Monday, March 23, 2009

Dance your troubles away...I do !

''Music was born before Language'' - Music definitely made more sense to the primitive man than all those signs and carvings on the wall and what not ! Music definitely did evolve before langauges since music by itself was a language everyone could understand. Classic example: Starting from Sadhana Sargam to my father, there are numerous people who can sing in a language they totally dont understand !

hmmm...if I push the same argument for dance....well, Isadora Duncan, the American dancer (and apparently the mother of modern dance) replied to a question as to when she started dancing as ''my mother's womb''....tapping the tiny tiny feet (and making the mom-to-be totally crazed with happiness) is dancing too :)

I cannot remember how many times I have caught toddlers jumping up and down or simply moving to the rhythm they enjoy....its definitely a wonderful way of expression....! And somewhere along the way, when one grows up and becomes self-conscious, this form of expression is pushed to the back and probably takes a front seat only when one is in love or India wins the world cup :D

I do not know if was born that way or the soceity made me that way....I can never stop ''dancing'' anytime I hear a good number.....dancing as in tapping the feet, rocking the head and everything possible that the situation permits ! That being said, Bharathanatyam was always one of my desires...fuelled by the fact that I lived right next door to a natyalaya which Balamurlikrishna frequented. Time and moneywise, it never worked but that dint stop me form learning mudras and some basic steps from friends who did attend classes and thanks to my school annual day and arts club functions that one year I was performing Manipuri in a how-do-you-manage-with-this-ring costume and another year tamil folk in a sungudi sari. Ofcourse there were always the bollywood numbers one peforms in a wedding or a get-together and the less-approved-but-maximum-fun thappankuthu with friends ;) :D

Leaving India basically made me miss out on a lot of things and dancing was one of them. It took me a while to realise that I should be using this opportunity to maybe attend dance classes (the first ones in my life) and learn the western or more so the European dance. I still remember how weird (good weird) it felt when I signed up for tap dancing lessons at the university.

The first time I wore those shoes with those metal fastenings (that create the ‘tap’), I was bursting with excitement and thinking about all kinds of figures and poses….and guess what I learnt in the first class – how to walk !!! True, there is a posture, an elegance that has to accompany a normal walk and still make sure there is but one ‘unified’ tap sound at any moment, irrespective of the number of dancers…and boy ! Germans do like to be perfect. At the end of the class, I was left with confused feelings; jubiliation that I had taken the plunge and disappointment that I had learnt really little in an hr ! At the end of the course, I had learnt a few interesting steps and above all had thoroughly enjoyed the experience that I made a mental note that I was going to this regularly. Well…time decided otherwise….I graduated and could no longer take part in the student courses and this was followed my moving to another city for my job. All this waiting was at times annoying…but the wait was well worth it since I found a great dance school and during my first lesson I knew that it was the best place to be!

Lead and let lead

What I hadn’t counted on was how the whole concept of ballroom dancing depended on ‘the man leads and the woman follows’ ! I was used to our very own desi dancing where the girl has her own feminine steps with her flowing skirt, colorful bangles, henna hands….and even if there is a pair dancing they have similar and/or complementary steps and the only thing they care about is rhythm. But in ballroom dancing, the man decides what steps to do and when. This means how a pair of dancers look totally depend on when and how he makes the girl aware of his intentions (dancing intentions, that is !), in short, you need a good leader more than a good dancer !

Needless to say, my first unofficial ballroom dance lesson was a catastrophe. I was so psysched not only because of the hitherto-not-used-to-physical-contact but with the whole concept of how I had to follow directions to that meant only expression and independence to me, dance that only meant ''shake to the rhythm''....! So distracted was I with these that I had trouble even getting the basic steps right, steps I had done before scores of times seeing the TV. I was disappointed and embarassed. This actually made me sign up with a dance school with a vengeance and from then on, I have never looked back !! I definitely have to sit down and jot down the stories of my ballroom dancing...someday....

One thing that has remained unchanged all along is how a bit of dancing (or simply jumping around in the pretext of dancing :D) always cheers me up and brightens my day (irrespective of how dull and grey it may be outside) dont let the dancer in you sleep....let him/her stay awake, jump and enjoy all there is to life :)

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Me, Amitabh Bachchan and Egypt

When I first landed in Cairo and the car driver who took me to the hotel said ''Indian ?.....I know Amitabh Bachchan'' I beamed with pride and thought Big B really is one of his kind ! The same thing happened with the porter, the waiter and at the end of the day my enthusiasm, on hearing the tall man being mentioned, had dropped way down and there came a point in the next couple of days when I was totally annoyed and actually said I come from China....well, I will get to that story later !

