Thursday, April 29, 2010


This past one week has been super eventful indeed! From meeting old friends, to massive cleaning sprees, to some ferocious writing much to the chagrin of people at home, since most of the time I am lost in a corner either thinking, or furiously typing. When asked what I am up to, all I say is that I am trying to prove that I am a self-proclaimed writer. For that is what I am. I know I like to write. A few people around me, who're forced to read what I write declare that I am a writer. But the one thing that was missing, was the hunt for some mild approval from someone I don't know. Just as every painter wants a stranger to comment on her work or every singer wants to perform in front of an audience of strangers, I knew I wanted someone on the outside to tell me whether my hours of poring in front of a screen or the days spent looking at an open space from my terrace with vivid images playing inside my head are of any use at all.

And so, I decided to put some of my work out to someone ready to publish. And as luck would have it, my work has found a voice somewhere. It may not be as big a deal as having something published on the edit page of the ToI. It certainly doesn't compare to the heady feeling of having your book published. But for me, it is a start. And a way for me to hold on to a hope that I can write ok enough for someone other than me and the paper recycle guy to want to read it!

So, this week's toils have led to some fruit. The widget on the right will continue to hold links to my work as and when it gets published. So cheers to a small beginning and to a long way ahead...

Terrorism - A regional monster as well : International terrorism is a real problem. But every country has its own forms of regional terror which are in no way a smaller menace. A fast-growing country like India has its own internal issues related to all-inclusive growth. Here is a viewpoint. - Article 1

The Indian Premier League - A sporting extravaganza or something else : From a superior sporting enterprise to its getting mired in controversy, a trace of the IPL so far. Article 2. a version of this also found its place at ezine!

And now, a topic close to my heart is article 3. All to do with driving in Maximum city Mumbai. Article 3.

Article 4 again deals with something I truly love. Enya, Yanni, Chopin and music. Here is article 4.

But while all this looks really good and feels amazing, I wonder whether all this is too good to be true???!!??? Or am I reading too much into something that perhaps isn't too much. But you know what? Big deal or small deal, it is a better deal than nothing at all. So happy reading and cheers to.. well, everything!!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

IPL. Period

A couple of years back, the whole world was talking about the Indian Premier League. For all the right reasons. Today everyone is talking about IPL, for all the wrong reasons. The frachise has gone from glitzy to sleazy within the snap of one's fingers and even now, the papers are filled with stories as more muck comes to the fore.

So, we've had a roller coaster ride, with Twitter being the central character here. One Union Minister, perhaps new to murky Indian politics, was consumed by the seasoned alligators of Indian politics and business, but not before the media made a spectacle of his in-office and alleged out-of-office life. Some lady who was living her own life was also splashed across the front pages of newspapers. Some other ministers vowed and swore that they had nothing to do with the whole IPL muck, only to meekly squeak out a possibly remote connection. The kind of money that has moved hands and accounts between every available tax haven is obscene and one wonders what one person would do with that amount of money. I can't build a shopping list with even the wildest of my imagination - private jet : check, BMW : check, a palace for a house, chalets in the French Riviera, and I could go on, but yet not exhaust all that money. But then again, maybe that's why common people seldom ever end up with that kind of money. And finally, we had Mr Lalit Modi make a charged up speech at the final presentation ceremony, making everyone wonder why this speech here. We got our answers the next day in the papers - Because he was suspended!

What does all this mean for a simple observer on the outside? Well, cricket has always held the imagination of the Indian population. Now, the IPL was a welcome change on the Indian television, a way out of the drab soap operas that had stultified the Indian imagination. People had a reason to rush out of work and head home to cheer for their state team or for their favorite player. There was a topic to talk about by the coffee machine the next morning at work. So, with the franchise mired in controversy, does it change anything for the average Indian? If we just walk past the roadside chaiwallah, we get to hear the opinion of the aam aadmi. And in one of my walks, I came across a discussion on the IPL brouhaha. One chap blatantly said, “Who doesn’t get involved in corruption these days? Construction companies, businessmen, everyone is involved and the common man is not so stupid as to not know of the existence of such misdemeanors. But what can you do? Just take it as a way of life and any anomaly over and beyond the existing corruption should raise eyebrows. This is everyday stuff indeed”. True. Every business has its own fair share of skeletons in the closet. This business involved top political honchos. This business involved wayyy to much money. This business had managed to capture the imagination of almost the entire Indian population. Decidedly, the magnitude of the corruption should also be large enough to match, right? So everyone is a winner here. The sport of cricket has found another interesting avenue. The initiators of this enterprise have made bundles and bundles of money. Politicians have gotten more than their 15 seconds of fame. Media has gotten itself a really juicy story that it can enjoy for quite a while and the Indian population stands to benefit the most. On one hand, we have cricket, always a pleasure and on the other hand, we have gossip and scandal, another topic that manages to scintillate the human mind. Yes, ethics have gone for a full toss. But hey, tell me something new.

Journey to the center of the Earrrrrrrrrrrth - the final cut

Part II completed a greater part of our trip and now, we speak of the last and most beautiful part of our day trip.
Then came time for lunch, and Srisailam is a small place. So no chance of finding any swanky place of any sort. We managed to find a comparatively clean looking Udipi place, grabbed a quick lunch and headed out again. By now, the sun was pelting down on us, and we were thankful to the cool confines of our car as we headed out to our next destination. This one, was Shikharam. As per what we'd read up, this was a Shiv temple up on a hill top, from whence we would be able to get a panoramic view of the whole Srisailam town. This temple was a tad different, in that the Nandi bull idol was on top of the Shiv temple! So, we'd pay our respects to the Shiv temple down, then go up some more steps to the top of the temple, and as per Hindu customs, we would need to look at the oversized Shiv structure made of iron rods through the two horns of the bull. There was a fair crowd there, waiting to do this, and we scampered up the steps afraid of getting our feet barbecued again. But surprisingly, tiles seem to be the next best thing since sliced bread! We went up, looked around, took a couple of pics, typical tourist style and came down again.

