Monday, September 27, 2010

2 States - 2 dull !

I recently finished Chetan Bhagat’s ‘2 states’. Before I talk about the book, I have to frankly admit that I am not a fan. The only book of his that I have read so far is Five point someone and only because it said something about IIT on the cover and I was (and probably still am) IIT-crazy. The book was decent while the movie was way better, so I kind of understand why Rajkumar Hirani was saying that Chetan was taking away credit from his script writers. That being said, they should’ve acknowledged Chetan’s contribution. I think Bollywood and Kollywood (and all the rest of the woods) are kind of loose on the plagiarism concept (thanks to Anu Malik and Deva and others who are every now and then ‘inspired’ by other people’s talents)!

There is however one thing I will always credit Chetan for and that is bringing English books to the masses in India. His simple writing has turned many people towards reading English books and I realize it every time I get an orkut invitation from someone I don’t know and notice that they have Chetan Bhagat’s books as ‘favorites’ in their profile’ !

Coming back to ‘2 States’, as all the promotion says, it’s the story of his marriage i.e. how a Punjabi boy married a tambram girl with the blessings of both families.

- The ‘South Indian’ in me got annoyed everytime I read the words ‘Madrasi’, ‘Blacks’ and everytime he made fun of ‘Carnatic Music’ but felt strangely proud everytime South Indians were referred to as ‘educated’ (I never realized that people had such an impression and was pleasantly surprised to learn it)
- The ‘Tambram’ in me got irked when he described the bride being in a Madisar (9 yard sari) before kasi yatra. For an author married to a tambram girl and having supposedly had a tambram wedding, this is indeed a very careless mistake.
- The ‘foodie’ in me did not like the fact that Chetan fails to appreciate the South Indian (keeping aside a description of a dosa as ‘not bad’) and/or the tambram cuisine
- The ‘girl’ in me found it downright annoying that while Krish (the hero) works like crazy for months to convince the girl’s parents and Ananya (the heroine) does almost close to nothing to convince Krish’s parents.

Elaborating on the last point, I think I have been pampered with too many tamil movies (some of them quite good) where both the hero and heroine work with the other’s family for tying the knot and Chetan, on the other hand, is probably used to movies like DDLJ where the guy jumps through a 100 hoops to get on the good side of the girl’s family and the girl literally does nothing. Should I maybe consider this flattering and assume that smart, beautiful women never have to try too hard?

For example, imagine a situation where a desi guy introduces a desi girl to his ‘conservative’ mother. What is the first thing any normal desi girl would do? Say a polite Namaste or even hello and probably the ‘smart’ girls would immediately touch her feet and ask for blessings. Well, Ananya, a tambram from another conservative family, tries to shake her hand!! Apparently studying in IIM makes you less ‘street-smart’!

What I also found surprising is that both of them fail to update the other about the dos and donts before meeting the family, which is the probably the first thing one does before introducing the prospective son-in-law or daughter-in-law to the parents who are most likely to be overly critical of every single thing they notice since the power of decision making was taken away from them. How can you be with a person for more than 2 yrs and not even pick up a few bits and pieces of their mother tongue? English is the bane of our existence, I suppose!

On the whole, I didn’t enjoy the book. I think there is a downside to reading a book that involves South Indians, tambrams and singara Chennai....a lot of it becomes personal and the writing being monotonous does not help.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Back to college ??

I just saw a movie - Oru kalluriyin kadai. Since Wikipedia has a dismally written plot in its article, here is my short version - Hero, a college student, and with his friends plan a get-together 5 years after graduation. Everyone turns up only to realise that the hero is mentally affected and has no idea that 5 years have passed. Since the psychiatrist figures out it was because of something that happened in college, they come up with ''re-creation therapy'' where the college days are re-created for a month to diagnose the hero's mental condition and treat it.

While the plot sounds highly impractical (re-creating a college with all his students, professors and infrastructure after 5 yrs such that the hero buys it) and mishy-mashy, it has its tugs-at-the -heart-strings moments. One example is the arch rival of the hero, who turns up un-invited for the re-creation and sadly demands ''enda, enna mattum vittuteenga? ellarum serndhu irukkum podhu enakkum varanumnu asai irukadha ??''* and another where one of the friends explains to the hero in the climax ''ellarum namma padicha collegea thirumbi pakka maatomanu enguvom, unnala naanga oru maasam vazhndhe pathutom da''**...I had to reach for the tissues !

