Friday, September 16, 2011

A cup of coffee

Today morning I woke up to a heavy rainfall. It made me go back to sleep. Few minutes passed by, and mom’s rebuke made me get out of bed. With no will/motivation I freshened up and took the newspaper. Turned a few pages, saw pics of flooded Delhi streets and Airport Terminal 3. Rains make me gloomy. They really do. As I continued flipping through, I noticed a simple ad that looked very similar to Tender Notices that get published in newspapers. Instead of “Call for tender”, it read “Make a career out of tasting coffee”. No wonder it caught my attention. Here is the online version (which looks quite different than the newspaper print). “Wouldn’t that be super cool career option” I thought, and immediately I decided to taste some myself. I usually do not prefer instant coffee, but had no other alternative at home. Better that than nothing. I intentionally added more-than-usual amount of coffee to some hot milk, few spoonfuls of sugar and it was ready. It felt awesome, like, really awesome. Somehow I got all the willingness to brave the rains, and get to work.

And then followed these good moments, or rather little pleasures of life that we often overlook.

  1. Walking through the heavy rain, carrying an umbrella, wearing shorts and floaters. One of the few things I like about rain. Fun, fun, fun. Watching people running around, looking for cover. Jumping over the puddles. It just felt great.
  2. People at the bus stop were busy discussing the rains and water logging at Lajpat Nagar. I just love how the conversation at bus stops change with time and season. I have rarely seen a debate. Usually everyone is in the same side of the discussion.
  3. An empty AC DTC bus came out of the depot right next to the bus stop. A very rare thing to happen. Today the luck was on my side. A window seat of my choice on a rainy day in an air-conditioned bus. What more?
  4. Right at the next stop a random person ran towards the seat next to me. As he reached close enough he flung his handkerchief onto the empty seat, gestured me to take care of it with a bright smile on his face and turned towards to conductor to get his ticket.
  5. The radio station talked about the increasing petrol prices, cracked humorous jokes (like gifting your wife a chain having a locket containing 2 drops of petrol) and played some wonderful music. I didn’t care about petrol prices. I rarely drive.
  6. Sitting next to the window in an AC bus as it rained outside gave me some good vibes. The entire city looked washed and cleaned. Nowhere throughout the ride from home to office did I find any appreciable water logging. And that’s a good 23 kms. Probably many waited for rains to go away, and so there were hardly any traffic snarls (except for the last km).
  7. About halfway through the ride, the clouds cleared up and the sun trickled through. The air was amazingly clean. Every time the bus was atop a flyover I could see the Delhi skyline, far far away. It brought back memories of my days in Chandigarh where I could see the mountains from my hostel after rains.
  8. As I got down the bus at Nehru Place, I noticed that the authorities had restored the footpath and the service lane leading to the subway. Don’t know when they had done it, but it felt good to notice it today.
  9. A blogpost after quite a while. I had started writing one long back, but due to sheer laziness haven’t got down to complete it. Hope to finish that soon.

Today’s experience makes me feel that the #1 way listed in the 7 Scientific Ways Coffee Gives You Super Powers is for real.

Ah, the pleasures of a cup of coffee. :)

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Public Transport – I’m sold.

Of all the cities in India that I have lived in, Delhi by far has had the best public transport infrastructure. I was a regular user of the city buses during summer vacations in class 8th and 9th when I had joined a computer programming course out of my personal interest. Following this the next major phase of my life when I used city buses came in class 11th and 12th. I would take a bus to travel from school to my coaching classes and also back home. Back then, I had no choice. There was a car at home, but I neither had a license nor did I know how to drive. Also at that time, most buses were Bluelines. These buses never ran with a motive of serving the public. Money making was the only motive. Given the helpless circumstances back then, I was definitely not fond of the buses or the public transport.

Things changed as I joined college. I regularly travelled along the Delhi-Chandigarh route on buses and trains. At the same time, I learned to drive and got myself a driving license. I did drive around the city for sometime, but soon Metro operations expanded in Delhi. From the day Metro connected Dwarka to other parts of Delhi, I realised the convenience of driving only up till the closest Metro Station. Following my graduation, I moved to Mysore and Bangalore. I had no personal vehicle. Autos in Bangalore (and Mysore) are a nuisance. As a result I always favoured the buses and often had to fight the reluctance of my friends in order to take the buses. And now that I am back in Delhi, I have been making the most of the public transport over the past four months.

Over this time I have had a change of mindset and my attitude towards public transport has changed a lot. I no longer perceive it as the cheap, painful and poor-man's mode of transport. At the same time, I am far from considering myself as a socially responsible citizen who takes public transport to help save fuel, lower pollution, lessen traffic on the roads. While I do support these causes, they are totally unrelated to my ever-growing fondness of the public transport.