The gang got tired and decided to get some shut eye time, while I caught up with my music. On the way to the next stop, Mahelle Teertham, a waterfall, we crossed the dam from the other side. And it was an awesome sight indeed. The depth, the steep fall, the dam standing up there majestically, all added up to a pretty picture.
Around 4 PM, we reached Mahelle Teertham. This stop was indeed the icing on the cake. What we had found when we read up about this place, was that this place housed a beautiful waterfall. Certainly nothing like Niagara, but beautiful, nonetheless. There was a steep climb down, I reckon close to at least 100 rough, unsophisticated steps. We started the descent in the sweltering sun, and mid way, Random remarked that the steps we were descending with such gusto would need to be climbed up again! The prospect of that was rather painful, but we went on.

We reached the bottom, and there was a dirt track that veered to the left. This track apparently would have led to the waterfall. The waterfall in question was a sheet fall, that fell beautifully down a smooth rock cut surface. But when we looked to the right, we saw a lovely glade. It was super cool down there, under a canopy of trees. The whole area had a lovely green hue. We couldn't see the ground, since the whole place was covered by a blanket of leaves. We trudged across this blanket to a brooklet. The water from the falls came gurgling by and there were some rocks, placed in an opportune manner giving us a place to sit, such that we could just about put our feet into the water. This we did, and mannnn the water was coooool. It felt so good to put our feet into the water especially after a day of trudging through heat, dust and grime. And we sat there, opened up our sandwich packs, and sat with our feet in the water, yapping, singing, and basically having an amazing time.

After spending close to an hour or perhaps more there, we had to leave, to get back to Hyderabad. We were scorched, burned, tired, exhausted, but very very happy indeed. Even now, I can see vivid images of that glade, the tall towering trees there, the thick roots that stood through the brooklet, the tiny insects that flitted over the water, the random leaf that gently fell upon the water and went gliding past our feet, and of course us, singing away to glory, as if there was no tomorrow.

Thus ended our journey to the center of the earth. Absolutely ethereal. Absolutely beautiful. But all this fun couldn't have been possible without the company of the gang. Ren, M, Random - tooooo good. Together we made a temple visit fun. Together we made a simple dam a thing of beauty. Together we made a simple day trip a time to savor and remember indeed. Thanks a lot!!!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Journey to the center of the Earrrrrrrrrrrrrrrth Part II

Long overdue. Journey to the Center of the Earrrrrrrrrrrth part II is finally here. You see packing up, bidding goodbye to your home of one year is a tall ask indeed. Less of a physical task and more of an emotional drain. The thought that all those relationships you had built painstakingly over the whole year, through numerous conversations, the occasional fights, make-up coffees, gossip sessions, hanging out, lounging over an assignment, and so on, would finally be coming to nothing. Well, not really nothing, but certainly not exactly the way it all used to be. But then again the reason why we collect all these memories is so that one fine day, when we sit back, listening to an opportune song like Yanni's Nostalgia, all those vivid images would come flashing by.

So, I'd left off last time with the bare mention that M got us into a bowl like boat at a steal. Well, later when we asked other groups of people, it turned out that we had gotten ourselves a deal at almost 25% of what the others paid. Or, let me put it this way, while other groups of 8 people went for the ride at Rs. 1000, we, a group of 4 went at barely Rs. 250. Put together! A steal? I'd rather call it a LOOT! So, fresh from a perfect deal that could scintillate any bargain-lovers instincts, we stepped into the boat and went rowing. It was around 9.30 in the morning and it was beginning to get sultry. You can just imagine how hot the day would probably get, right? So, our deal was to go in the boat till the mouth of the rapids, stop there for a few minutes for our photo op and get back. We started off, and a gentle breeze began to blow. People like me and random, who were used to the fishy smell (pun unintended) of Mumbai, thanks to the proximity to the sea, didn't really mind the weird smell that kept coming, but Ren and M got a bit peeved by the smell, and when I, typical water body ride style said that I wanted to put my hand down into the water as we rowed along, I got a resounding NO. I was told in no less words to keep my hands well on board, and judging by the tone, I reckon they might have well and truly thrown me overboard had I even so much as touched the water!

Our boatman was another sample. while we went rowing, he went on and on about how he was just an apprentice. How our negotiated deal was very less money, and how he desperately wanted some more. This, along with the lapping sounds of the choppy water, formed our continuous piped music in the background. But, we knew how to cut off background noise and enjoy what we had for what it was, and in the midst of our boatman's ramblings, we thrust our camera in his hands and made him take a picture of us, glares, caps, scarves et al. And then we also took turns taking the oar from the boatman, and posing with it. Although, we hoped to row for a while as well, that didn't quite happen. But at least we got to pose :)

Then we embarked on the next leg of our journey. We decided to head to the temple. Srisailam has one of the 12 Jyotirling temples, and is considered one of the key temples for devotees of Hinduism. Besides, this is one of the temples in south India, where people are allowed to touch the idol. Touching the idols is typically not allowed in temples in South India, and this is one exception. We reached the temple, left our footwear and headed to the temple complex. The heat was building up, and we looked up at the queue of devotees and we were stumped. Those from Mumbai would perhaps have seen the length of the lines at Siddhivinayak, one of Mumbai's most renowned temples, on a Tuesday. The queue here was almost of that length, and it went through tortuous alleys, staircases, caged enclosures and so on. Luckily, we spotted a place to pay for a temple-sponsored ticket and enter, and we were spared the pains of waiting in the long queue.

We had a good darshan, at the Shiv temple, the other allied shrines and it was time to leave. As it turns out, the heat was now too much. And we were literally stepping on a barbecue. The exit was on the side opposite to where we had left our shoes and we had to go round a semicircle, halfway round the temple to get to our shoes. And this is where we got our feet royally baked. I am sure that if we were indeed captured by cannibals, they would have had some really tasty heels and toes as starters! M remarked that this was perhaps a small punishment for taking a shortcut to see God. Couldn't agree more, M!With this, I'll conclude part II, leaving the best part of our trip for the last installment of Journey to the Center of the Earrrrrrth... Watch out for part III...

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Eyjafjallajo...KULL THE CONQUEROR!!!

