Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Flight Fight

I had been really looking forward to traveling by Emirates again. The last time I traveled on it, I had been floored by the friendly air-hostesses, which was some contrast to the crew on Air India and Iraqi Airways - the only other airlines I had flew in till then. I had even been given a teddy bear and a bag full of goodies (I was 8 years old then). I wasn't expecting a teddy bear this time (would not have minded it though), but was definitely expecting service of the same stature.

So, the flight from Bengaluru to Dubai was a massive letdown. The flight was 2.5 hours late, which we got to know only after we reached the airport. The seats in the plane were uncomfortable. The in-flight entertainment had terrible movies - I chose College Road Trip, because the other options seemed even worse. And CRT has to be one of the shittiest movies of the last 2-3 years. The food was disgusting. The wine was of a really bad quality. And, worst of all, the flight crew was really cold. After the great service in Singapore Airlines and, closer home, Jet Airways, this was particularly striking.

On our return journey, the plane was on time and the entertainment options were much much better - better than any I have encountered so far - but the food remained as bad as ever, and the crew sucked equally badly. They should just stop trying to serve Indian food and stick to continental stuff.

Even the Emirates ground crew is extremely impolite and makes one feel obliged for the basic service being provided by them. The fact that their flights are always over-booked does not help the case. The only thing that could have made the whole Emirates experience any worse was if my luggage would have been misplaced by them. Which thankfully did not happen.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Dubai Diary - 2

The last day of the trip was the most enjoyable for me. It began with a shared taxi ride from Ras-al-Khaimah to Ajman, followed by another taxi ride from Ajman to Dubai. The driver of this taxi was from Peshawar, and I told him about my visit a couple of years back to Topi in NWFP, which was exactly the place the driver, Zoher, belonged to.

In the next half-an-hour or so that my ride lasted, we spoke of working in UAE away from home, Hindi films, Indo-Pak relations, his family, my family, and a lot else. It is a running theme in all such interactions in Dubai, and probably in other countries with a high sub-continent population as well, wherein we talk about how even though one gets to make a lot more money working abroad than he would working in one's own country, there's something missing. Not being in one's own country, not living close to one's family and friends cannot be made up for by greater income.

This happened later the same day again when I got into a cab being driven by a Mallu guy, who had worked in Indira Nagar in Bangalore (a couple of km from my home here) before leaving for UAE 15 years back. The happiness he showed on realizing that I was from India was infectious.

Meeting a friend in Dubai, who was a wing-mate in Cal and also one of the two friends I used to hang around with in Bangalore in the first couple of months of my stay here, was the best part of the trip by far. The TGIF in Dubai does not serve alcohol so we walked about 500m in the scorching sun to the nearest Sheraton for a pint of beer each. And then, I dragged him across the city to Saravana Bhavan. A non-veg freak like me choosing to eat South Indian veg food in Dubai - that shows how badly the weather had affected my appetite.

Rest of the day went into shopping at the Mall of Emirates and Deira City Centre. After Singapore, the malls in Dubai did not feel that great though.

Saw the under-construction Burj Dubai, the Rose Tower and the Burj-al-Arab. Even without these three, the Dubai skyline is quite mind-boggling. The place is Gurgaon times 100. Everywhere you look there's construction going on, which is not a pretty sight. I would love to call it a beautiful city, and commend the fact that they have turned a desert wasteland into one of the biggest tourist destinations in the world. That too without gambling or unrestricted alcohol (which was the case with Las Vegas). But I could not find one good thing about the place that would make me want to live there. If only the sheikhs could plant a few thousand trees instead of reaching new heights, literally, in achieving their concrete dreams, the place would be a lot more liveable. A place where a child spends almost three-fourths of his life spending the entire day indoors can't be a great place to bring him up.

And the other sad thing is that unlike many other places in the world where if not the first generation, subsequent generations can become an integral part of the local population, that cannot happen in UAE. An Indian remains a second-grade citizen no matter how much sweat he puts into the development of the place.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Dubai Diary - 1

Though I had heard horror stories of the unbelievably high temperatures there at this time of the year, nothing had prepared me for the blast of hot air that hit me bang in the face as I got out of the plane at around midnight in Dubai. The temperature was 40 deg C.

Somehow, I had built up an image of the Dubai airport, based on my short stay in transit from Jordan 18 years ago, which was not lived up to by this visit. Too crowded, fairly mismanaged, and garishly colored. So, the start of the trip did not seem all that auspicious.

The trip to Ras-al-Khaimah was hot despite the AC in the coach on full force, and I just had enough stamina to reach my room at the Al Hamra resort and crash. It was 3:30 am by the time I went to sleep.

