Monday, November 21, 2016

Million hues of a Rainbow Nation

That's South Africa - or as the world called it when apartheid officially ended in 1994 -  the Rainbow nation!

A country of contrasts. Diverse colors that paint its canvas. Extreme strains that pop up without a warning shot. A melting pot with forces of surreptitious undercurrents running thru its ever changing landscape. My couple trips to the country last year made me look at first hand, observe and absorb the paradox that is South Africa. Living in Johannesburg, or Jo'burg as locals call it, it came out as a bunch of strands formed with extreme ends of capitalism and socialism, rich and poor, bravado and stupidity, all existing together. Now before this becomes a serious writeup that works as an antidote to sleep disorders, let's take a light stroll on the country's whims, fancies, and realities.

First cab

Intimidating. The right word to describe what you feel when you try to take a cab out of Jo'burg airport to your hotel. Though being an Indian, am a little used to archaic ways in which cabbies pounce upon you, like you are a golden nugget. So here, once you look at all the cab-walas trying to get your attention, and more importantly, your luggage, you don't feel its an airport, rather a train station in Delhi and you, the proverbial desi, is seen as a Phoren ka gora who matters so much to these people! You can enjoy that rare moment, but you rather be careful, because it is extremely important in this city to choose your first cab wisely. First cab is usually more important than first date, as you can survive a bad date, but a bad cab...well, there are only two outcomes - either you will reach your Jo'burg hotel you intend to, or, you will never reach any hotel! Simplicity at its best!

The fences of Jo'burg

My cab started driving from the airport to my hotel in the upscale suburb of Sandton, also branded as the commercial capital of Africa. As we moved towards Sandton, the scenery started getting better, and you would start seeing finer, larger houses in decent neighborhoods. All with one commonality. Electric fences. Mostly all houses have them. Now India is not the safest place on earth, but I haven't seen homes having electric fences. Here they were, omnipresent. Be it a regular home, a hotel, a hospital, a community, a mall...everything had these multiple row electric wires running on top of high boundary walls. Making sure that they don't become part of the statistic in a country where a home is broken into every 7 seconds or so. Hmmm, so they make sure that the bad guys can't come in. But what about the guy who needs to go out discreetly!? Like what? Ok so those who have watched bit of hollywood's finest genre, may concur with the scenario...like if someday a guy is having a steamy session with boss's wife, and boss's car rolls in. Poor guy for sure can't use the boundary wall to sneak out !! Oh what a shame...fences suck mate! You need a plan B in Jo'burg! ;-)

Hills and valleys of Panorama route

I had seen it on Discovery and Nat Geo, but the incredibly beautiful countryside of SA will please even the most discreet. More so if you are a fan of driving. Apartheid era was all unjust, but it gave this country, probably only country in Africa, with such an awesome network of roads. Got a chance to drive on those long, serpentine, magical carpets of tar and concrete, all in pristine condition, that take you thru one of the greatest scenic drives on the continent - Panorama route. It covers some stunning natural wonders SA has - God's window, Bourke's luck potholes, Three rondavels, and the breathtaking Blyde river canyon - world's largest green canyon! You could overcome all worries of driving in an alien land, or apprehensions about the rulebook or unknown unknowns of a hinterland, to see such scenery which can't be described by adjectives on a blog. It has to be witnessed! And that thru driving a 4x4...take it all the way to Graskop, see those natural wonders plus a dozen waterfalls along the way and then use it to do bit of off roading in the canyon. It can't get better than this! Just make sure you don't fill gas late in the evening. Yours' truly attempted that, and with a dozen guys gathering around the car while it was being filled, it wasn't fun. Remember - Scenic drives are more fun when you still have your car while going back :)

The extremes

Be it the awesome resort in Graskop, the lake cabins of Hartbeespoort, my beautiful hotel in Sandton, or the upscale Monte Casino, SA has all the luxury money can buy. Full of dressed up, party going, educated people you wouldn't mind looking at. And then you drive down 20 miles to the Jo'burg CBD, the once glorious downtown, and the other extreme pops up. You almost see a haunted version of Detroit. 40 floor skyscrapers without any electricity or tenants, all torn up and standing just on the steel that went into them decades ago, occupied by odd people. Everyday, there is a carjacking on the streets in public daylight. Even youtube is full of Jo'burg carjackings. As you cross the Nelson Mandela bridge into the CBD, you are warned not to show your gold ring with the stone while steering the wheel. Coz once you stop on a light, someone might shoot you for the ring, if not for your car (as it is easier to sell gold). And to think of it, this place has the State assembly and other important government buildings. A perfect example of what too much of political correctness / politics can do to a society and its governors.

What this tells an Indian like me is - So next time you go to CP or India gate, just appreciate the fact that we still have a national capital with a beautiful center, where we can party till 2 in the night, click all the selfies with the flag on central park, and not worry too much about the gold ring while clicking the selfie. Yes, I am talking of males, and females accompanied by males. Just a caveat before you question my judgement :)

Striving to find its soul, again

Enough of beating Jo'burg for crime? Well, it certainly overwhelms you if you stay and drive there a few weeks, so you can't blame me. But then, it also has its silver linings. Some people have gotten together to bring up art scene in the CBD, cleaning up few blocks and setting up beautiful little artisty boutiques and galleries and pubs where you have live music. Usually, some famous celeb from SA tv industry might pop in as well on a friday evening, and you won't recognize him, till the time your local friends tell what you missed. Multitude of people from all backgrounds and races come and have fun without a care, and that kinda tells you what Jo'burg is striving to be, or what it once was.