On Saturday, this was a tiny snippet in BBC and a tiny one liner in the papers. That such a blink-and-you'll-miss-it piece of news could bring 27000 flights a day to a grinding halt, cripple an already debilitated airline industry, strand passengers all over the globe, give the jitters to anyone traveling towards that part of the world, was unimaginable to say the least!
The other day, I was telling a friend about this volcano that has erupted in Iceland. I typed out the name to her - Eyjafjallajokull. Her response was - 'Please turn the webcam towards the kid who's playing with your keyboard!' Yup. No one knew about this poor volcano till date. I never knew volcanoes existed under the ice in a country called ICELAND! But now I know. And I know so very well, that I could never forget it even if I so wished! So, ***** Kull the conqueror, as I'd rather call it, has managed to throw a whole world into disarray. Several things are coming to the fore thanks to this volcano.

One - Europe is still the center of the world. The other day, I was stuck at a level crossing in Mumbai. I was on the road and the gates were lowered to signal the arrival of a train. To get to my destination, I had to cross those railway tracks and move on. While I waited, anxiously looking at the watch, knowing I was running 20 minutes late, I kept looking at the tracks. Almost 7 trains went past in quick succession. And I wondered - Had I not been standing here, I never would have realized the fact that so many trains ply on that line! Likewise, it takes a volcano to realize that 27,000 flights ply the European airspace per day! Even though Africa is not too far away from Europe, it is almost unimaginable to think of Dubai airport supplanting Heathrow, let alone Entebbe or the airport of Cote d'Ivoire!

Second, a non-third world passport is a boon in such a case. I saw a small report on BBC today, where a correspondent on holiday somewhere in Europe. Hearing about the volcano, he tried to go via road back to London. Not being able to rent a car there, he crossed the border to the neighboring country and hired a car there and drove down to Barcelona, from whence he spoke to BBC! I can only imagine what would happen to someone holding an Indian passport being stuck in Heathrow. I guess the maximum that can happen would be that the BA guys, out of goodwill could let the passengers to go on a transit visa to an airport hotel. Maybe some may not be given that advantage either! As an Australian friend remarked one day, his passport was of use in traveling, without a visa in Europe, North America and a greater part of LatAm, since it was a valid ID. His Indian wife's passport on the other hand, was of precious little use. So, any Europe - wide travel plans he may have had were pitifully scuttled by the prospect of having to stand in never-ending queues for his wife's visas!!!

So Kull has taught us a lot. And now that the lessons are over, I sincerely wish Kull cools down and let's the planes fly.

Monday, April 19, 2010


I don't know what hurts more. Not having someone to root for in an F1 race, or root for an all-time favorite who is on a downward spiral. Try as I might, I can't make up my mind. All through 2007, 2008 and 2009, F1 seemed lackluster to me. My love for F1 was fed by a deep infection of Tifosi, and more specifically a Schumacher flavor of the same. Not just was I a huge fan of Ferrari and Schumacher, I loved his driving style, his rags to riches story, his determination, confidence and I could go on and on. And somehow the next crop of F1 drivers were nowhere close to being that good, according to me. We had Hamilton accused of chicanery, Alonso and Kimi notorious for their childish antics and so on. Not that Schumi was the cleanest guy ever, but according to me, his greatness far overshadowed the minor shortcomings.

And then he retired and for me F1 lost its charm. I could no longer search for that number 1 scarlet car and jump for joy as it crossed the chequered flag. I could no longer yell for joy when that same scarlet car would prevail in an overtaking manoeuvre. So for three years, I had absolutely no motivation to watch the races. People told me that I was not being right, since I was rooting for one guy and not the sport. They told me that one man does not make a sport. But for me, he did. He defined my formative F1 years.

And then last year he said that he would come out of retirement and I expected Michael Magic again. I wished for those same Sundays, that same fervor. But somehow, though Michael is back, the Magic is not. Fourth, 10th, failed to complete and 10th again. Hardly becoming of one of the best drivers of F1 history.
And there are several questions that keep swirling within my mind. Like why does a team that won last year's driver's and constructor's championship need 'turnaround'? Surely other teams would not have developed some radically new technology that Ross Brawn doesn't know about! Again, how does Nico's car perform better time after time and Schumi's lets him down always? Like in last week's race at Shanghai, I was appalled to see Michael struggling in an overtaking manoeuvre with Hamilton. It looked like as if there was a rocket engine in a locomotive! A fire raring to go, but the fuel unfortunately missing. So, no. Schumi has not lost the drive. Like in Shanghai, he swung from 9th to 18th to 5th to 10th to 7th and then to 10th again. The slide from 5 to 10 and again from 7 to 10, was owing to a mysteriously underperforming car. At which point, my heart yearns to ask a question - WHY COME BACK TO AN UNDERPERFORMING CAR??? And I also know the answer, that he is perhaps here to make the team strong and truly multiple World Championship winner material. Much like his role at Ferrari that was going title-less from 1979 to 1999, and so narrowly missed a championship victory in 1999 owing to Schumi's accident. And so, I hold hope.

But what hurts me the most is the neglect in the media. Newspapers rarely cover Schumi. Even the sports channels seldom ever pan across to his car, unless he is involved in some wheel-to-wheel racing somewhere, which unfortunately has been missing so far. So, for an ardent fan like me, this season is beautiful, yet painful. I get to see some Schumacher here and there, but no ceremonial jump on the top step. No unending discussion about his sterling driving skills. I guess this is how F1 was before the 1999 era of Schumacher domination. Does that mean 2011 would be much like 2000??? I am ready to wait and watch.

Cell phone providers and me - the story gets more interesting...

Call centers and I are actually jinxed. But of late, I have realized that I have turned into some sort of a call center junkie! I really seem to dig calling up all these customer service 'exectives'. No.. No spelling error, this is how they say the word executive!

Now, if you really thought I was some kind of whacko like the kid who made some 25-odd calls to a Mumbai IT firm talking about a terror threat, I AM NOTHING LIKE THAT. Given a choice I'd prefer curling up with a book and a coffee, and maybe put in an occasional piece of writing, but to obtain that kind of an idyllic lifestyle, some basic gnawing issues need to be sorted out. One would have to be completion of pending tasks and the other would have to be smoothing out things that impact our daily life!

