Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Being Me

While talking to my brother, during my Mumbai trip last weekend, about our TV viewing habits I realized that the channel I have been watching the most is 9X. Not necessarily because it is the best channel around these days, but because for the 1-2 hours I get at home on any average night between coming back from work or some trip exploring Bangalore and crashing on my bed with a book, this channel seems to have the most interesting shows.

I mostly have my dinner on weeknights watching Kahaani Hamaare Mahabharat Ki (I am sure I got the spelling wrong). Watch Kaun Jeetega Bollywood Ka Ticket? (or some such show) quite religiously on weekends. Which, apart from brief snatches caught from NDTV 24X7 and occasional episodes of 10 Ka Dum, sums up my total TV viewing.

I had been seeing promos of Gini & Jony Chak De Bachche for sometime now. Got to see the finals of the show today. In fact, I am watching it just as I am typing this. It must have been a pretty decent show. The concept is fairly interesting, and is, I believe, a product of the Gajendra Singh camp. I have a lot of respect for the man. I would concede that my loyalties lie with the small town team (as against the metro team), for I have grown up in one of the smallest townships of Bihar (and what is now Jharkhand) and I still feel intimidated with the youth from the metros. Despite having stayed in Delhi, Kolkata and Bangalore for almost a decade now.

The episode I am watching right now also made me realize, once more after my visits to Chennai, how big an icon M S Dhoni is. I feel really great everytime I see Dhoni doing great because he belongs to a region I love more than any other part of the world.

My dad just got transferred, after postings all over India in the last decade, to the place I grew up at, the place I studied at from Std V to Plus 2. I was talking to my mom this morning and she told me that the conditions have actually worsened in the last decade. We had a maid, who had worked at our place for over 6 years, and she had a son and a daughter who were 9 and 6 years old when I left the place in 1999. Both these kids are married and have children of their own now. I was shocked. The girl would be just around 15-16 now!

A friend of mine from engineering is working in Bihar right now with a firm that is helping to improve the infrastructure there. When he could probably choose to stay in one of the better cities of India, if not abroad, earning far more money. While watching a recent program on NDTV 24X7 about the gradual developments in Bihar I had this urge to give up everything and move there to make some difference. But I know I won't.

I am enjoying making money in Bangalore far too much.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Frequent Flier Program

The Rajiv Gandhi International Airport at Hyderabad has to be the best airport in India. Which is not a difficult achievement in absolute terms, considering how sad most of our airports are, but still. I would even go to the extent of saying that it is probably the only airport in India of really international standards, or it seemed like that during my short stay there. Nope, Mumbai airport, which I thought was pretty good, does not come close. They could do with a few more urinals, but that's about the only issue I could find with the airport. Even the approach to the airport is beautiful. So, if UB Group is The Bangalore Group, I am willing to give that mantle for Hyderabad to GMR.

The approach, of course, gets a little intolerable after a few km. But I was told that it could be attributed partly to the heavy rains that have lashed Andhra Pradesh in the last few days. Bad roads were, in fact, the flavor of my one-day trip to the city. Even the posh locations of Banjara and Jubilee Hills had roads in a fairly screwed up condition.

But the city is a nice place. And I would want to visit it again soon, for the food if nothing else.


My trip to Mumbai for the weekend to meet my cousin and sister-in-law and friends was spoilt partly by the intermediate trip to Singapore that came up at the last minute, but I still had a lot of fun over the weekend. The Bangalore-Mumbai, Mumbai-Singapore, Singapore-Mumbai and Mumbai-Bangalore air-journeys have essentially put me off airline food for some time to come, but it was fun doing the kind of international trip (for a few hours, for just one meeting) that I have only known really rich or really busy men (either of which I am not) make.

I made the cab driver drive past the office I had worked at during my internship last year because my client's hotel was close by. But, I had also intended to visit the hotel near Little India that I had stayed in, but could not. My shopping was limited to the Changi duty free shops.