Contrasting hues

contrast
noun
ˈkɒntrɑːst/
1      1. the state of being strikingly different from something else in juxtaposition or close association.

Strikingly different! The most pervasive aspect of SA society! You can find contrast in everything at every place here. Its almost on the surface and you just need open eyes and senses to notice that, more so while interacting with locals. Take a glimpse....A super-modest Avis driver who proudly told me he could speak all 11 languages the country has. And then, a South African-Indian colleague in office who was born there, but couldn't speak any Indian or South African language, coz all he learnt and spoke was English...A sweet humble guy in the hotel staff whose face would beam up whenever I said to him a simple 'thank you'. And then a headstrong airport cab driver who was persistent that he demands high tip from his passengers coz its a favor that he is taking his passengers directly to hotel, and not to robbers!...A Malay office colleague who didn't have a clue what was the difference between Red Indians and us Indians. And then, a Dutch bar tender who knew more about cricket and Johnty Rhodes and Tendulkar than I know about any of the three!...A man driving his Porche at the costliest resort in Blyde canyon. And then, an employee of that same resort walking 6 miles one way to and from his village to save bus money...A Black singer performing near Mandela's statue at Sandton, fondly telling how Madiba (as Mandela was fondly called) was the only South African who really cared for people, and that White discrimination was root of all problems. A White owner of a store selling Ts, saying that Blacks truly are responsible for all problems, but she still holding almost equal reverence for Mandela.

 And there were more. A land of vast, almost fascinating diversity, in people, their thinking, their conduct, their dreams.

This rainbow of a nation was described on couple of T-shirts I bought from that lady's store - one saying - "South Africa is not for sissies", and the other - "South Africa - Flippin' epic"

Nothing could have summarised this nation better.


Wednesday, June 4, 2014

A short and sweet post i read somewhere...

"I wanna hang a map of the world in my house. Then I'm gonna put pins into all the locations that I've traveled to. But first, I'm gonna have to travel to the top two corners of the map so it won't fall down." - Mitch Hedberg

Couldn't agree more :)

Monday, May 28, 2012

Indyeah! The beauty and the beast

Next time you visit Delhi, the capital of Incredible India, keep your ears open for one line - "Janta hai mera baap kaun hai?" ("Do you even know who my Dad is?") 
Yup! true, thats the line! It might make you wonder, there are so many people who don't know their dad here? Actually its not a question, its a moniker people here throw around to make sure the other person takes them, or at least their Dads, seriously! Incredible na :)


So whats this post about...a light-hearted (and non-pretentious) take on some observations like above which exist in India's colorful life...which has some beauty in it and some beast too... few things which most of us encounter day in and day out...but somehow recognize their true impact only when move out of this environment...Lastly a disclaimer (the value of which you will realize at the end of this post) - Not a single chinese, paki, even srilankan, or any other guy with shallow or deep grudge for India hasn't (yet) paid me for writing this! [i won't mind donations though] ;-) 

So here we begin with the beast first...

Lets start with the country's USP - Corruption - We are so good at being corrupt that everytime a traffic guy stops us, we reach for a 100 rupee note before reaching out for our license! A lean six sigma optimized process removing all "waste of time activities" like showing license, arguing over pollution certificate, etc. thus directly reaching to the end of transaction with one gandhi-imprinted document worth 100 bucks :)


Next comes our driving. The honking begins good 10 seconds before the light turns green, the lanes get violated like they dont exist, and your ever so beautiful newly minted Civic gets dented almost every month - infact every morning our roads become a playground for riders and the rage each one of them has accumulated (probably over last night's encounter, or the lack of it? :-p). To compare with, its almost boring to see driving in western cities - there it looks like dead people are driving like a robot without realizing the need to display human emotions via the wheel! So lame!! :)

Don't we love overtaking - overtake a car on the road, overtake a person entering the door in front of us, overtake to run for a seat in the bus, overtake to even get the icecream first! (we don't waste time in waiting, or maybe, its so frickin' moronic to believe in the stupid notion called courtesy!)

We drink, then shoot people in pubs and then we say 'jaanta hai mera baap kaun hai' (yes, now u get this is not spoken as a question :). So anytime you hear this phrase, you got 3 options - 1, come up with a more powerful 'baap' whose name you can throw around, 2 - merely forget confronting, or 3 - risk having a fist fight where u have no idea when the other party will get into a mood to play "shoot 'em up" tonight, with you not carrying even a kitchen knife!

We have a media which falls head over heels to cover what all shah-crook khan utters during his verbal diarrhea against the ever so eventful US process of stripping him to balls, or what script another minister has read today, rather than spend some time and resources on investigating the howdies of any big ticket scam. Sole silver lining here is our "Indyeah tv" which mostly concentrates its news on aliens and gods it sees on daily basis, sparing us the headbanging srk stories

We have an almost legal extortion system known as taxation! Argh...i knw it exists everywhere, even in the western world, but here, the funny part is that every tom, dick and harry except you, the taxpayer, sir, is a entitled to your tax money! You are supposed to sit and wonder how the jumbo govt machinery blows it on foreign trips for sarkari officials, non-existent roads and weird social schemes which benefit no ass. And if u wonder where is social security for taxpayers? LOL, probably the esteemed govt can give a simple 3-word answer - "fuck you sweety" :)

We profoundly love and embrace racism (southerners vs. northerners, bongs love to hate non-bongs, a gori is superior to dusky, sardars are always on wrong side of jokes, madrasis are eccentric blah blah...too much discrimination on too many basis points) but the hypocrisy comes to the shore when we get "real" upset when a poor shilpa shetty is "hurt" with couple of discriminatory remarks hurled by a brit on an a "managed" tv show in britain! And the rich starlet gets even richer owing to the fact that indian media showed her as a victim of racism LOL - funny fact is 99% of india doesnt even understand what was said to her!