Woke up at 7:30 to really bright light coming in through the balcony, despite heavy, dark curtains. Was greeted by a view of the bluest water I have ever seen with my own eyes, from the balcony. It was, unfortunately, already too hot to stay out for long and enjoy the view.

A day of presentations went by and the night presented an option of either accompanying part of the crowd to go to a discotheque/pub in Dubai or choosing to drink in our air-conditioned rooms and taking an occasional walk by the lagoon just 10 metres away from a friend's room. The fact that I had already lost half my body fluids by the time the bus left for Dubai made me decide in favor of the latter.

The drinking session - wine, tequila, scotch, beer - was one of the high-points of the UAE trip, when people who don't drink, drank, and those who don't speak much, spoke.

The next day began with presentations and visits from local government delegates, followed by some light games, which was interrupted by news of the blasts at Bangalore. Lunch was followed by a trip to the desert.

The desert safari remained another high-point, till it literally reached a low-point, with our land-cruiser getting stuck in the trough between two sand-dunes. We had to get out of the car and stand in the burning sand for about 5 minutes. Would advise you not to eat or drink much in the 4-5 hours preceding the safari, if you ever choose to go on one of those crazy trips. Our driver, to make matters worse, was driving with only one hand on the wheel and holding his phone in the other hand and scolding someone on the other side.

The desert camp was a great effort at hospitality by our hosts, but would have preferred if it had been organized indoors, with strong air-conditioning. In the mind-numbing heat, the free-flowing booze, the kebabs, the good food and even the belly-dancing lost its charm. Well, not the belly dancing, on second thoughts.

Returned to the resort playing an impromptu quiz in the car, and completely drained out.

The next (and the last) day was reserved for Dubai. But that'll take another post. The trip was good fun, and one of the perks that comes with working in a small firm that is doing really well. Reached home in the wee hours of Sunday to the news of the blasts having reached Ahmedabad. I leave the country for 4 days, and look what you guys do to it.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Another Client Trip

Like any other job, my job has its own perks and pitfalls. One of the better perks, like most client-oriented jobs that one gets into with a background similar to mine - consulting, investment banking, wealth management, etc - is to get to interact with the senior most members of an organization.

During my three months at my present employers, I have got a chance to get to know some amazing people, who are either first-generation entrepreneurs and have taken their companies from scratch to a well-respected position in the industry, or are children of such entrepreneurs, who are ably guiding the growth of the enterprise started by their fathers.

It is a very humbling experience knowing these people on a first-name basis, having access to their unlisted personal phone numbers, wining and dining with them, but most importantly, getting an insight into how they think.

Now, none of my clients are Fortune 500 companies, and with all due respect, won't get there in the next few years by any long shot, but they have still created value and made good use of opportunities. Which is not any less admirable than being a Birla or an Ambani.

A common element of the personalities of all these people is the confidence in their abilities that they have, and the belief in their ideas. Some of them are MBAs from the best schools around the world, some are commerce graduates from ordinary Indian colleges and one or two maybe left studies after school. But they never stopped working hard, and painstakingly, gradually, saw their venture reach levels they probably did not even imagine when they started off.

One interesting thing that I have seen is that while most of them would have expensively decorated offices, imported cars, palatial homes, would travel executive class around the world visiting their businesses spread across countries, and do a lot else associated with the really wealthy, I have yet to find one promoter, one MD (though my experience is very limited as of now), who does not retain the taste for simple food - that curd rice, that bisi bele bhaath, who does not retain the ability to crack a good joke at his own, or your, expense, and who does not mind being patient with a novice stumbling his way through his companies' confidential documents.

I feel great when I realize that at some level my firm might be adding positive value to their business. I also feel like one of those smaller animals of prey - a hyena, a fox - that go and take a small part of the flesh once the lions and the tigers of this world have had their fill.

As I keep cribbing to my close friends, especially when under the influence of Bangalore's own UB's concoction, I would really want to move on to that level some day. Maybe not have enough money to buy a BMW, but enough to pay a dumb banker's 2% fees.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Sated in Bangalore

There are many reasons to love Bangalore, but one of the most important ones is that people are a lot more polite here than in any other city that I have lived in. Includes Singapore.

I used to attribute this to the great weather. Which could not be better as I type this. The table with my laptop is just beside my bedroom window, and the dark clouds, pregnant with rain, and the cool breeze blowing in, make me feel happy that I am here and not in humid Mumbai or hot Delhi.