One of my reasons for preferring public transport is that carrying around your own personal vehicle is slowly turning painful. Traffic is too slow too often. Parking has always been a problem (at least since the day I started driving). Petrol is burning bigger holes in your pocket. And then there are these occasional unpleasant cases of breakdown (I recently had a flat tyre). All these add to the pain.

The primary reason for my attraction is the experience in itself. This tweet by Rungta sums it up: “Never a dull moment on the public transport crush— err, systems of India.”

Truely, there is never a dull moment. Unlike the monotony of driving your vehicle through slow traffic, switching gears between 1 and 2, and finally searching for that non-existent parking spot; there is some spark in almost every ride on the public transport. The joy of boarding an empty bus, the competition for a seat in a jam-packed bus, the funny comments in the air, the sigh of relief at the end of the journey. In addition, the noticeable (as well as subtle) traits of individuals coming from diverse backgrounds (regional, cultural, economic etc) add to the exuberance; imagine a Haryanvi letting out his frustration in a crowded bus. Somehow these tiny highs and lows makes the entire experience worth it. And when I think back, and recall all these experiences there is a sense of achievement and satisfaction.

This post is a consequence of the same feeling, and I decided to share some of those moments. Even if they don't convince you about the beauty of the experience, at least they would humour you.

  • One of the important difference between the buses in Delhi and Bangalore is the ease with which people start a conversation. Maybe because language is a lesser divide among the people in Delhi as compared to people in Bangalore. For some reason there is a “general assumption” that the people around are eager to talk to you. So don't be surprised if the guy next to you strikes up a random conversation with you. The topic can be, well, anything depending on the day, the mood, the person, the co-passengers, the weather, the cricket match; as I said, it can be anything. Some of the topics I have come across in the recent past: overcrowded state of public transport; the Government not functioning well; the distressing traffic situation; lack of trees; the performance of the bus driver; the insignificance of the Metro Airport Express Line; or a one-sided monologue where a random “enlightened” guy decides to spread some gyaan.
  • While there are no shortage of frustrating moments, more often than not you will find some humour being born out of those situations. For example in a bus, every now and then you will discover newer (and funnier) ways of stealing seats. If your happen to be the unlucky victim who gets beaten in the contest, you can either humour others by letting out your rage, or simply learn from it and outsmart your fellow co-passengers the next ride onwards. Sometime back two of us took a metro from HUDA City Centre. Since the train originates at this station, people usually scamper for a seat the moment the metro door opens. We did not participate in the scamper as we were making a very short trip. Just as someone was taking the seat right next to where we were standing, a guy runs in and manages to force his potli onto the seat (under the other guy's half-seated posture), which obviously gets crushed by the butts. What followed was this huge argument - one claiming that he sat first, while the other claimed that his potli was kept on the seat before the other guy sat. The argument concluded with both adjusting themselves on the seat.
  • On another occasion I was travelling in a jam-packed metro from Rajiv Chowk towards Dwarka wearing a backpack. Having no control on my movements due to the rush, I happened to accidentally give an old man a slight nudge with my bag. Incidentally the old man was travelling with an elderly companion, and both happened to be in a drunk state. The nudge made this old man start talking (actually, more like announcing) to his friend “Ek to duniya mein samasya yeh hai ki logon ko apna basta sambhalna nahi aaya”. A third aged co-passenger (no, this guy was not drunk) participated in the conversation and blamed the Government for not doing anything about the helplessness of the passengers. The conversation took wild turns as more people got interested. For quite some time the three old men kept talking and conversation nearly turned into a meaningless argument. After a little while the sober old man got off at this destination. Following that the drunk old man decided to address his co-passengers “Aap kahin bhi jaoge aapke aas paas zyadatar log murkh milenge aur bohut kum samajhdar milenge. Hum sub mein bhi zyadatar murkh hi honge. Bus ye batana mushkil hai ki kaun murkh hai aur kaun samajhdar.” The pravachan continued as everyone listened to the old-man-on-a-high with a smile on their faces. When it comes to carrying bags in public transport, I now have a golden rule – “keep it below the belly”. From that day onwards I converted my backpack into a sling-bag.
  • The roof of the bus stop near my house was blown away by strong winds quite sometime back. Only a small piece of the roof still remains stuck. On a peak summer afternoon as I waited for a bus, two persons came in from different directions and sat alongside me. They realised that the sun was too strong, and so decided to look for a shade. Eventually both ended up cramming themselves under the little shade provided by the broken piece of roof. And this initiated another fun conversation, and as expected they pulled me into their conversation. They went on to criticise the DTC, the Government and even the MCD for not planting trees on that side of the road.
  • Most of the new buses procured by DTC are an engineering marvel. These busses run on CNG. Have the engines at the back of the bus. They are low floor. Automatic doors. Automatic gears. The manufactures did almost everything right except that the engines generate very low power. You can distinctly hear these buses scream with pain as they try to pickup from a dead stop or climb up a flyover. The situation worsens in an AC bus, when the AC is turned on. Often the bus drivers turn the AC off when the buses need more power for pickup. And almost immediately you can hear a comment or two from the crowd – “AC chala do. Paise to hum poore dete hain, AC chalane mein aapka kya jaata hai.”
  • Even though the bus route I usually take has a very good service frequency, there have been times when I have had to wait a lot, specially at the Nehru Place Terminal. About a week back I was at the terminal at about quarter past seven in the evening to catch an AC Bus plying on the same route. There is no fixed platform at the terminal from where the bus might originate. If you need a seat, you have to be attentive and look out in all directions. Whenever a bus moves, or starts, or shows any other signs of departure the crowd would rush towards it. The key to get seats is very simple; win the race. If you are lucky, the bus would be plying on the route you're looking for. On that day we had been running around without luck for about half an hour. After some more time, as we all started our sprint towards another bus, someone among us shouted aloud “Itne mein to Dilli Police ka physical clear ho jata.” Even that bus turned out to be on a different route.