Demand-and-supply equation is kinda screwed here most of the times, so we happily drink made-with-urea milk and bacteria-laced water and eat cabbage grown with injections, but we don't forget to make some noise when the sushi in that hip eatery doesn't taste "that authentic"

We kill people for overtaking us, or for parking in our space (sounds extreme? trust me, delhi belly can always surprise u)

We still take our scorpios and sonatas on the wrong side of the road to avoid driving 250 meters for the U-turn

So maybe, its still some time before we will reach the first 'i' of 'civilized' behavior

Genuine daily soap in India's life...or dope-driven cribbing...whatever all of above may have sounded like...but the fact is, if one lives out of india even for a very short period of time, maybe just as a tourist clicking pics in singapore, all of the above start coming to notice. The differences between here and there look so glaring that sometimes, at the cost of being branded rude, conceited, pretentious or whatever, one wonders - hasn't India become a somewhat creepy place with with little civility, little value for life, where things are mostly broken!?


Anyways, before this actually starts looking like i answered a paki's prayers to bash India head to toe, there are actually few things which i think make india work, which form the beauty inside the beast! Here we go:

Upbringing, too much study et al - Most middle class indian households give their kids a certain level of discipline, love n care. Two benefits - This creates an educated middle class whose kids are not scavenging weed every friday like in western societies (actually a big deal). Second, which is due to the focus on studies, many kids work hard and some get to become an engineer or a doc or atleast a decent graduate who can recite English. An interesting point to note here is our country's household obsession with Maths and science, which creates engineers down the line. If one notices, this obsession brought in a paradigm upgrade for an entire nation! The main theme of 80s Bollywood movies was India's angry 'unemployed' men, and suddenly with 90s network revolution of the Internet, which enabled IT outsourcing, this country saw itself ready to leverage a large math-oriented engineering talent pool which would catapult it to a different league and make India a massive knowledge driven IT economy. Though many indian IT firms don't need much of rocket science talent, but still, an engineering fresher who hasn't yet gotten a girlfriend is productive enough to earn some top dollar for the firm :). And once IT came, came along supporting jobs which rest of the graduates would absorb, and it became a relentless growth cycle. Another paradigm shift which IT revolution could have brought is - Bollywood shifted its focus from mind-numbing anger-driven melodrama to romantic dreamers which would appeal to a fresh and hopeful generation! Though Sunny Deol is still angry in his movies, but then, we all love some dig-out-handpump-with-bare-hands scenes, right? :)

Festivals - We have n-number of festivals some of which are real cool, fun and an amazing way to bring everyone together. Thankfully thats why we don't still need dad day or mom day or xyz day to make everyone and their neighbors acknowledge each other's existence.


Family - Probably the most notable difference on a serious note! New York might have maximum number of skyscrapers in the world or worlds' hippest clubs on Times Square, but its old still rely on old age homes beyond 65, its young still find it difficult to belong to their parents after 15 and those in between are too absorbed in their lives to think about anything else. In contrast, here in India, family system hasn't yet died away. So here parents have children and children have parents for a long time. It may be due to our thousand year old culture, but for whatever it is, it actually is something which adds lots of constructive value to the society. So here its cool to like your parents. Its still fine to live with them even when you have a job and probably its still cool to call a family a family. All in all, a major factor why the 'Upbringing' thing above works for India.

Looks emotionally charged, but these few things are the major glittering difference between here and there which makes India look different in a positive way, and look like the few beacons of shining light in a seemingly dark tunnel. 

So despite a 100 flaws like those listed above, India is still is the only place where family system and certain values do exist alongside MTV, girlfriends and highstreet clubs.

And that seems like an irresistible combination!!

Saturday, January 7, 2012

A heartful of London fling

A personal experience of a short journey to the capital of the only country on earth which adds an adjective to its name...'Great' Britain.


It happened so that I went there with great dilemma - my grey cells wondering how creepy a place wud be where everything, and particularly electronics of ALL variety, costs a fortune, where the world is all about historical buildings and museums, and most importantly, whatever one says - nothing can beat the feeling of being in America and its awesomeness. Nothing. Or as the long story short below tells it - i was kinda frickin' wrong.

As with all the countries, the first impression starts with the airport. And Heathrow is not the best place to judge London. They are trying to improve, but the royal nature of (Great) Britain takes its own sweet time to get things done. Work is worship is what they taught us, but No-work-and-all-Beer is, guess what, God, so choose your fling! Somewhere in next 25 years they will be able to revamp the airport so that it doesn't look like Gulliver's island in front of Chicago's O'hare (yup, you cant miss the contrast). Till then, just pick your luggage if it manages to arrive in time and exit the terminal gates at the speed of thought. So i will live with it. However, to see a Sardarji at the opposite end of Immigration counter, talking in a cross between english, punjabi and maybe martian accent, was a pleasant surprise.


