Thursday, December 29, 2005

What the Queen did and did not mention – looking back at 2006

This is part of an excellent read by Ros Taylor from one of the UK’s more interesting and well-written newspaper blogs, The Guardian, written the day after Christmas.

For the tabloids, the Queen's speech is the big shocker. "SNUBBUS HORRIBILIS", splashes the Sun. "THE Queen failed to welcome Camilla into her family yesterday — by NOT mentioning Prince Charles' wedding in her TV speech." In what the Mirror calls a "doom and gloom talk", the Queen reflected on a year dominated by the London bombings, the New Orleans floods, the earthquake in Pakistan and India and the aftermath of the Asian tsunami and spoke of the difficulty of maintaining one's faith in the knowledge of such suffering: "I have no doubt that the new year will be all the better if we do but try," she concluded. The Telegraph believes the speech hit exactly the right note: "The Queen's tone yesterday was one of human warmth and humility, and could not have been better judged to unite her audience."

I have been pondering over whether or not to do the whole ‘looking back at the year gone by’ deal before 2005 comes to a close. I keep going back to one point: what, really, can I write about if I embark on that route? So much has happened (some of the bigger casualties having been highlighted in the Queen’s speech above so I will not repeat those, though I feel quite strongly about them), but both globally and locally, so many other events have occurred that merit mentioning, and it would just not be possible to recap all of them fairly. In India, from the heinous molestation and murder of a BPO employee in Bangalore a few weeks ago to last night’s attack in the Indian Institute of Science, from Delhi’s bomb blasts as Diwali drew near to the fact that as of today, girls are actually being abducted IN ONE OF INDIA’S MOST IMPORTANT CITIES, MUMBAI, for refusing to marry within their castes (is this the 21st century? You could have had me fooled), it shows us that, to put in very simply, all is not well. And it doesn’t bode well for the future. It also doesn’t feel too good either – in fact, it’s made me feel downright depressed. I was indecisive about whether I could reason it away to a bout of PMS but I think there are larger issues at stake here.

Things are not too good with the world right now – yes. Does that realization make anyone feel better? No. I propose a solution – at a very basic level, let us do the best we can to live happy, simple lives. Maybe I am simplifying things too much, but I for one need a break from the overdose of misery that is going on. Wake up to see a sunrise from a hill. Trek up the hill or mountain first. Go for a run in a green, non-polluted park. Buy a bouquet of flowers for someone you love – for no reason at all. Buy flowers for yourself. Play with children for a while. Get a massage for yourself. Visit an old age home or an orphanage. Go out for a quiet dinner with your special someone, away from the smoke and crowds. Watch an episode of ‘Friends’ on TV on your favourite worn-out couch. Spend a day sleeping as much as you can without forcing yourself to wake up for work, or the gym, or any other pressing engagement. Smile at a stranger. Feel the rain hit your face. Clean your room (OK, now I’m exhibiting some of my Monica-esque tendencies, but it’s therapeutic for me at least!)…..

Life is not so bad. Yes there are issues which need to be dealt with. Government officials that have to be seen 10 times when just one would do to get things done, like I experienced yesterday. Crucial deal-making meetings to attend, as the bigwigs at my company were engaged in for many months till last week. Solutions to thwart terror attacks that have to be found, as Karnataka’s ministers are probably engaged in right now, as the Delhi cabinet ministers probably are ensconced in as well.

I wish I could help solve the problems of the world. Who doesn’t? Till I find a practical way to do that, I am going to do at least some of what I said above. I will probably be able to think more clearly after that.

For what it’s worth, have a blessed and prosperous New Year. May the coming year be better than the last.

Prospero ano y felicidad.

….And a Happy New Year too! (You can’t rid me of my infectious enthusiasm for life, you motherfucking terrorists – take that – and that – bambamdishoooooooooom!)

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

White guy - Bollywood style

Time for some laughs again... check this one out:

Again, please wait for the whole thing to download - but I bet you'll start laughing way before that...!

Happy 27th of December (not that today has any special significance, but anyway!)

Christmas past

A bit late, but here is a picture of my Christmas tree at work - it's still up, by the way :-)

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Jingle bell jingle bell jingle bell rock…

Jingle bells swing and jingle bells ring
Snowing and blowing up bushels of fun
Now the jingle hop has begun.

It’s Christmas time and there’s no better time to say Merry Christmas to everyone who reads my blog. We in India might not enjoy the traditional ‘walk in a winter wonderland’:

Gone away is the bluebird
Here to stay is a new bird
He sings a love song
As we go along
Walking in a winter wonderland.

But we sure know how to have a merry blast at Christmas. Of course, most of us know how to have a blast and party 365 days of the year, but that’s a different story! Last weekend , I was with a jolly group of Christmas carol singers, and we were practising Christmas carols to go and sing them around a couple of neighbourhoods in the lead-up to Christmas. Now, I’m not a Christian myself but that shouldn’t and didn’t stop me from going and having a great time laughing and singing the best I can to old Christmas carols like ‘Silent Night’ and ‘Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer’, and learning a few new ones like the two I’ve just mentioned above. It’s all about the spirit of the festival, the spirit of sharing and caring and loving and giving (reminds me of Joey’s speeches as he was working out what to say during Monica and Chandler’s wedding ceremony where he was to be the internet-ordained priest!!!).

Anyway, back to what I was saying about Christmas – I’m sure everyone knows about the origin of Christmas. It’s about celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ, right? However, I am always on the lookout for new information about anything and in my random searches here is what I found about some of the other stories regarding the origin of Christmas.

The birth of Jesus Christ on December 25th probably occurred in late summer or early fall about 2000 years ago. Surprisingly, though, most of the traditions of Christmas pre-date the actual birth of Christ. More, gathered from this site:

The date of December 25th probably originated with the ancient "birthday" of the son-god, Mithra, a pagan deity whose religious influence became widespread in the Roman Empire during the first few centuries A.D. Mithra was related to the Semitic sun-god, Shamash, and his worship spread throughout Asia to Europe where he was called Deus Sol Invictus Mithras. Rome was well-known for absorbing the pagan religions and rituals of its widespread empire. As such, Rome converted this pagan legacy to a celebration of the god, Saturn, and the rebirth of the sun god during the winter solstice period. The winter holiday became known as Saturnalia and began the week prior to December 25th. The festival was characterized by gift-giving, feasting, singing and downright debauchery, as the priests of Saturn carried wreaths of evergreen boughs in procession throughout the Roman temples.

Variations of this pagan holiday flourished throughout the first few centuries after Jesus Christ, but it probably wasn't until 336 AD that Emperor Constantine officially converted this pagan tradition into the "Christian" holiday of Christmas.

I thought that was interesting, mainly because I didn’t know about this version of Christmas. But essentially, Christmas, like any other religious festival, is what YOU make of it. The main message that should be preached and practised, in my opinion, is of love, peace and prosperity for all.

So go to your office parties, family gatherings, sessions of fun and frolic and drink and dance with friends, dress in red, white and green and generally be happy.

You don’t need me to tell you that :-)

Have a blessed Christmas!

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

All things bright and beautiful

On my flight back from the US, I was pleasantly surprised to find an air-hostess who must have been approximately 80 kilos, very tall and broad. Yes, I know, the first thing that you may think is ‘Whoa! Whoever let someone like that become an air hostess in the first place?’. I was no better, being conditioned to Indian air-hostesses (in all airlines other than Indian Airlines, I mean), who are all pretty, thin and wonderfully made up. None of them are ever over 50 kilos maximum. So imagine my surprise when I saw this lady serving the passengers on my flight.

I’m telling you this because in all my years of taking flights, she was by far the most cheerful stewardess I have ever encountered. Every single thing she said was accompanied by a smile or a pleasant ‘sure!’ to any query. And I mean EVERY single thing she said, her weight and general gait not withstanding. In fact, none of the other stewardesses on the same flight were as cheerful and none of the so-called model-type stewardesses in India have been either, in my experience.

I salute her for that. In service industries like hotels/restaurants, airlines/travel or retail, you cannot be a good employee if you are not enthusiastic about interacting with customers and have patience as well. I don’t think many people realise that. If you can’t do it well, then you shouldn’t be there in the first place.

Like these damned auto-drivers in Bangalore. Of late, I can literally feel my blood boiling whenever I have to depend on the goons to take me from one place to another – which is almost all the time, since I don’t have my own vehicle here. They not only refuse outright to take you where you want to go, they reply rudely and with an awful attitude as well. After months of taking it quietly, yesterday I found myself threatening a group of them to take me where I wanted to go without asking for ridiculous sums of money, or I would go straight to the police. Some of the funny exchanges between auto-drivers (AD) and passengers (P) I have heard about:

P: I’d like to go to XYZ?
AD: (Gives a curt rough nod ‘No’, accompanied by a smirk to indicate his disinterest in your plans)
P: I see. Where do you want to go?
AD: I want to head in the ABC direction.
P: Ah. OK, that’s the route you need then. (Indicates road ahead). Go – what are you waiting for?!