Public transport rides are a mixed-bag of emotions – fun, frustration, humour, exercise, excitement, anxiety and more. Most importantly it is a break from monotony. The person facing the music enjoys as much as the person observing these moments. While there are many more incidents worth sharing, I'd rather not make a long blogpost even longer. Instead let me point you to some tweets by me and my friends:

As pointed before, hopefully these anecdotes have at least humoured you, if not convince you about the beauty of using the public transport.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Food for thought

A couple of days before Bengali New Year (Poyela Boishakh) my mom expressed her desire to have breakfast at the newly opened Sagar Ratna near our house. For those who are unfamiliar with Sagar Ratna, here is how they introduce themselves on their website: a well known Brand of Restaurant chain in Northern India serving vegetarian cuisine with a speciality in South Indian delicacies.

For the record and from my experience, they did start off being a South Indian speciality restaurant, but in their quest of business they ended up serving all kinds of vegetarian food including Burgers and Noodles. Their start as a specialised South Indian restaurant chain was pretty impactful and it still is the first place that a Delhi-ite thinks of for having a South Indian meal. I reluctantly agreed (why reluctant? - will come to that shortly).

So on New Year’s Day, I took mom to Sagar Ratna. I ordered my last year’s favourite breakfast. My mom, as usual, couldn’t control her greed and ended up ordering much more than what she could have herself (obviously expecting me to take care of the leftovers). This was the third time I was about to have South Indian food since my return from Bangalore (excluding the occasional chomps at the roadside vada vendors), previous two occasions being at Southy (Nehru Place) and Karnataka Bhavan (Shanti Niketan). Each time my experience has been unsatisfactory and I have sworn not to have South Indian food again in Delhi. Not that the quality of South Indian food has degraded over the years in Delhi, just that over the past year and a half I have had awesome Vadas, Dosas, Idlis, Filter Coffee and other popular South Indian food right in South India. I have grown a basic understanding about how it aught to be. I keep expecting the same softness in an idly, the same crunch in a vada, the same aromas in filter coffee. They did not keep us waiting for long. The food arrived within a few minutes. And it strengthened the cause for my reluctance to have South Indian food in North India.

I have had a fantastic time having South Indian food while I was staying in Mysore/Bangalore and while I visited the nearby states. At the same time I have had an equally horrible time searching for North Indian food in South India. On one hand I feel this is good because it makes me want to visit South India. But on the other it is really bad. It induces this false notion, a false perception of the kind of food available in other region.

I believe that good food is not just about taste. I am a strong advocate/believer of relativity. Taste in spite of being important is relative. One’s favourite might be another’s nightmare. In a slightly vague manner the problem can be explained by this example: Imagine an unaware sweet lover who is given a laddo instead of barfi which he ordered at a sweet shop. Even though what he had might be tasty, in reality he did not have what he intended to have. More than taste, good food is about authenticity. It is about “not being cheated”. So when someone who knows little about your South Indian cuisine walks in to a South Indian Restaurant, it is not just about cooking food the way it is written in cook books and serving the same. Instead, it is about making the guests realise how authentic South Indian food is supposed to be. The food must speak out the qualities of food back in South India.