As profound as these may sound (I choose to call these 'discoveries' profound, since of late my life has lost all semblance of profundity, as my life now revolves around the mundane. So I wish to extract the most out of whatever it is that presents itself to me!). So, as profound as my discoveries may sound, for me to get to my end goal of an idle lifestyle, I figured I needed to interact with the highly annoying IVR of everyone who has anything to do with my life.

So, it all began with a cellular service provider heretofore referred to as the thought guys. The other day, as I sat cheering Mumbai Indians, I got a message on my cellphone that I had just finished interacting with a certain XYZ. All is ok with that, except that I had no clue who XYZ was. Suddenly the theme music of Karthik calling Karthik came into my head. Was I turning into a schizophrenic? Or was I suffering from Multiple Personality Disorder? Two of me using that one cell phone of mine? Intense! And then I started the hunt for the other me.

As usual, I called our friend 'Customer Service'. As before, several attempts met with the dead end. Multilingual repetitive messages later, all the while wondering who XYZ was, and worse, who XYZ's friend was who managed to talk to XYZ through my number, I hit the dead tone. Again and again and again. The reason behind my paranoia, was the fact that earlier, with the wind guys, I had had an experience ,as you perhaps might remember, with someone else answering when my number was called. So, I persevered. Tried over and over again, till finally, someone answered.

I explained my issue, and the person there said, "Madam, you got that message because you interacted with XYZ".

"But I don't know an XYZ"

"I understand madam, but you interacted with XYZ"

"I was watching the match and taking a nap before that. So how could I have called someone I didn't know?"

"No madam, that message is because you interacted with XYZ"

At this point, I got exasperated and demanded to speak to the floor manager.

"Madam, no use. He will also say the same thing!"

I was sincerely stumped. I was tempted to say, "Let him tell me the same thing himself!!!" But instead, I kept my temper in check and asked again to talk to his manager. The poor chap was pissed, but he put me through nonetheless.

This chap, thankfully knew his stuff and then the mystery was solved. This happened in a characteristic whodunnit manner. The floor manager, after the customary apologies that looked more rehearsed than ever, said that the message had come as a missed call alert. XYZ was the customer care person who had tried calling me a while back to try and disconnect my connection that I had spoken about previously.

At the end of this whole roundabout, convoluted story, though I was nowhere close to disconnecting that connection, I was relieved that I was at least proven to not be schizophrenic!!! See everything has a happy ending!!!!!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Of Yanni, Enya, Chopin and all things beautiful

Imagine a typical day. Yards and miles of walking. Balmy mornings turning into sultry afternoons. A whole bunch of errands to complete, the sun setting, with you trudging along grimy and tired yet staring at a list of unfinished tasks.

If this doesn't make you all low, I wonder what will. For this certainly puts me all sad, needing some cheering up.

Well Yanni and Enya happen to be my 'cheer-up' people. I am sure all of us have our own ways of pulling ourselves out of the blues. My method is to binge on some Yanni or Enya. Not that they are meant only for the low and blue times, but they generally perk up my spirits whenever I listen to them. And today I sat wondering why they manage to perk me up. Apart from the melodies, I guess an underlying reason is the fact that several songs are associated with sweet memories and listening to the song evokes those memories again.

For instance, I remember a birthday when I was busy wrapping up some work in the dead of the night. There was gentle rain outside and Yanni was playing 'Playing by Heart'. Suddenly around 12 .30 am, a friend called up. It was around 3 am his time, and he'd called up to wish me happy birthday! I found it very very sweet that the chap stayed up all night just to call! And then the day panned out beautifully with some other friends making my day special in their own way. The memories may be dear, but the undercurrent all day long, was Yanni and Playing by Heart.

His 'After the Sunrise' was the song playing in my ears when we finally reached the summit of a mountain I'd climbed and the mellow orange hues we saw then are what come to my mind when I hear that song.

The reason I like Yanni though is for his melodies. You perhaps can't find deep classical insights in his music. But you sure can find a beautiful confluence of different instruments and a lovely tune. Take 'Marching Season' for instance. The beauty lies in the way the song is gentle with plain simple piano notes in the beginning till a crescendo after which almost effortlessly the song meanders into a beat. Likewise in the case of "Nostalgia'. The shamisen like notes in 'Nightingale' give a very oriental feel to the song and almost immediately they bring in my mind images of kimono-clad women against cherry blossoms in Japan! So Yanni's music is really vivid in all respects.

Chopin in contrast is fiercely classical. His Mazurka in F minor is a masterpiece. But it is more like the 'Raagam' that people sing in Carnatic music. Those in the know would know that in Raagam, people take one line of a song and explore the various nuances of a Raag. Likewise, Chopin in Mazurka for instance, takes a single tune and attaches several different nuances that lead to that tune. So, clearly, he does not have several different hummable melodies if I may say so, but rather they make for very mellow listening that doesn't interfere with any cognitive work you may be involved in - You can't be distracted and be led into humming the tune, you see. They're much too difficult to remember and hum!

Then comes Enya. Her music is a lovely confluence of classical tunes, melodies, instruments and also some lovely lyrics every now and then. Take 'The First of Autumn' for instance. You actually have a Cello there, and this leads to a female choir. The beauty in this song is, that I can actually imagine a scene of sorts and play this tune as a background score! Take 'One by One'. This has lovely lyrics - a tad sad, but hopeful, as does 'Only time'. Again, 'The Memory of trees' has a very 'woodsy' feel to it. You can picture walking through glades in forests, surrounded by green hues all around.

And that was when I realized that my love for all these kinds of music springs less from explicit imagery in the song and more from the kinds of imaginative pictures and thoughts this kind of music can evoke. And another thing I realized is that such music also falls under the category of being an acquired taste - much like wine. So try as I might, I realized that it may be impossible to push my tastes down someone else's throat, since it is almost impossible to impose one's imagination and thought images into someone else!

So while the world can groove to their pet passions, for me it will still be the Marching Season, Playing By Heart, Nightingale, A Love for a Life or Book of Days, The First of Autumn, The Memory of Trees and Only Time...

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The life and times of Sania Mirza...

