Sunday, April 25, 2010

The day I got mauled... a dog, would be today, the 25th of April, 2010 at precisely 5:48 pm while I was walking in the Theresienwiese, enjoying the weather and minding my own business...or at least that's what I thought....

I have always stayed away from dogs and when people asked me if I had had a bad experience, I would answer in the negative. That changed today. I actually just wrote a post about my relationship with animals - can dogs actually read or is this some weird jinx factor that I have aroused ?

Sunday with good weather means runners, children and above all dogs catching balls, running around, playing frisbee and simply basking in the sun with their owners. As I was humming ''Guzarish'' and walking along, a ''brilliant'' dog owner threw a ball towards the pedestrian path and I saw a tiny mean looking dog (don't know what kind) running towards it.

As luck would have it, it caught the ball just a feet away from me. I mustered all my courage and started walking away as if the dog wasn't there. Either it liked me or my shoes. It came towards my feet and my heart beat rose. I said loud enough for the owner to hear ''Ich habe Angst für Hunde'' (I am scared of dogs) and I don't know if he responded because by then I was focussing my attention on the dog that sniffed/licked my shoes and I said ''Aiyyo''....the dog probably understood Thamizh and it responded my jumping on me and I screamed !!

The dog jumped on me again and started biting my skirt (I was so glad I wore a long flowing skirt with layers instead of pants) and I am now in tug-of-war for my favorite skirt with the dog's teeth and all the while I am screaming my head off...I don't know how long this lasted, probably about 10 seconds but it seemed like an eternity to me. Finally the owner manages to tear the dog off my skirt and says ''sorry'' and walks away as if he just bumped into me !!!

There I am in the middle of a large ground, with a torn skirt, completely shook up, scared, embarassed with tears welling up in my eyes. I managed to pull myself together and started walking home (it was at least 1 km away) and I start wondering at how irresponsible the dog owner was and how I should have made him pay for the skirt !! I was also wondering about how no one in the whole place even offered to comfort me with a perfunctory ''are you ok'' !

I was hurrying to get home when I notice another dog running towards me and while I am thinking how in the world I am going to muster strength to deal with it, a Turkish guy stopped me, held my hand and said ''don't move'', the dog came, smelled me and left. He then says he saw the whole episode and he was shocked at the dog owner's behaviour and that I should go home and make sure that the dog did not actually make skin contact. Finally before leaving, he tells me ''never let a dog know you are scared''...I made a mental note to remember it but then its a whole other issue when you actually have to do it, right ?

I came home, took a dettol-shower (yup, I still use dettol!) and was relieved to find there were no teeth marks anywhere. I looked at my torn skirt and I remembered what my appa used to say whenever I bought any ragged looking, faded clothes in the name of fashion - ''ennadhu idhu, nai pidingina madhri irukku?''....for once, its actually true !!

I am a vegetarian and I have never knowingly hurt an animal but if it has to stay that way, all you pet owners out there, for God's sake, keep your pets to yourself !!!!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Its a dog's life....

...I finally have internet at home, the weather is great and I have not cooked for the last 3 days because of the numerous lunch/dinner invites I had…and you wonder why I call it a dog’s life….did I mention I was referring to a dog or dogs in Germany, dogs who sleep in mattresses that are most likely expensive than mine, with a choice of dog food that occupies a larger space than my cereal aisle in supermarkets and a selection of cat toys to play with (I have no similar analogy here since I am not one of those stuffed-toy-hugging-cho-chweet-saying girls).

I have never been an animal lover and I never will be. Lets say I have an I-stay-here-and-you-stay-there relationship with all animals. I always maintain a safe distance from all of them be it a cow or a bunny or a bull dog. I don’t pet them or ooh-aah at them but neither do I throw stones, I just mind my own business but that is very difficult to do in a place like Germany where you see more dogs than children.

It was my first month in Germany. I was in the bus and a man comes and sits across me. All was well until I suddenly saw his chest move, he was directly in front of me and I was totally psyched when I saw it. His chest still kept moving and while I was wondering if it was one of the WWF-Lex-Luger stunts (remember how he had those full size mirrors on the stage?), a tiny head came out of his jacket and my heart almost stopped. Only when I realized that it was his teeny tiny dog and he chose to keep it warm this way, my breathing became regular.

