liberty from the top!

Finally,at 12.27 p.m.,the plane landed at LaGuardia airport.I just couldn't believe it.I just couldn't and I doubt if I will ever forget that moment when the plane touchdown on the tarmac of that huge runway.Oof!What a moment.To have ACTUALLY,PHYSICALLY landed in the city of dreams,as it were,even if for a vacation,just shook me.I know its not great deal these days to be globe trotting or seeing places,but this moment was different.It was the culmination of something built,nurtured and harboured over the best part of a decade and a half.Maybe,it was a touch selfish,but hell,I realised long ago,that my life is too short to be spent cribbing.I may as well do what I want to do and what I wish to make of my life.That definitely was the greatest decision in my life.Got to see the Taj Mahal this January,and now just landed at New York!Life sure is great and a journey by itself,however cliched that may sound!

Exited the plane and slowly walked through the airport terminal,at times shaking my head at the disbelief of the moment.Finally,got my moorings right and walked to the exit gate.

There he was!Vali Riyaz Ahmed leaning against a pillar,and lost in his iPod!He was always a tech geek!We were meeting after 12 years or so.And I felt wonderful!!He is doing very well in life.Did his engineering and is now working in Wall Street in NY!

We walked out of the terminal and got the ticket to a bus that would take us to the station.It was very,very hot indeed.But who cares!Engaged in animated,long conversation with Vali and caught up with so many things.Lost friends,lost love,jobs,career,life in NY as against the rest of the US,how India is catching up,etc,etc,etc!

Got off the bus in midtown NewYork(over the next 2 days,I would learnt that there is midtown,and downtown,along with 5 boroughs in this city).We walked through a not so congested street,on this Friday afternoon.Everybody around me seemed to be in a weekend mood and it was just lunch time on Friday!I guess that is how all of us live these days,be it here or back home in India!

Soon,in the course of the next 2 days,I would actually,physically see the famous landmarks that I had seen,heard and read about.

We entered Fifth Avenue first,as we headed to the railway station,after getting off the bus.The huge buildings around me,as expected,continued to amaze me.Vali made a very significant remark - these buildings look short from the air,but will strain a human being's neck in trying to look at them,right up to the top!I would discover how right he was!

We crossed,Macys',the world's largest departmental store.And right across that was the Empire State Building, a 103 floor marvel of architecture!And was gleaming in the summer heat!This was one of the first of many buildings that would give me a neck ache.But who cares!I was going to enjoy it!

Got to the station,and saw these e-ticketing machines.Took sometime in figuring out how they work,but Vali got the tickets before I could finish reading the instructions on that machine!

Got into the train,and well,it was spick and span!As the train exited the station on 33rd Street(everything is named Street or Avenue - the comparable India address is say,1st Cross,3rd Main in any city!)

The train raced ahead into a dark tunnel.My jaw drop - like it would again and again the next 2 days - when the train entered the tunnel.I mean,it was pitch dark!And made unearthly sense that a train can rip at 100 mph at least,in pitch darkness.Granted the rails would be sturdy etc,but it was weird!

We reached New Jersey,at Hoboken and trudged along to Vali's residence.This would be a guy I will never be able to thank enough,after the next 3 days are over.

The flight to NY!

At the San Antonio airport,just before going through security check,I took a snap in front of one of the airport's stores.I was actually rather sleepy,after the lack of sleep the previous night and considering the pace and magnitude of work I had this week.But it just didn't show.All the tiredness vanished when I got to the airport to board the Northwest Airlines flight NW 630 to LaGuardia airport,NY,via Memphis Airport(a brief stopover).

Got through security check and still couldn't believe that I was about to board a plane to the Big Apple!Just couldn't believe it.Finally,my stomach brought me back to reality,as it started grumbling.Alas,the human biological cycle had returned - I was hungry,as I hadn't eaten in 12 hours!Walked down to the Starbucks coffee joint at the airport and grabbed myself a Tall Hot Chocolate.Gulped it down as we awaited the announcement for the flight.

Since we had a stopover at Memphis on the way to NY,I wasn't quite sure if I had to change aircrafts.So the minute I walked into the aircraft,I met the eyes of the airhostess(so what's new,some people would say!).She was actually an old lady,almost well past her prime and appeared to be one of the oldies on that airline.But since she was so sure of her ways around,it did appear that she has been in this industry for a large part of her life.Anyway,told her that I am an international traveller and wasn't sure if I had to change aircrafts at Memphis to NY and requested her to come and let me know.She said,in typical American accent,"Sure"!