Anyway, so I thought the weather was responsible for the general good mood that I find most people in. My earlier experience of knowing a city in the South was at Coimbatore, which normally has great weather too. At least during the short periods I visited it for. But then I went to Chennai. Have been there thrice and am going again this Monday. Though my interaction with people outside my clients' offices has been negligible, I have found the people very polite whenever I have gone out.

It's still too early to pass a verdict, but right now I feel that this is a common trend in this part of the country. Is there something in the food? Are people here brought up differently? I don't know. We could come up with reasons in anthropology, history, and a lot of other subjects. But that does not matter. We are what we are today.

The thing that inspired me to make this post was of course the interaction I had with the restaurant that I ordered my lunch from. I had ordered food from them last weekend too, but had done it through this website. I should be one of their most frequent customers. A few of my batchmates had started something like this in Delhi a few years back, but I thought it wouldn't work. I don't think it did. But now I see the utility of a service like this. I believe there is another attempt in Delhi at something like this again.

Man, I digress a lot.

So, I ordered food from them indirectly last weekend. The service was very prompt, unlike most restaurants here, partly because of the traffic. And the delivery man was extremely polite. I am one of those people for whom the quality of the food itself is probably not as important as the service and the cleanliness. Their food was packed neatly, and had huge portions (always a delightful thing). He also gave me his restaurant number, so that I could order directly in the future. The first restaurant I have ordered from to do so. Coming back from the movie (and no, I am not going to shoot off on another road describing the movie now) today, I thought of calling them up so that I could have food by the time I got back to my home.

The person at the restaurant who took the order was extremely helpful and polite. Spoke proper English, which is such a relief after the irritating experiences I have had with call-centre guys here. And by the time I got home, the food was here. The delivery-man had to wait for me, but he didn't crib about it. And I am having the steamed momos, which was part of my order, right now. Great taste as well.

So, if you are reading this somewhere in the Indiranagar area in Bangalore, try out Kim Lee sometime. I can't vouch for their premises because haven't been there, but the food is good and the service is fantastic.

I am not saying everyone in Bangalore is like this. And hell, the delivery man is a Nepali guy anyway, but that is the general trend here.

By the way, the movie was The Dark Knight. Yep, it's as great as everyone's saying it is. Scary in its violence, not in depiction, but in intention. The acting is top-notch. From every single person. And no, I don't think Heath Ledger should get the Oscar. Because there will be better performances this year. He's great, maybe worth a nomination, but in an average year in recent times, there have been better performances. This is no Anton Chigurh.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Good To Be Bad

You're killing yourself working twelve-hour days, getting fat on cheap take-out food, and your girlfriend is almost certainly fucking other guys.

Just because you've got a plasma screen TV and a big DVD collection doesn't mean you're a free man, motherfucker. You're just a well-paid slave like all other cattle out there.

Even this comic was just a fifteen minute respite from how hard we're working you.

You think the world was always like this, didn't you? The wars, the famine, the terrorism, and the rigged elections.

But now you know better, right? Now you know what happened to the superheroes and you know the funny thing? You know what makes me laugh now I'm on the other side?

You're just going to close this book and buy something else to fill that big, empty void we've created in your life.

Just in

Was about to leave office when saw this at the Rediff page. I don't know if I missed any news on this earlier, but it's a great development. Open to misuse at times, but mostly a good thing.

The renowned Rediff message board is on full throttle with discussion already.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

These dumb women

I hope this does not become a blog dedicated permanently to KH Mahabharat Kii, or even to Mahabharata, like this one, but I love the epic way too much to not click the remote button to the channel at 9 pm (I have no clue which channel shows the series - Zee, Sony, Star Plus, 9X, NDTV Imagine, all seem pretty much the same to me).

They call Shantanu's 2nd son Vichitra-veer in this series. I used to think he was called Vichitra-veerya, which would translate to Weird-sperm. Considering the fact that he was supposed to be impotent or something, it seemed pretty apt, because of which Ambika and Ambalika had to be impregnated by that ugly chap called Makrand Deshpande, aka Ved Vyas. Amba, of course, had her own plans.

I pray so hard every episode that Ganesh's artificial trunk would fall of. Or at least Ved Vyasa would pull it off. He can't humiliate that poor chap much more, can he? He was anyway called Lambodar in Hindi, which means 'Lamba hai Udar Jiska' - hey, I learnt that almost 15 years back - which, humiliatingly enough, for these times, means He Who Has A Long Stomach (Who the fuck has a 'long' stomach? It probably meant Large Stomach. No wonder the poor chap remained unmarried all his life. Though that could probably be attributed to his rather long nose and lack of hair...hey, that sounds almost like yours truly)

Amba, in this series, is played by Rakshanda Khan (the focus on her face was very brief in today's episode, so can't say for sure), who has to be one of the hottest women to have hit the TV screens this side of the Treta Yug. Or was it Dwaapar?