The concept of pets and the importance (exaggerated, in my view) given to them used to surprise me on a monthly or rather weekly basis, when I first came here. I have gaped at cat toys, chew toys for dogs, mouse toys for cats and even small trees that cats can climb! Then I learnt about all the vitamins and vaccines they needed. Then I saw the dog collars and bells that they used during different times of the day (the ones at night had a glowing light or a fluorescent strip) and in winter I learnt they had custom-made jackets and socks (is there another word??) to protect their paws. While I understood that the drastic changes in weather demand that the animals be treated with compassion, it was still overwhelming to see how much time, money and effort people spent on pets.

I grew up without any contact with animals whatsoever. I had lived in the city all my life in apartments, so I did not have the opportunity to see cows and goats grazing next door, birds chirping or bunnies in cages. But I have seen the scary stray dogs (that always seemed to follow me around wherever I went) and the herd of cows or buffaloes that looked timid while I was at a safe distance. In fact, in school I used to explicitly ask newcomers if they had dogs at home before I befriended them and those who did always knew that they should lock them up if they wanted me to visit them. And now I am in Germany, where I move around constantly in fear of being sniffed at and probably even licked by a variety of dogs…..this is probably God’s way of telling me to change my mind!

Actually dogs are the reason I never go running in the English Garden in Munich. I once saw a runner being chased by a snarling dog and as it was about to chew his tracks, the owner came whistling by around the corner on his bike, pointed to the dog and said with a huge smile 'he is harmless' and I thought 'adhu unakku theriyum, naiku theriyuma??' (You know that, but does the dog know too??)

The ironic moment came when I was waiting in front of the computer for an essay topic in my TOEFL exam and I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw the topic flash across the screen – “Should pets be treated as family”? Even more unbelievable was what I wrote – thanks to movies and books where the dog bounces over the fence to hug the hero or the cat purs on the heroine’s lap, I got a 6/6 score ! Of course I was not going to write what I have been writing so far in this post! I was pretty sure that the essay would be corrected by someone with 3 dogs and 2 cats and seeing my score, I probably guessed right! That was probably God’s way of preparing me for what I was going to see in Germany...only I missed the sign :D!

The best lesson is probably yet to come, in the form of my kids, who are going to end up being dog/cat/fish/hamster (and what-not) lovers !

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

''Appeal''ing Lawyers ?!

I never read the synopsis of a book (the few lines at the back that you read through that help you decide if you actually want to read the book) unless it is by an author I have never read before. I just finished the book, The Appeal by John Grisham and while I was thinking about the book, I turned it over and I was kind of shocked to see a sentence in the synopsis exactly voicing my thoughts - a story that will leave readers unable to think about the electoral process or judicail system in quite the same way ever again.

I love Grisham for the lack of sensationalism in his books. In fact, a few of them were considered so mundane that many of my friends refused to read or complete those books. Ofcourse he does have books where the hero, a smart lawyer, gets away with stealing millions of dollars from the bad guys but I am referring to those that make you learn, then pause and close the book for a while when you think, contemplate and wonder about why certain things are the way they are. The Appeal was one such book.

It starts with a trial between a chemical company, that dumps toxic wastes and contaminates drinking water (remember Erin Brockowich ?) causing cancer and other illnesses in people and 2 lawyers who defend the victims. The jury awards the victim around 43 million dollars as compensation. The victim in this case is a woman who has lost both her husband and child to cancer. There is a rather a gut-wrenching scene on the day of the verdict when the woman visits their graves and relives the memories of seeing both her dearest ones waste away in front of her eyes. At that point, it made me wonder how the 43 million dollars was going to be of any use whatsoever to her. Leaving the emotions aside, it will probably give her some financial stability and eventually, maybe even the strength to start a new family.