Before anything, spending a week in a country that needs atleast 2 weeks for a tourist to get a glimpse of everything was not a great idea but given the time and budget constraints I had to make the best of it.

Where did I go: Cairo, Giza, Aswan, Luxor, Kom Ombo, Edfu, Bitter lake (Ismailia and Fayed)

What ''touristy'' things did i do: Saw the pyramids (duh?), temples, carpet weaving, papyrus making, perfume palace, took a camel ride, horse-carriage ride, felucca ride, nile cruise, bought souvenirs among others...

What was Amazing

Journey to the afterworld: Pyramids, Sarcophagi, Mummies, Shrines.....When I think about it, all of it aim at making the journey to the afterworld easy and comfortable. I cant help wondering about how much thought has been given to this when for eg., the whole mummification process, a miracle in the world of medicine is to keep the body intact when the soul returns. The 4000 yr old pyramids, an unbelievably geometrically perfect construction is nothing but a pharaoh's tomb....almost every wonder revolves around their belief that they will rise again after death and I am filled with awe w.r.t their belief in eternal life and as to how this has gone on for generations when noone ''practically'' did rise from the dead (the Mummy movie suddenly makes a whole lot of sense than it did before !)

I have always grown up with the belief that there is something spiritual about the journey to the afterworld and you become one with God. So initially when I heard about how the tombs have the clothes, jewels, furniture and all other personal belongings of the deceased so that when he/she ''comes back'' they feel at home, this need for materialistic pleasure kind of bothered me but when I think of all the rituals that I do at home and in the temple in the form of prayers, I understood that people do have a way of expressing their beliefs and the form of expression and their perspective need not necessarily define or defy the belief itself !

Nile Cruise: I have read about it, seen it on TV but nothing compares to how it actually is ! The vast nile as far as you can see, the scenic villages on either side with the desert beyond will stay in my mind forever. Added to this are the comforts of modern times - great cabins, sun decks, delicious breakfast/lunch/dinner buffet. There is more to come though - the places where the boat docks - be it Aswan or Luxor or Kom Ombo or Edfu there is a beautiful 3000 year old temple waiting for you !

Mummification: Learning about the process is one thing but seeing 3000+ year old mummies where you can actually still identify the person, spot his manicured nails, notice his teeth is spooky and amazing !!

Luxor City: The nile in the middle, the majestic Valley of Kings and Hatepshut's temple (this time I was replaying Mummy in my head - movies really are educational !) on the west bank and the karnak and Luxor temples on the east bank make Luxor a perfect tourist destination. Inspite of tourists flocking to this place and the local population, the city is so well maintained and makes you wonder if you are suddenly in a developed country ! I would most definitely recommend staying in Luxor instead of Cairo.

Temples: When I was searching online for tourist information I came across tips from quite a few Egyptologists (I dint know the word existed !) and when I saw the temples, I perfectly understood why ! Knowing the stories and the meaning of each figure or hieroglyphic in one of the temples would take years ! Just seeing them and getting only the ''tourist-guide'' information takes half a day for every temple and to think that there were built 2000 or 3000 years ago is simply mind-blowing ! I saw only the Karnak temple at night and in daylight and I was overwhelmed in both cases (obvious from my use of exclamation marks, eh ?!)

Perfumes: When you enter a perfume palace (thats how these places are called) you get a demonstration of how the perfume holders (beautiful bottles) are made (If you have been to Disneyland and seen glass making, its pretty much the same). Then you are taken to an area with oriental couches and end tables with beautiful vases. I would think it would be impossible for anyone who sits there to leave without buying anything !

This is followed by a very friendly salesman offering you Hibiscus tea (I am not a tea person and to me it tasted like one of those teas I drink when I am down with flu). He then offers you a few essences that you can try on. Now comes the amazing part - almost every essence reminds you of a Calvin klein or Hugo boss or some other branded perfume you have tried on sometime. Sometimes he dares you to find out the brand and then goes on to explain how these essences are used to produce the perfume bottles that stare at us from all duty free shops !

I ended up buying a 25ml sample and the pure essence is so strong that I am sure I am going to end up using it for as long as I live !

What was a let-down

The Sphinx: Thanks to all the movies, I have always imagined the pyramids and Sphinx looming high in the middle of a desert....when I got there, my first disappointment came from the pyramids being so close to civilisation....for God's sake, there is a pizza place right in front of the sphinx !!!

