Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Woman to woman

She 1: "Hello, nice to meet you. Good to have a face to go with the name! I've heard so much about you from Ms. A."

She 2: "Yeah me too. You are nothing like I imagined you'd be like. You are so much younger. Where do you live? I live in Barbican."

She 1: "Lovely area. I live near the Wembley stadium."

She 2
: "Great."

Awkward silence.

She 2: "What say we cut off the small talk and get to really knowing each other. Woman to woman?"

She 1: "I am in."

Awkward silence.

She 2: "Legs shaved?"

She 1: "Yesterday!"

She 2: "It's on my list for today."

She 1: "OK. You on the pill?"

She 2: "Yeah. I am worried it's causing me some smelly flatulence."

She 1: "Oh my. I put on 2 kilos on the hips. No problems other than that."

She 2: "Lucky you."

She 1: "Yup! You might want to try green tea for the flatulence."

She 2: "Thank you dear. I feel like I've known you for years!"

She 1: "Me too."

And thus starts another great friendship known only to womankind.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

What's life without some addictions....

Hereby I confess some of my recent addictions in my day to day life. They have started to play a big influence in my life especially when it comes to matters like 'how much time I get to sleep' and 'You want dinner, dear? Oh yeah, it’s only fruit and water in the dinner menu today'.

1. Brain Game in Facebook

It's currently one of the top 10 games in Facebook. It can be an ego basher or an ego-boaster depending on the type of person you are. I started playing this game a week back and haven’t stopped ever since. I stand #3 in terms of brain weight among my friends (I'm gonna beat you soon, AK!) and it looks as if I won't have peace until I get to the #1 slot. Yup, I am the one for whom it's an ego-basher.

I play it early morning even before my dose of coffee. And I would gladly barter 916 gold for good coffee! I’ll let you work that one out.

2. Wii Sports

I believed myself to be a strong protester of video games and looked down upon spending a small fortune on a gaming console. I changed my opinion faster than a politician when we bought Nintendo Wii a couple of months back. Well, marriage is all about sacrifices and permission to welcome a gaming console into our home was the big sacrifice I made to save my marriage.

And now, I am hooked for good. Wii related RSI is not too distant in the future for me. For the uninitiated, Wii games are played not by pushing buttons or twiddling joysticks, but playing by swinging the Wii remote as if it were a tennis racket or a Golf club or a bowling ball u are about to bowl. I already have some symptoms of RSI. My plan is to start training to play with my left hand, so that even if my right hand is down due to RSI injury, I don't have to give up playing Wii.

3. Free Rice game

Help end world hunger

I discovered this gem while stumbling on an uneventful afternoon at work. I have been strung-out ever since. It gives me two fixes - fix for my better-English fetish and a fix for my desire to go something good. The way it works is simple - you play the word game and every word you get right, someone somewhere will get 20 grains of rice in their lunch through the UN World Food Program.

I usually play enough to win up to 2000 grains every day. That's 100 words - takes around 10 minutes to play 100 words if you have WordWeb (I might be cheating, but it’s for a good cause!) and broadband connection.

When I play this game, I've this image in my mind of a small girl waiting in the middle of a parched field egging me on to play well so that she can have a good meal that day. I call her Mitra. Every single day I miss out playing this game, I feel guilty that Mitra had to go without food because of me.

Try them out and get a little high in life.

Off topic
Ppppst, heard that Britons would rather have healthy bouncy donkeys in their country than help eradicate violence and abuse against women. Who would have thought that one day, donkeys would triumph over mankind! A glimpse into the future - an ant conservatory and a mosquito park that rake in billions of $/£ a year might not be too far away.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Unconditional love....

....requires some work.

He: "Just checking. How's marriage working for you."

She: "Pretty good. How about you?"

He: "It's the best thing that has ever happened to me."

She: "Obviously. But it requires some work, don't you think?"

He: "What do you mean?"

She: "Why else would I read a book titled 'Love of Fat Men' by Helen Dunmore." :)

He: "You b****!"