But the book runs on a different and rather dangerous course where the chemical company appeals the verdict in the supreme court and decides to get its way by electing one of its ''own'' to as the supreme court justice. The choice of an unsuspecting candidate, the mud-slinging-on-opponents campaign and the obscene amount of money involved really made me sick to the stomach. I agree that undeserving candidates and dirty elections are not unfortunately uncommon in a democracy but bringing a supreme court justice into the loop is scary, downright scary ! Irrespective of everything that happens today, the law always gives people hope and the supreme court is probably the highest place of refuge - sanctum sanctoram !

Liability laws seem to touch two extremes since there is a fine line between guaranteeing quality and consumer discretion. For example, a customer suing the coffee company for the coffee being too hot, according to me, is a mockery of the system. On the other end, prescription drugs, drugs that a normal person without medical knowledge would take purely based on the trust in the doctor, are subject to a higher degree of liability. Since the doctor's word carries a lot of weight, they are another bunch of people who constantly live in the fear of being sued. Yes, one should not make any errors when dealing with people's lives but they are human too ! Apparently most doctors in the US are heavily insured w.r.t liabilities (or in other words, the limit to which they can make errors ! I can't even believe liability insurance actually exists!).....why is going to a doctor with a really high liability insurance not a comforting thought ??

Mass-tort lawyers abusing every opportunity they get with class-actions is another example (Grisham has a book on this topic too - King of torts - would make you hate money-hungry lawyers even more, if you don't already). It refers to greedy lawyers trying to make the most out of a verdict i.e if the chemical company paid compensation to one victim, the mass-tort lawyers would try to gather as many victims as possible and will try to negotiate a settlement with the company, for example, 100,000 dollars per victim. In the end, they would take a sizeable percentage of the settlement as attorney's fees.

The other disturbing angle was the chemical company's choice to immediately shift base to Mexico as soon as there was the slightest chance of litigation. When a country like the US, with its laws, juries and trials cannot protect its people from toxic carcinogens, what happens to those in Mexico ? How are their lives any less important ? Was this the same logic that led to the Bhopal gas tragedy ? The company's page on the subject is laughable, its actually a very cruel joke ! Reading about it only causes more pain due to the helplessness that one feels ! Why is it hard to understand that industrial promotion should promote human survival and not otherwise ?!

Somehow it always boils down to money....something that was intended to be just a replacement for the barter system so that one can get goods even if one did not have the goods to exchange and today it drives the quality of the goods and lives of everyone associated with it....the system's biggest irony indeed !

Monday, April 19, 2010

Prince – the record breaker

Kumar Taurani's assistant took the script to Katrina kaif. She really didn't care about the script (that's a surprise considering movies like Yuvaraaj !) but Vivek Oberoi didn't quite impress her like Salman or Akshay, so she said no. The he took it to 99 others in Bollywood, Tollywood and Kollywood, including Kovai Sarala. She too refused claiming that her script-review standards have gone way up after she starred in Sathileelavathi and she only made an exception, when her co-star was Vadivelu.

The producer was in a fix, since the tickets to South Africa had already been booked and they still did not have the 3 female leads, the script so demanded. The co-producer came up with a brilliant idea - go to a dance bar, pick 3 dance girls who can remain sober enough to finish the movie....and brilliant it was since they not only got 3 girls who already had the needed skimpy costumes but they also saved on filming expenses and dance direction by shooting the first song when the girl was actually performing in her bar !!

There was yet another problem, the script writer had failed to come up with a name for the movie. The co-producer, who had already shown his brilliance once, was given another chance. He had chosen ''Zorro'' after having seen the movie in his hotel but the second heroine not appearing in the sets because her pet poodle Prince was sick, gave him a brainwave !

Someone told Vivek Oberoi that slim, long legs are sexy but I assume he didn't hear the last part of the sentence ''....are sexy on a GIRL''. If he had, he definitely would not have opted to wear ultra slim fit pants that highlighted his calves or the lack of them !

The dialogue writer was very excited to work on this movie after having edited "Tinkle" comics his entire life and hence comes up with masterpieces like
Vivek (on the phone): hey...I found the treasure...
Maya: that is amazing!
Vivek: Yeah, it is really amazing!

