Monday, May 31, 2010

I am freezing to death...

...not in the Alps, not in Munich where it has been raining like crazy when its supposed to be spring, but in Delhi, where the outside temperature reads 42 deg C !!

I am freezing to death inside taxis, cars, office buildings, hotels, everyone one of which runs the air conditioner at full blast with the cold air hitting me in the face that it feels like I am skiing and I am using my dupatta as a shield to stop all the goose pimples !! And just when I am all covered up, I end up leaving the place and stepping outside means being hit by a heat wave, which seems all the more hot because of the freezing temperature inside.

Will someone please explain to me the logic behind spending or rather wasting all this energy in a place where power cuts are not uncommon ??

I long for those days when I roamed Mountroad in the hot sun, window shopping and stepped into HigginBothams (on the pretext of browsing books to buy) purely for the AC !

Oh..dear...have I now turned into one of those NRIs that complain about the present and reminisce about the past ??!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Dr. and Mrs. Ashok

I first met Dr. and Mrs. Ashok on May 12th. I was invited to Ashok's defense at the University of Twente and also the reception and the dinner party that followed the defense.

I had asked around about the Defense and learnt the following
- It is a very traditional ceremony that is planned to the minute.
- The ceremony is open to the public and notices are put up in the University.
- The candidate has 15 minutes to do a presentation to the public.
- The committee should comprise of at least 5 professors besides the candidate's supervisor and professor. They should have already read and approved the thesis for the candidate to get a date for the defense.
- The committee enters only after the presentation is complete since they have already read the thesis.
- The candidate now has to literally defend his thesis for 45 minutes against these formidable (read learned) opponents.
- The candidate has two helpers, known as Paranymphs who provide moral support during the defense.
- After the defense, the committee has 15 minutes to decide if the candidate deserves the doctoral degree.
- If yes (which is mostly the case), the Dean of the University presents the degree.

And now for some fun facts
- There is a timekeeper with a fancy black robe who comes in with a staff (or a sceptre) and bangs on the floor to indicate ''start'' and ''stop''.
- She interrupts the defense exactly after 45 minutes even if the candidate is in the middle of answering a question. So if the defense is not going too well, the candidate prays for the lady with the staff :D !
- All members of the committee wear fancy robes and when they speak they have to wear matching fancy hats :D !
- The Dean wears a fancy necklace (like a king!) and begins the session by banging on the table with a gavel and says ''The doctoral committee is now in session''.
- Once the degree is presented, the candidate's professor shares some fun facts about him with the audience.

When I first saw Mrs.Ashok, she was talking, having fun and going around with her camera but a few minutes before the defense, she took her position next to Ashok and started playing the gracious hostess. It was very funny for me to see her standing there in a very formal pose and welcoming every guest with a ''nice to meet you'' (since it was her first time meeting many of those people) and/or ''thank you for coming''.

She had also given me a heads up that the presentation would be very easy to understand since the candidate usually tones it down for the audience and Ashok had even come up with some funny slides and analogies. She was right, I understood everything and completely enjoyed the presentation. Then came the nerve-wrecking part - Ashok being questioned by 8 technical Czars in front of almost everyone he knew in town ! I thought he carried himself very well and even though there were a couple of questions he gave a probable solution and admitted not knowing the actual one. This is very tricky because it is always tempting to give some answer and if its a totally stupid one then one gets into a lot more trouble than simply saying ''I don't know''.

It was also amusing for me to see his wife sitting in the family row, all tense with her hands clasping and unclasping during the questioning session. She then confided to me that she never realized how nervous she was until she saw the photos ! She knew what the thesis was about and had also discussed probable questions with him, so the anticipation made her tense too ! She was all happy when the time keeper walked in, she knew, the ordeal was finally over.

Then came the proud moment - the Dean awarding Ashok the highest academic degree there is ! What was thoroughly enjoyable was a speech by Ashok's Professor about him. He was a good orator and had put some thought into the speech, was both serious and amusing. Everyone laughed out loud when he said ''We had initially planned to have only Europeans or just Dutch for this position and so had placed the ad for it in Dutch....but the Indians were coming !''

All along there were two professional photographers who kept clicking away to glory and making people wonder until they were told that they were both friends of Ashok who had declared that this was their gift to him.

After the dean declared the doctoral committee meeting was closed, everyone stepped out to have drinks (they had to open the Champagne) and to me it looked exactly like a wedding reception - Dr. and Mrs. Ashok standing and smiling, with people queuing up to greet them, giving them presents, professional photographers taking pictures and then finally moving along to drinks and dinner.

