Monday, December 26, 2011

The treat of Lisboa (Lisbon)

Links to some previous travels: Brittany, Provence, US

It has been long since I have written any travelogue so thought of sharing some moments from my trip this year to Lisbon, Portugal. I had always wanted to visit this country for reasons I myself don't understand. There had always been this magnetic pull from this land for me which sometimes I found weird. No where else in Europe had this longing to visit a land for me as high as for Portugal. I don't know if it was because of the good looking Portugese girl, Aurelia I saw in the movie Love Actually or whether I had accompanied Vasco De Gama on his voyage to India in my last life. But unfortunately, for the last 6 years, for one reason or the other my travel plans to Portugal never materialized. Sometime the ticket was too expensive, sometime the weather was not optimal, sometime I did not had the free time etc. But early this year when I saw an offer from Lufthansa for just 99 Euros to Lisbon, I instantly booked the tickets without thinking twice. Usually, the price had been around 300 Euros whenever I used to check. I even approved my vacations after booking the tickets, which is not typical me. I was happy that this time that I am surely going to make it to Portugal !

Only later did I realized that it could be quite boring if I go alone so I started asking some friends around if they were interested in joining me. Now, the problem was that most of them are married so they tend to think twice before going with a single guy. Sometimes their spouses think that they might get bored without a similar feminine company. So, it was tough but I finally found some friends willing to join me on a condition that I plan the tour. What could be better than that ! I was super excited and started planning for the trip like which day to spend visiting what, accommodations and other logistics. All the travel sites were explored, books read, forums investigated to chalk out the complete plan. At the same time making sure that I don't see any travel pictures. The charm and excitement of seeing the new place is lost for me if I have already seen it somewhere extensively in pictures. But just a week before leaving, my friends had an emergency and had to drop the plan. They even lost the ticket money since it was non refundable. So, now I was left all alone to visit Lisbon. I even reached a point where I was just about to cancel my tickets as well since I did not wanted to travel alone. But somehow the pull from Lisbon was stronger than my anxiety to travel alone. I thought if not this time then never again. So, I kept to the plan and decided to go alone, something I never did before. I was all in for a new experience.

So, one fine in the July of 2011, I landed in Lisbon for a trip of 4 days. I agree it was not enough but that is all that I had in hand. I took the bus for my hotel which dang in the heart of Lisbon. The weather was pretty warm at around 30C but it did not bothered me much. On the way to the city center, the houses on the outskirts of the city gave me this Goan feeling. But as we went deeper into the center, I will put it bluntly, I could see that people were not that well off nor did the city as compared to their neighbors in central Europe. But with all the excitement of being in Lisbon, such thoughts took backstage. I was more looking forward to what Lisbon had stored in for me.

And boy, I was not disappointed. I think it was one of the most memorable trips for me. It was not just Lisbon's charm or its rich architectural treats ranging from Romanesque to Manueline to Super Modern or its Fado music or its cherry Ginjinho or its glazing Azulejas tiles or its trademark Tram 28, or its Oceanario aquarium or its pastries in Belem or its labyrinth-like Alfama or even Vasco de Gama's voyages, what hit upon me, were the people of Lisbon. I had never experienced so much warmth by people anywhere else in the world. Or maybe I was just plan lucky to get back with some awesome memories of its people.

I will share some memories of the trip in the coming days of course with some lovely pics of Lisbon :)

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Dancing about Architecture

For some people, LOVE can be a very dangerous word and for some it might be quite an overrated one. There has never been a fixed definition of this word and many people say there never will be. Fair enough! I think everyone has his own definition of love. Like, my boss defines love as when he kicks away his pet cat at home and she still comes back to him, that is love. I ended up laughing my lungs out after listening this and a little shocked when I came back to my senses. To some extent it might be true but I don't think I will go all the way with his theory. Anyways, he has such interesting albeit a little shocking stuff to say sometimes.

I have observed recently that this word is slowly loosing its charm. It is being used very cheaply these days. I see people starting and ending their relationships based on Love. Some people who even once said they loved each other, sometime down the line declare that they are having a clean break-up. Now, with little brain that I have, I was never able to understand such scenarios. Is it really possible that if you really like and love someone, then one day you have no feelings for him/her and don't love each other. Was it really love to begin with? Is it just a kind of switch that you press on and off at will? I never understood such concepts. Moreover, I feel that these days, the society is slowly putting in a lot of pressure on people who really define and believe in the true value of love. A guy writing a poem for his love or expressing it in similar ways are sometimes looked down upon as gayish or even that the guy is such a loser. The same goes for the girl. A girl truly and deeply in love with someone is seen as unambitious and giving up his personal life for a stranger. The bad is the new good these days, I believe. Specially with the new generation TV programs which I see people liking sometimes make me redefine many things around me.

Anyways, I think I already did a lot of blabbering though I really wanted to revive some old folk love stories. I can talk of some which I am more familiar with because of my social background. Maybe there are many more and interesting ones from other cultures. Would be great if people share some. The most popular ones which I know are Heer Ranjha, Sassi Punnu, Sohni Mahiwal, Mirza Sahiba etc. But the one which had always fascinates me the most and close to my heart is Laila Majnu. The true story of virgin love which therefore also appear in a lot of Sufi poems. It is a very interesting story and I am sure many of the readers might also know it. But only a few people know that this story is originally from Arabic literature, later got its Persian version and then at end came to the subcontinent with its own version. But the basic idea and the main characters remained unchanged on their journey. Not many people also know that Laila was actually not very fair and Majnu was always teased over this aspect. And to which he always replied that people don't have the eyes to see what I see as mentioned by a poet in one of his poems:

kise keha jad majnu teri laila rang di kaali
aggon maju jhath kurlaya, akh na dekhan waali

Laila means night and Majnu means crazy though Majnu's real name was Qays. But true to the meaning of their names, Qays went crazy for Laila after he got to know that she was married to someone else. Rest we know is history. Qays died in a desert searching his love and Laila due to illness. Of course there are other versions of the story. But what hit upon me was the similarity to some extent which I saw in this Bollywood movie lately, Rockstar. The movie was okay in the sense that it left the judgement of the story totally on the audience to make at the end. That is how such a movie should be and I believe everyone is entitled to his/her own opinion. So at least speaking for myself, the movie was quite a contrast to the story I mentioned above. The only thing strange for me was that when the characters in the movie had so much feeling for each other then why did they not had the courage to end up together in the first place rather than doing it later ? In a modern day world, why would anyone end up in a loveless marriage as the girl in the film. And if for any reasons the lovers end up with different partners, why to go outside the institution of marriage later ending up in adultery. The characters in the movie doing it and people praising the story made me realize that maybe it has now become socially acceptable to take such steps.