Got to my seat,which was the last seat on the plane - I guess it had its own meaning,without my actually reading too much into it - in that,God had decided to leave me in a corner all to myself to sit back and enjoy the build up and the excitement of landing in NY!But providence had even better plans!As I settled into my seat,a nice looking bespectacled blonde came by and sat next to me!We did have good conversation, here and there.For a change,some thing else altogether had my being occupied,and it wasn't a

Tried to sleep through the flight,but actually didn't sleep too much at least till Memphis.At that airport,we had a 55 minute stopover,and I went around some wings of the airport terminal.Took a couple of snaps too.Didn't realise that how significant a purchase I had made on the July 4 weekend till then!

Headed back to the same plane that I had boarded at San Antonio,as the lovely airhostess had informed me earlier.And she greeted me at the door saying,"How is Memphis?"I grinned at her ear to ear.Taught me a lesson or two in marketing,in how to create the hook for a customer to be happy and remember a moment of his experience with a service or a product!

Hit my seat again,and did sleep well on this leg of the flight from Memphis to NY.

The morning of the flight to NY!

Ah!What a nervous flight it was!I got up at the first alarm ring that I had set for myself:bang at 3.45 a.m. in the hotel room!Quite incredible,really,as I hardly ever hear the alarm systems.I think the last time I got up at the first alarm was during the 1992 Cricket World Cup in Australia when the matches used to start at 3 a.m. IST!Now,to have that syndrome after more than a decade speaks volumes about what this trip to NY means to me,even if I say this myself!

Got ready,and guess what I did!I wore the t-shirt that I had ironed and kept ready the previous night before crashing.But no!When I wore it in the wee hours of the morning,I didn't like it.So,I opened my big suitcase and picked an olive green half shirt to wear for the flight to NY.I guess I wanted to look,shall we say, colourful - just to see myself in the pink of moods as I approach NY,rather than wear some dull,drab t-shirt which I otherwise so adore!Sigh!

Anyway,I was hungry after my early morning bath,but I just skipped it in sheer excitement!And this,for a person who eats on time,whatever happens!Ok,the wee hours of the night is not the appropriate time for a breakfast,granted,but hell,I was starving!Didn't bother too much and even my hands were shaking as I lifted my suitcase to NY - not because of the weight,it was hardly 10 kgs - but more because of the weight of the moment,so to speak!

The cab guy came,and was talkative right through the trip to San Antonio airport.I didn't even realise what he was talking or saying(just gave him a 2 buck tip!).I was mentally and emotionally completely elsewhere,imagining Manhattan the way I had seen it on TV all these years.And my heart skipped enough number of beats on the way to the airport,just imagining those locales - I was actually going to see those places,dammit!Arun Ranganath,a normal,homegrown,middle-class Indian,hardworking but dreamy-eyed,a chap like me who is not from the 'so-called' Ivy League yet,with dreams of his own,was actually just about to realise one of his great dreams.A dream he had dreamt when he was in school, the trigger being the word, melting pot.I had studied in school or somewhere during my childhood that New York city is the world's melting pot.I quite could never fathom how a city can be a melting pot!But,I wanted to see if for myself oneday.That was 15 years ago.

And I was just about to do what I had dreamt all those years back!

Warming up for NY!

It was a very tough day at the office.Had so much to complete,but my mind and heart had already entered my forthcoming New York trip.My heart was absolutely racing when I realised that I was just a few hours away from realising something I had dreamt of since I was a child.

Anyway,finished work,and after yet anothre long day at this office this mad week,reached the hotel room at 9.25 p.m.Guzzled down some icecream and cake,flirting with my room mate's new camcorder,and scouted the other rooms for a while.Called up Houston and spoke with parents,Priya,Anand and Anjali,thoroughly excited about the NY trip.I guess they realised that this was the eve of the culmination of a very long dream for me.

Finally,got back to the room,and started packing at around 11 p.m.Will quite never forget this night,as my heart was literally running at a high pulse rate.I didn't know what I was packing,I was just following a list I had done up earlier.I chopped and changed the choices of my clothes for NY 3 times after I finished packing - I normally make the fastest decision on what to where and for what occasion at home,but this time,even I could not get myself to decide what is it that I am going to wear to make my NY trip that much more special.

At last,finished packing,called up the cab service in San Antonio and asked them to send a cab at 4.45 a.m.Hit the sack at 00.45 only though.And even then didn't get sleep.Was just too excited.The last time I was so excited was when my ex-girlfriend and I used to itch to be with each other after college hours!