She: "Geez relax dude. It's not like I am reading 'Love of obese and ugly men. I wonder whether there's a book on that though. If not, I could pen one." ;)

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Worlds apart

Scene 1: Just another IT company in India

IT support team member: “Our network is really busy today. So many of our staff are accessing sites like Orkut and Flickr and BharatMatrimony.”

IT Support Manager: “Block them all. And block all proxy access to these sites as well. That will teach these nitwits a good lesson. Also keep monitoring the network for any popular websites that are accessed at work. Keep blocking them.”

IT Support team member: “O.K.”

IT Support Manager: “I’ll track your performance based on the number of these high traffic websites you have managed to block. Good luck.”

Next day dawns. Orkut, Flickr, Blogger, Livejournal, BharatMatrimony, TamilMatrimony, Facebook, MySpace, Webshots, BSE, Ebay, Gmail, Y!Mail, YouTube blocked promptly!


Scene 2: Just another IT company in UK

IT Support team member: “The network bandwidth usage is exceptionally high today. The log shows that 70% of the traffic is from people using sites like Facebook and Flickr. Shall I block these sites to solve the problem?”

IT Support manager: “I'll have to check this with the HR department. Will keep you updated.”

A week passes by. The network is still congested like a blocked nose.

IT Support Manager: “Mornin! I wanted to check with you whether we should block websites like Facebook in our organisation. Don't you think employees are wasting a lot of time poking each other when they are supposed to work?”

HR head: “I don't think that's a good idea. We want to be an employee friendly organisation. If we block these popular sites, we might lose good people to other organisations that allow them to poke each other on Facebook.”

IT Support Manager: “I see.”

HR head: “I’ll ask the Intranet manager to run a poll on this next month. Let’s see what the employees think. Are you happy with that mate?”

IT Support Manager: “Oh yes, sounds like a nifty idea. Take your time. Cheers.”

HR head: "See you at the pub at 5."

Two months pass by.

HR head: “Our Intranet poll shows that employees are not particularly happy about us controlling their internet usage. I personally agree with them. And moreover, they need some way to let off steam.”

IT Support Manager: “Blimey! I didn’t see that coming.”

HR head: “We don’t want them ending up in rehab, do we? As it is they work very quite hard. 7 hours a day at work brings in a lot of stress. Spending an hour or two on Facebook works quite nicely as a stress buster. We must not block them. May I suggest that you find another solution to the problem?”

IT Support Manager: “I never thought about all that. You are right. Facebook is here to stay. Thanks mate.”

Next day.

IT Support Manager: “We are buying additional network bandwidth to support all the Facebook/Flickr usage. Raise a Purchase Order ASAP. I also want you to monitor the bandwidth and get additional bandwidth as and when we need it.”

IT Support Team Member: “O.K. Cheers.”


Scene 1 continued: Back in India

Employee 1: “Darn, the IT dill-holes have blocked Orkut and all the matrimony sites yaar. What do they expect people in bench to do? What do we do in between all the coffee breaks?”

Employee 2: “Chal, let's go to PVR and catch the noon show.”

Friday, April 11, 2008

Fancy a Shoe Shine?

As the world economy sinks into an abyss, let's talk about something trivial like shoe-shining to let off some steam.
If you live in Bangalore, you might not even be aware that people would shine your shoes for a paltry sum. Well, ask the Mumbaikar who has immaculately shiny shoes, thanks to the shoe shine boy at VT.

I chanced upon this article 'The Politics of Shoe Shine' in NY Times. Roger Cohen points out that the reasons why you couldn't get your shoes polished by someone in France and the reasons why you can easily get it done in the US are taxation, universal health care, entitlements and unemployment.

Sounds unconvincing at first, but as you read on you begin to nod along.

The Sarkozy revolution in France, of still uncertain outcome, was essentially about the French realization that a country where it was often more profitable not to work than to work was a country with a problem.

High tax rate and generous unemployment benefits and other entitlements are the main factors that nudge people to shape their country into one where you can get your shoes shined and ones where you just can't.

The shoe-shine rule goes something like this: if you can't find one, you are probably in a society with a developed sense of egalitarianism and social solidarity, high taxation, a broad safety net, universal health care, extensive entitlements and high unemployment.

That sounds like France/Germany alright.