All the pictures of the Sphinx with the pyramids in the background show the head of the sphinx just a little below the top of the pyramids. Even when Obelix climbs the Sphinx in ''Asterix in Cleopatra'' its quite an effort for him and that is enough for me (:D) to think of the Sphinx as a ''mammoth''. I was totally shocked on seeing how small (relatively, that is) it looks in reality.....when I saw it, I had to quickly erase and rewrite everything I had seen and heard of it (see, the problems of expectation....sigh...)

Beverages: Seeing all the oriental tea and coffee cups/saucers made me wait with anticipation when I first ordered coffee and I couldn't help but laugh when the waiter brought Nescafe and our very own lipton dip tea ! Not once did I have freshly made coffee or tea anywhere.

Jam-packed Tours: All or rather most guided tours in Egypt are planned to pack as much as possible within a day. This is rather difficult when you want to stop and admire a few inscriptions or decipher a few heiroglyphics in one of the huge temples. Most tourist guides (all of them are required to pass a course and get an id from the govt.) know only the ''key'' stories (say, about Cleopatra and Ceasar) and have little knowledge about the actual history. Nor do they appreciate questions like ''Is Ramses related to Ram ?'' (''Ra'' actually refers to a God in Egyptian history).

Interesting/bizarre facts/incidents

Toilet paper: hehehe....I never thought I would say there was something interesting about toilet on.....I went to the loo and when I noticed there was no toilet paper I came back to ask the lady-in-charge and she came towards me with a toilet paper roll. As I stretched my hand to take it from her, she takes a few plies from it and hands it to me !!!! I really thought she was being funny but when I saw her do the same thing to another woman behind me, I realised that somehow there was restricted paper supply and although, I was hoping against hope that it was confined to that restroom only I knew it would be in vain. God knows how embarassing it was when I had to ask different ladies-in-charge that I would need a few more squares....kadavule....!!! It was during one of these moments, that ''Indian ?....Amitabh Bachchan'' surfaced again and I ended up saying ''China'' !

Entrance fees: Entrance fees are almost as high as what one would pay in Europe and in some cases, even higher. I paid almost 120 euro in just entrance fees and whats more, they are increased on a weekly basis. In one case, my lonely planet guide, published 2 months ago said 65 egy. pounds while my guide said it had increased to 80 the previous week but the actual fare I paid was 100 !

Belly Dancer: Remember seeing the girl who made coins dance over her belly button just by her graceful movements in the Guinness book of records ? Well, you should get rid of that picture when you get ready to watch some belly dancing in Egypt. Unless you are in the dance bar of Oberoi or Hilton hotel, expect the belly dancer to really have a huge belly ! One cant actually complain since tourism contributes to a major part of the country's economy i.e becoming tourist guides or belly dancers are career options that will definitely pay.

Pounds - english or egyptian? In front of one of the sites, there was a man selling stone minatures and he had 3 quite good pieces in his hand and he kept shouting ''10 pounds for 3''. I was tempted to take a look and when he asked how I wanted to pay, I said pounds and he says he was shouting the price in english pounds and the price in egyptian pounds was 100 for the 3 (Even with the exchange rate 10 english pounds are about 80 egy. pounds !). I was irritated and amazed at his marketing skill....I totally laughed in his face and started walking away and his price when I got into the car was 20 egy. pounds ! I still did not buy those since I couldn't bring myself to encourage his ''false'' marketing !

Blame it on the Onions ! The plight of onions in Egypt is really sad. Every waiter seems to blame everything on it. In one place, when I needed a different spinach dip instead of salsa, the waiter points to the onions in picture in the menu and says ''chicken...not vegetarian...salsa very good''....good strategy to save him from some effort but not good enough ! Weirdly enough, in another restaurant the mixed vegetables had small pieces of meat and when I pointed those to the waiter trying to explain for the umpteenth time that I am a vegetarian, he says ''No meat...fried onions'' !!!

Sarcasm/Humour: Here are some samples.....

In a restaurant - I ask the waiter where the restroom is. He says ''restroom today holiday''. I wasnt sure if I understood him right and so I repeated my question and he says the same thing again, only more earnestly....silence....then he bursts out laughing at my bewildered look and points me to the restroom ! dhoda !

In a taxi - After a long ride, I hand him 320 egy. pounds and asked him to check it since it was made up of multiple denominations. He counts it and says ''there is 420'' and says ''my tip'' with a big smile and while I am thinking ''oh..dear God'' he totally cracks up....ahaa....kelambitangayya, kelambitanga !