I don't even know if I slept properly,I just know that I was very,very,very,very,very excited about the next 3 days of my life!

Monday, July 11, 2005

Lost with myself in music

Sitting in the room all day,all by myself,with my room mate slogging in office,I decided to inaugurate my new Sony speakers.

I Took out my Sony discman after nearly 3 weeks from my suitcase today. Decided to spoil myself with music.Picked up the 1942-A Love Story CD,put in new batteries into the discman,connected my new speakers,closed the door,tightened the blinds on the wall,put on the AC,put on the dim lights in the room and got lost in the R.D.Burman magic!

If ONLY I had the "appropriate company" for such a "setting"!Sigh!It was quite a peaceful experience to be humming the tunes of those lovely songs and feeling the echo of the speakers in the room.

Life sure is too short,there is so much to enjoy,especially days like today,when I had myself for company!It was fun!

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Saturday FireWok lunch & dinner at room no.1108

Spent Saturday morning going to the bank and then sat and chatted away to glory for a few hours with Ashwin,Anand and Sachin.Talked about millions of deep things in life,such as losses,gains, you name it.I felt that it was a moment of the trip that would add up to my basket of memories!

For lunch,went with Ashwin and Bharat to FireWok and indulged in Szechwan Pao with Tofu and brown rice.It was very delicious and one of the best dishes in this part of the world!Enjoyed it thoroughly,with the drive there being full of Daler Mehndi!

It was the eve of Sachin's departure to India on Saturday evening.Namrata and Sucha invited us for dinner at their flat!And what an incredible dinner it was!Slurp!Started off by actually decorating the food on the dining table and taking a snap of the beautiful food!It was lovely!They had made a terrific veg pulao with raitha,and roasted potatoes along with chips were there for company.Very fattening yes,but quite irresistible, to be honest!

Sachin and I dived into the food quite shamelessly.It was that good!And that was not all,we were busy fooling around, praising the food,almost wishing that we get such a wonderful girl with a great hand and taste for food!After all,the way to a man's heart is through his stomach!Of course, there are exceptions like me who will get swept off my feet by sheer romance and not so much by food, more on that some other time!

Once dinner was done,we dived into strawberry with chocolate icecream.Mmmm!Som had joined us by then and we were all so full that we couldn't even get up from the dining table!GOT to start jogging this week,whatever happens!

After that,Sachin and I went to Kishan's room and copied all the trip's snaps so far into his computer,and burnt a CD out of it to treasure for eternity!But somehow,I still like the good old analog camera,by printing out the photos in a photo studio, however much we may have advanced with this digital technology in photography.

The highlight of the night was a singing session where Ashwin,Anupama,Sachin,Namrata,Sucha,Kishan, Som and I gathered and sang to our heart's might.Kishan cast a spell with his classic version of the eternal Mere Naina,Sawan Bandhon and two other contemporary songs.What feeling,what power,what emotion!Felt it deep!That set the tone for the night, with all of us pitching in with deep songs,all of which had one theme - pains in life!It was fun,great fun!

Sat out the night,sang till about 2 a.m.,then helped Sachin pack his bags,dropped him off at the airport,came back to the room on Sunday morning at 6 a.m, found my lost room key in one of the shopping bags and hit the sack at dawn!

Spent the entire Sunday in my room itself.Just didn't venture out.Cleaned the room, did my laundry for the week,helped my room mate cook,went for a jog in the evening.

Started the exciting countdown to my New York trip in 10 days!

Friday, July 08, 2005

Week of phone calls

It was a mad week this, the first week of July.Head was almost spinning,chasing these clients,having so many internal meetings and working on these deliverables!Just couldn't wait for Friday evening to arrive!Hit the pool at the hotel and pretty much lazed,much deserved almost!

On Friday afternoon,went to Olive Garden for lunch.Had the most amazing breadsticks possible with salad and an exotic soup.Was feeling so full when I returned to the office!But it was well worth the trip - exotic Italian food was a perfect end to an otherwise dull week that was spent slogging!

Monday, July 04, 2005

Bought a digicam!

Got hold of my first ever digital camera at Houston!Bought it from Anand for a steal!A lovely Sony Cybershot camera,sleek looking,with LCD panel!Really loved it!And got two Sony speakers as a bonus from him!

Now I am going to capture the moments in my life on film for eternity!

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Mom and dad arrive in Houston

Went with Anand to George Bush International Airport,Houston to pick up mom and dad.They arrived from Chicago in United Airlines in the dead of the night.When Anand and I reached the airport,the flight number was not listed in the Arrivals screen.We were left wondering what was wrong, till Anand bumped into an old colleague of his and discovered that the flight was late a wee bit. It finally landed at 1.20 a.m.

