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.