P: I’d like to go to XYZ?
AD: No, not interested.
P: How about Kerala – will you take me there then?

P: I’d like to go to XYZ?
AD: No.
P: How about up there? (Points towards the sky).

(AD stops auto to see where P wants to go)
P: Which direction are you headed?
(P gets in quietly)
P: OK. Go on then.

As you can see, nowadays the passenger is exchanging roles with the auto-driver, more or less. Or we decide where we are going based on where THEY are. Which is bollocks, because what are they ‘auto-drivers’ for then? They can jolly well sit at home or become a pilot or whatever else they want. PFFFFFTTTTT!!!!!

This, by the way, is in complete contrast with a place like Singapore, where you have orderly queues that form at a taxi-stop (similar to a bus-stop), and taxis keep coming, stopping and then moving only after the passenger gets in. They take people wherever they want irrespective of the distance or direction. After all, it is money to them and if one ride is short then the next will in all likelihood be long. Which is the way it should be.

Do I sound too derisive of India? I don’t mean to – just reflecting on my own experiences, really. There is a lot to be appreciated about India, but maybe I’ll leave that for another day.

As for the title, it is my ode to that nice stewardess.

All things bright and beautiful,
All creatures great and small,
All things wide and wonderful,
The lord God made them all.

Thanks for being one of the better people that were created! :-)

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Tell me why...

If you're in the mood for a laugh, then go here.

Please wait for the whole video to download first!

And tell me what you think :-)

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Hey Sexy!

So this place has a pretty darn awesome range of cars on the road. Now I’m not a car freak, but when anyone sees some of these cars, you can’t help but exclaim ‘Oh, Wow!’. There are a few cars which are more or less common (pretty much every taxi is a Toyota Crown), but many are pretty rare, even in a small place like this. Sample these:

Mercedes E-class
Toyota Kompressor
Mazda 2
Mazda 3
Jaguar XE8 (S-w-e-e-e-e-t as in S-e-x-x-x-y!!)
Mitsubishi Lancer
Toyota Corolla
Toyota Altis
Citroen Mecane
Lexus RX200
Mitsubishi Grandis
Ferrari (image above)
Chrysler 300C
Mercedes S-class

To name just a few, that is. The Chrysler 300C (image above) was on display somewhere and it looks rich. As in, only rich people can afford it (obviously), but it looks well worth its plush interiors. An article in today’s paper compares it to the President of America’s Air Force One. I quote from Singapore’s Straits Times dated today:

Airports clear out for Air Force One to make its landing, just as hotel valets will shift the BMW 7-series and Merecedes-Benz S-class away for the 300C’s arrival.

On the ‘look at me’ scale, the 300C is a full runway ahead of the current pack of Audi, BMW, Lexus and Mercedes-Benz cars.

Anyway, cars in Singapore are ridiculously expensive even compared to India, where at least small cars are within the reach of the middle class. This is a ploy to reduce the number of cars on the road, since it is such a small place area-wise. In fact, every prospective car-owner has to pay around Singapore $20,000 for a Certificate of Eligibility, in addition to a minimum of Sing $60-70,000 for a small-sized car. Which is a lot of money, really – the equivalent of about Rs.20 lakhs or so.

But the ultimate in status symbols among car-owners over here at the moment is a Lexus, apparently. The Mercs are not really lah-di-dah enough.

Oh, well!!!

Thursday, December 01, 2005

World AIDS Awareness Day - December 1st

Today is World AIDS Awareness Day and I really wanted to put up a quick post about it. AIDS is not a joke. I was watching on TV today that Thailand starts its sex education for school kids at the age of 9. To me, that was a surprise because I thought 12 or 13 was the usual age, in places where it is undertaken at all, that is. Kids today are growing up much faster than they should, and whether due to peer pressure or not, exploring the experiences of sex can lead them to indulging in unsafe and/or unprotected sex - and they really should be equipped to understand the implications of their actions. More schools need to spread sex education, in my opinion, more so in a country like India where talk of sex with one's children is very rarely done, even among the upper middle class. By not educating your children about sex and AIDS, you are being unfair to them and increase the chances of them getting wrong information from someone else.

In today's world, it is not fair or even true to say that homosexuals have higher chances of contracting AIDS, as I am sure most people are aware. In the Western world, surprisingly, the incidence of AIDS is sometimes higher among homosexuals, but in countries like India, China and most parts of Africa, it is heterosexuals that are more affected, and many are unknowingly exposed to the virus, especially women.

The ONLY 3 methods of contracting the HIV virus are from a mother to unborn child, through the use of unsterilised syringes and unprotected sex with a partner who has the virus. It is your right, and within your power, to ensure that you have safe sex.

Please use a condom.

First impressions of Singapore

Sitting at the Bangalore international airport waiting to leave for Singapore, I noticed a man with a pink backpack on his shoulders. My first (and very short) reaction was “Pink? For a man? Ewwww!!” And then I gave a disapproving pat to myself and thought “Why is it wrong for a man to carry a pink bag? Of course it isn’t. Stereotypes!” The thing is, most people I know would think pink on a man is not masculine enough. But who put that idea into our heads anyway? Who told us pink = girl and blue = boy? I refuse to subscribe to stereotypes.

Anyway, Singapore has been good fun so far. The Singapore Tourism Board is organizing Christmas in the Tropics from November 12th 2005 to January 2nd 2006 – a festival of all things Christmassy. Every single mall in the place (and there are many) are lit up with all sorts of gorgeous decorations and lights, and apparently they are even having a competition to judge the best-decorated place. The key roads (primarily Orchard Road) look so pretty that you can’t help but feel this tingling happy sensation inside. Christmas anywhere is an experience, and with Singapore going all-out to make this Christmas one to remember for all tourists (and its own), I just have one thing to say – I’m glad I made it here at this time!

This is my first visit to Singapore and a few observations so far:

1. Every single car passenger has to wear a seatbelt (including those in the backseat – this I specially mention for the Indians who are just not used to the concept), and failure to comply with this invites a Singapore $120 fine. After living in India for so long, with all its careless and ruthless accidents that happen so unnecessarily and so regularly, I am really GLAD they have this rule.

2. Cleanliness is a habit here. At the airport, a sticker from someone’s suitcase fell off and I noticed a staff member immediately pick it up. It is so refreshing to be in a neat and clean place, qualities which are important to me personally.

3. Immigration was smooth and painless and took about one and a half minutes for me to clear. More power to the Singapore government for their tourist-friendly procedures – is the United Snakes of America listening???!! (that’s not a typo – a Canadian I met a few weeks ago told me that as a joke and then began laughing heartily when he saw I appreciated his humour!!).

4. Cosmopolitan, cosmopolitan. Though Chinese form the majority, Indians, Sri Lankans and Malays form huge chunks of the population too. And Westerners really take to this place as well because they are allowed to invest in property and the like, so a lot of them come here to retire. I don’t blame them.

5. The weather is very warm, and, (not very inventive, I know) tropical. Bangalore is damn cold compared to this!

6. I thought about it a bit and came to the conclusion that for Indians, Singapore is a place that combines the best of both worlds because it is close enough to India (for homesick desis) and yet affords the lifestyle of the West. And even East, for that matter.

Let’s see what tomorrow offers.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Knowledge and education

I made a presentation to some students of a top-25-Indian B-school last weekend. The whole experience was rather interesting for me. It was also an achievement, from many angles.

I, a non-MBA graduate, stood confidently on a podium and spoke to a group of people, many of whom were older than me. I would NEVER have imagined it a few years ago (Then again, I would never have imagined a few years ago that I’d be doing a lot of things that I am now!!), but it happened.

I was swamped with work the week prior to it and somehow managed to put together a pretty comprehensive presentation. These days, my mind doesn’t stop working even in then nights. So the night before the presentation I went to sleep thinking about the presentation and in the morning it sort of felt like I’d been working through the night and therefore had everything ready. It was quite a surreal experience. I wasn’t even tired, strangely (considering I am usually happiest when I snuggle into bed and seriously need my 8-hour allotment of sleep).

What lesson did I learn? Most importantly – don’t under-estimate yourself. There is no limit to the things you can do if you really apply your mind to it. And lesson number two: qualifications and degrees are not a measure of your ability. They might be a measure of the extent of your education but that’s it (which, by the way, is not to be confused with the extent of your knowledge). So don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. I made that mistake a few years ago, but now I know – life let me into the secret!

Friday, November 25, 2005

Time flies when you're

Time flies when you’re having fun. Even if that fun is work, and ‘fun’ is not fun in the typical sense of the term, but more fun in the sense of you know you’re learning new things and can actually sense the change in your thinking because of it.

Work has been crazy hectic but – fun. Apparently one of my career development needs is to heighten my self-awareness and sometimes I feel like a spy keeping a watch on myself, but it really is good to go through it. Always scope for improvement, you know. No one is perfect and the rest of that jazz. (Speaking of which, my mind wanders to Aamir Khan’s slick ‘It’s difficult to improve perfection’ line in Dil Chahta Hai but I’m not so – erm – modest!).