In the perfume palace - I had a cold and when the salesman noticed it, he offered to let me smell a ''mint'' essence for relief and I told him, back home, we have a similar remedy - the eucalyptus. He brought back a glass which has fumes rising from it and asked me to smell it. He asked me if it was good and although I was able to smell nothing I wanted to be polite and so nodded while he laughs and says ''this is just boiled water'' and then adds the essence to it ! well, I made a mental note that I gotta learn to say ''No'' !!

Inside a temple - I ask my tour guide if he would take a picture of me and the gang and he gives me an irritated look and says ''no''. This time though I am ready for him and say ''yeah, right'' and hand him the camera but he still continues to stare at me and I stare at him and he finally relents and smiles.....idhu ennadhu idhu, chinnapilla thanama illa irukku...!

There were also some ''adults-only'' jokes though none of them were intended to be offensive...thankfully !

Cuisine: Although egyptian cuisine includes a lot of meat, the variety of salads, rice and sweets make it a good place for vegetarians too ! In Egypt, Kebab and Koftas are NEVER vegetarian. This is especially for those who are used to veg. koftas and kebabs in the numerous turkish stands in Europe .

Attitude towards Indians: Egyptians identify a lot with Indians right from skin color to carpets from Kashmir to sandalwood cosmetics from India. Above all, everyone seems fascinated with Big B, Mithun Chakravarthy, Amjat khan (One guy even mentioned Gabbar Singh !). Also they are used to Indians traveling to Egypt from the Middle East. In some cases, it works to one's advantage but in some cases it might end up in a second-class treatment since we are not exactly ''foreigners''.

left to right from Reading: Looking at the Internet pages that I look at normally and reading them from right to left in Arabic was quite interesting !

What totally reminded me of India

Traders/shopkeepers: 20 years of training in bargaining and haggling over prices with numerous shopkeepers in India came in quite handy. Prices stated were inevitably atleast 10 times the normal price. Plus the shopkeeper also was generous in his compliments w.r.t good looks and happy family and abt how he liked Indians ! I really felt bad for the foreigners with no or minimal experience in such verbal combat !

Lipton Dip Tea: Anytime, anywhere, ordering tea inevitably meant getting a cup of hot water with a lipton dip in it !!! When I ordered tea at the Bombay airport and paid 60 rupees for it, I was shocked to get a lipton dip tea and failed to understand why anyone would prefer that over freshly made chai, in India, the land of Tea !?!?!

Driving: Driving is as chaotic as in India only at higher speeds ! There is no concept of blinking, blind spot, sticking to your lane or taking care while overtaking. If you have a car with a loud horn, you are good to go !

Hospitality: Making tourists really welcome, trying to accomodate your needs - I attended a show that went on till 9:30 pm and since I knew I was going to miss the dinner buffet at 7 pm, I had asked the manager if it was possible to save some food for me. Not only did I get warm food served in my room at 10:00 pm after I came back but I got 3 plates full of all the vegetarian food and sweets they had available in the buffet. I am sure that I wouldn't have tasted all of them had I gone to the buffet myself !

Tipping: Everyone and literally, everyone expects a tip (and some in euros !)

Wooing: Many youngsters just give you ''looks'' and murmur something in Arabic but those who want to flaunt their knowledge of english say ''beautiful lady'' or ''nice''...

The urge to say yes even when its a no: Nobody will ever agree that something is not possible. they will say ''we can do it, my friend'' but that really doesnt mean anything until its actually done!

All said and done, I had a trip involving 4 flights, more than 3 cars, a felucca, a boat, a horse-carriage and a camel and I still managed to stick to schedule and not lose any of the baggage - I would call that a great trip !

.......and I have already thought out an itinerary for my next visit (I can already see myself staying in Luxor, making a day trip to Abu Simbel, another to the middle of the desert, a short flight to Cairo to visit the remaining portions of the Egyptian museum and the library in Alexandria!) whenever that might be !

Disclaimer: I have loosely used ''I'' everywhere since it makes it easier to write but the views here are shared by the gang and me.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Adiga's White Tiger and India

''There is danger for him who taketh the tiger cub, and danger also for whoso snatches a delusion from a woman.'' - Sherlock Holmes agrees with this and so do I.

him - Aravind Adiga, the author of the booker prize winner, The White Tiger
Delusion - my picture-perfect India

Thankfully, I have an outlet, my blog, to stop the danger from manifesting itself in my temper or elsewhere :)

To be fair to the A man, the book is kept simple, is well-written and would make a good read for many. I only wish I agreed with him more often or he had chosen a subject that was less dear to my heart.....if you have not read the book and want to, here is where you should stop.

The book is about an Indian from a small town in North India who turns an entrepreneur and his journey to get there; filled with different experiences, many of them disturbing but not totally untrue and hence all the more disturbing !