All along the only thought in my mind was - Would the college/school relationships and student life really stand the test of time ? No, I am not talking about a couple of college/school friends being in touch, I am talking about the whole batch, the thing that held everyone together for a certain number of years.

If I take my case, 5 years after my graduation:
- I had been married for 3 months then
- I had been working for a while
Most of my class girls were married, some even had kids and many of them were working/living abroad.

I am sure most of us would enjoy a get-together at a friend's wedding or at an alumni event but would we really be willing to do it all again now for a month if we had the chance ??

Would be willing to stay away from families (spouses, kids etc.) ?
Would be willing to stay away from work ?
Would be willing to not care about our other responsibilities (insert a long list here) ?
Would we still enjoy making fun of teachers, gossiping about who-has-a-crush-on-whom, scribbling (etching) on class room benches, bunking classes, copying assignments under the desk ?

Would we really be able to live life as a ''student'' in the very same place ?

Time certainly is a tricky master....

*Why did you leave me out ? Would I not want to be together with everyone else ?
** Everyone wishes for a glimpse of their college but you have given us a chance to re-live those college days

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Guten Tag !

One of the most often asked questions from people who want study or work in Germany - ‘Is learning German important’? YES, YES and YES. Right from mundane tasks like shopping for groceries to essential ones like making friends, knowing German will take you a long way not just in your social life but also in your career. To me, it’s a simple rule of thumb, if you are going to live in a place, you might as well learn its language.

Some other facts (read incentives) to do so:
- It is the most widely spoken language in the EU (French comes next)
- It is the second most widely published language after English and this is not trivial because the numbers of non-native speakers of English outnumber German by a huge factor. This goes to show that the language and hence the literature has evolved almost at par with technology and other changes.

The very next question is what level of German should one complete before coming to Germany. Since its always easy to learn German in Germany than elsewhere, I would suggest just knowing the basics before getting here (unless your university/company demands otherwise). But once you get here, you must make a conscious effort to learn the language as soon as you can.

Here are some simple pointers:

1. Stop complaining: This is the first and foremost rule. Because the moment you start complaining, you develop a mental block for learning the language. Many people start with ‘why shouldn’t they speak English?’ and my question to them is ‘Why should they? Do they have to let the language die like we did in India where most people can’t even write in their own mother tongues’? Even in India, if someone moves to Delhi for his/her job, he/she will be expected to learn Hindi soon. It is a simple rule of communication – having a common language that most people are comfortable with. If you are the odd one out, isn’t it your problem and isn’t it unfair to expect everyone else to change?

2. If you are a student, make the most of it: Firstly, attend language classes offered by the university. Make friends (and not just desi friends) with whom you can converse in German. As a student, you can afford to make embarrassing mistakes with the language when communicating with fellow students and this luxury is not available to you elsewhere.

3. Learn Grammar: Yes, it’s not my favorite but it happens to be essential to develop competency in the language that extends beyond speaking colloquially. I have met a lot of non-native speakers (who have restaurants and other businesses) and they speak fluent German but most of them have trouble reading and only a handful can write a couple of sentences without any mistakes. This is because they never really learnt the language formally with all the essential rules of Grammar. For example, if you learn a new noun, always learn it with its article and for a verb, make sure you know the past and present perfect tenses.

4. Speak: Always speak in German. It doesn’t matter if it’s grammatically or phonetically correct; the only way to learn it is to use it in daily life. Do not be shy about making mistakes. Germans are usually very patient with anyone who attempts to learn the language. They will wait for you to complete the sentence, will try to understand what you convey and if you tell them explicitly to do so, they will even help correct your mistakes. Everyone will understand what you mean even if you use the wrong article Das Tisch (table) instead of Der Tisch.
5. Learn the language in your own style: Think of some fun ways to learn the language, that you are comfortable with. For example, as a kid I loved Mickey and Donald comics (still do) and I used to read it in German. Since I knew what Donald says in English (at least most of the time), it was easy for me to figure out what the German sentence meant. It really helped me learn simple sentence formations and other words used in daily life. Plus I also learnt that the German version has an additional character Dagobert Duck, Donald’s uncle :D !

Other ways can be watching movies in German that you have already seen in English. Watching James Bond say ‘Geschüttelt nicht gerührt’ (Shaken, not stirred) can be fun too ! Listening to the radio, watching TV, doing simple crosswords or other word games – there are lotsa ways, what is needed is just the will !