My cousin got engaged in the middle of my long work days and weekend (and weekday) travels out of town and I had to take a day off for it. My boss asked me whether it was going to be a ‘shotgun’ wedding. For the ignorant, like I was when I first heard the term, go take a look here. It’s a Japanese site, but there are a lot of weirdly interesting slang phrases in there. And for the record, no, it’s not going to be a shotgun wedding – the very idea!!!!! Orthodox Keralite families living in India will balk at the mere mention of it!

OK- I’m off to watch Nach Baliye on Star One now. It’s a very absorbing show – a dance contest between married TV-star couples. One attraction for me, of course, is the dance aspect, and the second is watching all these known faces sweat it out for prize money of Rs. 50 lakhs. Some of the choreographers, (the winning couple’s choreographer stands to win Rs. 20 lakhs by the way) come up with outstanding stuff. (And I say this having had the experience of choreographing a dance for some college girls a few years ago). I must say that the top few couples are a joy to watch.

Later, then.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

And at the stroke of midnight.....

It is my housemate’s birthday today and my 2 other housemates and I celebrated it at the stroke of midnight by giving her a strawberry cheesecake, a chocolate tart and loads of gifts. Her face was a sight to see when she emerged from her bedroom into the darkened kitchen which had candles all around. At the end if it all, she said she ‘really did feel blessed’.

Penny Lane wrote a wonderful post laying out all her gifts and everything some time ago (lucky Penny!) and all I could think yesterday was how loved a person must feel when they suddenly have all these calls and gifts and people coming round to see them. People whom you haven’t been in touch with for years, gifts you’ve wanted for ages but never did buy because your budget didn’t allow you to. That really is what a birthday should be about – feeling loved and blessed, no matter how old you are. I’m not saying that a birthday should be about the material things only – but no one can deny that when you play a part in making someone’s day so much brighter, then you feel so much happier yourself.

And the effort that went in yesterday for some of her cards and gifts was amazing. Handwritten notes attached to every little thing in coloured gel pens, little artifacts with multiple wrappers (leading to the build-up of excitement, of course – what’s a birthday without some curiosity?!), ‘happy’ flowers (they really do look happy, even at 12 midnight), and the yummiest desserts ever (who needs a man when you have these heavenly goodies?!!). It struck me as I watched her unwrapping her gifts that there aren’t too many people nowadays who actually have the patience or time to wrap and wrap and wrap, and write meaningful things in hand-made cards. And no matter what you do, nothing can replace the magic that comes with gifts that have a personal touch. I mean, I’d love an iPod or MP3 player or whatever (of course I would!), but 10 years later when the things have outlived their usefulness, it’s those cards that will warm my heart. It’s those little gifts that will make me feel loved and blessed. And that’s more important really.

That’s what should be important for everyone, don’t you think?

Monday, November 07, 2005

The end of a love affair

Yesterday my love affair with a city ended. I was ready to leave, sitting at the airport, but felt no particular sense of loss.

The rain was pouring down in sheets from a chalk-grey sky…I’ve always loved the monsoon in India. There is something mind-numbingly beautiful about it, especially when there is some greenery around. An urban monsoon is so different from a rural one, but they both touch a chord in me. Riding in that most useful of Indian vehicles, an auto-rickshaw, I silently watched the city speed by noisily on my way to the airport, even as the water on the roads threatened to touch my feet.

But enough digressing. The love that I have for that city has been passive always. How can love be passive, you ask? Well, it can. It can, because I used to love the city not for itself or even the people I met because of it, but because of a few memories I always associated with it. Those memories, I realized, are not particularly precious to me anymore. The memories weren’t always even happy. It only struck me as I sat quietly in that auto.

I wasn’t sad I was leaving anymore. Usually when I leave any city, there is a touch of nostalgia, or sadness. That’s normal, isn’t it, especially if you’ve spent years of your life there? But yesterday I didn’t feel any. The loss I felt was the momentary loss of those memories – but I chose to let them go. Because I figured that if a city’s memories don’t make you happy, if you are never quite comfortable there, as if waiting constantly at the door for someone to pick you up, then you must do the only sensible thing. Let go.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Making friends in the blogosphere

I’d like to debate the ifs and buts of knowing people through their blogs. There are quite a few people who blog that I’ve been able to figure out the identity of. Some of them are actually friends I’ve known at some point in my past, others acquaintances that I’ve known briefly, and many others friends of friends (of friends – and so on). Of course the bulk, given that there are one billion people in India, about ten percent of whom blog, are people I don’t know. (And I don’t really know that many people – is that a good thing or a bad thing?!) So what are the odds of meeting interesting, like-minded people through the blogosphere?

Pretty high. For one, I am able to know people that I otherwise would not have time to know, given people’s work schedules and my own. I am not restricted by any one else’s opinions, nor anyone else’s recommendations. I choose whose blogs to read based on my interest. I am not even restricted by geography. And that means that the people I get to know, I will 95% of the time hit it off with.

My boyfriend was rather worried the other day when I met a fellow blogger - protective soul that he is (which, by the way, I love him for, among other things). But I am happy to say that I genuinely enjoyed the meeting – there were a lot of common topics to discuss – and we even discovered that we knew a couple of people in common! This has reinforced my opinion that bloggers, at least those whom I seem to connect with, given that the average blogger spends quite a few minutes of his or her precious time writing about their experiences or beliefs or views, can potentially be some of the best people I have ever known.

And I hope I am never given cause to think otherwise!

Barista vs. Coffee Day

I was at Café Coffee Day the other day, and it was absolutely full. I was talking to a friend, having a rather interesting conversation about Indian corporates and business politics. My friend had a cup of coffee, as I sat listening to him. In fifteen minutes, his coffee cup was empty. Two minutes later, a person who appeared to be the manager of the establishment came and requested us to leave as there were ‘other customers waiting’. I won’t use the word ‘politely’ because the action itself was rude, arising purely out of the desire for profit. We walked out, not seeing the point in creating a fuss.

Such an incident has never happened to me at Barista, which is their direct competition here in India. In Starbucks, when I was in Europe, people would sit and read for hours, or just sit around and chat for hours. (Remember Central Perk in ‘Friends’? I don’t think the gang always had something to eat or drink when they visited their favourite hangout). In short, the whole IDEA of a café, in my opinion, is to create an atmosphere of comfort. It’s supposed to be a place where people can just go to be themselves, with or without company. And by asking us to leave, the Coffee Day people not only made me decide I would never patronize them again, it reinforced the thought I’ve always had in my head that the measure of success of an institution depends on how you treat your customers, not on how much money you make. Because money will come and go, but if the customers who give you your business don’t like what you have to offer or the way you offer it to them, they can pack their bags and go elsewhere.

And Coffee Day should realise that.

Happy Birthday to the Best Sister In the World!

So I am at work on a day which falls in the middle of a week that celebrates both Diwali and Id (Eid??) and therefore has three out of five working days as holidays. Which, in effect, means that there are not very many people at work and I can afford to sit and type this without feeling guilty (HA!).

A couple of weeks ago was my one and only sister’s birthday (yeah I know, a couple of weeks is late but better late than never, I say) and I want to wish her a very happy, if belated, birthday. I have tons of very strange names for her that I’m sure she thinks are really silly, but she answers to them anyway. Its quite funny, isn’t it – sometimes you really hate a particular moniker but after listening to it time and again by all and sundry, you actually answer to it whether you like it or not!

I remember when we were younger, we used to fight like cats and dogs. Usually, I used to wind up bawling even though I was the older one (Yes, ok, it really is true!). As we grew older, I remember chasing her around tables and chairs to give her a whack whenever we fought. Which, by the time I caught her, I never gave because I didn’t feel I could. Then as we progressed to being teenagers, I resorted to glaring at her when I was pissed with her. By then, she’d figured me out and used to grin and run away. Today, on the rare occasions that I do lose my temper, I just look very hurt. THAT, by the way, does the trick because 8 times out of 10 she feels remorse!

But S is the best sister one could have. She has grown into a very responsible, very sensitive child – she always will be a child to me, even though I suppose, technically she is a young woman now. The age gap between us is just about two years, and these days when I meet her, I feel like I am the younger one. She’s become more sedate, more serious. Still fun-loving though – and she always has tons of friends around! I know that I can tell her anything and she would understand.

I’ve told this to tons of my friends – and when I speak of my little sister, its one of the things that strikes me most. I don’t want her to grow up too soon. I don’t want her to lose her innocence – I don’t want any child to lose theirs but with her I am extra-protective.

But I can’t stop time. Everyone grows up. Everyone realizes that it wasn’t really Father Christmas who kept those gifts under the Christmas tree, nor was it the Tooth Fairy who slipped that shiny coin under their pillow.

As she grows one year older, I want to say Thank You for being the bestest sister in the world. We should spend more time together and I hope, even as the years go by, we always do. Happy Birthday Pipsqueak!