After dinner, there was another round of presents when Ashok's colleagues gave him a chess board - the only one of its kind in the whole wide world - that they had manufactured in the lab with some substrates and materials (that I cannot discuss here) used in their polymer research lab and they said ''blood, sweat and tears'' when they gave it to him since it had really taken a lot of time and effort to get it done and it was accompanied by some really good and ready made chess pieces! In return, the couple also had thank-you presents that were well received.

Before everyone started getting drunk, his wife showed a movie (thanks to windows movie maker) about Ashok, how he got there, what others think of him...she had intended it to be funny and thankfully the audience saw it the same way...everyone had a good laugh and the laughter continued long into the night.....

The day I met Dr.and Mrs. Ashok....., a day that will stay in my memories forever.....

PS: Ashok gets embarassed everytime someone calls him Dr.....I can't wait to see his expression when he reads this post ;) :D

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Flamenco or Bharathanatyam ?

I was smitten ever since I first saw the gypsies perform Flamenco in Sacromento in Granada. After I saw the second show in Madrid, I decided to look up beginner courses in Munich and came across a 3-hour sunday workshop and in a fit, Ashok and I signed up for it last month.

The friday before the workshop, I had written an email with a list of questions to the instructor asking about the kind of shoes and clothes that one had to wear to be fit-for-purpose (I learnt this the hard way after showing up in a tap class with rubber soled Nike shoes ! In my defense, I had assumed they would have spare shoes)! On Sunday, I was a little nervous. Given that I enjoyed dancing immensely and I was reasonably good at it (even if I say so myself), I was surprised at this reaction. Then it dawned on me…although I have coaxed (read, asking him with eyes that would water any minute…devil emoticon :D) Ashok to dance with me a number of times at home, we had never danced together ‘’officially’’ in a class.

The workshop started right on time and my nervousness ended up being unfounded since Flamenco can have a man and a woman dancing very independently without the former leading the latter. The first few warm-up steps were really easy and while I was slowly getting confident the instructor started on wrist movements, just like in Bharathanatyam. There are two main differences – one, there are only a select few movements in Flamenco when compared to Bharathanatyam and second, the hand and leg movements do not follow the same tempo in Flamenco. To me this was the frustrating part, you move your legs in a really fast rhythm while your hands should move in a slow fluid motion and this seemed simply impossible.

My frustration lessened when I noticed that others were having the same trouble (human nature!) and I even brightened up a little when I realized that I was the second best student in the class (the first being a girl with some experience in Flamenco).

The instructor gave us some history on Flamenco and how it was developed by the Gypsies (who actually migrated from India) and a crash course on how to identify the different kinds of Flamenco music and different forms that either evolve with families or as separate styles. We dealt with Seguiriyas and Tangos.

Basically the dancer is in-charge of letting the singer know that he/she (I am going to use ‘’she’’ for convenience) is ready to begin or she is going to do a special piece. However when the singer gets creative, the dancer should obviously cope with it and just like in Bharathanatyam the dancer can get away with an elegant pose even if she is not prepared.

Although the instructor was well versed, she had not planned the workshop too well. It was a little haphazard and everyone had a tough time catching up with her.

The posture, the rhythm (can be extremely different like different thalams) all reminded me time and again of Bharathanatyam and at the end of the workshop I came to the same decision that I took with Bharathanatyam – it is a great form of art I love and admire, requires time, due diligence and discipline to learn and hence is not suitable for someone like me just looking to have a little fun (with) dancing!

Ashok (more than happily) agreed with my decision (read vitta podhum :D)! He was comfortable with the session and was good at it too ! It gives me one more reason to cajole him into ballroom dancing ;)

Tuesday, May 18, 2010


I know I am almost a week late with this news but I totally loved this cartoon. In spite of being older than his opponent and not having the host-country advantage and in spite of making mistakes, Anand still manages to be the world champion. If only the Indian Govt. realises how valuable Vishwanathan Anand is and for once, atleast bids for hosting the chess wonder everyone is surprised that Anand refuses citizenship offers from other countries and steadfastly remains a loyal desi !
Cartoon Source:

Thursday, May 6, 2010


Lately my life (and hence my blog) has been all about dogs. Either I am tainted with a fear-of-dog pheromone because of the one incident or I need to change my detergent!

Yesterday I was coming home with a bag of bananas (yes, they were for me and no, I have no monkeys at home) and I noticed a really huge dog (the alsatian kind) coming towards me. I had two choices – panic or face my fear and I foolishly decided on the latter. The dog came close and started licking the banana bag. It doesn’t sound too bad right ? Hang on…I was holding the plastic bag next to my tummy since the strap had broken loose and I had a mongrel with its tongue licking that bag!! I was wearing thin cotton pants and so if it chose my skin instead of the bananas, I was going to be in big big trouble.