I am not a person who has visited plenty of countries. So I do not know first-hand whether International cuisines available in India are authentic or not. Even if they are not, it is not as big a problem as authentic Indian Cuisines not being available across India. International cuisines may not have a market for selling authentic cuisine in India profitably. There are differences in taste, culture, lack of ingredients and cooks from other countries may not opt to come to India. But these reasons make little sense when we talk about Indian cuisines in India.

Another factor that worsens the problem are the Food Awards that do their round in the market. Here is a page highlighting the awards won by Sagar Ratna. Some new doubts have raised in me. Do these companies assign the job to food-critics taking into the account the region he/she belongs to? i.e. People from South India being sent to evaluate South Indian restaurants. Even if the food-critics belong to North India, are they asked to evaluate a South Indian restaurant after they are made to try out food in South India. While these awards do help businesses woo consumers, at the same time any scope for improvements must be conveyed to the businesses. Unfortunately, as pointed by Rungta in the movie Inside Job, these awards/ratings companies have defence which is both strong and weak in itself: “It’s just our opinion and people are free to not go by it.”

I just can’t accept that South Indian cuisine cannot be authentically reproduced in North India and vice versa. So where does the problem lie?
  • Lack of availability of ingredients locally? Not possibly. Even if some of the ingredients are not available, they can be easily procured from South India. And, I am not paying less for the food. I pay nearly double the amount charged at the best places in South India and get something which is not even half as well made. Procuring authentic ingredients should not add much to the expenses.
  • Unavailability of cooks? I won’t buy that. Most certainly there are enough South Indians who can cook well in North India. Additionally in quest for jobs and better pay thousands migrate in both directions. We are not talking about speciality dishes whose recipes remain secret to generations of a family.

Sharing one of my food-related experiences I have had in Bangalore. I once went to Tunday’s Tunday Kababi outlet in Bangalore which serves the famous Tunday Kebabs (Galouti Kababs) from Lucknow. One of my Punjabi friend ordered a parantha, which turned out to be made from flour and was very different from usual Punjabi paranthas. He asked “What kind of parantha is this?” “Sir, Lucknow mein aisa hi banta hai”. By the way, the kebabs were delicious. About a month later, I took my mom to the same place. Aside from the kebabs, we order a preparation of Chicken. The moment I tasted the gravy I got the pungent smoky taste of a burnt gravy. I called the waiter to complain. “Chicken ki gravy jal gayi hai” “Sir, Lucknow mein aisa hi banta hai”. Heights of denial. I immediately snapped back “Kuch din pehle tak to aisa nahi banta tha”. He called the manager and we were served a different preparation as the entire stock of that preparation for the day was bad.

I think the problem lies in the intent. There are very few businesses in the food industry that intend to do things right, serve authentic food and sell the right experience. It’s sad.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Not my Cup

Most Indians are driven by obsession over intellect. Now don't mistake obsession for passion. Being driven by passion at times is not bad. But being driven by obsessive passion or passion beyond reasoning is harmful – both for the individual and the society at large. India recently won the Cricket World Cup. I was happy for it. To be honest, the feeling was a mixture of happiness and a sense of national pride. Now does this feeling call for a party? Yes, it does. Every reason for celebration should lead to a celebration. Now imagine a person celebrating the happiest moment of his life; dancing on the roof of his car right in front of India Gate. Is it justified? Debatable. But surely if you happened to be at India Gate watching someone do that, you would classify him as mad. And you may not be wrong. I recently heard on the radio that obsessive behaviour is a psychological problem and is often a result of extremely low self-esteem. The moment India won the world cup, thousands gathered at India Gate (and other locations all over India), and many danced on the roof of their cars in a similar manner. Apparently, somewhere down the layers of their decision making was an attempt to make themselves more noticeable to the public and compensate the low self-esteem. And then there was this extremely acute case in which a fan committed suicide because Sachin did not score a well in the final.

On similar lines many Indians have the obsession for recognition. And in this quest they go far beyond personal achievements. Any remarkable achievement by a person of Indian origin, and Indians would be more than happy to share the credit. To a great extent the Indian media is to be blamed for such a behaviour. Even the remotest of connection to India, and the media will be the first to advertise the news highlighting the fact that the achiever was a person of Indian origin. Remember Sunita Williams? Now (obviously) this world cup victory is also a victim of such an obsession. And I feel this problem is very well explained by this tweet. Reality check is important. It is not our cup. It is their cup. It is a cup won by a few individuals representing India. It is ok to say that the cup belongs to India, but saying that it is my cup or our cup is far fetched. The ONLY way I contributed to this victory was by NOT playing for India. Nothing more.