So, the toast of the town is the Sania-Shoaib wedding. Given that a tiny event of two people getting married has had a saga of sorts woven around it making it look like a rerun of the Bold and the Beautiful, I guess the Nikah did indeed need to finally have a climactic ending!

So we have the groom, a disgraced Pakistani cricketer, who is known more for his politically incorrect statements and terrible English and we have the bride who is known more for the number of hornets' nests she has raked up than for her tennis skills. And the result - A story that has more punch in it than perhaps any other movie that has been released in theaters over the past one month!

Now, we know quite a bit about Sania. She won the girls' singles Wimbledon and shot to fame. India finally seemed to have found some strength in a sport other than cricket. But unfortunately the spark did not last. But the craving for fame did! So, controversies surrounding her clothes, her dressing sense at India's Olympic parade at China in 2008, and goodness knows what else surfaced. Then she declared that she would stop playing for India since she did not feel wanted here. There was a huge press conference for this and she grabbed a few headlines again. Then there was talk of her planning to wed her childhood sweetheart, and then news again of the cancellation of that plan. And then finally news of this whole cross-border love affair. Then the whole drama surrounding Mr. Malik, whose mystery wife surfaced out of nowhere, conveniently just weeks before he planned to tie the knot. Then the hue and cry that surrounded this story with our groom vehemently denying it all, only to meekly submit and divorce the hapless woman. Then finally the drama ended with a pre-poned nikah, in an attempt to beat papparazzi. I am sure Karan Johar can build his next tear-jerker around this and call it an action-packed romance.

And if I may, I would love to add some creative frills here. So imagine. Our tennis prodigy is our symbol of peace. Like several of our filmstars campaigned during elections, that they were so-and-so state ki beti and so-and-so state ki bahu, Ms Mirza-Malik can now say that she is an Indian-Pakistani. A perfect symbol of 'aman ki aasha'! And then she could suddenly say - ' Now I don't know which country to play for, India or Pakistan'. So whether this story is picked up by some Bollywood producer or not, I am sure that in the years to come, Sania Times will not end, and as usual, Sania Times will have a lot less to do with unforced errors, winners, backhands and double faults and a lot to do with everything else!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Me and cellphone providers -a saga of frustration

A while back I'd put up a post on a super annoying incident I once had with my lost sim card. I had tried to make a joke out of it since I was done being angry about it and clearly being angry about the incident did nothing for me. I found no redemption whatsoever. That account, for those who perhaps missed it is here - 'My run in with the wind guys'.

I would perhaps have let it go, except for the fact that this time around, I was again at the receiving end of painful customer service from another cellular services provider. So the wind guys frustrated me and made me swear never to use them again. (Ages ago, when I first started using cellular services hidden costs of the 'wind' guys cost me 3 months' pocket money. Yet, wiser and with a keener eye for fine print, I adopted them again only to be made to run and beg and scream when I lost my phone.) Nevertheless, now we talk of the 'thought' guys. So on a rebound from the 'wind' guys I ran into the open arms of the 'thought' guy. Thinking newer entrants would be more keen to provide sterling service.

Things were good for a while, till soon I realized that though business functions at the speed of thought, thought itself is rather sluggish. Other providers, at least the 'wind' guys, all else notwithstanding switched to international networks instantaneously. Yeah, a call would cost a bomb, but at least the service was available. But the thought guys were not like that. While in an alien country with sky-rocketing crime rates, when people back home were anxious over the safety of my life and limbs, here I was desperately trying to get through to them and the mystic 3 lines signifying a network were absent. Yeah I had been spoilt by the 'wind' guys, and that was perhaps my folly. But they never said that that service would not be available. But then again, they never said that that service would be available either. Note to self - absence of a negation of something does not necessarily imply positivity of the same. Sound profound, right? Well, at least profundity is the outcome of my flustered moments!

Then came part 2. I had to discontinue a connection with the 'thought' guys. I looked up their site. No link. I called up a local call center. A highly annoying IVR yaps into my ear asking me to choose my language of preference. I do. But not before listening to the same statement being translated into the various languages. Other IVRs usually move to the next level as soon as you choose your option without making you wait to hear all the options. Makes life easy if you know the options or if your option comes earlier on. But here, no. I had to hear 'Hindi ke liye do dabayein' and 'Marathi saathi teen daaba' despite me ferociously hitting 1 for English. Then I navigated to all the other menus, chose my options went all the way till finally the IVR said that my call may be recorded for training. And then the line got cut. So 20 minutes and an annoying IVR voice later, nothing. Period. And I did the whole thing again, went the distance only to end up at the dead end again. And again. And again. I mailed the guys - No response. So though technology may be advanced, face-to-face screaming is an absolute necessity to get things done in India!

So the net result is - I guess I am jinxed with cellphone companies and customer service. So all my thoughts were blown away and starting tomorrow, I need to start trudging towards the physical thought place to get my job done. I wonder what howlarious account this is going to produce. Perhaps No, Na, Nein, Non - part 3??? Watch this space for more...

Sunday, April 11, 2010


It's sultry and hot outside. The sun keeps beating down on mere mortals like me most mercilessly. The time - 9 am. I am on vacation and my mind is wired that way now. Prospect of physical work, even if that means simply washing my coffee mug seems anathemic! And I feel thankful to the lady who waltzes into my house at half past 9, and cleans up the mess made over all of yesterday. For the world she is my 'bai', or my hired help, but for me, she's GOD!

Getting the perfect Bai is impossible. The hunt is akin to finding the perfect husband. Don't laugh at my comparison. Try living in a city like Mumbai, where half our life is spent running behind local trains and the other half is spent stuck in traffic. With the kind of building and construction work happening on every road in Mumbai, whether or not air is ubiquitous, dust and dirt certainly is. So, it becomes even more essential to have someone who will clean the house and leave it spic and span and shining day after day. Else it wouldn't take too much effort to convert a cute urban Mumbai house into a Gothic cobweb covered castle. Nah.. the enormous space of a castle can never belong to a Mumbai house. Or let me say that a sprawling Mumbai house is as much a reality as say the tooth fairy.