A similarity I sometimes find in unfulfilled love stories is that the guy at the end finds resort in poetry or music. Maybe this is his way of expressing himself. Qays also wrote poems when he was lost in the desert, the character in the movie becomes a Rockstar. Another example coming to my mind right now is Shiv Kumar Batalvi, a famous poet/writer of Punjabi literature. The love of his life was married to some other guy and this guy then started writing poems which now takes an important place in Punjabi literature. From modern day life, I have a very close acquaintance who wrote a book (in 2009) about the untimely death of his fiance´ before getting married. The book turned out to be a bestseller in India. 

I might be totally wrong or naive in what I said above and maybe there is more to love than just words like madam Jolie said in the movie, 'Playing by Hearts' .... talking about love is like dancing about architecture.

P.S: I have no idea what I have written above !

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Visit

My recent visit to the US was quite a memorable one, not just professionally but also on the personal front. I was in Washington DC for work and had planned to visit my friend in New York before returning back to Germany. I have been to DC before and frankly speaking it is a pretty dull city for my taste. Of course, it has all those great museums and memorials etc but overall I had always expected more from the capital city of Ambreeka. This time I ended up visiting the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. The most interesting part was for some exhibits, they had the original ones, like the first airplane from the Wright Brothers etc. Other than that, our free time near the DC area was mainly spent on shopping. After DC, I went to NY to visit my friend for the weekend. Frankly speaking, I was quite blown over by this city. As soon as I came out of the Bus terminal in downtown NY, I was greeted with a sudden gust of stink, total chaos, loud noises, people everywhere. I think I was not ready for it so it was like a filmy moment for me. After seeing all that for a few seconds, I went back inside the terminal building to actually digest and accept whole experience. It would say, it was pretty intimidating :)

Since, I had heard stories of people being looted by NY city parking, I decided to give back my rental car in DC and use other modes of transport. I wanted to have a taste of US buses and trains. Being grown up watching Hollywood movies, I had seen a lot of those Greyhound buses so decided to take one from DC to NY. Of course there were other better options available but I had always been fascinated to see those tin-can shaped buses in old Hollywood movies. I personally believe that Greyhound for buses and Amtrak for trains is quite iconic for US alternate modes of transport. So, for my return NY to DC, I had booked Amtrak for the same reason even though it was three times more expensive than bus. I could never figure out why such a big difference. I did not faced any problems using both of them but for me personally speaking Amtrak was a big turn off. Maybe, I was expecting more from them specially after using the ICE trains in Germany. I think there is absolutely no comparison between both of them. ICE is like Porche and Amtrak like Fiat Padmini of trains.

Anyways, this post is not about DC or NY but the time spent with my friends. I am sure most of you know more about those places more than me. So these two pics would be more than enough.

The Capitol in the background:

The Statue of Liberty in the background:

So, finally the meetup ....

Friend 1: I think this trip was sprinkled with coincidences. In the first week while attending the conference, I went online on gtalk during one of the breaks and found my friend I was planning to meet at the weekend online. Just casually, he asked where was my conference hotel and to our surprise, my friend's office was just on the street behind the hotel. We laughed and decided to meet for lunch the same day. I was meeting this guy after about 8 years but talking to him did not felt like we were meeting after such a long time. It was just like starting from where we left. We were in the same batch at our engineering college. He was also my floor mate in the hostel. Unfortunately, he had to go to Chicago for work the next day but I had planned to spend a day with him after he returned. On his return, he took me to meet some of his friends which ended up in a great party in the end. I think we hardly slept that night.

Friend 2: This one was special and again a big coincidence. After the conference I moved to another hotel for work the next week. After talking to this friend on phone, we found out that his house was at 5 minute walking distance from my hotel. We met the same evening and he took me out for dinner with his wife. I was meeting this friend after 20 years !! I know how crazy it sounds but its really true. We studied together till Class 4 and then his father moved to another country. We kept in touch with each other through postal letters. Yes, those were not the days of emails or facebooks. He then moved to another country and we lost touch. We again got in touch with each other when he came back to India. And then he moved to US and since then it was only through chat and emails. I dont know or why but we somehow always kept in touch. It was a great moment catching up with him again. Again, never did we felt any awkwardness or we were out of topics to talk about. Even his wife was surprised how we kept in touch for so long and she also never felt out of place participating in our conversations. They, then took me to their house after dinner and we all had tea. Being a tea lover, it was like charging my batteries after a long break from desi tea in US. We talked and talked and finally he dropped me at my hotel at around 2 am. Next day in the evening, again he was at my hotel to pick me up for dinner and they insisted that till the time I was there, I must have dinner with them. I was really taken aback at all the warmth. It was an awesome feeling.

Friend 3: After 2 weeks in DC, I went for the last weekend to NY to meet my friend there. I was meeting him after 12 years. We did our schooling together and then went on to do engineering from different colleges. I had been in touch with him also via emails and chat. Although from the same town, we did not met so often since we never had vacations on common time. Anyways, he met me in the evening and took me to his place in NJ. The next two days he tried to give me a NY tour but we ended up talking more than seeing the places. It is usually the case with me that I tend to see less at a place where I know people than where I am a total stranger. But no complaints, I still managed to see a major part of NY in those 2 days. Fortunately or unfortunately his wife was also on vacation in India, so he also had a lot of free time to spend with me. Again, it was a great meetup and I was totally overwhelmed at his hospitality. The last night in NY, we went to dinner at a posh looking place and here is the view from near the hotel, the NY skyline.

The next day, I took the Amtrak to Washington to take my flight back to Germany. On the way, I kept thinking why did my friends met me with such joy and warmth ? After all these years gone, they could have simply ignored me or said they were busy with their stuff. And then I asked myself, what if they would have come to Germany to visit me, would "I" have ignored them .... and then I got my answer !! :)

Friday, December 9, 2011

The Guilt Trip

The Walmart of the World. This is what I call Ambreeka. In particular, for people living in Europe, it is a heaven for shopping. Each of my US trips always ends up with a shopping weekend. Normally, I am not a big fan of shopping and buy stuff as and when needed. But looking at the prices in US, I feel like it is a crime if I don’t buy stuff at the offered prices because how low can you go. Anything below this level would be like asking the products for free. I have even seen advertisements on some Travel agents’ shop in Germany offering cheap tickets for US just for shopping.

So last weekend, I was all high on shopping. At one point of time, I had to really stop myself to pause and take a deep breath to actually realize what was going on. All this is good but after the shopping spree, I always end up with a hangover. A hangover of guilt. I am never able to convince myself that I really needed all that stuff. I mean my life was also going fine without buying all those things. I hope I get over such feelings.

I always wonder on my US trips, how tough would it be for people living in the US to maintain good health after the watching their eating habits and their retail stores. One must definitely take extraordinary steps to stay healthy with the number of fast food joints that are available. It always surprises me how the stores in US sell juices, drinks, eateries etc all in jumbo packs. I always have a tough time finding a single can of cola or juice to buy at stores.

On this trip, I also made it a point to meet as many friends as possible living on the east coast. I was completely overwhelmed after meeting a friend of mine after about 20 years. It amazes me how we kept in touch over all these years without even meeting. And the way my friend me just blew me away. He and his wife met me with such warmth that I cannot describe. Never did it felt that we were meeting after so long. It was definitely a memorable meetup.