1.Balram's (the protagonist) life starts in a huge poor uneducated family who work all their life for blood-sucking landlords - not so bad, I know the population, illiteracy and working class problems prevalent in India

2.He moves to the city and becomes a car driver - oh..well, the story is getting better

3.He contemplates murdering his boss - now that's a twist.....

4.He actually does so and gets away with it - oh...dear God....

5.He uses the money he stole from his boss to become a entrepreneur - this is definitely going to become a movie and win an Oscar as well, following the footsteps of slumdog !

Let me look at each of these steps in detail and then I can probably explain (also to myself) why my filters were working at full speed !

1. Balram's father is a rickshaw driver and dies from TB. All his life he has supported his huge family and finally dies due to lack of money and medical attention. This snippet actually encompasses lack of proper labour/regulated wages rules, exploding population and lack of affordable medical facilities. To spice this up, there is the added dowry problem that is prevalent and the vicious circle - even a poor family expects dowry for a son since they need to give it for a daughter !

Why is his family illiterate ? Why are they unable to equip themselves for any trade ? Why is the rickshaw driver or for that matter, his father, insistent on having a huge family when they can hardly feed themselves, leave alone the other family members ? What is happening to the birth-control campaigns ?

Why is there still dowry when the Govt. has umpteen rules against getting and giving it ? Why do people insist on doing it ? Yes, there are many unanswered questions, many issues and many changes that are long-due but it drives me mad when someone just points it out in a flurry of words and more so, point only those out that hurt me and my delusion of my India....

2. Balram describes the life of a driver in Gurgaon - waiting outside shopping malls, expensive restaurants....waiting and waiting never knowing when the boss is going to return and only dreaming about the expensive places which are probably 10 feet from where he is standing but still unreachable....

Isn't it part of a driver's job to wait and drive around a person ? What would happen if security personnel get sick of watching over places and baby-sitters get tired of taking care of kids ?

It is true that the economic disparity drives a lot of crime -what would someone do when he doesn't even have money to buy food and his neighbour is spending the money for his month's worth of groceries on a perfume ?! I remember seeing a video on how much 500 rupees was worth to people from different walks of life - for someone it was branded underwear while for someone else it was a month's school fees.

Also, throughout the book, the way servants are treated in India is ridiculed. I fail to understand how this is different or any better, in any other part of the world, be it a developed country or otherwise.

In India, it is true that there is a distinct separation of the so-called working class. But I remember how the maid who worked in my house had her meals with us, how she got new clothes and a bonus for every celebration.....we had a personal relationship with her....! It is sure different in developed countries where the relationship is based on wages but how many people actually socialize with their drivers ?! Are'nt there exclusive clubs and golf courses where such people are not even allowed to be members even if there is a chance ?!

3. Balram is fed up with his corrupt boss and his ways. He cant help thinking that there is no harm in taking the money his boss makes through illegal means. He figures the only way he can get away with what he steals is by killing his boss - the time the news takes to reach the authorities would give him a headstart.

I could have thought of Balram as Robin hood. But all he wanted to do was to start a business and make money so that he would stop being a servant, so that he can go to 5-star hotels and other places where he was never allowed to set foot in. He simply wanted a ''free lunch''. I agree that years of suppression, and of seeing his family struggle made him probably justify his end - the author calls it freeing himself from the rooster coop.

4. He murders his boss, takes the cash and takes a train to South India.

I know one sees this often in movies but is it really that easy to get away with murder ? I believe the author himself is not sure of this and hence the disclaimer inserted in a sly way at the end of book that Balram, inspite of his success as an entrepreneur, can still get arrested any day....

5. Like many others, he makes Bangalore his haven

He starts his own call-taxi business, which will obviously prosper in Bangalore given that all MNCs have to transport their woman employees home at god forsaken hours only because their American colleagues always choose to schedule meetings at their time.

I wouldn't have been surprised if the story had taken a turn and said that Balram murdered one of the women he was transporting just because she refused to marry someone like a taxi-business sure glad that dint happen.....

The only place where I agreed with the author is his description of how drinking coffee and tea are totally different.

Its a ''raw'' book and makes a good read if you have a long flight but I wouldn't read it again even if someone put a gun to my head.

Disclaimer: This is NOT a book review, just my views and exclusively mine only !

Monday, March 9, 2009

Billions of blue blistering barnacles.....

''I trust that age doth not wither nor custom stale my infinite variety''

I flatter myself that this is not just true of Sherlock Holmes ;). I flatter myself again that I am justified in flattering myself in the aforesaid way because of what I learn, experience and share from traveling, knowing people from different walks of life and above all, reading.