Now why are these obsessions bad for the society at large? Well for a start, the cricket-biased reactions exhibited by the crowd, pushes back the other sports. I can think of plenty of other reasons but I'll highlight the one that has provoked me to write this post. It is bad, because we are a democracy and our current generation is not being led by the right politicians. In an ideal situation, a politician would work to the best interest of the country. In reality they work to appease people and get re-elected. They align their efforts to take advantage of the sentiments of people and they decide to honour the heroes (i.e. the cricketers). Unfortunately, as I realised sometime back, Indians make the mistake of confusing money with respect (I did tweet this the very next day after the finals.). They announced cash awards without realising that they paid no respect. They paid money. Money is not respect.

One of the insane reason to give away cash award to cricketers might be that it will motivate them to do better. Another insane reason might be that young cricketers would get motivated to play better and improve the overall standard of sports. But does it work that way? I don't think so. In fact, I believe it misleads people towards wrong goals. The goal of a cricketer is to improve his skills, do well in the sport and aim to win the games. But now when you announce an award after they win, you are slowly trying to replace the real goal with money. I am not entirely against giving money. Almost all sports competition do have a prize money associated with the event. The players know that the money is an associated prize if they win that contest. But if you declare a cash award after the event, you sow a hope for the years to come. Every sportsman would start expecting a "surprise" cash award on their performance. God forbid, if ever the country is not in a financial position to give such awards to the players, it will leave them dejected. Because by then a "surprise" cash award would be as important as the cup. And look at the amount of each cash award. The cricketers in the National Team are already so wealthy that an award in lakhs doesn't seem to be a respectable amount. Most states/institutions gave 1 crore per player (Another reality check – Most Indians make lesser than that working their entire life).

Another question to be answered – It it fair to the other sports? There are so many sports persons in India who do not earn a decent living. One of the well known case is of the Indian Women's Hockey Team. I distinctly remember reading a newspaper report (most likely, TOI) couple of years back while travelling by the morning Shatabdi Express to Chandigarh. This report featured on the first page of the newspaper covered the financial situation of the players in the Indian Women's Hockey Team. Most of the players were the sole earners in their entire family. Their monthly income would not even place them in the middle class strata. Often they have considered quitting owing to extreme financial crunch. Pay such sports persons; lack of money is definitely affecting their performance. I am not too attached to hockey. Hockey is just an example as I have little information about the condition of other sports persons in India. But my guts say that the sports persons who play less popular sports are negotiating even worse financial crisis. So even if cash awards given to the cricketers were taken from sports budget, I'd say it is a bad investment.

A quick search on google yielded these links: Karnataka Government award for Cricket World Cup and Karnataka Government award for Hockey. If you are not convinced here is one of the millions of pages on the internet highlighting the plight of Indian Women's Hockey Team.

If not money then what? Honour them. Have a look at this: Gujarat Government award for Cricket World Cup. This is how you pay respect.

While there are some voices being raised against these cash awards, it is being largely ignored by the cricket obsessed Indians. I personally feel it is nothing less than a corruption scam. It is a scam against me, cause even though these actions make me unwilling to pay my taxes, I'll have to oblige.

And finally the cherry on the top (the sad way). It is really disappointing that this tweet comes from one of few journalists in India whose work I like.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

In the State of Flow

When you do many things with excitement, energy and enthusiasm, your time perception changes and you tend to loose track of how time passes by. During the past three months I have been in the state of flow. Just over 2 months since my last post, but it feels as if I had posted it recently. Even then, in spite of so many things happening over the last couple of months, I have very little to share on this blog. Primarily because I want this blog to remain my personal blog in which I would prefer not to have work-related things.

So have I been working all this while and have had no personal time? Well, it's a little complicated.

In the context of this post, work is an activity involving mental or physical effort as a means of earning income. Whereas pastime is an activity done in one's leisure time for pleasure. Now things are not as simple as experiences at work = work life (or professional life) and experiences unrelated to work = personal life (alright, now don't interpret personal life as private life). Instead, according to me, it depending on how willingly you do things. The underlying reason for personal life being separate from work life is because the former constitutes of things that you want to do (or prefer doing) over the things that constitute the latter. When you have the option to choose your work you may pick up any random activity that can generate an income. But if you (like me) want to do your best, you will pick up an activity that you love AND that can generate an income. Now here is an irony. If you really love your work why would you not be doing it in your personal time as well? I have no answer to that. So, I have come up with a statement that has applied to me over the past couple of months and I feel it will be applicable to most other cases:

When you decide to quit your job and work on your own, you are essentially trying to bring your work closer to your personal life. Or in other words you are unconsciously making an effort to overlap your personal life and work life.