I also plan to meet some more friends this weekend before returning back and I am over exciting thinking about it. I hope I have more to write about it next week :)

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Latest on the Playlist

I don't know why but since some time I am not able to get over this jugalbandi and is being played over an infinite loop in my head and my music players.

I am a big admirer of traditional Indian instruments. I have always loved instruments like flute and shehnayi. There are songs where some pieces of flute are just amazing. One example is the flute piece from Tanhayi song of Dil Chahta Hai movie. And now I heard this piece of Shehnayi which almost blew me away. I think it is the most refreshing piece of music that I have heard in a long long time. It is having quite a magnetic effect on me and forced me to put it here :)

Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Priest

After coming back from India, things had been insanely hectic. Too many things had been going in parallel and it made me think one day whether I am even thinking what I am doing or just behaving like a robot finishing all the work on the to-do-list one by one. But a friend gave me a surprise and I could not help but share it on the blog.

A friend of mine from India has decided to join a missionary and lead a life of a celibate as a priest. This might not sound like a big deal to many but let me share some background information of the guy. He is from Kerala, from a Christian family, successfully completed his Engineering in Computer Science in India. Then worked for a big Chinese communication company in China for several years and finally came to Germany to pursue his Masters Degree in the same subject. After completing his Masters, he even worked for a renowned Research establishment here for about an year. But just recently he broke this news to us that he is quitting his job and moving back to India to join a missionary somewhere in the east.

I was not much surprised to hear that since I know he is a pretty devoted guy. No matter what but he never used to miss the evening mass at the church. There are only a few people I know who are as down to earth, well balanced, caring, unbiased and honest as him. I had always admired how he lives such a simple life without the influence of any new age menaces. So this decision of his made me respect him even more. But it also made me think about a lot of things.

It might be easy for him but from my perspective it is a pretty tough step to take for many reasons. We live in a world far from ideal where new temptations are added everyday around us. Now to live around these lollipops like a BMWs, iPhones, Tag Heuers etc, knowing that they exist yet denying them completely even knowing that you have the ability to earn and afford them, needs nerves of steel. I have personally seen a couple of people living a simple life often criticizing such things but eventually succumbing to the temptations. I don’t blame them.

Among the 5 major vices mentioned in ancient Indian literature called kaam (lust), krodh (anger) , lobh (greed), moh (attachment), ahankaar (ego), I believe winning over kaam is the toughest. A prime example from Indian mythology is Vishvamitra. Even a man of his intellect and dedication could not save himself and fell for kaam. No matter how much we deny or shy away from it, it is one of the universal truths of life.

To live a celibate life with minimum needs and serving others definitely deserves my admiration. So when someone tells me he is going to live such a life, I say more power to him. 

Tomorrow, I am flying again to Washington DC for work for 2 weeks and again feeling anxious like last time as discussed here :)

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Back to Square One

After living outside India for a considerable time, going on vacations to India are always special and memorable. Usually, I go twice a year to India usually around Holi and Diwali but this year, I went after a complete 1 year. The reason is that in the last years, I used to be always gung-ho and filled with energy and excitement to go to India but after spending 4-5 days, I started feeling like getting out of there. After reaching India, all that energy and excitement evaporates somewhere. Things get complicated, illogical and impractical situations start coming up, people start bothering everywhere, I get restless and impatient in all of this and the weather does not help at all. But on this trip, it was different !

This was I guess the first time that I went with a more open heart and had decided to take everything in good spirits. I promised myself that I will not loose control of myself over how people and things work in India. Instead, I will try to enjoy it and try to blend in. And boy, I did not let myself down. Maybe the reason for all this was that since the beginning of this year, I had been contemplating on moving back to India, for good. Of course, I have no problems here and my life cannot be more easy than it is. But I guess I have started to miss the chaos of life and starting to feel that there is no fun in having no problems in life. That does not mean life is served here for me in a golden platter. I will still have to shove off the snow from the driveway with my hands come winter but all this is nothing as compared to the life in India.

And so coming back to taking the trip more positively, I will pen down a few instances. The first two days were tough and I had to try very hard to not let my blood reach its boiling point. Nothing disturbs me more than seeing a guy driving his car on a road with absolutely no traffic but still not in a particular lane but in the middle of two lanes using the lane division paint as a trail to reach some kind of nirvana as destination. I mean how tough it is to drive in a single lane is always beyond my comprehension. Then there are these over smart guys who will not stop and wait in the rightmost lane to turn right at a traffic crossing on a red light like many others waiting but will take the adjacent lane and will come all the way to the front right at the red light to block the traffic which has to go straight. I guess we Indians living a life with absolutely no real achievement at all get the kicks in performing such stunts just to feel good about ourselves, to get a feeling of achieving something great in life about how smart, tough and intelligent we are. The girlfriends or wives sitting in the car, feeling so proud of their partners in performing acts of such high caliber like one feels after winning a Bharat Ratna. Anyways, it took me 2 days on the road but after that I started taking it positively and taking it like a Wii video game and got myself busy in concentrating on reading the truck shaiyri in traffic jams. I think nothing can beat that. One gem from the back of one the trucks read:
neki kar, joote kha
maine khaye, tu bhi kha

The next thing which tests my patience and anger is seeing people consciously littering on the streets but when you go to their house and throw a toffee wrapper in their drawing room you are being judged as uncivilized. I retained my composure by not preaching anyone but doing my part of picking up others stuff wherever possible. Even in the car sitting with a packet to collect everything which would have gone out the window by my cousins and being ridiculed each time. I still took it positively ignoring their taunts. While waiting for my turn in Q at a jam packed KFC in a mall, one fine lady did not even bothered to wait at the back and by completely ignoring the Q like we were totally invisible, went bang at the front to place her order. I still did not mind and reminded myself of fast forwarding myself from 1950s to 2011. It is even more amusing at a temple, gurudwara or a mosque where people will push you, kick you, break lines to get their shoes back from the shoe collection place but will appear to be absolutely devoted, calm, composed, compassionate when inside praying to God. Sometimes, I totally fail to understand people. I simply enjoyed the total mismatch between the news on TV channels about fake and adulterated khoya and the amount of sweets being sold and bought in the market by the same people who go hawwww and haiiiii after watching the same news. I did not fret about people who came to our house to give Diwali gifts and then gossiping and bitching about the people they are going on the next stop to give the gifts. In fact I tried to enjoy the gossip and in fact spared myself watching shitty soaps on TV to keep me entertained.

I can go on and on giving awesome experiences and the list will never end. BUT, no matter how complicated it is, how impractical and weird it is, how biased and with double standards it is in India but it is still my HOME and that is the bottom line. I can keep living here and keep writing such posts or I can go back to India and take everything like a sport by doing my part and in the process if I can influence even 1-2 people around me to change, I think my decision of going back would be successful. I am sure I am sure there will be like minded people back there and who knows maybe in 50 years from now people will start learning from us like they did hundreds of years back from our civilization!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Apni Dilli

Trips to India are always eventful even if you have nothing planned. It has been hardly a week in India and I am thoroughly entertained. 