Since someone told me that dogs can smell fear, I tried to pretend that it wasn’t bothering me and I was just frozen to the spot (I have new found respect for those who act in Ramanarayanan movies). I was playing the don’t-move-play-dead-when-a-bear-sniffs-you part to perfection. And then I finally found what I was looking for, the “§%$§&$§&@ owner of the dog. This lady coolly came around the corner and she seemed to be in no hurry to call the dog away. I gave her a desperate look since I was too afraid to shout and then the dumb head finally understood I was uncomfortable and called off the dog. Needless to say, I threw the bananas away!

Question to dog owners: Would you be ok if my kid came and licked your ice cream?

For heaven's sake, take responsibility for your pets and for the last (swearing) time, keep your dogs away from me !! Don’t force me to use the pepper spray!!

For those who noticed and want to comment about it: I know pheromones only trigger responses from members of the same species.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

''Lawful'' Customer Service

I had already lamented about the disaster that disconnected me from the the rest of the world for 3 painfully long weeks. Since there is what is known as the 'Verbraucherzentrale' (crudely translated: consumer advice centre) or VZ in Germany, I decided it was time for less talk and more action.

My visit to the VZ was very interesting. I had conveniently forgotten that it was a Govt. agency and hence meant ‘waiting’ irrespective of when one goes. I registered my name with the girl at the front desk and there was a brief discussion before the lady got my name right. If she had so much trouble with Sowmya Gopal, I wonder what she would do if a Venkatnarayanan Ramakrishnan showed up :D !

I was quite disappointed to see my name at the bottom of the list (reminded me of one of those grocery lists my amma made every month and she would always add 4 items to the end of the list as an afterthought in tiny-no-one-can-read-it-but-her letters)! As if reading my thoughts, the front-desk girl straight away crushed my hope saying that there was no option to make an appointment and that she had no idea how long the waiting time would be (big surprise!). So I resigned myself to a chair with my faithful ''Apple'' and started writing this post.

I was observing people before me dealing with VZ employees now and then and was impressed to see how patient, friendly and extremely nice they all were. Given that I have only had good experiences in the International office, this should not have been a surprise but I think there are certain preconceived notions about a Govt. office that one just can't let go of.

When I finally got my turn (after an hr and 15 minutes), I poured out everything in one long and excited narration without even a proper breathing pause (if you have a knowing smile, you probably know me too well). The lady was patient, she examined all the documents I had and finally suggested that I write a letter to the customer service to demand remuneration for this mess.

She helped me draft a letter template with all the right clauses and times (for eg: a 2 week response time is allowed to the service provider to respond or rectify the mistakes). This template was extremely helpful not just because of the clarity she provided w.r.t legal obligation but also how she phrased it. She simplified one of my most difficult and time-consuming tasks - expressing 'official indignation' in a foreign language. The appointment/advice costed me 10 euro (costs depend on the kind of issue you want advice on, financial advice costs a little more, for example).

I wrote the letter and added a couple of sentences hinting legal action for good measure (pinna edhuku German padichen!!), demanded a refund of the monthly payment for April since I had no service for 3 weeks and attached the bills from my mobile and visits to the internet café and I gave them 2 weeks to respond.

Today (the 10th day) came the phone call from Deutsche Telekom saying that 120 euro has been credited to my account besides the monthly payment refund. This came as quite a surprise to me since the bills I had sent amounted to less than 50 euro. Either they saw the template and understood that I had contacted VZ or I had Rechtschutzversicherung* and can afford a lawyer or they decided that I was a customer that they were not willing to let go :D

Lessons learnt:
- When in a fix, visit the VZ, its money well spent. They tell you all about the legal actions that you can take and those that have a chance to be successful
- Always, always note down the full names (with date and time) of the people you talk to in a call centre. This info comes in very handy right from lodging a complaint to pursuing a legal action.
- Retain receipts and bills, even if you know there is a teeny tiny possibility for a refund

All in all, I feel a lot better about my decision to stay with Deutsche Telekom and not switch to Alice (who by the way should tell their call centre employees that being rude is not a great way to handle clients!). I also gave myself a pat on the back for being tenacious about the whole thing...well....en kaasa naan oodhalam, vera yaarum oodha koodadhu :D !

PS (for Venkatnarayanan Ramakrishnan): I have nothing against your name, it is just the first one that came to mind :D

*Rechtschutzversicherung: It is an insurance that covers the legal costs a person incurs for certain situations and up to a certain limit, obviously decided by the monthly premiums.
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