The few american cities i have been to - NYC, LA, chicago or houston - found all of them full (or maybe overloaded) with infrastructure. Compare the 'hugeness' and infrastructure with US cities and London will look like india's ex-capfuckedtain Ganguly who has just been done twice over by Greg Chappel. Lost. Tired. Sulking. Ok, so London can't compete on the infrastructure front. But the comparison doesn't end. London got something that gives it a proverbial edge which few US cities can claim - it has long dark history that still sells well. And most importantly it has people. Yup, people, crowd, janta. The most diverse of them all, and probably the City makes them, the kewlest of them all. Maybe, as french wud say, born with a 'right to have fun'! Will see later how.

The Apartment

As i alighted from the cab and entered the gates of Chelsea Cloisters, the service apartments where my company booked me...i felt like - this building doesn't look bad compared to US, so chill dude - seems like a nice place. Till i entered the apartment! Apartment? Sorry, its a miniature version of a "mini studio". A room that will explode if you try fitting in a king size bed there. A kitchen large enuf..well - imagine a changing room in shopper's stop, now fit in a fridge, washing machine and stove hob in it (so ya, space left for just nimble feet). And bathroom - well atleast it had some necessary segregation, just dont ask for a rackspace (c'mmon its london). If this doesnt bring out tears then - the TV was the size of yesteryear's radios playing all of 14 channels (half of them non-english with a weird 'welcome to sm arabian crap' feel). To top all this, it didn't come cheap for my firm! All this when i had requested my travel desk to give me a decent sized room. Screw decent, seemed like they swapped mine with a japanese midget's room!

And then the next day, reality dawned on me - this building was right in center of london - in an area where 'our own' Lakshmi Mittal lives (for those buried under sand for few years, he is biggest steel tycoon India ever exported), this is a place where they shoot "Made in Chelsea", a popular soap depicting lives of rich n famous, plays on channel 4, and this is a place after which they have named a football club that goes by the name of, well not too tough to guess, Chelsea! So i cud go all gloating over the area, but the room was pretty much pain-in-the-A. Long story short, my company chose to pay hell good amount just for the location, room had to go for a toss. But then i later figured out, this wasn't a one-off place, entire london is brutally squeezed on space!

The marriage

6 days after i landed there, they were having a marriage (Yes, they still believe in marriages).

But Who? Well, the people whom every Brit adores and makes fun of, but is still insanely proud of -The royalty of Britain. Prince William was supposed to married on Friday, so they gave it a day off, so that every white and his dog can hold a Brit flag and cheer up for their future king and his 9 yr long gf. Wow man, difficult to believe this happening in Britain. They still have a culture where people have their GFs for 9 years, and then get married to the same GF! See thats why they went to Canada for honeymoon..."Honey, we have had enuf sex for last 9 yrs, so WTF we are gonna do on a honeymoon, lets watch some Niagara water flowing...it might not be as boring"!. Anyways, PJs aside, this marriage was some excuse for our lazy bums to go out on Friday morning and stand at some place where somebody told us that sometime the bf and the gf would pass with their outlandish display of cars and guards. Reached Trafalgar square at 11, and boy, it was so crowded already that either we need to be standing on top of each other, or have spiderman powers to actually see something from behind so many white heads. But ya, it was good fun fest going on. Mayor of London was giving some speech there, 2 huge screens were showing what we could have watched in comfort of room, and many PYTs got an excuse to shed it all in late April sun. Wasn't that Sweet!

Piccadilly

Piccadilly! The Times Square of London, or maybe even more. Its a place where you can spend
all your weekend (or weekdays, if u have all the time and money) just hopping between pubs and clubs, and you wont feel you repeated a single one. And since London has a vibrant desi community, its all too common to see bollywood nights happening all the time. Good bollywood music, 4 pounds for a vodka-coke, eventful crowd, and a bouncer who speaks hindi/punjabi while pushing you out at 2...its all there. And those who love salsa, london offers far too many places to practice your skills (or doubt ur skills lol). Decent bet is Cuban near moorgate which is filled with wannabe experts most saturday evenings, vodka is cheap, there is always smone to guide a lil, and you cant miss the fun when someone in your desi group tries to do hip hop steps on salsa music.

Beer

Its a beer country, and recession, depression or oppression, these brits are always on a binge. As we guys used to walk to the tube station every evening from our office, we will see scores and scores of people, wearing their office suits with a beer in hand. Culture thing. You can't go home before having few pints, or else, you are worse than a nigerian selling a rado (means what? "fake" is the hint)! 4.30 pm is starting time for people to leave office and by 5.15, mostly every non-desi office goer in the City has taken a seat in a bar and has given his day's fair share to the beer industry! Love the chivalry!

"Mind the gap please"

No, this is not one of the symbols you will click your picture with when you are here, but its a phrase that you will hear atleast dozen times a day if you are a londoner. Its something you listen on its lifeline - the Tube - everytime a Train door closes. Ubiquitous to the point of being infringed in the conscious of 3 million souls who enter or exit those doors everyday. Nothing awesome. Just omnipresent like air in The City. Thats the London Tube. Like most things for Indians, the Tube is an eye opener - it tells that its possible to run a train every 2.5 minutes and still just manage to miss just 90 seconds in a year. It is possible to pack scores of living beings cramped in space of a train car running inside a 150 year old tunnel and still see the crowd having the decency of not hitting the butt or the boob of everyone around them. And biggest eye opener of it all - it is possible for people to stand at 3 inches from that svelte PYT (pretty young thing) and still not stare at her plunging neckline (no they aint all gay, just lil civilised). And trust me, every Londoner with a neckline worth flaunting, does flaunt it inside the train car (u know, summer heat!). So Tube is not the most sexy thing in London, but AFAIK, its definitely something that carries the largest concentration of sexy people 100 feet below the ground everyday at 9 and 6 - monument to south kensington and back..mark your watches!