1. It starts right from the movement when you leave the aircraft and enter your homeland. A huge gust of warm, suffocating air enters your nostrils and reminds you that you are there. The guys at the immigration are really funny. I guess their boring job takes their humor to strange levels and they never leave an opportunity to have some fun. Sample this: my new passport and the photo on it is only 2 years old yet the guy asks me .. 
officer: bhai saab .. yeh passport pe foto aap ki hi hai
me: haanji sir
officer: but lag nahin rahi 
It left me speechless for a second or two and then I had tough time controlling my laughter.

2. Driving home from the airport comes with its own pleasures. It is like playing a video game where you have to save yourself from all the mines on the road and where you are free to take any lane at your wish without even caring about using the indicators. Who cares ? The guys at the back will take care of saving himself. But I was amazed to observe that the pollution levels have come down drastically in Delhi and also the traffic has eased all thanks to the Delhi Metro. Really appreciable work.

3. I went to see the ODI between India and England at Feroz Shah Kotla grounds and it really overwhelmed me. It was not just warm weather but the warmth from the people sitting there and enjoying the atmosphere which made my day. It made me feel that staying in Germany has made me mind-my-own-business kind of a guy. Human interaction is pretty limited in Germany and seeing the complete contrast from people sitting around me moved me a bit. I have seen many Bundesliga matches at the stadiums but nothing comes to watching cricket live at the stadium in India. People around me were opening their life books so casually that I could not help noticing it. It was an awesome day and India won !

4. I hardly have any urge to switch on the TV since the local gossip is entertaining enough. Who is going with whom, who did what, who ran out with whom, who left whom. Just a cup of tea and there is you go. The Pandora's box opens up. A lot of that gossip is true but a lot is made more interesting by sprinkling in the spicy bits. Now, this is such a contrast from the place I have been living for so long where everyone is only concerned about themselves. Both sides have their pros and cons.

I am sure a lot of this is told before but I wanted to pen down my own experiences. More of the updates on the visit later.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Movie Confessions contd....

Sometimes when searching for a good movie to watch over the weekend, one gets lucky to pick the right one from the movie library. It is possible that the world might not have liked those movies but you feel satisfied after watching them. I would like to share two of such movies which I happened to watch just by chance. After writing some review here and here, I thought of writing two more reviews. Incidentally, both are French movies. It might be possible that these movies are not of everyone's taste.

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (Le scaphandre et le papillon - France)
Consider yourself seeing the world only with your left eye. More so, consider yourself completely paralyzed from head to toe except your left eye but at the same time your brain is still working fine. I personally feel that this is the epitome of imprisonment. What could be more frustrating than this situation? I am not talking about a hypothetical situation but this is the true story of Jean-Dominique Bauby, the former editor of french fashion magazine ELLE. A man leading a flamboyant, self centered lifestyle suffers an attack while driving leaving his complete body paralyzed except his left eye.With not many options left to communicate, he starts communicating by blinking his left eye. The speech therapist sits besides him reciting the french alphabets by order of their frequency in the language and stopping when he blinks. This is how he had written his complete book by the same name and the movie is based on it. The director has done an incredible and impressive task of depicting the whole thing on screen. What captured me the most was the patience of the speech therapist to first teach the guy how and when to blink and then constantly repeating the alphabets again and again and then writing a complete book one alphabet at a time. The movie is beautifully made and a definite recommend from my side.

Little White Lies (Les petits mouchoirs - France)
If you like life and want to see a slice of it on screen then this is the movie for you. A group of friends and family go on a holiday away from the daily grind even though one of their group member is lying in the hospital battling his life after a severe motorcycle accident. This is not a real life story but the way it is made, I would say that life cannot be more close to it. The acting is very natural to me and the way the story goes on shedding light on different shades of human characteristics made me watch this relatively long movie with complete interest. The story never seemed to slag and always kept up the momentum. It might not be the best of the movies I have seen but it was worth watching it once. If you like watching human behavior very closely and always get amazed how human beings can be so selfish and forgiving at the same time then I am sure you would like this movie. I know another french movie with the same theme but somehow I am not able to recollect its name.

I don't know if anyone even read these reviews. In case there are any readers, do share some good ones which you would like to recommend.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

My affair with Youtube

My affair with Youtube is an old one. It started with hate at first. Way back, in the beginning, the videos just did not streamed properly. There was always this drag and the need to buffer the video before actually playing it. Of course it was a big turnoff but still it fared much better than the other video sites of its time back then.

With time, Youtube kept improving itself. The buffering issues were solved and there was hardly any matching video sharing portal. It was proving far better than its contenders. After moving to Germany, I got close to it even further. It provided unadulterated entertainment at demand. It also became a means to keep in touch with the cultural changes ongoing in India. The latest trends in music, humor, sports etc were all available at the click of a mouse.

The most attractive thing I used to find about Youtube was its unbiased filtering. People could upload anything they want (excluding porn). It became a great tool to interact with people all over the world. It allowed social interaction at a level never seen or experienced before. Another interesting thing about it was the honesty and the rawness in the videos uploaded by people with no commercial intentions. It was pure unadulterated entertainment provided by normal everyday people for other similar people. It allowed true fan following without any marketing blindness. There were no advertisements involved by third parties etc. Its biggest asset was that it was non commercial to a large extent.

But further down the line with time, I felt things started changing and moving towards a more commercial domain. Google bought the whole thing and consolidated its holding on the internet market. Big money was involved. In addition to this, I feel that the people also got a bit greedy. The regular uploaders who were popular and had a big fan following because of their honest videos started receiving money from Youtube to keep the momentum going and to keep the viewers sticking to Youtube. From the uploaders perspective, it was fair. They were receiving rewards for their hard work and dedication in terms of money this time. But gradually, that money thing started making them stray away from their sincerity. Now, they kept trying to increase their subscriptions for the money and not for genuine fans. It has now become a number game. More followers or subscribers means more money.

Now Youtube has become totally commercial, with huge amount of advertisements before starting videos with no options to bypass them, the lower 20-30% of the screen is always covered with pop-up ads which sometimes have nothing to do with the viewer or the video he is watching. A lot of regular uploaders with big subscription numbers get lots of perks from Youtube and the uploaders also show off those perks to encourage more people in following them. A good piece of marketing and business strategy but diluting quality entertainment in the process. 

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Latest on the Playlist

Late last night I was returning from a friend's place after dinner. On the way, while listening songs on my iPod in the shuffle mode, this song started playing which I happened to hear after a long time. There was a time when I used to hear it n-number of times. The original song is pretty old but the two renditions which I like the most are:

The first one is a much more polished version which might have been perfected in a studio but what I like most about it is the fusion of music instruments with the vocals. The flute piece towards the end just melts me away. I think, I have a thing for flute. I feel it might be the only instrument which can make me go weak in my knees, when played. Another flute piece which I like a lot among new songs is the one in Tanhai from Dil Chahta Hai.