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

So they said

Some interesting quotes (taken from zigzackly's site) that I really think make sense. Usually the whole quote-unquote deal can be pretty boring to read, I know, but some people say things that genuinely make me feel like I should have said them!

Work like you don't need the money. Love like you've never been hurt. Dance like nobody's watching.
~ Satchel Paige

Either you think - or else others have to think for you and take power from you, pervert and discipline your natural tastes, civilize and sterilize you.

~ F. Scott Fitzgerald

Our deeds determine us, as much as we determine our deeds.

~ George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans), novelist (1819-1880)

Assumptions are the termites of relationships.

~ Henry Winkler, actor (1945- )

Manners be damned…?

I was returning to Bangalore by flight yesterday. There was an aged couple (both at least 80 years old) travelling on the flight with their daughter (at least 50 years old). At the Bangalore airport, on the shuttle bus from the flight to the arrivals terminal, there was no seat left for the old gentleman to sit, as they alighted from the plane last. I offered my seat to him – indeed I could not have imagined doing otherwise. But to my surprise and consternation, not one other single person offered their seat to the other lady.

I have done the same on the London tube, and on a local Coimbatore bus. Am I expecting too much when I say that basic courtesy dictates that any aged person should have priority of seating? And is India so heartless than in a flight full of what I would assume are educated individuals, not even one other person has the so-called Indian culture or values in them?

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

The monster called IIPM

As a blogger, I feel it is my duty to rise to the occasion and let the people who read MY blog know what is going on. Amit Varma has summarized the issue well, but anyway here is my little bit on it.

I was writing just yesterday about freedom of speech and expression, especially that of the written and blogged word. As it happens, that has direct reference to what I am about to mention. Rashmi Bansal, editor of a youth magazine called JAM is being targeted by IIPM because of an article published in her magazine way back in June. The article was an expose on the tall claims made by the management 'corporation' (I can justify my using that title because of the kind of advertising the organisation has been doing, more like a corporation than an educational institute), Indian Institute of Planning and Management (IIPM), headed by Arindam Chaudhuri. I have read a number of their advertisements in many dailies over the past months and have been highly skeptical about what they say – that the institute is almost on par with the IIM’s, that their students are placed in top companies, their infrastructure is out of this world (Wi-Fi, swimming pools and so on and so forth). The truth is that a lot of these statements are not facts, and this is what was unearthed by JAM. Anyway, to cut a long story short, Rashmi’s blog got some ridiculous and disgusting comments targeting her personally, over the last few days. None of the comment-posters (supposed to be IIPM or ex-IIPM students) clearly mention their identity or are able to refute JAM’s claims. In addition to this, Gaurav Sabnis, an employee of IBM and an active blogger in his own right, took up her cause and wrote his own views about it on his personal blog.

It so happens that IBM supplies laptops to IIPM. After issuing a legal notice to Gaurav, IIPM put pressure on IBM to ask him to delete his posts with reference to IIPM and the JAM article and apologise, or resign from IBM.

Today, Gaurav Sabnis resigned, because he believes that that was the right thing to do, that it was the ONLY thing to do to keep his self-respect intact.

Desi Pundit has a lot of links to people who are raising their voices in support of Rashmi, Gaurav and free speech. Blogging can be a powerful tool to spread awareness, and I intend this post to be one too.

Monday, October 10, 2005


This article by Egyptian weekly Al-Ahram brings to the fore a question that must puzzle many an intellectual – where should a journalist draw the line when writing or exposing information for public review? The article mentions Spain’s sentencing of Taysir Allouni, an Al-Jazeera reporter, to seven years in prison for alleged links with the Al-Qaeda. Allouni interviewed Osama bin Laden a few weeks after 9/11, and the prosecution apparently used excerpts from this interview as evidence against him, a point that has been brought up by Reporters Without Borders, a non-profit working for the rights of reporters worldwide. They argue that if terrorism was what he was sentenced for, then his interview (which was a professional engagement more than anything else), should not have been brought up in court.

"It is inherent in the nature of the work of any professional journalist to meet and extract information from players on all sides of the political spectrum," head of the London-based Arab Press Freedom Watch organisation Ibrahim Nawwar told Al-Ahram Weekly. "In the case of Allouni, he cast doubt on his intentions by meeting Al-Qaeda heads."

Extending this argument to you and me, suppose I were to be vocal about my opinions on America, which are probably not to the liking of the current government there. If someone were to read something I wrote about my ideas, would I be liable for prosecution? Probably, in a fettered society. And yet student protesters even 10 days ago were killed in Meghalaya for making their voice known. Does that make our 21st century society a fettered one inspite of the onslaught of media reports and systems that we have access to that were not available decades ago?

What happens to freedom of speech then?

This of course throws up a host of related questions: does anyone have the right to censor someone’s expressions or voice or, because it is not in keeping with one’s personal beliefs or views, persecute them? Reminds me of an episode of The Big Fight I saw on NDTV once, where people were debating the right of the Censor Board to decree what people can and cannot watch. My 20-year-old cousin was a member of the audience and I recall her answering Barkha Dutt’s question and opining that she did not think the Censor Board had the right to question the intelligence of the public, to discern what was right or wrong for them. That choice should be left to them.

Likewise for us. I think we all have the right to write about our actions as long as we can stand by them and they do not harm anyone.

As an educated individual, that is what I believe. The battle is on and my ramparts are officially manned. Counter, you fanatics out there!

Friday, October 07, 2005

It's a time to move on...

I’ve been busy the whole week. New city (sort of), new people around and new work. Too many new things at once. But that’s what life is about, in a way, I suppose. Moving on to greener pastures. Incidentally, my new house-mate was talking about how she was looking for a new place to stay some time last year, but that was just when she got a new job. So she decided to stay put because too many new things at once would be too much to handle. I agree with that logic too – everything all together can sometimes make you feel like Alice in Wonderland. But I suppose those kind of situations are where your real mettle shows through. Either you can, or you can’t. At the end of the day, its all different for different people. That’s the beauty of humans. No two people will react the same way to the same situation.

Anyway, life has been busy, and I’m grateful. Work sees me wondering what on earth I’m doing versus what I’m supposed to be doing, but I’m getting the hang of it!

On a completely different note, I’ve been noticing that lots of bloggers have an Alice in Wonderland quote somewhere on their pages. And no wonder – some of them are genuinely funny, or just shockingly philosophical, given that the age at which most people are introduced to them is sub-ten years. Some interesting ones:

'But then,' thought Alice. 'shall I never get any older than I am now? That'll be a comfort, one way--never to be an old woman--but then--always to have lessons to learn!'

`But I don't want to go among mad people,' Alice remarked.`Oh, you can't help that,' said the Cat: `we're all mad here. I'm mad. You're mad.'`How do you know I'm mad?' said Alice.`You must be,' said the Cat, `or you wouldn't have come here.'

`Now, I give you fair warning,' shouted the Queen, stamping on the ground as she spoke; `either you or your head must be off, and that in about half no time! Take your choice!'

I don't believe there's an atom of meaning in it.

Read the directions and directly you will be directed in the right direction.

Oh, how I wish I could shut up like a telescope! I think I could, if I only knew how to begin.

Ah! Then yours wasn't a really good school. Now at ours they had at the end of the bill. French, music, and washing -- extra.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Favourite Songs Part 2

This is an addendum to my list of favourite songs Part 1. Continued:

26. Can’t fight the moonlight – LeAnn Rimes from Coyote Ugly film soundtrack

27. Fallin’ – Alicia Keys

28. I’ve had the time of my life – Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes from Dirty Dancing film soundtrack

29. Take it easy – The Eagles

30. Build me up buttercup – The Foundations from the There’s Something About Mary film soundtrack

31. Sing - Travis

32. When doves cry – Romeo and Juliet film soundtrack

33. Didi – Khaled

34. Yellow – Coldplay

35. Beautiful Day – U2

36. Wonderwall – Oasis

37. In the end – Linkin Park

38. Romeo and Juliet – Dire Straits

39. A thousand miles – Vanessa Carlton

40. Virtual insanity – Jamiroquai

41. Zombie – The Cranberries

42. Imagine – John Lennon

43. Sounds of Silence – Simon and Garfunkel

44. Bridge over troubles water – Simon and Garfunkel

45. Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme – Simon and Garfunkel

46. Let it be – The Beatles

47. Strawberry Fields Forever – The Beatles

48. With a little help from my friends – The Beatles

49. She’s a woman – The Beatles

50. Please Mr. Postman – The Beatles cover version

The Beatles songs thanks to inspiration from Sharad. Been listening to a lot of ‘em the last few days. And I realize that there are probably going to be many more songs to listen to, and whole albums to appreciate – these are just a few of the ones I like till now.

Also, this is a call for musical inspiration – I’d love to see lists of other people’s favourite songs, with reasons for why they like those songs as part of my musical education, which like every other education is going to be lifelong as far as I am concerned :-)


It’s ok to feel confused. To feel sad, and happy at the same time. To feel tired.