The feeling of nostalgia while going past those lickably clean roads was unexpected. If it had been a little less humid, Singapore would be one of the best places to stay in the world. Almost as good as Bangalore :D

Mumbai was fun. Could not meet everyone that I had intended to, but met, and had good time with, those that I really wanted to.

Ate at the Rajdhani outlet at the Inorbit Mall in Goregaon. Nice food. Amazing service. A tad expensive, but worth it definitely. They have opened an outlet at UB City close to our office as well, and we have ordered thalis for lunch on a few occasions, but going there to eat is a completely different experience.

Watched Bachna Ae Haseeno, which starts off really bad and spoils the taste for the remaining movie. It improves a bit gradually and both Bipasha Basu and Deepika Padukone are ably used. As a friend commented, Deepika Padukone is like an Aishwarya Rai who can act. Love the music though.

The fact that I managed to lose my wallet meant that my two visits to the Landmark at Infiniti Mall in Andheri on my last day there resulted in just one purchase - Scorsese on Scorsese. But I had way too much fun getting both my cousin and his wife drunk (moderately only), going out bowling and generally wasting time doing nothing to complain. Even losing a PAN card was worth the good time I had over most of the day.

This was my first non-work visit outside Bangalore after joining work, and it made me realize how earning decently is a fantastic thing. Who was that dumb freak again who said that money can't buy happiness?

Saturday, August 9, 2008

The 2-minute Friend

A couple of days back, I had my first plateful of Maggi after leaving Cal in April. I had stayed away from it for so long, without any intention to do so of course, that a few days back, in office no less, I started having this uncontrollable urge to have some Maggi. Even though my small office has the facilities to cook Maggi in the pantry, I bug our peon with enough demands related to food as it is to ask the poor chap to cook Maggi now. As it happened, I managed to come home very early on Thursday, and cooked myself a bit of the priceless gift to mankind by Momofuku Ando.

It's heartening to know that in a world where everything is so different from when I was a kid, there are some things, like Maggi, that have not changed. I don't like the new flavors of Maggi - Rice Mania and what not - and still prefer the old Chicken and Masala varieties. Like old Doordarshan serials, or even visits to my old relatives, they remind me of simpler times.

I had the Chicken flavor on Thursday because the local Spencer's outlet did not have the Masala flavor in stock. I hope it's not been phased out completely. It reminded me of my school-days when one of the most important decisions that my sister and I had to make everyday was to decide whether we (I, for she was not allowed to use the gas stove on her own) would cook the Masala flavor (which I liked, and used to add more spices on my own at times to) or the Chicken flavor (which she preferred because it was less spicy, precisely why I did not care for it much). It used to be mostly Masala, of course.

And then she would drown her share of the Maggi prepared with such diligence by me in a huge quantity of ketchup, which I used to hate again. What's the point of spoiling the taste of something as good as Maggi with tomato ketchup? Just drink some ketchup instead!

My mother used to come back from work around 6:00pm, and our maid used to take a break after lunch till around 5:30. So, I used to be free to do anything I felt like till I went out to play. And I put this freedom to good use, mostly to do crazy stuff in my own room, but at times in the kitchen. Some of this time was used up in experimenting with Maggi. Eggs, vegetables, all kinds of spices, even milk - not everything I dished out was edible of course. But mostly the pride in having gone beyond the drab instructions on the packet would make up for the disaster in the saucepan.

Having all this Maggi also helped me have a huge collection of those cut-outs that entitled me to the whole lot of gifts that used to be on offer from Maggi, each worth 5 cut-outs.

Maggi has been like an old, faithful friend for most of my life. And to think I hated it the first time I had it, back when I was 5 or 6 years old. I never had it when I was outside India, but on a vacation back to India, a cousin of mine cooked some mean Maggi, and I fell in love with it. I convinced my mom to carry a few packets with us back to Iraq.

In engineering college, Maggi was one of the things available at almost any time of the day at the two Nescafe outlets in the campus. After late night talkathons, after long walks, or even after a great movie alone in my room on a cold night, a plate of Maggi could be relied upon to be waiting for you.