The movie had run for an hour and I still had not seen Arjun Rampal. I was so sure he was in the movie from the movie posters I had seen. The puzzle was solved when the third heroine gets introduced.....and that effectively also wore off the little patience I had had until then and so for the first time in my life, I gave up on a movie during intermission. This effectively beats all of my bad movie records until today and this includes "Kandhasamy" where I almost walked out (note: almost) during the break.

As you can see, I spent the remaining time usefully :D.....

Copyright for picture: Prince movie makers

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

'Better' halves of Friends

Yesterday I dreamt of a friend of mine and so in the morning I started thinking about her and I was sort of saddened by the fact that we are not as close as we were...actually it was more the reason behind it than the fact itself...I will get to it later.

When I meet my married friends and get the chance to stay with them, I will totally play the ‘angel’ the first few hours that my friends would exclaim ‘adipaavi, ivalo scene agadhu’...I have a very good reason behind it. I want their spouses to like me because that’s what more or less determines my future relationship with my friend. It is not a question of male chauvinism or anything because this concept works for both my male and female friends. Do you remember how it was to have a friend your parents disapprove of, when you were in school or college? Well, its at least twice as hard as that since everyone involved in this problem is an adult and that means there is no room for compromise!

I learnt this lesson the hard way. We got off to a wrong start right when my friend got engaged. I was not very impressed with the groom and I thought to myself with fierce pride that my friend deserved better. Just like you can never tell anyone that their baby doesn’t look pretty, you can never tell a girl that you don’t think much of the guy she is going to marry (unless you know something really awful about his personal life…but that’s a different track). So I made my peace with it and wished her well.

When I met them as a couple for the first time after their wedding, I had told myself that I was going to give him the benefit of doubt and make every effort to be as pleasant as I can. The meeting was a disaster….he ticked me off so badly with some very male chauvinistic comments that I snubbed him at least a couple of times in spite of telling myself that my poor friend will be helpless if we do not get along. Slowly our lives kind of drifted apart since I could never bring myself to spend time with her husband again and she could hardly spend some time with me alone.

Then after a few years, when I got another chance, I decided to take it because I was missing my friend quite a bit. I had accepted an invitation from her to stay overnight and frankly, I was dreading it. I was an epitome of goodness that day; I smiled at every snide remark of her husband and remained at guard the whole time. The night went by without any ‘incidences’ but I was so exhausted since I had tried too hard to be someone I was not. My friend noticed it too and although we did not say the words, we both knew that it would the last time I actually stayed with her. We still stay in touch but it is just not the same...and the dream brought back all these memories. The difficult part is there isn’t anything one can do about it...if you cannot hang out with someone and have fun, nothing you do will change it. It reminds me of this episode where Joey’s girlfriend thinks Chandler is boring and Monica is loud (Joey eventually breaks up with the girlfriend – for once, friends score over ‘figure’ :D)

There are friends whose spouses I have not yet met or even spoken a word to. But I find that situation much easier to deal with because what you don’t know cannot affect you.

On the other hand, I have other friends with whose spouses I get on so well that I actually talk to them more than I talk to my friends! So I guess one has to be prepared for everything. I love playing the match maker (in spite of Ashok saying enniku yaaru kitta udai vanga poriyo) and even though the main motive is to hook up two nice people who can have fun together, the ulterior motive is knowing that I get to retain both of them as friends even after they get married ;) :D....well, I wonder how my best friend married my cousin...devil emoticon with angelic smile !

So all my single friends out there, please marry someone I already know and get along with :)...if she/he gets along with me, then he/she is definitely a great person to be with ;) :D ?!

PS: Makkale, iniye thamizh puthandu vazthukkal (idha phone panni solla mudiyama panna t-com/aliceku indha pudhu varshathulayavadhu bhuddi vara kadavadhu!)