So, now that we know that the Bai is indispensable, finding the right and best one is the hunt for El Dorado. Each time you hire someone, you strike a compromise. It's either their pay, the work they'd do, or even their leave policy. Not that they have casual leaves and privilege leaves, leave policy here is whether they would go on informed leave or go AWOL! Simple! And once you hire them, soon you find that they do not really deliver all that they promise in the first place. So, utensils may still show signs of what was for dinner yesterday or the corners would be swept so clean that every week a petrified me would need to run armed with a broom, behind a genetically modified spider. And the minute you try expressing your displeasure, they retort Channel V style, 'Itna Paisa mein Itnaich Milenga'. That is still fine. You can put up with that statement and ask them to raasta naapo. The worst is when they tag you. Not Facebook style, but when they say you do a lot of kitkit. Now kitkit is an epithet they use if you express your displeasure, albeit much too often. And like gossip, this tagging spreads like wildfire in the Bai community and they are as close knit as perhaps the Russian Mafia. (Psst, some of their tactics are similar as well).

And then comes the whole chutti aspect. They have hundreds of thousands of relatives in their Gaaon. What Gaon, God knows. And they have to attend every wedding, every child birth, every birthday, Gaon devi's Puja, Ganpati's Puja, Grandfather's brother's wife's uncle's grandson's first food function. And each such jaunt would imply leave for a minimum of 1 week and a maximum of 'Kabhi aayegi? Maalum Nahin Bhabhi'. Don't even get me started on the hunt for a makeshift Bai who is called Badli. A Badli Bai is looked down upon, as if she is someone who cannot hold on to a steady job. And one can't even tell the Badli Bai to hunt out the errant spider, since she can simply walk off, and not give a badli for the badli bai. You get the drift?

The Bai stories can be plenty. But as I sit back with my coffee and the newspaper, I need to thank my stars for my current Bai who is a thorough professional and does a clean job.

I guess I spoke too soon, for my watchman just told me that the All Bai union has pulled out a strike and every Bai walking towards my part of the city is being forcibly told to walk back home or 'face the consequences'. Sigh! The house needs to be swept and swabbed. The sink is full of utensils, I wonder why I had that dinner party last night. The sun is still pelting down on us. Life could not get any better. And my Bai is missing.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Congeniality in Mumbai

The people you interact with while commuting, to a very great extent make or break your mood for the day. So, a grumpy cabbie or a rude bus conductor has the potential to keep you grouchy throughout the day, and you wouldn't even realize why you're cranky all day. So, a pleasant demeanor honestly means a lot.

I, for one, swear by the friendliness of Mumbai's support system. Be it bus conductors, cabbies, guys at the ticket counter in railway stations, auto drivers, everyone. I remember, once, several years ago, I had forgotten my purse at home and had boarded the bus to college. I hunted frantically in my bag, for my purse, but couldn't find it. I told the same to the bus conductor. As per rules, he could have told me to get off. But instead, he let me go on to my destination and gave me a ticket and paid for it himself! I was honestly touched by the gesture.

Again, cabbies in Mumbai are very very mild mannered. If you seem interested, they engage you in a conversation about their cars, the weather, perhaps even their kids! Like the other day, one cabbie told me that the heat in the city was going over the roof, and so, several cabs were stalling midway! Then came a lengthy discussion on the flipsides of global warming!!! Another cabbie, once spoke about his kids, and how he educated his daughter such that she then went on to work in the UK! And by and far the best thing about autos and cabs in Mumbai is the fact that you can travel in peace, without worrying about a prospective bout of haggling. The numbers shown by the bright LED lights, defines what you pay. No one-and-a-half, or 'Pathu ruva potu kudungama' (10 rupees over and above the meter), or even haggling for a 10 minute auto ride.

Not meaning to be disrespectful or biased towards any particular city, but one thing I've noticed in smaller cities is the gross lack of respect towards a customer. So, once, I was commuting a short distance and as was wont in that city, we were haggling over how much we'd be willing to pay. The auto guy literally lost his temper and screamed at us saying, if you can't pay 50 bucks, walk the distance! Don't chew my brains. Being the thoroughbred Mumbaikar, I was shocked at the remark, since I could not imagine being spoken to like that in Maximum City! And that was when I realized that when a place grows from being a town to a city to a metropolis to a megalopolis, one, the people need to grow as well, and two, the support system needs to grow and understand the intricacies of people skills and dealing with customers! Perhaps Mumbai is wayyyy ahead on that learning curve and I thank God for that!!!

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Sociopaths on the loose - Maoist Massacre - II

Flanked by China. Chinese goods in our markets. China snooping on our secrets. And now Chinese doctrines causing severe loss of human life in India. Can it get any worse? Except for colonization, I guess we are being sufficiently Chinisized!!

So, yesterday, another lot of CRPF Jawans lost their lives to Maoist rebels at Dantewada in Chhatisgarh. Sitting miles away, I have the benefit of an outsider's view and I see the gross frivolity in it all. How will killing CRPF Jawans bring Maoists freedom, growth or whatever end they want. The whole problem, I agree lies in non-uniform and non-inclusive growth. The basis of the whole idea of Maoism in India - an armed conflict against the landed class was an uprising against inequality between land-owners and landless laborers. Reforms have come through, but one must realize that the process of ensuring all-inclusive growth is a slow one. It will take time and there are several impediments along the way. We are a democracy and consensus takes a lot of time. Now, all central governments do not achieve their mandate in entirety. But does that mean that all of us should procure illegal arms and go on a killing spree in the nearest police station???? No matter how noble the ends may be, the means used by these cowards in no way justify those ends.

Who is answerable to the families of those jawans? Could those jawans have gotten those Maoists their 'freedom', 'or whatever nonsensical need' they had? And by killing them, are they any closer to their goal? Take a piece of bamboo and try bending it. It may deflect a bit. Keep putting pressure on it and it will break into two. Neither would it help you, nor would it help itself. Beyond a point, reliance on force will cause the opponent to become stiff and safeguard his own ego and refuse to give in. And who is accountable for the lives lost in the crossfire? Generations have been wiped out in clashes in Sudan, or in the war between the Hutus and Tutsis in Rwanda, and closer home, between the government and the LTTE! Did any of these warring factions achieve their end? No. Did any of them take responsibility for the lost lives? No. Did anyone see the frivolity of these mindless clashes? NO!