A friend once said - ''You read like a road-runner !''.....its true that I am voracious reader and I have to thank my father for sowing in me the love for Reading. I have many fond memories of growing up with Tintin, Tinkle, Spiderman, Champak, Gokulam, Amar chitra katha, Asterix and then moving on to Hardy boys, Famous Five, Secret Seven, Nancy Drew and finally to the likes of John Grisham, Sidney Sheldon, Robin Cook, Raymond Chandler and so many more authors, the most cherished one being Conan Doyle ! I still remember the first time I read the adults-only part in a Sheldon book, blushed and skipped the pages in a hurry feeling guilty....! I have the whole Tintin-Asterix collection at home and to this day, my favorite past time is reading one of those and laughing like crazy at billions of blue blistering barnacles, Calculus interpreting jack-in-a-box as chicken-pox...ROFL.....

Many times I have a made a mental note that when I am a parent, my kids will learn to read and learn to love books and grow up like I did (I am preserving the tintin-asterix collection with great care for their sake !) and not get completely engulfed in a world of video games, animations and computers ! If need be, I am ready to sell the TV and laptop until they start appreciating reading....if its War, its going to be tough! Well, maybe not the laptop, I have too many e-books on it that one can read :D

Thanks to Google and Wikipedia, there is probably nothing in this world that you cannot read about. Added to this are e-libraries and other e-sources like Scribd where you can find so many books that you want to read once but not archive. Even if you do want to archive, all you need is a hard drive. I find this a huge blessing since it saves me the hassle of storing my precious books and lugging them around in huge cartons when I move ! I am one of those people that can read a whole book online without having to print a single page (saving paper :D) but there are obviously exceptions to this where holding the book gives you half the satisfaction !

I have heard people complain that reading just gets you into trouble. This is probably true since reading gets rid of ignorance and ignorance is bliss. There are 2 ways around it - either you broaden your perspective such that no knowledge disturbs you or you create your own filters to absorb what you want to....but keep, read, read !

I have a lot to pour out about the most recent book I read - The White Tiger, where all my filters were working full time at F1 speed.....let me leave that discussion for my next blog.....

....until then, here is a link to a lot of e-books - - Happy Reading !

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Malta (no, its not a drink !)

I was in Malta last December and first off, it was a refreshing change weatherwise - from cold and grey to bright and sunny !

For non-geography enthusiasts, Malta is an island country in the Mediterranean, about 90 km off the coast from Sicily, Italy. Although it consists of many islands only Malta (island), Gozo and Comino are inhabited.

When I planned my trip to Malta, I really did not have any expectations (I practice what I preach, you will know what I mean if you had read my previous post :D) and so I was wonderfully surprised not only by the unspolit and picturesque landscape but also by the history (having read Da Vinci code, seeing the Grand master's place and the structures built by the order of the knights literally made my imagination run wild and I was playing a high-budget hollywood movie in my mind, one that was much better than the Tom Hanks one, even if I say so myself :D !)

What I liked (and would definitely recommend to anyone going to Malta):
- St.Paul's Catacombs, Rabat: Catacombs are ancient underground burial places. I was really impressed with the audio tour (If you are going to Malta I would suggest skipping the next few lines if you want to be surprised !). Unlike conventional tours, this one started with asking one to imagine living in Malta in the medieval times and ended with the speaker pointing to her grave...was surreal !
- Mdina: this is where my version of the Da Vinci code was made. It is an old town and the small streets as well as the 15th century buildings made it a perfect setting !
- Valleta: The capital city was simply beautiful...the view from the upper and lower baracca gardens left one totally stunned while the ornamental carvings in St.Paul's Cathedral made one go ''this really is one of a kind !''
- Gozo: No visit to Malta would be complete without a visit to Gozo by taking the ferry. People in Gozo are actually very proud of the fact that Gozo remains untouched by the pangs of development and industrialisation unlike Malta. Apparently, they were very happy when the Japanese project of building a bridge between Malta and Gozo was dropped.
- Christmas Celebration: Europe has a tradition of celebrating Christmas in its own quiet way...yeah, there is the usual shopping-for-presents rush and the decorated christmas trees but I really and truly missed the street decorations, the stars adorning balconies and the twinkle lights (that is very common in India) and Malta made up for all that and more. Every street in town was decorated, there was a beautiful crib in every corner and the churches were always full !
- What else: Mosta dome, the horse-driven carriage ride in Valletta, cathedral in Paula, the sandstone houses, the glass work, stalactite and stalagmite caves and above all, the mediterranean weather....