The second rendition when heard even without the video sounds more sincere and straight from the heart. That is what I like about it. Moreover the vocals in the second one are far better than the first.

I have listened both the renditions a million times but even today I cant decide which one is better. Sometimes I feel the power punch comes from the lyrics than anything else which just hits you! How about your opinions?

Friday, September 30, 2011

Friendship for sale

A friend of mine recently wrote in his update on Facebook "451 to 300 .... cleaning friendlist". I felt quite amused to see such a message. It looked very mechanical to me, totally devoid of any emotions. Have these social media platforms diluted the essence of friendship? Firstly, I have never understood how people so casually add everyone in their FB friend list, even those they might have seen once in a party and then later claim that they need privacy. I never understood why would you write something on such a platform which you might need to hide from a particular set people? In that case how can you really call them friends? I agree to the fact that many people would claim that it is a social media platform where not everyone is actually a "friend". It is more like a tool to interact with many people whom you might have met or know. 

But I had always felt very uncomfortable to use the word "friend" so casually and cheaply. A friend for me is a person you trust blindly, who is there for you (and you for him) through thick and thin of life and a lot more. So, personally I never understood this hierarchy in friendship. In this sense, I would say the Germans have a more efficient way of addressing people. There is a word in their vocabulary called "Bekannter" which they use often for acquaintances, for people they know but are not really friends. So, a Bekannter is not actually a friend. From humanity or social point of view it might not be morally fitting but works pretty good in the practical world.

Then just recently there was this Airtel advertisement doing rounds on the internet with the title "har ek friend zaroori hota hai". It was an amusing ad but it left a bit of bad taste in the end. Maybe I am thinking too much or either I did not got the ad correctly. The way it portrayed friendship was not top of the line in my opinion. I felt that it showed that friends are just like amenities in life or more so like utilities just for "use", for different kind of uses. Does that mean anyone who can offer you a service of any kind is your friend ? Some people might argue that what the ad was meant in good spirit and not what I have made out of it but I think otherwise.

It could be that I am old school and that the meaning of friendship has changed over the years. But I guess I am still stuck in the world of film Dosti (1964) where the meaning of friendship between Ramu and Mohan are in stark contrast with what I see these days amongst the new generation. There was emotion, sacrifice, others before self feelings and not just using people as commodities and then calling them friends. In less than 50 years, I guess we have mutated our behavior so much that there is no chance or scope of going back.

It could be that I might face some backlash for such thoughts but if not on my blog then where :) 

Monday, September 19, 2011

An evening in Paris

Neither is this post about the Shammi Kapoor film nor does it have anything to do with the Woody Allen film. This post is about my first trip to Paris about 6 years back. Ever since, Paris had cast a kind of spell on me that I never leave an opportunity to visit it. A visit almost every year since then is a proof of that spell. I don't know why but I never get tired going to that city. It somehow has a magnetic effect on me. The most memorable trip for me was my first and this post is about the last evening of that trip we spent there.

Three months after arriving in Germany for the first time back in 2004, my friends planned a trip to Switzerland. Being new in a foreign land whose currency rate was 1:58 with the Indian rupee, my conscience did not allowed me to go on such a trip. I was a fresh graduate with little experience about real life so did not knew how priceless can be such trips. It is only later in life I understood that one should never miss a chance to travel as a student because once a person starts working, even though he might have money, he might not have the time or the company to travel. So, my advice to students always is to explore the world as much as possible as long as you don't have to take loan to travel.

So, after missing the Swiss trip I realized that this time will not come again so when another group of friends made a plan to visit Paris, I was all game for it. The plan was to stay at a friend's place in Paris who was doing his PhD at that time. As students, we anyways did not mind sleeping on the floor at a friend's place. So, five of us booked tickets and took our sleeping bags along to visit Paris. Our host was a generous guy and took good care of us. He took time out of his busy schedule to guide us through Paris. He was quite busy with work so he could not accompany us everywhere.

Now, our host was a guy with a big heart but absolutely zero cooking skills. So, he was quite pleased to have Indian food with us whenever we used to make in his kitchen. On the last evening of our 5 day stay, it was raining cats and dogs. I guess Indra Devta had planned this night to be a memorable one for us. Since it was raining, we planned to stay at home. Out of nowhere, our host in a very humble and pitiful tone said, "It has been more than a year since I visited India. I really miss the food. How great it would be if in this weather we had samosas". Another friend of mine looked at me and I knew what he wanted to say. We said lets have samosas for dinner tonight. Our host's eyes glittered like a diamond but he asked from where would they come from? We said, we will make them here. It was a crazy plan but everyone got excited and started putting in their part in making samosas. Boiling and peeling potatoes, making the dough, arranging for oil etc. Eventually, the plan was coming out good. One of the guys then came with another wish. He said, we are in Paris but we still did not had wine together. We must taste it. Although it was more like an excuse to get drunk but immediately two of us ran to down the street to fetch a couple of wine bottles. So the menu was made, samosas with wine. I know it does not sound really classy but as students it was more about the fun, the excitement, the life than anything else. Now the last hurdle was to arrange so many glasses for wine. Our host did not had enough glasses or cups for all of us leave alone wine glasses. So, some of us came up with another innovative way. There were some empty jam bottles. The guys cleaned it and had their wine in it. It was insane. I know but sometimes it is only such weird and crazy evenings which are left to remember the rest of our lives. I wonder if those guys would do the same today given that they are now working at high ranking jobs.


Sunday, September 11, 2011

My affair with blogosphere

I remember getting the first taste of Blogosphere in 2005. Before that I was not such a big enthusiast of the Internet in India because it was pretty slow and expensive back then. I never had enough patience to wait for pages to load on the browser. But after coming to Germany, I became more net savvy. I had to. There was not way out. It was because of many reasons. It was the only cheap way of keeping in contact with friends and family back in India. Everything in this new world was online. Even to book slots on the washing machine at the university hostel was via the local intranet. So, there was virtually no escape from it.

One night while browsing through the internet in my hostel room, I came across my first blog by chance. I found it pretty interesting since the author had literally written snippets from his life, online. Initially I felt that it was quite bold to do such a thing since there might be many of his friends reading them. Through the blogroll and the comments, I explored even more interesting blogs. And ever since, there has been no looking back. I had a few favorites and used to visit them everyday. In those days we did not had fancy tools like google reader to keep track of all the blogs and so I used visit them exclusively. Not only did some of the blogs kept me updated about the latest trends back in India, many of them even fulfilled my appetite of humor. There are some seriously funny people out there in the blogging world.