Today I realize that I will soon be saying goodbye to yet another city, a city that is now part of me and my history because I lived here for a while. No matter how much I may want to change that fact (and I don’t really), it will remain. That’s the funny thing about cities. They are just spatial organizations of things – people, buildings, animals (especially in India!), traffic lights, roads, trees, parks – and yet without your really consciously being aware of it, all these things slowly filter into the recesses of your mind and you don’t realize it till you are safely ensconced in another place, another time, another city.

It’s been such a regular pattern for me, with my moving countries, cities, houses, away from a set of friends and suddenly to another, that I have only NOW – after all these years, realized that all the places and things that inhabit them, that I have been part of in the past, will forever be part of me. And each one of them has somehow contributed to shaping me and making me what I am. Rather, changing me for the better. And that’s the other thing – it’s always for the better, really. Even if you initially think it isn’t.

So I want to say Thank You to all the places I’ve lived in, even visited, and all the people that have known me, whether I am in touch with them today or not. If you have had even a few conversations with me that you remember, then be sure that I remember them too and I will always be glad I had the opportunity.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Blogging Blues

Haven’t blogged for a bit. Am in the midst of shifting cities, but as I was pondering what I could put up on my blog as an excuse, I figured that I am probably going to be going somewhere or doing something for the rest of my life (seeing as how I am a vociferous supporter of the ‘idle mind is a devil’s workshop’ philosophy). So trying to figure out excuses is not going to really help in the long run, what say?! Anyway, blogging is fun. If you
a) know what you want to write about
b) have strong opinions about something, either pro or con. Being in-between or admitting that both sides of the coin are not so bad, does NOT help.
c) have time to surf a million websites so you can sift through what is interesting and then provide an insight or opinion on that

None of which groups, as I have mentioned before, I usually am part of. But what the hell, the whole point of blogging is that I can say whatever I want and get away with it…I suppose! And it still is fun....

So this is a call to anyone who reads this blog. Got this idea from Selective Amnesia: if anybody reads this blog and I’m not linking to them, please let me know. It would be interesting to know what kind of people read my blog, and I’d be happy to link to them. Life is all about learning about different views on different things. Make your life that much richer!

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Memories of rainy days

You know those days when you sit and stare out of a window, cocooned in your little room alone with the weather royally thunderous or just dauntingly grey outside? I’ve had that experience in many different cities of the world. The interesting thing is that your outlook on life tends to be the same, but what will differ is the view from the window.

Madras, and the greenery right outside my ground-floor hostel room. The drip-drip-drop of the rain as it splashes on the plants outside. The electricity suddenly goes off, and the book I am reading almost merges with the darkness created by the storm-clouds that sultry evening. Mellow laughter and conversations can be heard from the corridor outside as the girls continue their cheery banter, momentarily disrupted by the sudden darkness. An hour passes, the electricity is back. But somehow, the arresting solitude and beauty of those moments is spoilt. I wish for darkness to descend once again.

Coimbatore, and the cool breeze brought by the gathering rain-clouds. I sit transfixed in my balcony, under the branches of the majestic tamarind tree right outside, in my grandfather’s old rosewood chair with extendable arms. They don’t make them like that anymore. Typically Kerala. I lean back and put my feet up on them. And watch in silent wonder as the drizzle turns to huge splattering drops. Nothing quite like it. I sigh happily.

London, and a view of the Big Ben in the distance. This is the heart of London, with the city spreading out for miles from my two windows. Rain in London, is, well, dreary and constant, for lack of better adjectives. It is almost a part of daily life, so well has it become integrated with the routine of Londoners. If you’re smart, then you carry an umbrella (if you can bother to tote one about, which I never can, even today), or have a rolled-up raincoat stacked safely away in your bag, because you never know when the sun will pull a prank on you and be replaced with those looming clouds. But my room-with-a-view is warm and comfortable, a typical student’s room with a nice stereo system. That makes all the difference. I switch it on and listen to Gabrielle singing ‘Out of Reach’. It makes me want to be a writer, pouring out those soulful lyrics. I sing in tandem, surprising myself with my sudden ability to sing the high notes.

Brussels, (Skepsi, I can’t thank you enough for all the help you and Eve gave me those days) and my little studio room with a slanting roof. Europe is something else altogether. I feel like I am part of history, though I am jolly well part of the present. Sunday morning and I lie in bed, sometimes feeling as if the skylight on the slanting roof would give way and the rain would splatter right onto me as I lay underneath snugly in my blanket. (I don’t think I ever got over that feeling in all my time there) I close my eyes, not wanting to think of the future, but just enjoying the moment for what it is.

Bangalore, and I sit quietly in the little common area with my house-mates. They chatter, I listen. A lovely breeze blows through. I shiver in pleasure. Then we start playing antakshari and all hell breaks loose!

Delhi, and me. This is now. As I sit typing this with the grey sky outside again, I remember how I felt in all those places through the years. I re-live them. I remember how I felt each time. This city has been more intimidating than all the rest, and yet it has grown on me. I have everything needed to live a decent life here in my one-room-shelter. And yet I have nothing.

It suddenly clicks. I’ve had different window-views in different places, but what I really have wanted all along, I haven’t got yet – not yet, but he will be with me soon.


Swiftly through the forest
The stately panther walked.
Flesh! The carnivorous smell -
Prey he started to stalk.

Stealthily and silently,
Padded paws aligned,
The man was caught unawares
On him the panther dined.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Sports, politics and religion - the cauldron bubbles

Sania Mirza moves up to No.34 in the world rankings after making it to the last 16 in the US Open and Anju Bobby George climbs to No. 4 in long jump world rankings after her silver at the World Athletics Championship in Monaco. Excellent news for Indian sports. But beyond the stadium lights, there is a bit of what I’d call prejudice at work. Read this article in Calcutta’s The Telegraph, which puts down very well what is happening in India to sportspeople who are not so good with their PR:

“One is glamorous, cocky, looks and sounds good on TV and is world no. 42 in her sport.

The other, with average looks and excelling in a non-spectator sport, is world no. 6.

The first, tennis ace Sania Mirza, commands the second-highest sponsorship fees in India after Sachin Tendulkar and is on record that she doesn’t need government aid any more.

The second, grandmaster Koneru Humpy, appealed to the Andhra Pradesh government for funds so that she could train for the world chess championships coming up early next year.

So who did the money go to?”

You don’t need to read the article to know the answer. Sania Mirza it is. The government of Andhra Pradesh has so far given her Rs. 60 lakh and a housing plot, and has ignored Humpy’s requests.

All is fair and love, war and sports?

On another note, a Muslim boy in Ranchi was pulled up by the madrassa for putting up a poster of Sania Mirza on a wall in his room. When the boy was brought in front of the seminary, he argued that he was an Irfan Pathan fan too. To which the retort was whether he was aware or not of the dresses the two sported. (!!!!!!!!!!!!)

Religion can make for highly confused individuals sometimes.

Filmi fashion

For all you film and fashion buffs out there, here’s an update on the latest fashion trends, inspired by Bollywood. Details here, but I’m picking out only those from that list that I think really rock:

1. Rani Mukherji in Bunty aur Babli: Of course, this one does and should take the cake, because I have been seeing replicas of her collared kurti everywhere from high streets to teleserials, in the best and brightest of colours. Way to go, Babli!

2. John Abraham in Dhoom: This guy rocks. Totally. Leather jackets and gelled hair became very very in, especially for Road Romeos wandering about. But no one can beat John – sorry guys!

3. Aamir Khan in Mangal Pandey: The handlebar moustache look. Who can forget it?! Except I don’t know even one man who can carry it off in real life…..

4. Sushmita Sen in Main Hoon Na: This I vouch for. She was as sexy as a woman can get in a saree with her chiffon ensembles. Except you need a body to go with it!

5. Hrithik Roshan in Lakshya: The crew cut, in keeping with his army look. Extremely smart. Women always have a thing for men in uniform, you know.

6. Preity Zinta in Salaam Namaste: Tube tops and feather hair-cuts ahoy. The woman looks young, cool, and very very trendy.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Cannibal Cosmecuticles

TOI reports here that China uses skin from executed convicts to develop beauty products for sale in Europe. The fact that this is used especially to produce collagen for lip and wrinkle treatments, so popular in the West, has led to human rights activists calling it 'cannibal cosmecuticles'.

I'd be happy with ageing skin. Much better to age naturally than prevent wrinkles using this - ugh!

Fair and ‘Lovely’?

Clearly, colour is all a matter of perception. In Delhi, where people are more fair than dusky, my colleagues insist on reminding me of how dark I have become of late. In Calcutta, where people are more dusky, people called me fair when I went there recently on work, and even insisted I cannot be a South Indian because all South Indians are, to quote, ‘dark’! And in South India, I am called fair because the larger population is darker-skinned.