Ambika and Ambalika seemed to be played by a couple of those over-made-up dumb women who seem to populate Indian TV so much these days. Who would have amounted to nothing much except making bhajiyas on a rainy day in some Gujju household (or whatever sugar-laden dish Gujju families make on rainy days) in some God-forsaken Mumbai locality (btw, isn't the whole of Mumbai city God-forsaken?), but have earned a decent amount of moolah (almost as close to what I make), or at least enough fame to be approached by more dumb Gujju women on shopping trips (spending their poor dumb Gujju husbands' hard-earned money that they make from some fraud on some stock-exchange), for autographs. Which is a miracle that they actually know how to give. Though an autograph that I saw from one of these stars recently had no relation with their screen name. Unless they were given the name - Zzifnsf Asdjasfhe - by their poor parents, these stars really don't know how to read and write.

Needless to say, I miss Neena Gupta and Kittu Gidwani and Supriya Pathak and Malvika Tiwari too much. Hell, even Mita Vashishtha was better.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Greatest Story Being Retold...Sadly

When Devavrat/Bheeshma calls Satyavati (she is called Matsyagandha for some reason, which based on the stink from the fish rotting in my fridge can't be all that good) "Maate" for the first time in Ektaa Kaapooor's Kahaani Hamaaray Mahabharat Ki (or whatever it is spelt as), I could not figure out if she was crying that someone probably 20 years older than her was addressing her as mom or if she was just plain happy that all roadblocks on her way to becoming the queen of Hastinapur had finally been removed.

Ekta Kapoor's serials are an easy target, and this one does seem like a decent watch. Probably because I know that they can't really stretch the story too much, or too wide, unless she wants Bajrang Dal or VHP protesting in front of her house.

And I think her version is actually moving faster than the original B R Chopra version.

Kiran Karmakar makes probably the most sissy-voiced king in Indian TV history. And am I the only one who thinks Ronit Roy's been modelled on Legolas?

And Ganesh is goddamned ugly! But what would you expect from that hairy Shiva that they keep showing every few minutes. He needs someone from Gillette urgently.

And finally, who thought of Makrand Deshpande as Vyas? He is the theatre 'actor' with the worst diction I have ever seen. Has he been signed on because he is hairy to begin with, and save on make-up time and costs? I had this theory since my first year in undergrad, after seeing some of my batchmates, that people who are plain shameless are considered good actors very often, just because they don't feel conscious doing stupid things in front of people. Mr Deshpande, especially after a performance at IIM Calcutta's fest last year, fits that category accurately.

I have always felt that Mahabharata has a lot of scope for x-rated scenes, which our talented serial-makers avoid in order to achieve greater viewership. I wonder if anyone ever will make an adult version of the story.

It's funny seeing multiple close-ups, shaky cameras and over-expressive actors in a myth. It'll probably help us believe that we have always been like this through history, and it's not a recent degradation of filming standards.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

La Mala Educacion

My education taught me to believe that people who didn’t go to an Ivy League or equivalent school weren’t worth talking to, regardless of their class. I was given the unmistakable message that such people were beneath me. We were “the best and the brightest,” as these places love to say, and everyone else was, well, something else: less good, less bright. I learned to give that little nod of understanding, that slightly sympathetic “Oh,” when people told me they went to a less prestigious college. (If I’d gone to Harvard, I would have learned to say “in Boston” when I was asked where I went to school—the Cambridge version of noblesse oblige.) I never learned that there are smart people who don’t go to elite colleges, often precisely for reasons of class. I never learned that there are smart people who don’t go to college at all.

This is an excerpt from a very nicely-written, not altogether original, article by an Ivy League alumnus. Strikes too close to heart.

Not entirely connected, but I was reading this mail from a friend, sent to me and another good friend, a few days back. I am taking it out of context, and anyway these are the days when people trying to adjust to a life of working after two years of bliss at Cal would crib and complain.

So he was talking about how he was sitting in his flat in Mumbai without electricity or water, thinking about similar conditions faced during under-grad in the hostel of an engineering college, and when we used to believe that life would be so much better when we work.

I might have said this earlier - we are funny people.

Monday, July 7, 2008

A Crazy Evening

Left office early today because I had to buy shoes, for which one needs to find open shops, which is a rare sight when I normally leave office. But this post is not about how hard I work. Because I am not sure I do.

This post is about a crazy evening, which sort of restored faith in the fact that life's just made of small moments of happiness, rather than the big ones that we keep waiting for. Cliched, but true.