I ask, if I can see the frivolity in this violence, why can't the perpetrators themselves see the same? And then again, maybe those perpetrators lack the IQ and the EQ. Why are our defence forces always underprepped? Take Mumbai police in 26/11. Take CRPF v/s Maoists. We know we're dealing with psychopaths, sociopaths, people who belong to an asylum. Then why on earth do we send 'sons of our soil' on suicide missions? Why do we keep repeating our 1857 uprising, where we fought gun-wielding British with swords, bows and arrows?

Every time I hear about Maoist extremism, I develop a sense of disgust. Fine, so you lack economic progress. Killing innocent people suddenly catapults you into higher echelons of society? Blind killing of civilians results in economic progress? Ambushing and killing security personnel results in growth? And worse, this nonsense is happening in the land of Mahatma Gandhi. With enemies like these within the country, who wants external terrorists????

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Driving me crazy!!

There perhaps was something providential in my radio playing 'you drive me cra-e-a-e-zy' today. After a whole year of staying away from the pleasures of driving I made bold and got behind the wheel today to go and pay my respects to the Sea Link. And thankfully I did remember that the right-most pedal is the accelerator and that I need to hit the clutch to change my gearshift! But that knowledge was not enough for me, given my subequent tryst with Mumbai traffic, since I was stomping on the brake at least double the number of times I depressed the clutch and the accelerator put together!

A one year hiatus from driving has not dulled my driving skills. But it sure has blunted the memories of Mumbai traffic from my mind. People always tell me that traffic in Mumbai is a lot more disciplined than traffic in Delhi, or Chennai or any other city in India for that matter. And this comes just when I complain to my friends about the gross disregard shown to drivers by cabbies who run a drag race of their own from traffic signal to traffic signal! I can only imagine then, how traumatic life can be for those who need to drive in those other cities.

So, never mind the incessant wait in never-ending traffic snarls. Never mind the billowing smoke that emanates from the random truck whose gas pipe is so conveniently at the level of your open car window! As long as there is the radio, though I wish they'd play more music and talk lesser, and as long as you're ok to go on with closed windows, life is cool, well comparatively cooler! But hell breaks loose when an aspiring grand prix driver in a black and yellow cab suddenly decides that a red light turning to green is akin to the 'five lights illuminate and they go out, and the Mumbai Grand Prix is GO' signal!! Unfortunately people slowly getting back to grips with the pleasures of driving are caught in the fray, HEADLONG. And then start the observations.

People are always in a hurry. Especially those on two wheels. They go as far to the edge of the signal as they possibly can, and when the light turns green they race like as though in a MotoGP so that they can zip past the next signal and the next maybe before those lights turn red! And much as you're concerned about protecting your car, you worry more about their life, since a simple nudge by a car is perhaps enough to kill them! Ford was right - a car is indeed a lethal weapon, and given the spate of hit-and-runs, looks like the RTO is indeed handing over licenses to kill to our aspiring 18 year olds! So, silent prayers and occasional 'gadha kaheen ka' gaalis later, you move on and come to yet another signal. This one is red and you drum your steering wheel to the tune that's playing and 'Uff teri adaa' is interrupted by a loud honk. Why? the traffic signal has a second ago turned green and the car behind you thinks you have launch control a-la F1 cars! Alas, even a Ferrari F430 gives 0 to 100 kmph in 3.5 seconds!!! But who cares, what if you had fallen asleep behind the wheel? The guy behind you is doing you a favor here!!

And finally comes the car driver or cabbie who thinks he is on a motor bike. He zips and zooms as fast as he can and that is ok. You'd perhaps stay faaaaaaar away from those species. The issue is when he thinks he can push his car through a gap between a truck and your car and in the process leaves a dirty gash all over the side of your car. Never mind the spoilt appearance. The biggest problem is coming home and explaining that the source of the gash was errant driving by a lunatic on the road and not a need for speed from your side! But that argument seldom ever flies and you perhaps end grounded for a week!

But in terms of driving in Mumbai now, with the higher income levels and the increased proliferation of drivers who drive in gay abandon with scant regard towards the well-being of cars both under and around them, being grounded is perhaps the best thing that could happen to you!!!

Monday, April 05, 2010

Mumbai and the Mumbaikar - as viewed by everyone else

So.. the last goodbyes were said after exchanging promises of staying in touch. And today, life begins again in Maximum City. And after having spent a whole year outside, I had to put in something on how others perceive Mumbai and its inhabitants - the Mumbaikars. But first, 2 lines on my immediate reactions. I came in at around 2 am last night, and as has perhaps been written right here in the past, the city was as vibrant as ever. The people at the airport, totally friendly, cabbies, security guards, everyone. And no matter what anyone may say, humid or otherwise, 29 degrees is on any day better than scorching 45 degrees!!!

Now, outside Mumbai, and within India, Mumbai evokes totally contrasting reactions. One of awe, like, admiration and aspiration and another of being intimidated, disgusted and overwhelmed. And the former reactions do not emanate from a Mumbaikar, but rather both these sets of reactions come from people who have lived a while in Mumbai.

So some, who like a city for its people, find Mumbai immensely friendly. And this I can vouch for myself. People here are friendly. Now, you can't expect Japanese style cordiality or congeniality, but people won't snap at you, or cabbies won't insult you if you ask them to change a route midway. You can count on the person standing next to you to help you with a heavy bag, perhaps even without your asking for assistance if you are female. And as a city, it is very very safe for women, since well, people are much too busy running behind their own lives to actually think lecherously about a woman on the street! And so, some people who like to be left to live their life and make it the way they want to enjoy the city for its 'bindaas' nature. They enjoy the pace, the continuous run to be at the top of your game, and the positive attitude of people towards work and merit.