Gold fish translator
There are certain things that are completely lost in translation, here are 2 such examples.
adipaavi, ivalo scene agadhu - ???, this is taking it too far !
enniku yaaru kitta udai vanga poriya - who knows when you are going to get into trouble

Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Alice T-com disaster

For the last 10 days, I am feeling like a ping-pong ball that is cut off from the world. In normal English, this means I have no telephone/internet at home and I have been calling Alice and T-com almost every day to set it right. It all started in Aug 2008 (that's right!), when I decided to switch from one provider (T-com) to another(Alice). Since my T-com contract was running until the end of March 2010, Alice said it will work with T-com to get my services transferred while I still retained by telephone number...sounds simple enough...atleast that's what I thought.

In feb this year I decided I was not going to switch to Alice and since I had more than a month's time, I figured I was in good shape and informed Alice. I also got an acknowledgement from them saying the usual 'we are sorry to see you go'...blah...blah....

Its April 1, 2010 and both T-com and Alice decided to choose me as the April fool victim. Phone line, DSL everything stops working. Alice says T-com should reactivate it and T-com says they have already passed the connection to Alice and so they cannot activate result: I am sitting in a net-cafe (for the first time in Germany) on a sunday grumbling about my predicament in a blog, where I should actually be writing about much more 'interesting' topics!!

For a multi-billion dollar industry like Telecommunications, its really hard for me to fathom how they get away with such miserable customer service....I have heard of so many horror stories from other friends and colleagues about most of these providers but never thought I would become an example myself ! And what's more, calling the customer service, listening to their godawful music before you get to talk to one of them, trying to explain to the person (naturally a different one every time) the predicament again and again only to receive different replies every time is just nerve-wrecking....I have a list of almost 12 names with notes against every one of them...none of which matches what the other said. I usually pity those working in a call centre since they have to deal with all sorts of customers for products they never developed or services they never offered but I am now slowly losing my patience and very soon I guess, I will be yelling in German (something I have never done before !)....God help me !

I am wondering if the industry simply takes undue advantage of the customers' dependency on telephone/internet. I hate to admit that not having internet at home is slowly driving me crazy inspite of whatever I do to keep myself occupied....right from checking the weather before going out for a run to calling India, nothing seems possible without the world wide web and God only knows how many calls I will have to return if and when I get my landline back !

Come-on Sowmya, take a deep breath....think of happy thoughts....

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The neighbourhood bar ?!

There is a bar in my neighbourhood and the only mistake the owner did is being friendly and close to my house (if you are looking for silly drunken are in the wrong place). We have a node-and-smile-when-our-paths-cross relationship and I have abused it twice already....

It’s a Saturday night; it was cold and snowing like crazy. A friend of mine decides to surprise me by showing up at my door step at 11pm...sounds like a good plan, right ? I missed a few details: she has a 1-yr old kid and she realized that she forgot his ‘dinner-bag’ only on arrival. He refuses to go to sleep or wake up without a big glass of milk. Here is the embarrassing part: I had no milk in the house (In my defense, I was on a coffee break and I cook my oatmeal with water). For those not living in Germany: No stores are open on a Sunday and all stores close by 8pm on a Saturday. Gas stations will be open but the nearest one is at least 3 km from my place and the little guy was already hungry. Neighbours (or people I see in the stairway often) will not be pleased if they are disturbed close to midnight. I just wrap myself up and go out thinking I will have a brain wave once I get to the street and lo ! there is a bar. Bar also serves coffee => bingo, a place with milk. I pop in, explain the situation and ask him if I can buy 2 cartons of milk from him. He has this totally perplexed look on his face and I did all I could to not laugh at that. Finally though, he went to the kitchen and came back with what I wanted and while I was leaving the bar, 2 more people were coming in and once again, the same perplexed looks but this time I laughed :D!

Few weeks later, same situation, only this time I am looking for sugar for guests who cannot live without coffee. Same bar, same story and I walk out with a packet of sugar cubes.

I am pretty sure that if I did this one more time, he will hang up a sign saying ‘only drinks, no groceries’. I wonder if I should feel sorry for the bar owner or be embarrassed about my pathetic grocery stock or be proud of my ‘healthy’ eating habits…hmmm....
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