If you can get them shined, you're probably in a place with low unemployment and little of the above social security, a place where capitalism is crueller and more vital, a place not unlike America.

But what about back home in India? These factors become irrelevant in the context of a developing country and also within different states inside a country where the economic situations are comparable and the states are governed by the same economic rules and benefits like taxation and unemployment benefits if any!

So why is it that you can get your shoes polished in Mumbai and not in Bangalooru? Where are the boot polish walas in Bangalooru?

Both the cities are over-populated. People migrate to these cities from all Indian states in search of work. So what's the tipping point?

From my experience, I feel that it's far easier to get people to do menial labour in Mumbai. Within days of moving into Mumbai, I had four women pleading me to let them be my housemaid. Some even gave me the offer of a try-free-for-a-week before hiring! In Bangalore - I found it easier to give up the search and do all the work myself. Finding your soul-mate could be infinitely easier than finding a not-too-demanding housemaid in Bangalooru. I am not exaggerating.

Photo: Rajesh Sundaram

I think the answer to this conundrum is in two factors - supply and willingness. Sure, Bangalore gets its share of immigrants - but mostly white collar workers. Whereas Mumbai gets a lot more people from the lower income group, who are ready to
- cook for you,
- take care of your baby,
- mow your lawn (oops sorry, who has a lawn in Mumbai except maybe the Ambanis!),
- drive you around,
- deliver hot breakfast, lunch and dinner right to your doorstop everyday for an amount that wouldn’t get you from Koramangala to M. G. Road in an autorickshaw in Bangalooru,
- deliver eggs and fresh bread everday,
- clean your loos,
- deliver your grocery and vegetable shopping at the touch of a phone call,
- take your dog for a walk while you watch the soaps,
- clean the window panes of your car at the traffic signal,
- give you a smooth shave and even a massage in the street.
And of course, shine your shoes maybe?

You don’t have to be rich to afford all this in Mumbai. Case in point – my maid in Mumbai had her own maid to clean her house! There are so many people willing to work in Mumbai that even if a part of the society wouldn’t want to do this work, there’s always another sizeable group who would welcome it as an opportunity to make their living.

The second factor is willingness (for want of a better word). Most of the shoe shiners you would see in Mumbai are boys aged anywhere between 5 - 20 years. There are apparently 600 shoe-shine boys at 28 suburban railways stations in the city. In Bangalore, you would find that homeless boys prefer to beg/steal/sell-pirated-DVDs rather than shine shoes.

Agreed that there are people who beg for a living in Mumbai as well, but is it the egalitarianism of people in Mumbai that would have them stoop to shine shoes rather than stretch their hands out to beg?

Thoughts welcome.

Unrelated, but shocking

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Queen of my life

Warning: Guys may want to stay away from this post. It is not offensive, but you might not get it and don't blame me for wasting your time if you paid no heed.

I was feeling slim today. Period.

Nope, I am not on a diet and nope, I haven’t lost weight. I still can't get into my fav pair of jeans, but I still feel slim.

Let me explain - I am a little crazy. I have these special days when I feel slim and then not so special days when I feel fat. The feeling is so heightened that on the good days I feel like a supermodel! It might sound silly, but it’s true and it affects my entire day. I feel fat or slim exactly the same way you might feel happy or sad. A state of mind.

So today was one of those ebullient days. I got up to an endorphin rush like never before. It felt I-love-my-life-and-wouldn’t-trade-it-for-anything-in-the-world good! From then on, it just got better and better. Lovely day outside, fixed myself a sumptuous breakfast fit for a queen and my iPOD decided to play all my fav songs in the shuffle mode on the way to the tube station. The tube was waiting for me at the station and there was actually one seat empty and I got to sit in the tube! Believe me, when it comes to getting lucky on the tube, I actually had better chances of winning the 130mn Euro lottery (which I didn’t btw).

I reached my destination station in a record 20 minutes (Whoa!). It was a bright day outside (what are the chances!), birds chirping, people smiling and making way for me in the footpath (unbelievable because usually little women like me get stepped on during the peak time stampede), the fruit-vendor offered me a box of fresh strawberries free along with my usual fruits-to-go, and, to top it all - all the walk signs at the traffic lights turned green as I approached them…….red carpet all the way!