Shops

Just a word of advice - don't ever ask any employee at a company store (for eg. vodafone or O2 store) to know any, anything about their offerings. All they are paid to do is to say 'I don't know' 25000 times a day to anything you throw at them. Naah, they ain't rude, just that they are too cool to know anything except the price of latest iPhone. For the rest, they are programmed to say 'Hey Michael, do you know anything about that usb data cardy thingy'. 'No mate, maybe he can check with Orange next door' will be the reply. And we think shopfloor execs in India suck at product knowledge!

Plus, the shops close at 6. So that all the shopowners and the shoppers can go and have some beer after a 'tiring' day. Royal people need some much needed rest after 6-7 hrs of guerriling ass-massaging and answering 'I don't know honey' to everything. Wow, luck do favors some.

Desh ka beta

Now comes the funny part. In India, its too common a sight to see people scolding their children for the mistakes they do. Kids are kids, and they have to be scolded, or maybe slapped too, depending on the offence they have executed. Not anymore. You, sir (or mam), cannot, will not and should not slap your kid while in Great Britain. Period. Else, you-dont-know-what-will-befall-you scenario will occur. So it happened with a friend of a friend. Poor guy, a desi ofcourse, went to a fare with his 2 yr old son, and there the kid started cribbing n yelling and all - "i wanttttt toooo siiitttt on thattt ride daddd". Now, the ride queue was long and the poor guy was tired so he tried to pacify the kid. Kid being total desi at heart, wont oblige. Finally came a harsh scolding to silent the kid. And behold, a passing by cop heard that and came in the intervention! Whoa!? Realizing what he did, friend tried to persuade the cop to understand that kid is his son, and he was making trouble, and its ok for indians to scold their kids and all. Here came the reply - "Sir, he is not only your son. He is a child of the community. You cannot treat him like this or else we have to get involved." Wow, many indian kids, if had a choice, would have traded countries if they knew this while they were bringing their reportcards home at the end of every term ;)

To sum it all, its a beautiful city. A lil squeezed but vibrant, alive and happening. You can't stop missing it till you write it down all in a blog. Alas, even then, you can't stop missing it. Believe me!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Android. Why it feels so awesome?


A Cellphone. We used to dial some digits on it and talk. Well, then started to send msgs. Ok, some music there too. What you mean, we got a camera also? Phew, look he is opening the damned bookmyshow on his cell! 2002 to 2010. 8 years. A dozen or more phones. None as beautiful as this one. This one awesome powerful lean mean machine of a mobile - the world knows as Android.


To set the context, everyone who started using a cellphone a few years after the start of the millennium, knows where we used to be, and where we are. An ugly box full of nokia sh*t (read crappy tunes, an awesome 15-msg storage, and 1 sq inch of mono display) was all that was there in 2002. For a majestic 10k bucks that i still remember, i got my first fricking cell phone. It was good to make and receive calls. Period. No music, no videos, no cam, not even mms, nothing extra. I remember coding creepy alphabets to create a tune that remotely resembled "hotel california" thing! Don't recall the model no. but it was 8250 by the best guess. And it was supposed to be a hot one in market :). This was my first phone and it cud warm my pockets for free ;)


Without wasting pages on my rest of mobile flirtings, i straight way zoom to 2005. I had a phone which had it all - a 1.3 mp camera, music space for 50 songs, played videos, sent mmses (which were hot in this time :p) - but did all this theoretically. Nokia decided that the living souls of 2005 are only worth a symbian - a mobile operating system which could even put a Windows ME to shame (windows ME was a crappy release of windows even by microsoft standards). So, this symbian thing used to respond to a button click after maybe 3 seconds. If you wanted to scroll thru your list of music files and play one of selected ones, you should start good 60 seconds before you want it to listen. And video - well just imagine a tiny nano running over a speedbreaker every 10 meters. So the overall experience was slow and jittery! And forget browsing the net on this thing - you could be lucky if you would get a Y of Yahoo shown on your screen without the connection or the browser hanging up. Data speeds, as usual with india, were slow and the symbian's browser did its best to kill the experience totally. Okay, there might be a few better phones out there, but either they were too costly or too dorkish. Nokia ruled these mediocre times!!



2010. A lot of things change in 5 years. One of them is that it is a good amount of time for a research-driven, agile and "we-live-to-innovate" company to produce a mobile OS that worked - that just frickin' worked as wow. No creeps. No gaps. No shortcuts. The company was Google - and the OS it came out with - Android. Dictionaries throw all kind of meanings for this word, but mine says just one - Awesome! (For mobile manufacturers, it has another meaning - "free":) )

So today, after like 8 yrs of holding my first cell in hand, i can say am free of cells now - i have a mobile computer in my hands that actually works some, if not all, of a comp's fantacies...i do net on it all the time...i ask it for directions thru its supercool GPS on delhi roads...i make it count my beats as i jog...i scan barcodes too :p....i have a wonderful pics and video gallery...which actually plays glitch-lessly...all in all - it does things for me on the move, which others tried hard to - but never did it so well.