Mom and dad came out of the aircraft almost immediately and we went to the baggage claim area,and came home at 2.30 a.m.Generally chatted around for an hour before crashing at 4 a.m.

Mi Luna and salsa dance!

Wow!What an evening it was on July 2!Quite the most memorable moment of the trip so far!Went with Anand to Mi Luna, a cute little bar near home in Houston!Incredibly cute place.Lovely music,great crowd and fantastic ambience.Had a lot of class to it,unlike the junk noise usually associated with bars.

The highlight of the evening was of course,a one hour free salsa training session by a couple!Man!They made us vibrate and shake the place up!I was initially hesitant in going for it,as I have never ever done salsa in my life before and didn't want to make a fool of myself. But I soon realised that nobody there had an idea of salsa except the trainer,so I am as good or as bad as the rest of them!My bro-in-law sure did egg me on,when he saw my opportunity to grab hold of a blonde or two in that class!

I needed no further invitation than that!We began the initial steps of forward and back,all by ourselves. The trainer was one helluva enthu cutlet!Really jazzed up the place and taught us all very well,and soon a lot more people joined in!As we gained momentum in picking up the basic movements in salsa,the trainer increased the pace of the music and the pace of the steps!That got the adrenalin going.I was almost sweating!

Things got even better, he made two lines from our batch - the first line was called leaders and the second line,facing the leaders,were the followers(full of blondes)!And I was in the line for leaders!So I had a great time,with those blondes.As I said,the trainer increased the pace of the class and all of us danced with our respective partners,holding hands,rotating under the other's arm,making the salsa steps in symmetry and was just great!

My luck got better as the class went by;the trainer changed our partners,so I got to dance with 3 blondes!Wow!All of them were really hot,in typical summer wear of a short denim skirt and a sleeveless top and a broad smile to boot!Simply great!Danced with them with full vigour,a big smile on my face and enjoyed every minute of it!And when the class got over,well,I was tired and so were all those girls!

Hmm..who would've ever dreamt that I would come to the US like this,go to one of the cutest bars in the country,and end up holding hands and dancing with 3 lovely blondes! I'm not complaining!!!It was greaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat!Thoroughly loved it!

Forgot to take those girls' phone numbers,though. Will remember that next time;after all,we learn by experience, right?!

Chasing a June 30 deadline!

Its been a mad,herculean race against time over the last fortnight.Had quite lost track of time,date,day of the week and everything else.Even hunger at times!Not to miss,haven't slept properly for more than 10 days.

Just been chasing my June 30 deadline!And am thrilled to bits that I managed to pull it off!Ofcourse,had a fantastic team mate to help me sail through.We spent groggy nights in office,staring at these excel spreadsheets and word documents,dreary-eyed,hungry,lost for energy,and living on sheer will power!Will never forget the breaks we used to take every couple of hours,when one of us used to walk up to the other's desk,chat up something totally out of the ordinary,walk down to the vending machine and pick up a soft drink of a chocolate!Why,I even discovered that he'd just been promoted!Wow!Was so happy for him - hez not only a swell guy,but a brilliant chap at his work as well!

The typical schedule over the last fortnight was - reaching office by 9-930 a.m. getting to work straightaway,taking breaks,and breaking down our deliverables to more achievable tasks,leaving office early only to hit the sack in the hotel for 2-3 hours.Once we felt rejuvenated,we had dinner and headed back to office at around 930 p.m. or 10 p.m.As the energy waned through the night, we used to sit up and pull through till 3 a.m. or 4 a.m. by the sheer dint of will power and will to pull it off on or before June 30!And we did just that!Things were done on the night of June 29 itself and we were thrilled to bits!

Went out in the dead of the night and celebrated in the heart of San Antonio at a lovely bar,stopped by at International House of Pancakes (IHOP) for a hot cuppa coffee and strawberry pancakes!And on July 1,we went late to office,took off for a lovely lunch at Olive Garden and had one of the best luncheons in town - breadsticks,salad and soup - all Italian delicacies and simply superb!

Not to miss,June 29th night earlier on, was featured by a wonderful poolside party at the hotel!Many of us gathered different food items,and gathered at the poolside,got into a singing spree,danced and had a blast till 3 a.m. that night.Took tons of photos,laughed our gut out and simply had a blast!

Sure was good fun to chill out after such a strenous fortnight!Off to Houston for the long July 4 weekend!Mom and dad arriving from India as well!