Coming back the the question, have I been working all this while? It would not be incorrect to say that work nearly consumed the last three months of my life (except for a few days that I could probably count on my fingers). While an observer may say "You're working all the time. It's so bad.", but it hasn't been that bad. In fact it has been pretty good. Of course there are things that are "purely work" and have no overlap with your hobbies or pastime (e.g. getting over the government processes, running around to get your work done, dealing with legal shit etc.) but then you can't get away without them as they are the enablers to your work.

So if there is an overlap between my work and personal life, why not put some of those things here? Because now that I have unconsciously overlapped my personal and work life, I want to consciously ensure that my personal life does not become a subset of of work life. This overlap is kind of a bubble. Rosy as long as the overlap does not overpower the personal life. But the moment it does, the bubble will burst, and I would be in a state similar to mad-scientists - the likes we see and say "They've got no life".

As long as I use my personal blog to share experiences unrelated to work, I should be able to keep a check on that. And with this for the first time since I started blogging I do a small modification to my blog description that earlier read My life in my words.

Also sharing a video titled "The Secret Powers of Time" that I saw recently and it somewhat relates to this blogpost.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Interruptions to Miserableness

I always believe that no matter how tough your present is, it seems much better when you look at it backwards in the future. Even though my last year and a half had been pretty miserable, on looking back I do find plenty of hidden fond memories. Some of them I would love to re-live. Here are a few highlights from my past year and a half that I adore and pine for. Try not to miss these experiences if you happen to be at the right place at the right time:

  • Weather in Bangalore: I took a fight from Delhi to Bangalore along with a few friends of mine on 11th July 2009. We were greeted by the new Bangalore Airport. The jet bridge guided us from the aircraft right into the air-conditioned terminal. We collected our baggage, found out about the different ways to reach the city and stepped outside the terminal. And then Bangalore weather welcomed us; A beautiful morning. Perfect temperature. Slightly cloudy. No scorching heat. A Soothing breeze. I almost immediately fell in love with Bangalore for its weather. I can still distinctly remember the smile that the breeze brought to our faces. Only on a few occasions over the past year the weather has not been as kind. I believe that weather in Bangalore is the single best thing about that city.

  • Trip to the God's Own Country: Thanks to some fantastic effort by Vishal we managed to make a short and a budget (yet exhaustive) trip to Wayanad, Kerala. I add this trip to my list of cherished trips with friends. The highlights of the trip were: the thrilling climb to the top of Edakkal Caves, the quick (and playful) peek at the Kuruva Islands, the arduous trek down Meenmutty Falls and the exhausting trek up to the Chembra Peak lake. I recommend everyone visiting Wayanad to undertake the trek down Meenmutty Falls and if you are slightly bold; attempt reaching the top of Edakkal Caves.

  • Dasara (yes, Dasara and not Dusshera) at Mysore: Never in my life have I seen a festival add so much enthusiasm to a city. There may be many such festivals in India. But, for me, this was the first one. The preparations were prominent about a fortnight before the festival. The entire city is lit up, esp. the magnificent Mysore Palace. Greeting messages are lit up on the nearby hills such that they are visible from most parts of the city. Innumerable exhibitions, performances and celebrations everywhere. Mysore being a pretty small city compared to the Metros, makes it very hard to stay away from the celebrations. One of my friends and I went to see the Dasara procession. It was an amazing experience. We had to fight through a massive crowd wherein each one is fighting to catch a glimpse. People climbed up trees. Terraces are overcrowded. Subway roofs are crammed full. Not a single eye wants to compromise. I myself had to balance myself on one of the Bamboo barriers while clinging on to a lamp post and simultaneously take snaps.

  • Anukruti and Gurukul: I really missed freedom while training at Mysore. The one way I partially got it back was by joining two web-based magazine clubs - one targeted at the entire Development Centre and the other targeted at the trainees. I joined both these clubs along with one of my friends. Internet access was imperative, and so our time restriction on internet access was somehow lifted. We loved bending the rules (whatever we could manage) like sneaking into production area late at night to complete our job and enjoying the administrator access we had on a few computers. We did have to work under a lot of restrictions (which was a turn-off), but we loved the little freedom that came along with it.