Yes, iPhone showed the way, but unlike Microsoft who are the masters of the copying universe, Google actually got inspired to bring out something beautiful, utterly usable and powerful. Did i mention cool?


Recently wrote something on my FB, which i will put here as well (its an original writeup afterall):
main aur mera Android...aksar ye baatein karte hain...Microsoft tujhe banata to tu aisa banta ...waisa banta...kabhi

hang hota kabhi rota...kabhi khud hi restart hota ya kabhi start hi nahi hota...kabhi blue kabhi yellow screen dikhata...kabhi ek word doc kholne me 5 min lagata...aur jis din kabhi flawlessly chalta bhi to...ek virus aake sab f#*% kar deta...and then, as i turn my phone to its back, i read these golden words ..."created by Google"...n i thank God :)



And God wud say..."Thank Google baba!"

Monday, February 15, 2010

The day I landed in America

Nothing big. Nothing fancy. Not even a special achievement. Just a writeup of my emotions preceding and on a day that was memorable, atleast for me.


@ Brooklyn bridge
Its a big world!



Once upon a time, when I was still a kiddo (not that I am not one rite now, just a bit grown up though)...there used to be a dream called the US of A, a country which just felt like indestructible, unfathomable and purely majestic. It was the dream of dreams, where everything was in-order, where there was no crime, where everyone had a big car, where roads were swanky clean (i remember there was this funny thing which our class of 3rd knew - no one spits on roads in america, as he is arrested if he does so...lolz). And i guess most of middleclass Indian households of early 90s with children growing up had this kind of impression of the west, specially of the US.



1991. Despite being a kiddo, I was forced, by my curiosity-driven senses, to know this world had a place called 'gulf', and that a war had started there with elements of kuwait and iraq and saddam mixed together. That was the year of the Gulf war and our school bus had kids of all sizes taking their morning dig at whats going on there. I was a big fan of thrillers (watched T2 some 5 times till the rented tape finally did a suicide inside our VCR) and the Gulf war just provided the proverbial adrenalin to my fantasies...like strategising like saddam or americans, trying to remember all the missile vocab being thrown in evening news, and putting it together to tell other kids how its done! Anyways, 90s started with US showing the world what it was - the boss! It crushed the Iraqi army and liberated Kuwait. Oblivious to the political significance of Kuwait's oil and reasons behind America being so proactive in saving it, I, along with most of our school bus, and rest of planet earth, got to knew one thing - US is the most powerful country in the world. Period. The dream inside me grew stronger, to be on the soil of this amazing nation, to see how it feels to be inside there.



Inside there. Wow. When was that gonna happen.

It was five in the morning. Slightly cold even inside the airport. I, anxious and excited, stepped out of the Boeing airliner that just landed after being 15.5 hrs in air. Delhi to Chicago. A theoretically veggie diet, a dozen soft drinks and 2 movies later, I was finally going to enter the gates of nirvana. With a slight problem - my date of arrival.

11th September

I was supposed to land in that wow country, ironically, on the same date on which many years back, some lunatics consumed innocent lives in WTC. Ironic because I, at that time, adored US, but because God chose to give us indians the kind of faces which aren't too different from pakis or mid-easterners, it seemed US and its ignorant citizens didn't adore us that much (those guys did shit and we, indians, are looked as if we are next in line to blow up). So I was bit anxious initially with all those immigration officers, who unlike their indian counterparts, look menacingly professional, walking around in hawk mode. And while they looked courteous, the date and first timer status was making me anxious. What if they ask some weird questions, what if they misunderstand the punjabi written on my T-Shirt, what it..? Was i sweating, No. But was i worried, a bit of Yes. But fortunately the immigration officer turned out to be pretty cool, though he asked twice - so u r an IT guy...i tried telling him "consultant", "process improvement meetings", "requirement gathering stuff" (a line fresh techies say so that we dont get labelled as working on B1 :), but he didnt care, or maybe didnt care to understand. He was sure that he knew that every indian coming thru that terminal is an IT guy and what they gonna do, probably he repeated the question to make sure that if i really had some grander vision for New York's remaining towers, i might say my true intentions the 2nd time :-) . On a serious note though, the sardar ahead of me was grilled by a couple of well built skinnies. Again a case of mistaken identities. Pity.

Once inside, I was like - dumbfounded. Call it lack of my experience in seeing worlds best airports at that time, but Chicago's O'Hare would please even the most demanding. Huge. Magnanimous. Awe-inspiring. Dunno if am repeating the same word thrice but I was so thrilled. Add to it the feeling of being inside the land of dreams (at that time), I was twice thrilled! 40 foot windows were aligned in the waiting area from where I cud see long line of parked AA planes. With some drops of morning september rain, 6:45 am on O'Hare felt like just the right time for a first timer to enter this country. An IBMer, she was also coming for the first time to US and we met on the plane, was there to share my excitement. We would look at each other with sparkles, containing it though since we were supposedly grown ups, and blemish the pure joy this moment was bringing upon us. Her eyes had even more sparkle than me and am sure had it not been our respective connecting flights, we could have spent one whole day savoring the airport, its lounges, its shops and its very respectable restaurants. Her flight was in next 45 minutes so she went off her way; bidding a pleasant ending to a great start.