I used to religiously follow some blogs and the authors also regularly updated them. I even saw some friendships being built by some bloggers and used to enjoy their interactions with each other again through blogs. Sometimes, I even used to envy them. I had mostly been a silent spectator of the blogosphere, hardly ever contributing. I used to refrain from commenting and even when I did once in a while, it used to be mostly anonymous. I think since most of those authors were students at that time or fresh our of college, it gave them more time to blog. After a span of about 6 years, there are only a few of those who still blog regularly but many of them have moved on. Some have families now so they are not able to spare time, some became famous and published books and moved on to twitter, some maybe due to lack of readers lost interest.

Sometimes, I am surprised on myself how close I feel to some bloggers even though I have never met them, nor do they know me. A few months back, my favorite blogger did not post for almost a month which was not normal as per the author's standards. It genuinely worried me in the beginning but later I thought, maybe the person had some better things to do. And it motivated me to finally start writing my own blog. I always thought of starting it but never really put in any efforts. But now that I have started writing, I think it is not easy. It can be very easy to start a blog but it can take a lot of patience and efforts to continue with it. But even though there are many who stopped blogging, there are many who started blogging, like me. And I think that is the best part of this blogosphere, that it is ever so dynamic. After starting this blog, I have started following more people and found some really nice ones. But sometimes I feel guilty and scared that maybe this might dilute my admiration and love for the old ones I still follow. I hope not !!

Monday, September 5, 2011

The line between success and greed

I was watching this lecture yesterday from a Harvard Professor. It's the first part from a series of his lectures. He talks about morality and how quickly it changes definition depending upon the situation. I have often thoughts about some things along the same school of thought. One of them is the thin line between success and greed. How do you define success and how can you keep it free from greed. When do you say what you have is enough and you are happy with what you have?

I have some friends who recklessly keep changing jobs every two years or so just to get some extra money. They do not care about what work they will be doing. They don’t care about what they write in their resume to achieve a new one. The target is always more money. Such people often regard the more satisfying people non ambitious and to some extent even fools. Gone are those days when our parents used to spend their complete life under the same employer. I myself sometimes find it fascinating how my father had been working at the same place for all his life. The irony is that even he sometimes point out to me that it has been 4 years since you are working at the same place, why don’t you look for another job? I do not blame him because it is not him talking but the culture that has evolved around him. But coming back to the topic of making more money, I have never been able to understand how some people lust of money. They are never satisfied. They have a nice house, a nice car, a good family but even then they will keep grinding themselves for more and more. They never pause and ever spare time for themselves. They just keep running towards a finish line which even they have no clue, where to find. Sometimes, I have pity for such people and even sympathize with them that maybe it is not their fault. It is the society they are dwelling in which make them act that way. But then I ask myself. Is it not the same people who actually make that society? Such a vicious circle!

The society had always judged success with the money. There is nothing new in this I guess. There are enough instances from history supporting it. But I feel recently it has taken a much ugly turn. Quite easily we make our role models like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs from the technology business, Ronaldo, Giggs, Tiger Woods from Sports, Murdoch from Media based solely on the fact that they are rich and famous and have worked "hard" to reach where they are today. We never try to find how they reach there. What all did they had to do, to reach there. Did they acted morally to reach those heights? Did they harm someone on their way? Specially given the recent disclosure of the working of the Murdoch empire or even the affairs of the above mentioned sport stars leaking to their fans. Sometimes I feel that taking such questions out of the idol making equation has led us today to the society where everything is judged with money. We are totally lost in judging what is right and wrong. And I find this scenario scary sometimes. Where will all this end? Where does the buck stop?     

All this makes me remember a story I wanted to share. The story of the last moments of the mighty Alexander the Great or Sikandar as we call him in India. After winning the world, Sikandar feel sick on his ship. The efforts of his doctors were all in vein. He begged the doctors to give him some more time to live so that he can keep his promise he made to his mother. The promise of seeing her after he as won the world. But the doctors could not even promise him 4 more breaths. Thus on his death bed, Sikandar who had won this world felt helpless and in remorse asked his companions to fulfill his last three wishes, after his death:

1. His doctors should carry his coffin for burial - so that the world knows that every breath of life is important and we should not take them for granted for no doctor in the world can grant you any in time of need.
2. The path to his grave and his grave should be studded with gold and all the precious stones of the world - so that the world knows that all this wealth will not go with anyone after death and it makes no sense running for it all through one's life.
3. His hands should hang out from his grave with palms facing up - so that the world knows that the conqueror of the world, the ruler of the world who came empty handed also left this world empty handed taking nothing with him.

If the world did not even learn from this, then I don't think there is anything else which can convince it. I remember another such tale from Sikandar's life but maybe I will write about it some other time.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Red, White and Blue - Part 3

I am a vegetarian and this can be quite a trouble while traveling. Sometimes, it is hard to find a good place to eat specially when I prefer fresh food over processed food like burgers etc. So, while looking for a restaurant around the area of our hotel, I encountered a place where I observed that there was a big line to order food. I remembered a saying by one of my uncles back in India that while deciding between two places to eat, always go where you see more people. At least the food you get there will be fresh. Thinking of applying that technique I decided to check out that place named Chipotle. It was a Mexican fast food joint but not very high end. I saw the menu on the wall and amongst many other things in the list, I saw Burrito. I knew what it was and always wanted to try it. Since I had always read that there are a lot of Mexicans living in US, so I thought it could be something more authentic than what we find in Germany. The guy standing in front of me ordered a Burrito bowl where one had the option to select from a number of things to be added on top of a bowl of rice. I preferred to have that over a normal Burrito since it looked pretty tempting. I got red beans and other vegetables on my rice and randomly asked to put the mint sauce on top. The quantity was quite a lot compared to the price. I tasted a spoon of the rice with that sauce and it really hit me hard. It was amazing specially the sauce. It was made with mint, a lot of chillies and had a tangy taste to it. I devoured that bowl in no time. I left that place pretty satisfied for a cup of coffee. As they say that the route to a man’s heart is through is stomach, the US was continuously winning his brownie points over me (specially after the shopping streak).

After the work week, on Friday my boss took a flight back home and I had planned to visit my mom’s sister and her family in Houston for the weekend. Unfortunately, I did not had more time to see D.C. since after going back to Germany, I had my flight to India from there on Tuesday. I had already booked them long time back for my vacations before the US trip had finalized. Anyways, I took my flight from D.C to Houston which was via Chicago on Friday afternoon. The plan was to reach Houston on Friday night. But after reaching Chicago, I found out that the flight to Houston was cancelled because unexpectedly it had snowed in Houston and since it is not normal for them, their airport had no means to clear the ice and make it safe for flights to land. So much for technology rich US, I thought to myself. Their airport can’t even handle snow? And to my horror, the next available flight was next morning. I had to spend the night at the airport. It did not made much sense to leave the airport for a hotel for few hours and then go through the security checks again. Moreover, I could not take my luggage since it was still with the airline people. The airline people arranged some make shift beds for us for the night. Incidentally, I met a nice Mexican couple and a pretty American girl (lets call her AG) also in the area from my flight. Since all of us were going through the same plight of spending the night at the airport, we developed a mutual pity for each other which slowly turned into friendship. We had rounds of snacks and drinks all through the night. They were very warm people and I am still in touch with them. I realized after all, US is really not that bad a place as I thought.