The canteen in my hostel in B-school introduced me to some new ways of cooking Maggi. I had written about this delightfully oily dish called Fried Maggi a few months back. There were other amazing forms of this simple food-item that those guys used to prepare and deliver right at my doorstep.

I plan to visit Cal sometime towards the end of this year or early next year. Guess what I'll be having at the night canteen?

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Reading Again

I have finally started reading on a regular basis now. So, I can justify all those trips to Blossom and all the money spent there. And now I won't feel guilty spending more time and money.

In the last week-ten days, I have read When We Were Orphans by Kazuo Ishiguro, Kari (a short graphic novel) by Amruta Patil and The Edible Woman by Margaret Atwood.

After having read three Ishiguro books by now, I believe this is going to be a perpetual thing in his novels - the story starting off very very raw, the characters appearing two-dimensional, the attempt at making the conversations appear typical of the land and time being very transparent, and then all of it gradually falling together and you getting into the flow of things, forgetting the awkwardness of the language, and the story.

In any case, this book wasn't as much fun as I had while reading The Remains of the Day or Never Let Me Go. When We Were Orphans, very often, seemed to deviate into pointlessness, and I still think there were pages upon pages that could have been condensed into a quarter of their total text, with absolutely no loss to the story. I moved on only because I had encountered similar feelings in the earlier books I had read by him, though to a lesser extent, and had some faith in his ability to provide a payoff. Which did come. I liked the way it ended.

There's something indescribable about such endings, which aren't exactly happy, and where the goal is reached, but not the way it was meant to, where you feel cheated, not by the author, for he has done his job well, but by fate, as maybe the protagonist would have felt. You discover, at the same time as the protagonist, the lie he has lived all his life. You feel, at the same time as the 'hero', pained by the realization that he had no say in the choices that had such profound effects on his life.

Kari is an average book, which I found filled with cliches, but still worth a mention in the growth of the graphic novel culture in India. I find such stories very irritating though, which talk about a 'different' person, someone who finds herself difficult to adhere to the cliches of the society, but the different-ness of that person actually adheres to all the cliches of different-ness propounded by our literature or media.

I had read The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood a few years back. It was one of those phases in under-grad when I was devouring e-versions of novels, one every day. Among the many books I read during that phase, and most of which I forgot, this one stood out. I wonder why I did not read another Atwood after that. The Edible Woman is one of her first published novels, written way back in 1969, and it still did not feel dated. One of the best things about her novels, though I have experience of just two from a collection of around 13, is that, unless you have cheated and read the blurbs, there is no way you can predict the way the story would move. In case of The Edible Woman, I knew from the first few pages what Marian, the central character, would do in relation to her 'boy-friend' Peter, and she did do that, but how Atwood went about making her do that, and the collection of interesting characters she made me meet on the way, is what separates the women from the girls. One of these characters, Duncan, is particularly interesting.

And this is the first woman-writer I have seen who could give the best of men a run for their money in terms of coming up with curious descriptions of ordinary things and clever turn of words. Highly recommended.

Also, my previous post, which, if it comes as news to you, was completely fictional, was inspired from a similar instance in the novel.

Am reading Rant by Chuck Palahniuk, The Robber Bride by Margaret Atwood and Woody Allen's Collected Prose these days, which I keep altering depending on my mood.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Darwin's Nightmare

I bought a small tortoise about three weeks back. And a small plastic tub for it to swim in. I am not sure of it, but I think it was a 'he'. At least I named it Darwin. It was not much bigger than the palm of my right hand.

Three weeks is not a long enough time to get attached with anything, even if not inanimate. But it was fun marveling at how something so small could possibly have some thought process going around in that minuscule brain. And watching it was a good way to while away time on weekends.

Yesterday, I moved it to a saucepan filled with cold water, which it probably thought was just a new temporary habitat for it as I cleaned its tub. It was moving around playfully enough. Not so much though when the water gradually started heating up. I covered the pan with a lid, and left to watch rest of my movie, after turning down the flame to medium.

I suppose if it had a voice I would have heard it scream, as it gradually turned to pulp under the lid. Unfortunately, it did not. And I could enjoy my turtle soup without any bother.

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