My next connecting flight was 3 hours later and I managed some of airport action; though being a first time desi, didnt spent too may dimes. Just a trip to Burger king and a souvenir of the Windy city was all where O'Hare could extract some change out of me. But I rue the fact that I hesitated going for the choco shop, which was lined by visitors even during the morning hours. Discovered it late during the stroll, and by the time I could decide which delicacy to taste, it was already time. Time to fly Newark. (Yup, i went opposite - Delhi to Chicago, then back to Newark - all due to lack of imagination, or maybe direct tickets, with our company's travel desk). Goodbye Chicago. Welcome to New Jersey. A tiny AA plane, with most of us wondering how they could fit their stuff or their bums in such a cramped space, took to air to take us to the fabulous East Coast, some to the New York City, some to New Jersey, and in my case, Connecticut, the final destination.



The cab took around an hour to transport me from Newark to Stamford. This sunshine hour introduced me to the the eclectic maze of US freeways, the 140 kmph average speeds, beautiful trees on this stretch of New England, a self-help gas station, and even if all these things sound so redundant, then beat this one - a desi driver who gave a running commentary in hinglish, telling all about what this place could offer me.

I had arrived. And I was loving it.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Rats are seldom so interesting!


Disclaimer: This is not a review. This is a typical fanboy behavior exhibited by a movie lover for a film so fan-tabulous! Though a little late considering that the movie is almost 3 yrs old, still, better late than never.

This movie won 49 awards including 4 oscars.

It was rated at 92% on rotten tomatoes (those who follow this site know what 92% means)

It had 4 of the world's most amazing actors drowning neck deep in their characters.

But thats not all. It had one more achievement to its name.

It made
rats look so interesting for the first time.

Welcome to
The Departed!

When I was your age they would say we can become cops, or criminals. Today, what I'm saying to you is this: when you're facing a loaded gun, what's the difference?

Where else do one see a gangster deliver a punch of a line like this with such grit and amazing meanness. It could only be done by Jack Nicholson and it could only be thought by Martin Scorsese. A poem of violence sung in the backdrop of emotions.

Now agreed, Jack Nicholson is a truckload of talent. So one can expect that kind of brilliance from him. But what about Matt Damon, Leonardo DiCaprio, or even Mark Wahlberg...well, each one of 'em does justice to the position they have been placed - alongside other greats...and the eventual outcome is that you can see each one of them portraying the mean, mischievous and maverick characters so effortlessly.

This movie takes you to the underbelly of Boston. And takes you very authentically. Even the stills had the feel. See the above image, the skyline seen over the words "Departed" is that of Boston city. The attention to detail flows thruout the film.
Born to an Irishi-American family in the Boston neighborhood, William Monahan (who adapted the screenplay for this movie) incorporates the culture and history of Boston heavily into the film. The first images are news clips from the busing riots the 1970s, over which Costello i.e. Nicholson muses about the city's troubled racial history. And the musing become unforgettable:

I don't want to be a product of my environment. I want my environment to be a product of me. Years ago we had the church. That was only a way of saying - we had each other. The Knights of Columbus were real head-breakers; true guineas. They took over their piece of the city. Twenty years after an Irishman couldn't get a fucking job, we had the presidency. May he rest in peace. That's what the niggers don't realize. If I got one thing against the black chappies, it's this - no one gives it to you. You have to take it.

And then, the rats start moving. Damon is the rat in Mass. state police and Leonardo is a rat in Costello's empire. And one can easily see the tensions and the pains that rats have to endure to dig in. Be it the scene in which Costello breaks Caprio's already broken rib or where he is about to be identified by someone on Costello's side, the emotions are so natural, the environment so brutally tense and the creepiness of the whole thing so visible, that you might forgive ur brain for envisioning urself in a dingy boston bar and seeing the rats by ur own eyes.

And its not just the cinematography thats brilliant. The timed humour,
the gritty authenticity, the constant tensions, the buried energy that keeps coming out at places, the ethnic slurs, the whole dynamics of voilence and the ensemble of emotions, the expansive canvas of brilliant actors...so much...so much makes this movie a compelling watch, a true entertainer seen rarely even in hollywood.

Popular critic James Berardinelli awarded the film four stars out of four, praising it as "an American epic tragedy." But this man was just a reviewer, watch it for yourself if you haven't, and you might become a fan of this legend of a movie, of the man who earlier gave us Goodfellas, and who unbelievably topped his golden work with a masterpiece like this,
Martin Scorsese. Hats off!


Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The rocket of a car!

Which one can it be? Which car can be something inspired by the work that guys do at NASA? Most unsuspectingly, it is not the Hondas or Toyotas but FIAT which has tried to do the rocket stuff this time. Its engineers have managed to design and make a Deisel Car Engine as beautiful and powerful and mind blowing as they made the one we have in our Swift VDI (Yes, the engine in Swift VDI is made by Fiat, those same guys who cudnt get their own cars correct even once, but managed to do a wonderful job with this 1.3Ltr Engine, popular in many other cars). Which just makes me think that does someone in Fiat ever worked in Nasa before, coz for sure he started with a rocket engine, and ended up with this marvel of a machine.


And its not some fan-boy behaviour that am exhibiting, rather its a genuine appreciation of what I have been riding for last 1.5 yrs, its bowing to the sheer power of deisel which is so fruitiously and tastefully utilized in a hatchback, and its a standing ovation to those guys who helped me get ahead of other mortal souls (read santro, city etc.) who hardly manage to do a 0-40 in glorious 10 seconds after the light has turned green! So, today I thought to express my appreciation for the magic and the madness of this beauty which turns itself into a beast as soon as it feels a little touch of my right foot on its pedal. I love u for this honey...m sure even my gf wudnt have been so responsive to my feet's touch...and you manage to do so much with a leather shoe on!