  • Events at Mysore campus: Another classic case of something (in addition to Pool) I enjoyed sans my friends. Most events that took place in my Campus be it a corporate event, an awards ceremony, some random celebration etc had a cultural element associated with it. I do not know much about elsewhere but Mysore campus had some amazing singing talents. Much better that the ones I heard in Bangalore about a year later. Every event had some performance by them. They were complemented well by the awesome JBL loudspeakers and some very nicely done karaokes of well known tracks. They sung in various languages, most of the times in some South Indian language (Tamil, Malyalam, Telegu or Kannada). A R Rahman compositions were the (obvious) favorites. For the first time I heard the original compositions of A R Rahman which were later were adapted for some Bollywood films eg Saathiya, Roja etc. They sound beautiful; much better than those I had been hearing out of my iPod. I would sit on one of the corners and try to guess what the songs meant. Each time a new song would start (in a different South Indian language) I could see one section of the crowd capering and cheering to the fullest. I just loved (and I still miss) those performances.

  • Mavalli Tiffin Rooms: Once I moved to Bangalore, I managed to get back in touch with one old friend of mine who had spent the last five years in Bangalore. He is also a foodie. He wrote down a list of must-visit food outlets in Bangalore. I wanted to go to cover all the places on that list, but I was unable to make it. MTR is one of the places he missed in the original list and later he asked me to add it to the list. I loved the breakfast served there. The very first time I reached MTR around 9am. I was told that everything except Masala Dosa and Rava Idli was over. I gradually advanced my time with each subsequent visit and finally realized that the best time to reach there was around quarter to seven. That is the time you would most likely get everything listed on the menu, and you can follow the heavy breakfast with a walk around Lalbagh. I simply loved their food, esp. Idli, Vada, Masala Dosa, Rava Idli, Fruit Custard and of course, Coffee. To top the good food, they have a wonderful service. The waiters (in their lovely uniform; red striped shirts and half mast lungis) are very courteous and they know how to make their customers ecstatic. It may be a little difficult to converse with them initially (if you do not know Kannada), but soon you would realize that they are experts at recognizing hand gestures. Interestingly, the food and the service were not the only things that got that place so close to my heart. What drew me closer to that place were the locals who dropped by early morning. Mostly the aged Kannadigas would come in their traditional "comfort" wear i.e. shirts and white dhotis (or lungis). They would read the newspaper over a cup of coffee and chat with their acquaintances. I loved observing them and even tried to imitate their style of eating Idly Sambhar and drinking Coffee. Add MTR + Lalbagh to the list of good things in Bangalore.

  • Saturday Mornings: While most of my friends enjoyed a lazy Saturday, I preferred playing pool. And to avoid the hassles of changing 2-3 public buses to reach office campus, I would take the company bus that would pick me at about 7:15 in the morning. The pool arena would open at 9 and I'd have an entire hour for myself. Every day I'd to go to a particular food court in the campus and have hot vadas, coconut chutney and some strong South Indian filter coffee. Add to that the lovely early morning weather and some music through the earphones; solitary bliss.

  • Durga Puja in Bangalore: This event made it to this list not for how good it was, but because I did not expected it to be as good. The year before I spent Durga Puja in Mysore. I did not expect much. But, by the end of the Durga Puja I realized that I had actually expected a lot. No where did I get any Bengali food. People in the pandals hardly spoke in Bengali. The cultural shows were small and mostly (of what I experienced) either in English or Hindi. I am not very sentimental about Bengali language, but this came to me as a surprise. The following year I was in Bangalore. And I set very low expectations. Bangalore hit back hard. Although the number of Durga Puja celebrations were not as many as in Delhi, but there were plenty of them. Almost all of them had good cultural shows and nice bengali food stalls. The one at Palace Grounds was huge and the scale at which it is celebrated really surprised me. I managed to catch live performances by Raghab Chatterjee, Indian Ocean and Usha Uthup. And not to mention, some real good food.

  • South Indian Filter Coffee & Matteo Coffea: I am an outright coffee lover. And South India was heaven in that respect. Every tea/coffee stall served freshly ground filter coffee; even the tiny canteens at Bus Stands. While I loved the coffee served at most places (esp. MTR and Hatti Kaapi), I am also a great fan of Cafés. Even if I would have drunk, I would have regarded Cafés to have more importance than Pubs and Bars. Cafés are a place where one can order a hot/cold drink; have some snacks/deserts; chat and socialize with friends; sit for hours enjoying the aroma (of coffee), the ambience, the music and at times even browse the Internet. The problem with most cafés in the metro cities are that they push too hard to earn money over goodwill. They end up eliminating the element of relaxation and force you to vacate as soon as you are done consuming your order. Matteo Coffea is one of the cafés on Church Street, Bangalore that clicked with me the very first time. They do almost everything right (including giving you free wifi internet). They have a awesome ambience and they play good music. I just can't get over their "Coffee of the Day".

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

The beginning and the close of a Chapter

My last blogpost was about a year and a half back. I was too happy then. A brand new laptop. A new job.