I could almost feel the blinding flashlights from the paparazzi as I took each step! I felt like the Queen.

Then I entered my workplace and reached my cubicle and everything fell back into my uneventful middle-class life.

WTH, I am the queen of my life, aren’t I?

Sunday, April 06, 2008

The Swiss get to see me

I am pretty sure they were quite happy about it too. Why wouldn't they be when I contributed about £1000 to the Swiss economy.

To give you some background, I was in Switzerland for the Easter weekend and the four day trip is the most expensive vacation I've ever had and am sure it will retain its position for some time to come. Now that I've established that a view of the Swiss Alps is not for those whose wallets are on diet, let's move on to talk about things that you can't really put a price on.

Day 1

I spent two weekends planning meticulously for this four day trip. Thanks to major delays to our flight, our Day 1 was reduced to a train travel from Zurich airport to our hotel in Interlaken.

Travelling in a Swiss train is an experience. The rail network is well connected and the entire system runs like a freshly oiled engine. Trains are punctual to the second - please note that I am NOT exaggerating.

If you think that being late by a minute or two wouldn't matter, my dear friend, you will meet your match in this country.

View from the bus-stop

Train travel is comfortable, but doesn't come cheap. Most trains come with large windows which let you have a good view of the picture perfect landscape that this country is blessed with. Don't bother to take a book with you to Switzerland, my bet is that, you might never even open it.

Day 2

We stayed in a hotel in Interlaken so that we would have good access to the famous Alps and also, we wouldn't be more than 2 hours away from the other places of interest. But then, you are never too far from the Alps at any place in Switzerland.

The hotel we stayed in was one of the best kept of its kind I've lived in. The Swiss enjoy very high quality of life, and it reflects in their hotels. Rooms are spacious, good amenities, reasonably priced, spotlessly clean - makes you feel right at home.

Day 2 was spent exploring snow covered Murren, Schilthorn peak, the revolving restaurant - which has been venue to a 007 movie (On her Majesty's Secret Service) and lots of travel in mountain trains and cable cars that give you the best view possible of the Swiss Alps and the Ski trails that dot the area.

Murren is a small village on the way to the Schilthorn peak. At the time of our visit it was covered in a feet of snow - it could have easily been the set for The Chronicles of Narnia, the movie. And for someone who was getting to meet Mr. Snow for the first time, this day was easily the highlight of the trip.

Snow clad Murren

Supposedly the population in this village is only 400, but has 5000 hotel beds! There are snow machines all over the place to ensure that it's always a good time to ski. Talk about milking tourism.

Swiss Alps

Schilthorn, part of the Bernese Alps, is around 9700ft high. Not too far lay the more popular Jungfrau. To get to Schilthorn from Interlaken, you have to take a train ride up the mountain and a short walk in Murren and a series of cable car rides to the peak.


The attraction at Schilthorn peak is the revolving restaurant, Piz Gloria. Though the food here isn't something to write about, the view is. The restaurant does a full 360 degrees rotation in an hour, perfect to have your lunch and view the Swiss Alps. When you realise that the only other alternative is to walk around in -10 degrees to get the same view, you would appreciate the warm innards of this restaurant.

The evening was spent exploring the Interlaken promenade. Swiss knives, cheese, watches, and the Swiss bells (made famous by DDLJ) were everywhere as expected. So were the cows. Not the real ones, but small figurines and strange art involving cows. We even saw a park in the middle of the city area, which had a sign that had a cow on it saying "Access for me only". Not very surprising, considering that they have to keep their cows happy to produce all those melt-in-your-mouth chocolates. But strangely, we didn't spot a single real life cow.

Who threw the cow into the wall?

Day 3

I occassionally remind myself and others around me that I am not as smart as I seem by doing something very foolish. I pulled a couple of these in this trip. The one that I regret the most was planning to visit Bern on our Day 3, which fell on the Easter Sunday.

Not only was it cold, but the entire city was shut down. We were there to see the museums, the huge gallery of shops, the restaurants - basically the works. But everything that would have been fun had a board 'closed' on it. It felt like walking in a ghost town.