What I found interesting:

Culture: Maltese are very conservative and orthodox. Christmas carols were played everywhere (in restaurants, tourist places, even bars!). Dress codes were given in many places (I saw a sign in a grocery store that said thank you for coming in decently dressed !). It is apparently very normal for a girl to be married at 20. People on the streets were very hospitable and friendly and did not have the usual i-mind-my-business-you-mind-yours attitude.

Driving: Malta has very small streets and in many cases going uphill or downhill. So driving a manual and manouvering the car in such a way that you do not roll backward or hit a rear view mirror of a parked car was a very effective driving lesson ! Be prepared to get lost a few times while driving between cities if you are not used to roundabouts or reading a map or asking for directions!

Comino: No cars are allowed in Comino. People can take the ferry to reach the island and then explore the island on foot to enjoy the literally unspoilt nature or go deep sea diving to look at the equally unspoilt coral reef.

Chocolate Massage: They do not use edible chocolate for a massage, its just the beans (I know, i know, it should have been obvious but chocolate seems to drive all logical conclusions away :D !)

What I missed:
Nativity, at times: The influence of the British empire was blatant not only in english being one of the official languages and the left-hand driving but also in the numerous British pubs, British tourists and British electrical outlets !

Good vegetarian food: Maltese cuisine is primarily meat-based and the influence of the British made its unpleasant appearance here as well in the form of mint sauce and sweet pasta (pasta is the one vegetarian dish I always count on) ! But there is a silver lining since there is no issue of gaining a few pounds by going overboard with the local specialities.....

On the whole, if I had a chance I would definitely go back to Malta to relive my fond memories and to catch up on what I had missed out during my first visit !

Friday, March 6, 2009

What to expect when you are expecting ?

Naah..ah...if you are a mom or dad-to-be looking for info, you are totally in the wrong place....this blog is about 'expectations' - something people have or meet or exceed or break !

“The best things in life are unexpected - because there were no expectations.”

"With women, always expect the unexpected" - my addendum: with men, always expect nothing ;)

Surprises add color to life exactly for the same reason. This however should not be confused with what happens in your work life or with your partner. The key is to differentiate between responsibilities and expectations. With the former, you are fulfilling your duties (meeting a project deadline) and with the latter, you are enjoying life's little pleasures (getting a thank-you dinner from your boss). I could complicate this all the more and say, if you expect a thank-you dinner from your boss thinking that its his duty to do so.....well...tough luck....and grow up ! now, you get the picture, right ?

You would be surprised to see how a relationship based on no expectations works wonderfully well. There are no disappointments, no hard feelings and above all wonderful surprises ! Once you rid yourself of the temptation to expect, you will also learn to deal with all issues equivocally - life suddenly becomes full of interesting incidents and challenges !

My friend keeps saying ''I definitely do believe, if there is something we pass on to others, it should be the etching of their brains with the words - This too shall pass !''.It just means we ought to never get too excited or too dejected about anything - how true, how practical (probably a little less romantic...oh..well...all is fair in love and war :D)

I was talking with a friend a mine about another mutual friend - lets call him Ram. Ram is generally considered an opportunist while I know him as a very good person. When I was analyzing this difference in perspective, I realised what was going on. I reflected back on my conversations with Ram and discovered that we have never done any small talk (not the object oriented programming language, am referring to the conventional pleasantries, talking about the weather etc.). Any time I need something from him or vice versa, we just call or ping the other for it. This does not mean that we do not care for each other, it only means that it is so implicit and that we are such good friends that the need for small talk actually disappears ! I realized that Ram was taking the liberty of doing this with many others, whom he considered close and this ended in him being misinterpreted as an opportunist ! These people never gave him the ''benefit of doubt'' (from here on, BoD)

As I started looking around, I saw this happening umpteen times in a normal day where unreturned phone calls or emails, forgotten birthdays, missed appointments always inevitably ended in the relationship turning sour and never once did anyone get the BoD. This is where I am reminded of a wonderful quote about empathy - ''Be kinder than necessary for everyone you meet is fighting a battle'' - empathizing with anyone would take you a long way in becoming a better person and remember, to empathize with someone does not necessarily mean you agree with him/her.

I cannot honestly claim that I am not guilty of any of the aforesaid mistakes but I have had the opportunity to learn from them and trust me, life becomes a lot more interesting and cheerful, when you start practicing the this-too-shall-pass paradigm and BoD !

Let me leave you with another favorite quote of mine - “I do my thing and you do yours. I am not in this world to live up to your expectations, and you are not in this world to live up to mine. You are you and I am I, and if by chance we find each other, then it is beautiful. If not, it can't be helped.”