The next morning did not came with good news. The first flight was already full so we did not had the chance to board it. Thus, we had to wait for the next and just hope that it had a few free seats. If not, the next flight after that was in the evening. In the meantime, AG told us that we are allowed to take a detour. This means that we could take a flight to a less busy airport and then take a flight from there to Houston rather than waiting the whole day for a free seat. I tried to ask for possible combinations from few officials of my airlines but no one was helpful. AG was pretty clever and knew her way around airports. She then took me with her to take a round and check out all the gates and information counters to spot the right official. I could not believe her precision in spotting the right person. Bang, she went straight to her target and got all the information regarding the possible connections. Unfortunately, there was just one place free on one such connection. I asked her to take it and I would wait for the regular next flight. Who knows, maybe I get lucky to find a free seat on it. So, I wished her good luck in life before saying goodbye to her and then came back to the Mexican couple. We all got lucky to find enough free places on the next flight thus saving us the day. But the experience left me feeling happy to meet such nice people and being so open and friendly to a total stranger like me.

Again on the flight from Chicago to Houston, a guy sitting next to me got quite friendly with me. Usually, in Germany people are not so open sometimes to start up a conversation. I think sometimes it has to do with the culture and lack of English speaking skills that they shy off. But this guy had a nice chit chat with me. He was quite happy and curious to know my experiences both in Germany and in the US since both of them were foreign land for me. He wanted to draw some parallels and contrasts between the two places. So, I had a pretty good conversation with him. At the end, I asked him a question I always wanted to ask an average US citizen. After all that is happening in the world, is he still proud to call himself American? To my surprise he gave a pretty blunt and honest answer. He said he was proud to be an American, no doubts about it and America is a great place to live but at the same time he said he did not liked many of the policies of his government. He gave me many examples and I could not be more impressed and satisfied by his answer.

So, all in all this trip was a pretty good learning experience for me. I got to see a new land where most of the people of my homeland want to end up one day. I saw the complete contrast that exists between US and Europe. Both the places are quite distinct in their existence and way of life even though both are called Western developed nations. Everything from cars, to houses, to public transport, to food, the people were quite distinct between the two continents. To summarize it all, this trip served as an eye opener for me since I had quite a different perception of this place. In the end all I can say is that it is a great place with great people but its politicians and its media has really dented its image all over the world. I hope this gets changed in the future.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Red, White and Blue - Part 2

So, I was finally on the flight to Washington D.C. from Frankfurt. I was getting goose bumps all through the flight about the fate which awaits me at the airport. I shared my anxiety with my boss and he joked that in case things happen as I was expecting, then he will take the taxi to the hotel and I can come later. It can take pretty long sometimes with the screenings, he said. His joke did not helped at all and finally I was at the D.C. airport. I could see long lines at the security check. People were being asked to even remove their shoes. Usually, that hardly happens at European airports. After getting through the regular patting, I was quite happy that all is well. But then I saw the immigration check. People were getting selected randomly for additional screening. I saw a family of four, father, mother, two kids around 5-6 years of age, being asked to get out of the line for special screening. I even saw an elderly couple being asked to step out of the line. I gave up my hopes after seeing that. How can a weird looking brown guy score over that? Still, trying to convince myself how bad it can be, I went ahead and stood in front of a 7 foot tall officer. He asked me if this was my first trip. I said, yes. He asked me if I was here for a business trip. I said, yes. He then raised his hands and stamped my passport. Expecting a denial of entry, I thought it is time to take back a flight back to where I came from. But all I heard was, Welcome to Washington, Mr. XYZ. Have a nice stay. He said it with a fake smile. He handed over my passport and said, Next! I was puzzled and still not convinced that I was through. What?? Just two questions?? No special screening?? No trouble making?? That quick?? I could not believe my luck and so did my boss standing at the other end. Unfortunately, we will have to take the same taxi, he joked. Unbelievable, I said to him still trying to recover from the fact that I am standing freely on a place which I dreaded the most. Congratulations to me!

As I was slowly getting back to my senses, I observed the place a bit old and dirty comparing it to my city in Germany. My next comparison was cars. Cars with huge hoods. I was surprised that I never noticed it in their movies but the American cars were really huge particularly at the hood. So much for engine design, I said to myself. Moreover in a country where there is speed limits on their highways, what use are those huge engines. It felt nice to think of going without speed limits on the Autobahn in Germany, where I live. We went to our hotel, which was a normal, nothing-fancy-about-it hotel but still I found it to be HUGE comparing it to hotel rooms in Europe. It had 2 TVs, one for the bedroom and one for the lounge. Wowww, I said, no wonder everyone wants to get into US. Everything was SUPER SIZE.

We had planned to reach the States on a weekend as my boss wanted to do some shopping. Now, I must tell you that amongst few things I hate to do, one of them is shopping. I don’t usually have patience to go through it. Moreover, I buy only when I need. But I did not mind to join him for shopping. So, as planned we took our already book rental car and went to an Outlet Center the next day which had every known brand that I could think of. I think it was one of the most memorable days of my life. Never in my life had I shopped to that extent. I simply could not control myself. Everything was so insanely cheap and after calculating the currency exchange from dollars to euros, it came out even cheaper. I shopped like crazy and the only thing which tried to put brakes on me was the weight limit on my flight back to Germany. My boss knew exactly what he had planned and so he had already brought less stuff with him from home. I could not shop as much as him but for my standards it was the biggest purchase ever in my life on a single day, not just for me but also for my near and dear ones. I had already started loving the US of A. I promised myself that the next time I come here; I will only bring a small hand luggage with one pair of extra clothes. I will even buy a new suitcase here and then stuff it with the maximum limit allowed to carry back. A photo of the mad shopping day:

The complete week we were busy with work and hardly got time to see D.C. Since it was November and the days were short, whatever we saw was in the evening, in dark. It was pretty windy in the evenings making it even more cold. What struck me while walking along the streets of Washington when we used to go out of dinner was the poverty. There were many homeless poor people that I could not believe myself. I even saw a van from a charity stopping over to give free food to those poor people. It was odd for me since I never saw so many people sleeping on streets in Germany or even other countries in Europe. Yes, there is poverty in Europe but not as many people sleep on streets. I was surprised that a country which boast of being the superpower and one of the most advanced places could not even take care of its own people? What difference there is there then between the US and India in this respect?

Contemplating on those thoughts, not being able to understand the world I live in and looking for a nice place to eat, I accidentally discovered a great eating place, Chipotle. 

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Red, White and Blue - Part 1

Yesterday, I was watching this video, when I thought of writing my experience traveling to The Land of Opportunities, i.e. The United States of Ambrikkkka.