Thankfully, the public transport was available and we took our own sweet time in travelling around. The tourist centre was open too ( I wonder why, considering that everything else was closed) and we got see a special effects video presentation of the history of Bern.


A steep climb to Rose garden to get a panoramic view of the Bern skyline was the only other highlight.

Ogre fountain

Oh yeah, the city had some weird fountains too. One of them was of an ogre carrying some human babies in a sack and snacking on them whenever he felt like.

Clock tower

And there was this huge colourful clock which put up a big show whenever an hour passed by. Apparently, the clock is a very sophisticated one, which could tell one the day of the week, the position of planets and the sign of zodiac. A good idea for a science project maybe, but on a clock, really? Heard of KISS? I should probably shut up, considering that Swiss clocks and watches are considered almost sacred.

Day 4

The last day was a lazy day which we spent on the Golden Pass Line panoramic train. A must do on a Swiss trip, the panoramic train routes are quite scenic and once again, you would just forget about that book in your bag.

Golden Pass Panoramic train

We were supposed to explore Zurich before heading back to London. But heavy snowfall and I-am-sick-darling spouse confined us to Zurich airport for an additional couple of hours.

If you are planning to take a trip to Switzerland, some pointers for you

- It is expensive, if I haven't made it clear before. A rough break-up of our expenses (2 persons): Air tickets £220, Accommodation 3 nights £150, Swiss Rail Pass First class upgrade £220, Mountain travel £100, Food, chocolate, souvenirs £250. Expect the prices to go north in the summer.

- Food is more expensive than in London. Veggies are ignored and would be left with no option but to stick to break and/or cheese sandwich and/or soup. Good news is that their bread is to die for. I have to warn you, if you are a lacto-ovo-vegetarian like I am, and you order for scrambled eggs desiring to eat something other than bread and cheese, your scrambled eggs might arrive socialising intimately with some bacon strips. You have been warned.

- While we on the topic of food, Cheese fondue is expensive, but worth the money.

- Rail travel is quite expensive too, but definitely worth it considering the ease of travel. Double-decker buses are no big deal, but the Swiss have double-decker trains too. And most trains have private rooms which you can use if you have a First class ticket.

- There are no ticket barriers like in London, but there are ticket inspectors in every train who make sure that you don't get a free ride in their trains.

- Buses are not too frequent in Interlaken, but they are punctual to the second too. And again, not exaggerating. I wonder how they do it.

- This is not really a tip, but a general wondering. If you ignore the obese tourists, almost all Swiss people are quite fit. I wonder how they do that too! With all the cheese and wine and chocolate that goes inside them!

- Language could be a problem if you can't fork out basic German. It'll be useful to carry a German-English dictionary or memorise some phrases. Most hotel managers and train inspectors would be able to manage some English, but if you ask the waitress for some sugar, make sure that you taste it before adding the salt to your coffee.

- If you are a movie buff, like my hubby, and somehow convinced your spouse that a vacation without a movie is like a coffee with salt, you might be left disappointed. Most movies are dubbed in German.

- The Swiss are quite efficient and friendly, but somehow are also reserved. our hotel manager was this middle-aged guy who was quite helpful and friendly, but never smiled, even when we flashed our best smiles to him. My hubby and I had a bet going to find out which one of us would be able to get him to lighten up. I tried my PJs, tried some praise - nothing worked. And no one won the bet. Same happened with bus drivers, shop vendors etc. Friendly but aloof. Go figure the Swiss!

- Make sure to visit the Switzerland Travel centre for some free consultation to plan your holiday. They have an office in Central London. You can book package tours and buy the Swiss Rail Pass in advance from them.

If you read this entire post, you deserve to see some more pics.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Come spring every year, they get the fortunate chance to turn a new leaf. They take the risk and sacrifice their lives in winter and wait for the right time to be reborn. To start a new life. Every year. Year after year. They come back as beautiful and fresh as ever.

Come to think of it, they are never more than a year old anytime! And every time, they are born a different leaf, a different flower, a different tree. Lucky ones, don't you think?

But hold on. Not as lucky as we are. We *can* do that every second of our life.

The power is in the cognisance.