So, I came home early, changed, and left to find a decent shoe-shop. I could have stopped on my way back to do it, but I don't know why I did not. I hadn't realized, for one, that finding a good shop would be so difficult close to my flat, where everything else is so easily available. So, I decided to take an auto to CMH Road, which is one of the more prominent shopping areas in my part of Bangalore. You can find everything here. Even shoes.

I had no idea which road to take from my place to CMH Road. Waited around 15 min for an auto, but couldn't get one. So, decided to walk. I have been to CMH Road just 2-3 times since I came here, and just once directly from my home. It somehow felt too far away in an auto, and I was pretty sure I would end up in some God-forsaken dead-end colony.

Now would be a good point to disclose a secret about me. Well, it's not so much of a secret considering that it's one of those cliches that I think most men actually adhere to. I hate asking for directions, and try finding the way to a place on my own. It was a particularly dumb thing to do today, because I was tired and hungry and had a very very rough idea of which direction to walk towards.

So, imagine my happiness when after walking for about 20 min or so, and taking turns at random, I actually ended up at CMH Road. I was just too happy and if I had someone I would probably have hugged him/her.

Anyway, bought my shoes. Also, bought some take-away from McDonald's, which I am eating even as I write this. McD's is the ultimate feel-good food, and the last time I had it was in Kolkata, which was a long long time back. In fact, almost a year back.

And I am also watching this crazy, surreal film called Welcome to Woop Woop. It's an absolutely fucked up film, and I can't imagine how someone even got the idea to make it.

And apart from all this, I think I also saw one of my under-grad juniors in an auto while I was waiting for one. I wasn't sure it was him, so did not call out. But Orkut tells me that he actually works in Bangalore. So it probably was him. Co-incidences like these happen much too frequently to me.

In fact, to share another secret, when I was in school, I actually used to believe that I had special powers because of these co-incidences - I would think of some person and in a matter of a few minutes I would see that person walking down the road.

Alas, now I have realized that I am as ordinary as you are.

Sunday, July 6, 2008


What does Friends, the TV series, mean to you?

I have realized over the last few weeks, even though I have suspected this for over two years now, that it brings back amazing memories for me. The happiest moments of my life have somehow come to be associated with it.

Whether during engineering or during my MBA, Friends has been the fall-back option for me. Whenever I felt low, under-confident, just sad, watching an episode of Friends would make me cheer up again.

When you analyze it critically, you realize that it is not one of the best-written shows to have been shown on American TV, the actors aren't all that great, the situations are superficial and unnatural.

But hell, these things do not matter. What matters is that I have grown in the last few years watching this series. It's almost as close to my heart, if not more, as The Wonder Years is. And the funny thing is that, unlike Wonder Years, this did not even attempt to be that way.

I have seen every episode at least 4-5 times. The last couple of seasons remind me of the feeling I used to get during my last years in engineering - of losing my friends. Even today, if a Friends show clashes with any other program on TV, I hardly have to think before making a decision.

The series also reminds me of my friends, none of whom are here in Bangalore with me now, whom I miss quite badly. For everything great that this city has to offer, the fact that none of my friends are here, hurts a lot more. Delhi and Mumbai cannot match up to Bangalore in terms of living standards, not by a long shot, but my friends are there, and I miss them.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Doubting Jonathan

I finally finished reading the Tom Ripley trilogy by Patricia Highsmith last night. Took me over a month to finish off the three novellas totaling around 500 pages.

The 2nd and 3rd stories were fairly underwhelming. The sliminess of the Ripley character in The Talented Mr Ripley was not matched somehow in Ripley Under Ground and Ripley's Game. He transformed somehow into a more confident person, rarely having those moments of uncertainty that was the running theme throughout the first story. Or maybe the fact that he got away easily with two murders in the first story made him more daring later. But there were other factors too that made the trilogy not as interesting as I had thought it would be. Tom Ripley remains one of my most favorite characters from literature though.

Despite the general low standard of writing that I thought Ms Highsmith depicted in the novels, there were instances where the doubts the characters had made it a very good read. Doubts that I keep having or have had.

In the last few pages of the last part that I was reading last night, Jonathan Trevanny, a man dying of cancer, does something that he knows would not be approved by his wife, Simone, whom he loves dearly. Tom Ripley helps him do this. When Simone comes to know of it, she responds in the expected manner - by growing distant and asking for separation. Jonathan is sure he has not done anything wrong and thinks to himself that he still has his self-respect intact. But then, Simone was morale. He has lost Simone, and so, his morale. And isn't morale, after all, self-respect?

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