This 1248 cc engine produces 75 bhp of raw power and still manages to remain almost as silent as its petrol sibling. End result is that you enjoy the comfort of petrol and the power of deisel at cost of deisel :). I have driven a friend's Verna and a City couple of times, and only Verna could try patching up to this engine. City, the NHC (even ANHC) can be seen as something trying to reach for the stars, just that honda loves putting a santro grade engine in a body that just looks like a rocket, so that their overexpensive wheelers can move 12.5 kms for a litre of petrol. VDI does 17, for a ltr of deisel. And you dont have to suffice with the sight of some auto overtaking you everytime the light turns green. Kewl!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Rise and Fall of Sensex, and the 'analysts' in between


Circa 2008. January 10.

The world is falling flat at India's toes. Atleast this is what our great analysts on CNBC are talking. Sensex is floating above 20k (yes, that 'k' actually means thousand) and each jaggu, maggu and mallu (india's tom dick n harrys) are clamoring to put their new year salaries into the Grandest Circus on earth - the Indian Stock Market. Sensex touches 21000, and next target is 30000, 'announces' CNBC.

Same year. January 18.

Its hardly been a week that every warren buffet of the world wanted to invest in India...or so said our Anal-ysts! And the circus has played its trick...its magician jokers turned the tables and suddenly every new entrant in the circus has lost his shirt (or pants too...depending on the stock). Sensex closes at 19000. And this is just the beginning. Analysts predict a bounce back to atleast 25k in near term. Don't panic, hold your positions guys. What will FIIs earn if you too start selling, huh!

Same year. March 17.

2 months since the inevitable bounce-back was predicted, and the clouds just get gloomier. Sensex is 14.8k. Blame the 'global cues'...says - who else but- CNBC!

The story goes on till today, Oct 14, when we are floating in the range of 10-11k. And suddenly analysts have started to double check their script before reading it out on tv, coz maybe we are still 2 days away from bottom, and it might be too early to predict bounce back till 20k. Wait till Oct 16! :)

All this reminds me of an adage a read somewhere...

"...There are 2 golden rules of stock market...

Rule no. 1: For every analysis, there is equal and opposite analysis.

Rule no. 2: Both are wrong

..."

Enjoy trading. Its humor, if nothing else.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Whats a 'must buy' when you are in US on a B1



B1 visa i mean. If someone had an issue getting that (or took B1 as some WW-II fighter plane), very immodest to say, but you wont really find any value-add reading through rest of this post.

Anywhichway, crux of this post of mine to share my choice of electronics with all those gadget-freaks out there, who are on their 3-month dream-ish trip to the land of best gadgets on this planet. Just to clarify, I said B1 because mostly guys on short-term trip have the energy, excitement and early return plans which means the stuff they buy using their hard-saved dollars, wont go stale by the time they land up in India.

To start with, here are my picks:

Koss KSC75 Headsphones

http://www.amazon.com/Koss-KSC75-Portable-Stereophone-Headphones/dp/B0006B486K

You like music. You like quality sound. And you understand you should not be asked to rob a bank to get these together.
If its so, you cannot go wrong with this pair of headphones. Costing some 11$, they are one of the cheapest (in terms of money) and *best* souding cans in the market. Believe me, you will feel new beats coming out of the same music you would have been listening for months now. I felt that. And hence got 2 of them with me, coz as u can guess, these are not yet available in India.

Sony 8-device Universal Remote

http://www.amazon.com/Sony-RM-VL600-8-DEVICE-Universal-Learning/dp/B000F7JCRA/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1/103-5108594-5402263?ie=UTF8&s=electronics&qid=1190558161&sr=1-1


Though many people haven't experienced a universal remote...still its one thing which should be classified as one of the most useful gadget any house can use. It allows you to "make it learn" commands from various remotes and then allows you to - guess what - throw all of them, coz once this is in hand, you will switch your TV on an off, bring your dvd player and home theater to life, lesses the temp. of room AC etc., all through this one magic thing. Love it. Costing just 20$, love it even more!

More coming on later.........

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Who is the boss!



Precisely at 14:15 hours Eastern-time on Sept. 18 in US of A, money.cnn.com representative announced - Fed cuts rate by 50 basis points. And behold, who got affected? Wall street nerds? Lehman Brothers' equity experts?? or maybe, around a million software developers back in India?? Say that again! Indian coders, who at 23:45 their time, normally would be having a drink at a bar or taking a hard night sleep, are eyes wide open for this dry a stuff (fed is not definitely non-boring)! Yup, today they were awake, desperately pressing F5 to get latest news on if Fed is going to do something to bail out US economy out of mortgage mess.

But why were they bothered?

Because US economy means jobs for atleast 65% of those million. It goes down, and the scarier-than-WW III clouds, something akin to
2001 recession, start filling minds of these nimble souls. But why blame them. Everyone from ugly Indian Left to weirdo european peace-nickers to lead-overdosed chinese manufacturers may frown upon the US, but any given day none of them could breathe comfortably without the financial engine of planet gushing in full speed. And in the process, continuing to tease the whole world with one single question - who is the boss!

I am sure the answer is not that tough to guess (unless ofcourse you are the president :-)