And then there is the other category, who hate Mumbai. All they see are the slums, the congested roads, the traffic snarls, the crowds and so on. They perhaps hail from smaller or more laid back cities and literally get intimidated by the pace and stress on meritocracy in Mumbai. They yearn for the idyllic lifestyle back in their old cities/towns and detest every waking moment in Maximum City, maybe because this stress on Maximum and extremes is a bit tough to handle! And I must admit. Mumbai is unforgiving in pushing her inhabitants to the extreme. Be it the rents or having to endure the crowds in public transport. Then again, some who come here to follow a dream and believe in the dream real bad, stick it through and once the teething troubles are endured, there comes a point of inflexion, post which they are initiated into the land of the Mumbaiphile, whence there is no return to falling in love with another Indian city.

And the former group perceives Mumbaikars as being bindaas, chilled out, fun-loving people, who bear malice towards none. The latter group, though looks at Mumbaikars as being arrogant, headstrong, non-adjusting and to some extent even conceited. I may be wrong in my assessment, but this is a glaring trend that I have perceived in my interactions. Now should a Mumbaikar be perturbed by these perceptions? I guess, given that we are carefree and bindaas, as what we'd like to be known as, the latter perception should perhaps be read in the light of the prejudices of the perceivers themselves and so can maybe be disregarded, after due consideration has been given to the veracity of these perceptions. Are we by any chance too carefree to be perceived as being arrogant? Are we too focused to be perceived as being selfish? Maybe just a reflective thought by the sea side every once in a while, but not before smelling the sweet salty air of the Arabian Sea.

For all other practical purposes - for all Mumbaikars, irrespective of what they may be perceived to be, Mumbai was, is and perhaps will always be their true love...

Sunday, April 04, 2010

A poignant goodbye

A whole year has passed. This one year alone has been more eventful than all past years put together. And all this while I have felt like the guy standing on the road divider watching stumped as the vehicles zipped past. A year of learning, experiences, friendships, some relationships made, some broken, a few highs, some lows, some cheery moments, some laments, a rollercoaster to the core.

And now, the time has come for me to bid goodbye to those walls, trees, roads, rooftops, floors, classes, benches, tables, library, quad that have defined my past one year. A year ago, I walked into the rec center, with stars in my eyes, confident that I was sent on earth by God with the express mission to change the world. A peculiar smell then caught my nose which was to linger with me for the whole year, getting renewed each time I'd walk past those doors for a dunking, a drink of water in the middle of a late night walk, or just as I'd shuttle between SV2 and SV3. And today, I walked through those doors for the last time. As I took a walk today around campus, a strange familiarity grew over me, as yet another peculiar smell endemic to the flowering trees here promised to be with me forever. These trees added the dash of color to the imposing peach colored structure that has defined one year of my life, the tall structure that has promised to shape my career, my life as I go further.

I lingered around the atrium today and though it looked fairly empty, somewhere in the distance, I could hear a gurgling laughter. I saw a bunch of us tea in hand walking towards the elevator in the 5 minute break between classes. I could hear the groans that accompanied an 8 am class. I looked skywards and the gray clouds converged. I could suddenly hear the pattering of rain, though the ground under me was starkly dry. I could smell the wet mud, hear the croaking of the frogs and sense the slithering of the occasional snake and I saw myself in my quad gazing out that huge window wishing I was out in the rain and not studying for a DMOP paper. I walked those long winding corridors from Lecture Theater to Lecture Theater and saw my classmates suited up, file folder in hand, walking towards an interview room. I could hear myself wishing them luck. I turned around and there was my gang waving to me wildly, calling me to get ready for lugging a projector back to LT. I smiled and thought about which movie we could see, when in the distance I could smell the aroma of freshly brewed tea. I gazed into the distance and saw everyone I had befriended over this one year looking all cheerful and successful and suddenly we were throwing our hats up in the air and I was shaken out of my beautiful reverie.

A year later, I do harbor intentions of doing something meaningful. I came in here to change the world and I emerge a changed individual myself. I take back with me memories that weigh a ton, and friendships as strong as oak. In this one year I have learnt a lot about finance and marketing and strategy. But more importantly I have learnt a lot about myself and have learnt to look at the world from several different perspectives. Was the year worth the pleasures and pains? Well, the fact that all of us walk out of here with a billion memories, some pleasant, some sour and a smile worth a few billions screams out that this one year is a year well spent indeed.

Saturday, April 03, 2010


A tiring day, a tiring year.
Our toils and efforts have brought us here.
Exams, assignments all-nighters galore,
Learning about things we've never seen before.

A few friends I did make
I learnt a lot here
But the memories I take
With me are so dear.

Today marked the end of my academic stint at ISB. I have graduated from this awesome school and I am now one of the elite class called 'alumni'. We are now expected to uphold ISB values and make us, our school and our country proud. We have had one helluva power-packed year, learning all of 32 subjects, not to mention all their associated exams, assignments and projects. Along the way we learnt a bit, goofed around a bit and collected memories by the ton.

Our chief guest today was Kapil Sibal, fresh from having had the Right to Education bill passed. He stressed on the importance of education and how we, the supposed cream of Indian intellect should feel proud of our privilege and not squander the same. He spoke of the numerous opportunities that would present themselves here on further as education is to be made available to one and all. At the same time, he told us about the need to be responsible, ethical and work towards a better, stronger society.

Our chairman Mr. Rajat Gupta took the stage to tell us his words of wisdom and a few things he said found a place in my head. He told us to work towards becoming the best professional in any line of business we may choose. This appealed to me, since keeping goals like wanting to be rich or powerful, are nonetheless temporal. Wanting to excel in anything brings in its wake success and incidentally money as well. Case in point - Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar! Secondly, he told us to not just work towards making ourselves successful, but towards pushing others to success. This makes sense, since the minute you try to make others successful, you will in a way end up with a circle of successful people who perhaps owe their success to you and so, this circle automatically becomes a trustworthy circle of friends. Another thing he said was that the minute we found ourselves in a comfort zone, we should change our milieu to something else, since comfort zones are not conducive to learning.

But the one thing that almost everyone said today that I will hold dear forever is - never let your education turn you towards arrogance. The more you learn, the more you realize you have more to learn. In other words - stay hungry, stay humble.
With that I end this small post commemorating a momentous occasion in my life as well as in the lives of 567 of my classmates here at ISB. Yes! we have graduated....