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.