I was never too happy about my new job. Just excited about it - mainly for two reasons. Firstly, I always loved traveling. My job called for a relocation to Mysore. In spite of my long association and love for technology, I never had the opportunity to be at the IT capital of India. So, I was pretty excited to see that part of the country. Secondly, I was about to join a workplace that had been widely respected by most of the middle-aged people around me. "Oh, you are joining there. It's an excellent company. It will take you places. You would love to start and end your career there. Such companies take very good care of their employees". This was what I heard from most middle-aged people I knew. And I have to admit - such statements feel ticklish.

Just after my college, I had some time for myself and I was happily enjoying my new laptop and giving my website a new look. And then came the bummer. I was communicated that I cannot carry my laptop to training. I was stunned. An IT company not allowing their employees to bring in their laptops to a residential training facility!! I realized I had too less time left with my laptop (something I could never think living without). The training would take approximately 6 months time. Half a year without a laptop - unimaginably long duration. So I quickly put up my half done website online, hoping I would be provided with some resources to access this code and modify it when I am free. And then I left. I left behind my laptop (which more or less dictated and controlled my life, apart from my then-alive iPod). Additionally most of my hobbies got left behind. Back then I had a love for programming, a love for photography, a love for listening to music and adding new ones to my collection - and all these are not possible without having a computer for personal use at your disposal. Over the next 5-6 months, I spent my time in a quarantined zone. No challenging programming. Very low self direction. I had a camera, but it was getting harder to backup my photos. And adding new songs to my iPod, was pretty much impossible. My love for all these activities went numb. They were all fading away. Additionally, with a very limited internet access (limitations both on time and websites)- I was cut off from by blog, my website and all my online activities.

I did grow few new hobbies and interests during my training. But most of the habits I had developed, were a result of sheer frustration. I realized that addiction is one of the best ways to get your mind off unavoidable and loath-able things. And instead of going for the common intoxicants like alcohol, drugs or smoke, I looked into some cheaper and healthier alternatives (the likes I had in college during my final semester - playing cards). I did carry a deck of playing cards with me to my training, but (as you'd expect) there is no open card playing culture. Thus, you need a friend who is in the same state as you are and both should have a synchronized schedule. Playing cards did not work out. Meanwhile, I always loved aiming; and I had cue sports in my campus. Pool looked fun and interesting. What looked interesting at the early stages soon turned in to an addiction and I gave in. I used to rush out of my training at 5 and the stand in the queue for about 45 mins to get the first slot. Later due to a high demand for pool, I started playing snooker, but pool remained my first love. Most of the times I'd continue to play till 10 at night. The food courts served dinner till 10pm, and most of the times I only got the left overs. Non-veg would usually be over by that time but yet I gave my preference to my addiction over my love for food (esp. non-veg). About 4-5 months into training, the facilities team decided to stop providing cue sticks. By then I could not think of giving up playing. So, I undertook a one-day trip to Bangalore and back, to buy a cue for myself. By the time I came out of training, I had grown an intense dislike for my work-life, but was still addicted to cue sports.

Having been brought up in a metro city, I did not want to live in a Tier II city. Mysore is a nice place. But someone who is brought up in a metro city feels bonded due to the lack of options. You develop a need for a wide range of options in food, people, culture, hangout, infrastructure etc. Even Chandigarh made me feel chained over a period of 4 years. I dearly wanted to be posted to Bangalore, and I "just-about-managed" that. Very early into my posting I did get my laptop from home. But now there was a new problem. I was bound to spend too much time at office. And most of the times I had very little work. Even when there was work, it was pretty uninteresting. In order to bust my discontentment I experimented with my whiteboard at work, and decided to create a new status note each day which I'd put up on our internal messaging system. Most likely this was the only creative thing I did in my job. There were plenty who followed my status notes. Some loved it, some did not. But either ways any comment would give me the kicks and helped me move on. At the end of the day, I would immediately rush to play pool in order to let go of my entire day's frustration. Most of my friends disapproved it, but I just ignored them all. It was the best way I could keep my mind off the dissatisfaction at work and compensate it with the satisfaction of get better at pool day by day. I even spent my Saturdays playing. In the process, I learned a few new games like Billiards. It is an awesome game. It taught me how to control the direction of the cue ball after it hits the intended ball. These skills made Pool even more fun. But still, by the end of the day I was tired, unhappy and eager to call it off. All I needed to do was to wait till I am out of all legal agreements and bonds. Till that day arrives, I'd hardly have the chance to reclaim the life I loved earlier. As time passed a decision grew in me - to publish my next blog post only after I close this chapter of my life.

I just published it.