I had never liked the idea of visiting the US of A. I don’t know why but I had always dreaded going there. Maybe because I see a lot of Hollywood movies where people are picked up at airports by some suited officials and then they disappear only later to be found at some government detention center. I had a kind of phobia of that place. My friends tell me that I over react and ask me to look at all those hundreds of Indians making big bucks in the Silicon Valley. Did anything happen to them? The answer is, No! They always insist it is the safest place of earth. I think otherwise. You never know when shit is going to fall on your head after hitting a tall building, if you know what I mean. And not matter how many people argue that this video is fake, I had always been skeptical about the people who live there.

But one fine day, my boss asked me to assist him on a work related trip to the land of Uncle Sam. I tried to find an excuse of being too busy and asked him to take my colleague instead. But he insisted and asked me to prepare for some presentations which he wanted me to deliver there. There was no way out. I had to go. With a heavy heart, I started with the first step of applying for a visa. I had to fill some forms, collect a load of documents and finally had to go for a visa interview in Frankfurt. I picked the first available time of the day at 8 a.m. When I reached the Embassy, there was already a big waiting line outside the main gate. I was pretty surprised since I had picked up the first slot and was before time but still a long queue. I also went and stood in the line only to find out that all these people were also for the first time slot. So much for people management. I waited for my turn to get inside where I entered a huge hall after a thorough security check. The hall was already full of people waiting for their interview. I was amazed at this arrangement. Usually in Germany, an interview at 8 a.m. means IT IS AT 8 A.M. I saw a middle aged German guy who was shocked seeing the same and started arguing with an official that why should he wait when his appointment was at 8 a.m.? Quite furiously he left the hall and the building spitting abuses. Wow, I said to myself and took a seat in the hall. My turn came at 11.45, after waiting for more than 3 hours! The visa officer, after asking me weird questions, told me that she had some problem with my second name. She will have to put me on further processing, which means a special screening which could take anything from 4 weeks to 6 months. I was delighted to hear that because this meant most probably my trip will be cancelled due to delays. What could be more fun than a company paid trip to Frankfurt on a Friday and then visit my friend in the same town to spend the weekend there? Ahhh … complete bliss! On Monday, I gave this delightful news to my boss who did not seemed very impressed. He asked me to prepare the slides and give them to another guy who would go with him instead. Perfect, I thought!

But life does not always go as planned. Three weeks after my interview, my administrative department got back my passport with the stamped visa. All hell broke loose when my boss asked me to prepare again for the trip. This time there was not way out. I started preparing for the trip. I started getting anxious and searched various online Forums on how to behave at US airports. I tried to prepare myself mentally for all the different things that could happen there right from the strip search to being locked in an unknown detention center.

Rest of the story in the next part !

Friday, August 26, 2011

The Stranger

I am a big fan of Persian art and culture. Sometimes, I find it very close to the North Indian style of living. But what fascinates me the most is their literature. There are many well known names in Persian poetry and amongst poets like Hafez, Ferdowsi, Khayyam, Saadi and Rumi, I am the most impressed by the writings of Hafez. The philosophy in his poems is really impressive and at times just pierces through the heart of the reader. After reading a lot of the above writers’ translated versions, I decided one day to learn Farsi myself so that I am not lost in translation. Sometimes the gist of an idea looses its correct force and target during translation. Reading first hand gives you a better understanding and you are not left under the influence of the translator’s interpretation but rather develop your own interpretations. This helps you to better understand the author’s ideas rather than following something totally blindly.

Anyways, this post is not about Persian literature but about an incident which happened few years back. I had moved to a new apartment after I got my first job in Germany and thus had to shop for some furniture. I decided to go to IKEA on a Saturday for the same which was quite out of the city. I picked all what I needed and then asked the IKEA home delivery service to deliver it to my place. There were a few things which I needed urgently so I thought I will carry them myself and the rest could come later by the delivery service since it would take about a week for the delivery. Now, the IKEA center where I went was quite a distance from the tram station. There was a bus service which I had taken to reach from the station to IKEA. Since it was a Saturday, the frequency of the bus service was less. On my way back I found that I would have to wait for the bus for around an hour. I decided to walk to the station instead. I liked walking and was quite used to it so I did not even thought about a Taxi. I started marching towards the station on foot with some pieces of furniture in my hands.

Unfortunately, I had underestimated the distance and the weight of the stuff I was carrying. I kept juggling the weight of the furniture between both my hands while walking. After about half the way, I decided to stop, put down the weight and catch my breath. After a few minutes, I started again towards my destination. A few steps later, I was struggling to hold the packet I was carrying. It started getting tougher and tougher specially because there was no proper grip and the packet kept slipping from my hands. I thought of calling a Taxi but then felt embarrassed that I have already walked half the way and just to finish the last leg of about 700 meters it does not make sense to call a Taxi. Moreover, my ego started kicking in that a young guy like me can’t carry his stuff? What a looser I am when I am willing to give up half the way. I kept going further but now I was stopping after every few steps to keep the packet down to ease my muscles. The going was really getting tough but I was not willing to give up. Yes, I am stubborn. While stopping and taking regular rest breaks, I started noticing that a lot of people in nice cars passed by me, some even laughing at me. But no one stopped to give a helping hand. I was also not expecting that to happen in a foreign land. Why would anyone in his right senses stop in the middle of nowhere to help a guy who made the wrong decision to carry heavy packets on foot for such a long distance? I deserved it.

500 meters before my destination, I had started to give up. I could not take it any more. I stopped, I was out of breath, my hands were shaking and I was sweating profusely. I started feeling ashamed of myself. Just then when I was about to give all hopes, a small old car passing by me stopped a few steps ahead from where I stood. A middle aged guy came out of the car and asked me, Where are you going, do you need help? I told him I am trying to reach the tram station. He said he could take me there. I was a bit surprised and bit skeptical as to why would a total stranger help me? But I said yes to him and he helped me put my stuff at the back of his car and we drove off. He asked me if I was from India. I said yes and asked him where was he from. He said a small place near Tehran in Iran. I was quite overwhelmed by his modesty and helping nature. I tried to talk with him in my broken Farsi. But after seeing me struggling with Farsi he switched and then we talked in German. After a small chit chat he dropped me off at the tram station. I asked him that why did he stopped to help me. He said he noticed me walking on his way to IKEA and then on his return he saw me struggling with heavy stuff. Seeing that I was not too convinced with his reason he said, he knows how it feels to be in a foreign land. I thanked him from the bottom of my heart. He said Khuda Hafiz to me and left. I was so overwhelmed by the whole situation that I did not even asked his contact details. Maybe I might never see him again in my life but whenever I remember that incident, I always pray to God that bless him with more strength to always keep helping the needy. Whenever I start giving up on humanity, something or the other happens which restores my faith back in humankind. Someone once rightly told me that this world would have been destroyed by bad men long back but just because of the integrity and strength of a few good men that this world is still holding up. I wish that their tribe increase!