At the end of the day, I am me, and that is what counts. Fair, dusky or dark. Whatever.

Taxes and Hard Work

I was reading a very interesting essay by Frederic Bastiat (1801-1850) on political economy a few days ago. (Thanks to Amit Varma, for the link). It is an excellent treatise on the visible and invisible effects of a law in the economic sphere. Bastiat says that when a law is made or a decree pronounced, very often people see only the immediate effect – the visible one. Those that emerge later following on from this initial effect are invisible, and often more important, and the ability to foresee these are what distinguishes a good economist from a bad one.

I will take two points to elaborate on here, that came to my mind after reading the essay. One, how do we know where our tax money is going? This tax issue is something I am picking, because ever since I started paying taxes I have realized certain things. One, that you have no choice in the matter unless you want to be arrested or fined. If you are an honest person, you just have to pay taxes and pray your money is being put to some good use. Because somehow or the other, I believe whether the police is effective or not with respect to guarding the law, they are extremely efficient with regard to finding people who do not pay taxes. And no – evading the law is not something I have tried :-) But, given that I pay tax and I genuinely pray the money is being put to good use, I also have no way of verifying what is being done with my money. And believe me, there are plenty of ways I can put the money to better use if it is not. And I am not talking about shopping, for heaven’s sake! Therefore, I have started thinking, quite over-optimistically, that what the government should do is give tax-paying members of the public an exact break-up of where their hard-earned money is being used. Yeah, I know – HOPES!!

The other point relates to hard work. The essay mentions two people who inherit an equal sum of money, but whereas one uses it all in living a luxurious life, soon finding himself without anything to fall back on, the other is a wise investor who lives a decent life and also has some left over for a rainy day. I mention this example because while I am an ardent believer in savings as much as I am in the good life (as long as it harms no one), in this day and age I also see numerous cases where people a) do not save and yet b) have an excellent lifestyle. The reason is that the inheritance they have is enough to fuel their every whim till their dying day and for their kids as well. Inferring from this, a) Their dads did a darn good job of making money, so b) they do not need to even learn how to save, forget saving itself.

My question is, is this right or wrong? The previous generation works hard so that the next can live comfortably. But the ‘next’ do not recognize this hard work and think it is their right to use all the money to do all they want. The morals and ethics by which the previous generation got where they are today have no say in the lives of the next because they are already way above where their peers are, without even trying.

I think the fault lies in the previous generation. If you do not teach the value of hard work, then there will be no recognition of it. The other possibility is that all the money is black money anyway, so it will obviously be spent on luxuries. Either way, the point is almost the same: if you do no hard work yourself, then your kids will have no desire to do any either.

The conclusion of the 33-page essay, where Bastiat quotes what Chateaubriand says of history, is something that almost answers my question:

“There are two consequences in history: one immediate and instantaneously recognized; the other distant and unperceived at first. These consequences often contradict each other; the former come from our short-run wisdom, the latter from long-run wisdom. The providential event appears after the human event. Behind men rises God. Deny as much as you wish the Supreme Wisdom, do not believe in its action, dispute over words, call what the common man calls Providence “the force of circumstances” or “reason”; but look at the end of an accomplished fact, and you will see that it has always produced the opposite of what was expected when it has not been founded from the first on morality and justice.”

(Chateaubriand, Memoirs from Beyond the Tomb)

Friday, September 09, 2005

Loved for a moment

Her heart jumped. She could feel the blood rushing to her cheeks. He sat staring at her. She didn’t know what she was feeling, or why. Worse, she didn’t know what he was thinking. She didn’t think she wanted to. What a fool she was! Why did she have to say it after all? That she loved him with every inch of her being – always had, ever since she knew him. He reminded her of Prince Charming in those fairy-tales she used to read in primary school. What would he think? He - the smart, intelligent, funny, entertaining type. He - also the brooding, dependable, sensitive type. He – her type. A person like him could have anyone he wanted. Why would he want her?

She stood thinking all these thoughts without really being in the present. She was in the past – remembering those books, and her thoughts when she used to read those books. Anne of Green Gables. She’d always loved the series. The mischievous good-looking Gilbert who becomes the even more good-looking, sensible and serious Dr. Blythe, who always was moved by Anne, the fiery, tempestuous, rebellious Anne. The other way around actually. It was the story of Anne, and not Gilbert…

She wasn’t paying any attention to him anymore. She didn’t notice his eyes lighting up when she said it. She didn’t notice the happiness on his face. She was too lost to notice anything. Berating herself, she started to turn away.

She started running out. They’d been in Barista, on the high street. As she ran onto the street, a car came at her honking madly. The lights blazed in her face. He ran behind her, shouting her name. She froze, framed in the lights.

He dropped at her side, the single-stone diamond ring clasped within his wrist. He’d had it ever since he knew her. He’d waited for this day forever, being too shy to muster up the courage to tell her what he felt. The ring fell on the paved road, now smattered with her blood.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Older and wiser

Today is a day of reminiscing.

For one year now, I have not known exactly what I have been doing at work – but whatever it is, it has worked, because I recently got a performance rating that was as good as anyone could get. I was thrown, one year ago, head-long into a field of work I had no clue about and that was as new to me as the moon was to Armstrong when he first stepped on it. Till then, I was more of a ‘development’ person. Education, globalization, poverty – in short, the problems and issues of the world – those were my subjects. Interesting, I can hear some of you say. Maybe. But it just wasn’t working for me at that point. I couldn’t figure out where I was going, or why. I didn’t even know what my stance on most of those issues was because I had seen both of the sides of the coin and neither of them was very pretty or, more importantly, hopeful.

And then suddenly I was grappling with concepts of business and sales and retail and growth and what-not. I would be lying if I said I was not hugely unsure of what I was doing when I took up this job. I only knew I had to get out of what I had been doing. I am fairly satisfied with what I have done since I did (though people who know me will also know how terribly unhappy I have been on some days, I have come to terms with the fact that everyone probably goes through those kind of days).

For one, I have travelled. And I look forward to travelling much more. I have seen places that I never would have, if I had never made this move. I have discovered many new aspects to India and have come to think that if I saw even 60% of India in this life, that would be an achievement. I have made considerable progress in that direction over the last year – Jaipur, Chandigarh, Amritsar, the Wagah border, Ludhiana, Jalandhar, Kanpur, Calcutta, Srinagar (including Pahalgam and Gulmarg), McLeodganj, Rishikesh, Dehradun, Mussoorie, Shimla, Chail, Kufri – and many of these I have traversed alone. I have faced questions of all kinds, being a woman travelling alone, but have also seen these places with my inner eyes. I have gained courage and confidence.

Talking of confidence, that is also something this job has given me. It would go almost unnoticed to most, but I know that I have changed in that aspect. I am no longer tremulous or afraid to ask questions, to stand up for what I think is right. I am no longer doubtful whether I will discharge my duties well enough, even if it is something I know nothing about. For what is life about, if not learning?

I learnt to live alone. Absolutely alone. I paid my bills and got internet connections made and removed, I called up travel agents to make bookings, I stood in queues in railway stations for tickets, I bought groceries, cooked, cleaned and washed clothes (and God knows in a city like Delhi, the more you clean the more dust there seems to appear out of nowhere – not a very good thing when you have a dust allergy and wind up sneezing violently, as if your nose was going to fall off). I learnt to deal with an almost non-existent social life, living alone in a new and slightly aggressive city with hardly anyone I knew from before – but I also learnt to go out of my way to make new ones. I learnt that you cannot force friendships in such circumstances, but you can meet some nice acquaintances along the way.

All of this might sound reasonably simple. It is. But I have done some of these in London, and I have done them in Delhi, and let me tell you life in India without the central heating or airconditioning or servants to run around at your command, or a car of your own (the last two are almost habits for a middle-class Indian)…is not easy.

And now, as I think about the year gone by, I realize why they say ‘older and wiser’. In every sense, I am both those. In a positive sense.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Rishikesh - The mystical city

Taking advantage of the fact that I am still near the hills (which, according to sources, I may not be in a while), I took off to Rishikesh last weekend. It is a very mystical place – and really like the India you read of in books, which foreigners are in constant search of (also explains why you find so many of them there). From sadhus in ochre robes to ‘holy’ cows wandering along at a relaxed pace, to the mountains nearby and most of all, the majestic gushing Ganges, Rishikesh is a place that is worth a visit.

The journey takes around six hours, and after the bus somewhat unceremoniously dropped us off at Haridwar but thankfully put us on a share-auto for the remaining leg of the journey to Rishikesh at 6 a.m, we found ourselves in the land of the pious. We crossed the imposing Ram Jhula, a huge suspension bridge which sways slowly though one steps onto it confidently thinking it is a solid structure. We made our way to the Green Hotel, a budget option for anyone wanting to visit, right at the end of a labyrinthine lane with restaurants and shops selling knick-knacks, and of course a number of temples lining the Ganga as well. Washed and ready for a day of adventure (which turned out to be more adventurous than I had bargained for!!), we proceeded to find a guide for a day’s trek to Kunjapuri, a temple of Goddess Sati (the only one in the country apparently), situated right at the top of a huge mountain. Of course, at the beginning, we thought it would be an easy walk of sorts, albeit a trifle rocky. It is a six and a half kilometer trek but after I finished it in five and a half hours, it felt like nothing less than 30 kilometres which is the actual distance if one goes up to the temple by road instead of taking the ‘short-cut’ uphill.