The retrieving process will continue.......

Why did I start blogging ? thanks to D !

I believe one has to answer this question to assuage the curiosity of the readers (and to save myself from explaining this to numerous people using numerous different media....)

So, why am I blogging ? D asked me to.

Who is D ? My e-friend (and I have to protect my e-friend's privacy!).

Is there a story behind this ? Ofcourse, read ahead.

Last month, I had a forward from one of my friends and the content was such that it prompted me to take the liberty of sending a reply with my views, not only to my friend but also to his friends in the CC. One of them wrote back and I am pasting the response here, verbatim - "I couldnt resist typing this email in response to your fast well-written and expressive email. I love this attitude of saying what you have to say, no matter what. I like your view point. Do you write articles? If you have not attempted, you should sometime. Trust me, if you are anything like me, you'll surely attribute a reasonable percentage of success in your relationships and profession to your blog, as all thoughts that occupy quite some space in your brain is out on paper, so you can keep it free to buy in more of thoughts and this blog or any writing for that matter keeps you sane and expressive most of the times. It works that way for me. "

Like Sherlock Holmes, I am accessible on the side of flattery too. So I gave D's response a serious thought.....there are two things that have always made me communicative (am known for writing long emails, without always hitting the reply button). Why ?
- I am a people person and I always stay in touch
- I have an opinion about almost everything under the sun

and lo....(imagine a sunrise with suitable music)....I decided to 'blog' (it is amazing how technology causes the language to evolve - for better or for worse is a matter of perspective!)

D was perfectly right. I feel so light and seem to have a clarity of thought when I have put everything down in black and white. I am really going to this often....thank you D !

Thursday, March 5, 2009

ARR Oscars, Slumdog millionaire and India

I am happy abt ARR's oscars for the reason that he and indian music get some international exposure. I do not know though if I should feel dissatisfied or proud that one of his not-so-bad compositions won the Oscar. Also, I am very concerned about the picture of India, painted by Slumdog Millionaire. There is no doubt that the movie has a really good story line and an effective screenplay but it was brutal reality and showing the most pathetic side of India to an international audience doesnt sound like such a good idea especially when many of them are unaware that civilization began with us (and the Egyptians and the Greeks). I realize the effect since I live in a foreign country amongst foreigners, many of whom have hardly any exposure to India. I had one of them ask me about the movie and I was actually glad he voiced it instead of just creating his own impressions and letting out caustic remarks some where, some time. I told him that if this was his first taste of India, I was sorry (and embarassed) about it and I gave him the swades DVD - also depicts reality but at the same time brings them out with a context and is evenly balanced !

This also made me wonder about why human beings have a tendency to like or appreciate bad news or misery -is it because the regular happy life is too mundane for us and we need a sort of perverted excitement from the wacky and unbelievably pathetic life of some less fortunate people ? The villain in ''Tomorrow never dies'' was right - no news is better than bad news ! Is this why the Pulitzer prize is awarded to a foto depicting an emaciated child in Somalia with a carcass on one side and a vulture waiting on the other side for the child to die and not a general webshots-like scenic pic ? Is this why White Tiger (another book depicting India at its worst) won the booker prize ? Is this why Balachandar movies are so popular - because almost none of them have the regular ''they-lived-happily-ever-after'' ending ?

I will be fair and look at the other side that art is at its best when the heart that represents it is moved and pained, substantiated with a lot of proof by numerous artists whose best works were done when they were heart-broken or in their death beds. The other point being spreading the ''naked'' truth awakens in some people, the desire to help, to reach out and do something for mankind and in some others, the hope to live and the yearning to cherish life, realizing how blessed they have been in comparison to the others.

I am not sure if I am saying all this to convince myself about the general human psyche or if this is a saving grace for my eternal optimistic attitude......but atleast it helps me assimilate the thoughts and not clutter my brain - I am strong believer of what Sherlock Holmes or rather Conan Doyle says w.r.t the brain being an attic with limited space and the more you store in it, the more cluttered it becomes and the more difficult it becomes to retrieve something that you often need ! (FYI: in case you havent read it already, I would suggest reading Sherlock Holmes. Even if you are not a detective story reader, I am sure you will appreciate the language and style of writing - complete collection is online

Well, now that my attic is a little less full (:D), I can move on to the smaller articles that I want to retrieve.....
Hit Counter
Website Hit Counter I had decided to have a counter only after I hit a 1000 views and since it happened last week (as on 14 Dec 2009), now is the time to see some stats :)