Two hours into the blazing heat of the day , two kilometers and many huffs and puffs later (I was still ok, which mistakenly gave me the bravado to think I could easily complete the rest of the trek), my 2 friends said they couldn’t do it and decided to return to the bottom. That left me to continue alone with the guide, a friendly and extremely trained chap who thought it would be an easy thing to complete for me. Ten minutes after I separated from my friends, the incline became much more steep and every step became a process. I had to stop and rest every few minutes. Thankfully there were a couple of fresh springs along the way with the clearest, freshest water I’ve ever sipped, and I was able to refill my bottle. Half an hour later I decided to steel myself to take breaks after every 15 minutes only and not sooner, or we would take much longer than expected to scale the top. My lower leg muscles and thighs screamed out for rest and every time I sat down on a boulder to rest, I felt like going to sleep. That couldn’t happen. I plodded on. The terrain changed from rocky mountain to forest and we didn’t see people for a couple of hours till an odd villager crossed us on his way down with some cattle. I negotiated narrow paths with tall green bushes on either side which had dubious-sounding rattles coming from them and then suddenly the land opened out into a barley field with huge stalks. I followed the guide determinedly along the cement drain path and continued climbing, past a village and school and five and a half hours later, reached the temple at the top. I stopped to catch my breath and insisted I could go no further, not even the 308 steps up to the temple. The guide however said that it made no sense for me not to go, having come all the way. So I doggedly went on, by now thoroughly exhausted and mentally dead. Physically of course, by some miracle I was still moving step by step. I prayed for a while and by the guide had come up as well. Apparently there was no taxi available at that height and we would have to trek another one and a half kilometers (downhill, thankfully) to get to the nearest bus-stop from where we could catch a bus back to Rishikesh.

I slid along the path that the guide led me on and, downhill being so much easier, reached in 25 minutes or so. Then caught the bus as it trundled up, and returned to Rishikesh, exhausted to the bone but dare I say, proud of myself.

The next day we took a bus to Shivpuri, about 14 km away. It is a rafting campsite but since the season hadn’t started, we couldn’t raft. Still, sitting by the gorgeous rushing river as the mountains loomed nearby was soul-moving, and I’m glad I could see Nature in its resplendent best. We went back half and hour later to Rishikesh and caught the bus back to Delhi.

My body still aches but that was yet another trip to remember. Awesome!

Friday, September 02, 2005

Thoughts on how to attain blogging glory

I don’t have much work today, so I’ve had the time to read a number of blogs. What is it that makes some blogs interesting and others just narrations? I’m not quite sure. Some write from the soul about what they feel and think, some write about places they’ve been to or people they know, some people just write about nothing (but get away with it pretty well because its well-written). How do you know what type to be? Or what type is best? One thing I have noted about the most interesting (which may not be the best-written) or best-written (which may not be the most interesting) blogs is that the former category usually write about their lives, and the latter are the creative lot. In literary terms, I mean – you know, with poems, or quotes, or references to multiple music lyrics thrown in. I think I’m getting myself into a soup here - and if I am I care a damn, by the way – but I think its better to let thoughts out loud. Then even if you find your thoughts contradicting each other, at some point you will get clarity.

So, of course there are blogs that are both interesting and well-written. Many of those belong to famous people. Some of those are teenager or students – I think its because that is the age when you have a lot of things to do and people to meet and thanks to your course or classes, you tend to have practice in writing. Which is not the case with me these days, unfortunately, because work usually means I am slowly killing the creativity in me. Currently, blogging doesn’t count, in my opinion, because at the moment most of my blog pieces are descriptions. They aren’t terribly interesting nor, thanks to my lack of writing practice, are they well-written. Anyway, in addition to these categories there are also those that are merely informative (i.e, they point to various interesting articles), and others that are informative and critical (those who point to interesting articles but also comment on them briefly).

I think the key (as I was advising a friend recently, as if I am the One Who Knows All About Blogging) is to just break the barriers down. Some people who blog are often scared about letting out their real idenities to the world, and they have good reason to be in this day and age of computer hacking etc etc. Sometimes that means that they are not completely honest – what if someone they know chances to read their blog and identifies them? That, for example, means that you can’t write about your crappy day at work because someone from work might actually read it and who knows what will happen then. A woman actually lost her job because of exactly that, by the way. Dooce, she calls herself. A solution to this problem is to refer to the people in your life by initials – such as , ‘S said this’ or ‘V thinks that’. That’s not such a bad idea, I’m beginning to think. Anonymity and honesty together.

So – the whole point of me writing this is so that I could figure out what type I should be.

I still don’t know.

Till then, I guess its going to be trial-and-error. But I SO want to attain blogging mastery soon!

Friday, August 19, 2005

Music and dance

I was going through some blogs the other day and I found this group of people who have this project where they record CD’s of their favourite songs and send it to each other. These people are all spread across the world.

I think that is a lovely thing to do. Music instantly uplifts you, no matter what, and even if you’re sad or heartbroken, there are songs to keep you company that seem to touch your inner heart, as if they were written for you. My sister has a number of friends who do things like that for her – and there are others who get gifts like that as well – you know, for birthdays and things. I haven’t got any CD’s like that till date (sniff!) – so if anyone is ever interested :-), then here are some songs I will listen to again and again for life.

1. Absolutely everybody – Vanessa Amorosi
2. Time after time – Cyndi Lauper
3. Sexual healing – Marvin Gaye
4. Thank You – Dido
5. Inner Smile – Texas
6. Life – Des’ree
7. Out of reach – Gabrielle
8. Smooth operator – Sade
9. With or without you – U2
10. Come away with me – Norah Jones
11. Don’t know why – Norah Jones
12. Mrs. Robinson – Simon and Garfunkel
13. Over the Rainbow – Wizard of Oz film soundtrack
14. Raindrops keep fallin’ on my head – Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid film soundtrack
15. My favourite things – Sound of Music film soundtrack
16. Respect – Aretha Franklin
17. Stand by me – Ben King
18. Fields of gold – Sting
19. Every breath you take – The Police
20. Smooth – Santana feat. Rob Thomas
21. Ain’t no mountain high enough – Marvin Gaye, from Stepmom film soundtrack
22. Sweet home Alabama – Lynrd Skynrd
23. All the people of the world – Safri Duo
24. Aicha – Outlandish
25. Say a little prayer – Diana King from My Best Friend’s Wedding film soundtrack

They’re mostly happy feel-good songs with tunes that will make your feet want to get out of your shoes and dance (yeah – even if you don’t ‘know how to’. I don’t understand how people can’t know how to dance. Dance is an expression of yourself. It doesn’t matter if you have two left feet or not. Unless you plan to give a stage performance or something!)

You might be alone in a foreign country with the bleakest weather you have ever seen, or it might be bright and sunny and you’re around people you love – just dance. For yourself, for life!

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

'Yatha raja, tatha praja' (What the king does, the public does too)

For those who are interested in reading more about corruption levels in India - Admiral R H Tahiliani (Retd), architect of the largest ever corruption survey in India, speaks here.


The concept of freedom has varied interpretations.

I watched the long-awaited Aamir Khan starrer ‘Mangal Pandey’, fittingly, on India’s 58th Independence Day. There’s something to be said about the concept of freedom. And patriotism. How it awakens the hardworking-but-publicly insensitive citizen and apathetic resident alike. How the sacrifice of a life for the sake of an ideology can make you feel that you just have to get out of your seat and do something more meaningful with your own life. How you feel intense hatred for politicians today who have made these sacrifices seem nearly meaningless, because 90 years on they play with the freedom of others nonchalantly.

I kept drawing parallels between ‘Braveheart’ and this movie as I was watching it. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that I watched ‘Braveheart’ for the second time around very recently, and Mel Gibson as the Scotsman, William Wallace had a lot in common with Aamir Khan as the Indian, Mangal Pandey. Both fought for freedom. From tyranny, from oppression. For a chance to let the people rule. Both took years to achieve their objectives – objectives which were realized years after their deaths but which were ignited BY their deaths.

‘You may take our lives, but you can never take our freedom’.

58 years on, India has achieved a lot. But no matter how much I try to appreciate that fact, the Aruna Roys, the Baba Amte’s, the thousands of uncelebrated individuals who struggle relentlessly for the sake of the oppressed, I keep coming back to the fact that everyday you have reports of corruption, of bribery, of assault, murder, every single day in modern India – a lot of it that can be contained if only people did not abuse the power vested with them. And that is a murder as well. A murder of faith. They play with people’s freedom. And their lives.

And when the government and the legal system prolong this murder of freedom, they are partners in crime.

And that is not worth forgiving.

Don’t talk about freedom if you can’t uphold it, dammit. That’s why I feel tears rolling slowly down my cheeks when I see these kind of sacrifices. Even in Bollywood movies. And I refuse to feel ashamed.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

McLeodganj – A walk in the Tibetan woods

There comes a point in your life when you just get tired of your life being ruled by external factors – someone else’s daily schedule, or your work or concerns about what this person would think or that. Sometimes you just need a break, to be by yourself.

I took a Himachal Pradesh State Transport bus to Kangra on Friday night, and went up from there to Dharamshala and finally McLeodganj. History has it that Dharamshala so captured the imagination of the then Viceroy Lord Elgin that he wanted to make it the summer capital of India. However, fortunately for the small hill settlement, it was spared that fate – and it was Shimla which finally got that 'honour'. I can tell you that Shimla has none of the charm that Dharamshala has today, thanks to hordes of tourists and innumerable hotel constructions along the mountainside there.

McLeodganj, 10 kilometres uphill from Dharamshala, is today the abode of the Dalai Lama. Quaint and very Tibetan (though the troops of Israeli and French backpackers almost make it more foreign that Tibetan – can you imagine hotel menus in Hebrew?!), anyone who goes to the place will come back charmed. I met an Indian couple on the bus who were going to meditate in the hills there, and they were able to give me some valuable information – such as the fact that staying in McLeodganj makes much more sense than in Dharamshala because it is much more interesting with its little market lanes. I went to the Dalai Lama’s residence and walked around the Buddhist temple within (the Dalai Lama himself was away in Switzerland) on my first day there, then went to Norbulingka which is a centre for the preservation of Tibetan arts and crafts spread over a lovely campus near Sidhpur. To get there, simply take the local bus to Palampur and get off at Sidhpur (a ticket costs Rs.4), then walk the 15 minutes to Norbulingka. I spent a couple of hours in the lazy afternoon there, then went back to Dharamshala where I popped in at the Kangra Arts Museum. I suggest you give it a miss – the government enterprise is dark and gloomy. I sat on a sack of potatoes (truly an Indian experience!) during a crowded van trip back as mist began swirling around the valley, then ate Hotel Snow Lion’s famous lemon curd cake in McLeodganj as I watched the slow drizzle change to a steady downpour. Deciding that it was not going to stop for a while, I dashed to my hotel, getting thoroughly drenched in the process.

As a result of that rain soaking my running shoes, I had to traipse around Bhagsu and Dharamkot, both 2 km from McLeodganj, in – catch this – Bata slippers, the next day! It wasn’t such a bad thing as it started raining again during the day but it wasn’t so comfortable after a point! I met an Israeli girl on the way to Bhagsu (the place is known for its temple), and she accompanied me in rambling about the most wonderfully green and mysterious woods nearby. There are a number of meditation camps in Dharamkot, and during our exploring we found a stone hut which looked like it was something out of an ancient land, with a couple of French backpackers eating fruit calmly as the mist loomed up the hills yet again. We spent an hour sitting there peacefully as well.

I caught the bus for the long journey back that evening, but Monday morning and the honking of Delhi only made me wish for the peace of the hills once more.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

The land of milk, honey and hardworking people?!

My cousin wanted to know why I hadn’t written about my first visit to the US of A last month so here I am – I can never resist the chance to needle people I think will take it sportingly :-)

So, having lived in Europe, India and the Middle East at various points of time, what do I really think about the land of milk-and-honey? I didn’t have any bad experiences that I can describe in lurid detail, much the worse for those of you who thought there was some America-bashing coming up. I didn’t even see that much of the vast country – just a bit of the West coast. But I thought it was a relief to be amidst some order and cleanliness after the chaos of life in India. I also thought that many Americans are a paranoid lot who can exude some more warmth.

I had to remove my shoes at numerous points for security checks at the airports. On the way back, I was taken out of line and had to stand in an enclosed space pod, a bit like those you see in science fiction movies, where three blasts of air whooshed around me. I asked an airport officer what that was about, and he said it was to check for drugs and explosives. It was ok, I don’t get offended very easily, but it’s scary to think what happens to people who have the tiniest bit of anything that the machine wrongly detects as harmful.

I went for a global meet where there were many non-Americans, so I can’t say I had long interactions with many Americans. Those that I did speak to were quite courteous. Not overly friendly, but nice enough. The cities I visited, Portland and San Francisco, were rather pretty. San Francisco is gorgeous, to be fair. And the day I was there the weather was awesome. The city thrives on tourists and has some spectacular views.

During the trip, my boss asked a colleague whether she would like to live abroad. She replied that while she might like to go overseas for a year or two, she’d rather be a first-class citizen in India than a second-class citizen in a country like the US. The US is a very entertaining place to visit, and I might even like to visit multiple times, but I wouldn’t want to live there. I think Europe is more friendly and cultural, and those are things that appeal to me about a place.

Friday, May 13, 2005

Oh G-d Help Me!

Hindered by a God-damnable virus (not the dreaded meningitis surfacing all over Delhi, you’ll be glad to know), sitting in a musty, dusty little room which in better days has seen brightness (can’t say the same about it ever having been non-dusty: in Delhi, dust is all-pervading at any time of the year – kind of like God), I am wondering what to do.

And why not write something about God?

Jews don’t like saying ‘God’ as in ‘God’. They call Him (or Her), “G-d”, or ‘Gd’. (When I was in school, ‘Gd’ was a short form for ‘good’, by the way. Teachers who had a stack of notebooks to correct often resorted to this, if I remember right) Anyway, the idea is that one shouldn’t invoke God’s name unnecessarily – it becomes a violation of one of the Ten Commandments . That is what a Jewish friend of mine said. I did further research on it and found here that:

“the basic concept is actually that Jews do not write the name G-d in full in disposable media such as pieces of paper or more recently, online. Books are OK as these are not regarded as disposable. This is to avoid the possibility of disrespect being given to G-d by throwing the paper in the garbage etc. In fact, when Jewish prayer books etc. are no longer serviceable, they are first stored until there is a sufficient number of them, and then they are respectfully buried (rather than burned, thrown in the garbage etc.).”

Interesting, huh?!

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Hazaaron Khwahishein Aisi

I’ve been wanting to write about Hazaaron Khwahishein Aisi ever since I saw it, but dallied this long because I didn’t know quite what to say. I won’t gush about it, nor will I trash it. Readers of this blog may have observed that I prefer to stay in the safe grey area about most things rather than mark anything as outright black or white. The fact is, I don’t think it is possible in the case of art (this includes music, dance, theatre, and films) to label anything as ‘good’ or bad’. Because I didn’t go through the experience of being in it, and I don’t know what the director’s thought-process was at the time of making it. What I can say is whether I enjoyed a production or not. Having said all that, I would have loved to be a part of ‘Hazaaron Khwahishein Aisi’.

But ‘enjoyed’ is not the right term to use to describe ‘Hazaaron Khwahishein Aisi’. It is, I think, not meant to be ‘enjoyed’. It is meant to wake you up. It is meant to make you think of what people in the early 70’s in India had to go through under the ruling government. It is meant to give you a ringside view of what it was like to be a student during the Emergency and pre-Emergency years of 1969-1975 in India. It is meant to touch you with its almost poetic presentation of emotions simultaneously so raw and pure – love, fear, hate, anger, evil.

And politics. This movie winds around politics in such a way that you hate what went on in the name of the government. Custodial deaths, police atrocities, political fixing. The Naxalite movement came up as a response to these, and it was an extremely idealistic and passionate group of students and people who had the courage to become Naxalites - that much I did take home. I wonder if I would have had the guts to be one of them, much as I identified with them.

New Delhi, 1969: Middle-class Vikram Malhotra loves Geeta Rao who loves rich kid Siddharth who is in love with his dream of a better India. After college, Siddharth becomes a Naxalite. Geeta marries Ram Kapoor, a British-educated IAS officer, but realizes her heart was always with Siddharth. She goes to join him in a village in Bihar. Vikram, determined to become rich, becomes a political fixer and never stops loving her, inspite of, for example, witnessing Geeta and Siddharth making love as a farewell party is in full swing in their last days of college.

I won’t say more than this because it wouldn’t be fair. There are scenes which are brilliant in their ability to touch your inner, most hidden emotions. There are performances which are near-perfect. Though some of the cast has come in for criticism, I found nearly all performances in the film above par, including the vile policemen and politicians, and the aging father of Siddharth. Kay Kay Menon, Chitrangada Singh and Shiny Ahuja as the principal characters have made considerable impact, essaying their roles with conviction. My only grouse was the last few frames of the film, where (and perhaps this is my own fault as a viewer) the seriousness of the story lapsed in front of the mirth that Shiny’s character exudes prior to that.

But watch the movie. To realize what kind of a country you live in. The political situation might have changed, but Indian politics is still much the same.