Picture(s) copyright: 1.Geothe Institute,

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Small city, large places !

Hamburg replaced Berlin in my mind as the most captivating city in Germany after I spent a weekend there.

We spent the morning on a walk from the Hauptbahnhof (central station) to the port and this was enough to establish why Hamburg is called the Venice of Northern Europe – Beautiful Bridges, Red brick buildings on either side of the water, small boats cruising on them with enthusiastic visitors waving hands. Our first stop was at the balloon ride – High flyer Hamburg. Although it was a windy day, I was still hoping (in vain) that there was a chance of a ride to get a glimpse of Hamburg from a height of 150m.

A short walk from there took us to the Speicherstadt (warehouse district). Walking through it with the red brick buildings on the one side and water on the other, made one wonder about the great architecture since it is the world’s largest warehouse based on a pile foundation and has entrances both from water and land but it also brought back memories of the world war since Speicherstadt was one of the heavily bombed areas (and had to be rebuilt later). The numerous small bridges also reminded me of Holland and weirdly I did find some of them named in Dutch (don’t know why but could it be because of a lot of Dutch traders at the port?). This was also a good place to take a boat ride (if you don’t do that, you are not a tourist!) and see different parts of one of the world’s largest harbours.

We saw everything from a U-Boot to a luxury yacht of a Dubai Oil king (although I did wonder first if it belonged to Vijay Malya!) to a German army ship and various shipping yards (almost all of them Chinese!). Only thing annoying about the boat ride was the driver (or should we call him a captain?) who kept talking non-stop for an hour and a half (I have never seen any German man talk so much) !! Although he had some funny stories to share about the harbour that celebrated its 821st birthday this year, I would have preferred to enjoy a few minutes of silence while gazing at the water (that’s what makes a boat ride special, right ?).

After taking a long walk along the harbour we proceeded to the Reeper Bahn, one of the largest red light districts in Europe with strip clubs and sex always, I took a photo and we quietly left the place (angel emoticon...) and proceeded to the Japanese garden, again called the largest Japanese garden of Europe. For a small city (that is half the size of Delhi - its all a question of relativity), Hamburg boasts of too many ‘larges’!!.

To put it lightly, I was stunned, it was a beautiful garden (actually large enough to be a small town) with fountains, waterfalls, landscaped areas, woods, lakes and possibly everything that Nature has to offer. At that moment, I really did consider moving to Hamburg. Any time I am in a bad mood, I go to the Theresienwiese (October fest grounds and no, not for a drink!) and walk through the alley of trees and I will immediately feel better, feel calmer and this was exactly the feeling that one got in the Japanese garden all the time. I am not even sure if we saw the entire garden but we spent hours walking and it was simply too beautiful for words or photos and what's more all the beautiful spots had comfortable chairs and inviting benches and many of them were occupied by people reading books, listening to music, elderly couples and frankly it made me jealous of those living in Hamburg ! We finally settled down on a white bench surrounded by swans and ducks to see the water works display for a few minutes before we half-heartedly left the place to go back to our hotel after a long but extremely satisfying day.

Day 2 began with the Raathaus (first photo). It was quite a sight first walking through the arcade looking at the Alsterseen (River Alster) with the swans (They always remind me of a fairy tale! That’s probably the girly instinct kicking in) and the Raathaus slowly coming into view in all its grandeur.

After spending considerable time in the Raathaus square and doing what one must do – have a coffee and cake with the great view – we proceeded to St.Nikolai church, a church that was heavily bombed and today remains as a world war memorial. The photo above shows the area around the church immediately after the bombing. An elevator ride gave me a glimpse of Hamburg from 75m (although it was only half as good as the balloon ride, it still made me happy) while the exhibition hall described in detail the various parts affected by the war. They also had a photographic collection not only of Hamburg during the war but also of other cities in Europe. The before/after photos were a simple but effective way of showing what a war does ! My favorite part was the last few sentences in the photo below...

...taking responsibility and not shying away from what was done is never easy.

A long walk through the Mönckebergstrasse, the shopping street of Hamburg, took us back to the central station well in time for some shopping and a meal before we caught the train back to Munich.

Some tips:
- Hamburg is best explored on foot, so be ready to walk so that you can take in everything it has to offer.
- The city was unusually crowded (although there was nothing special that weekend) and the trains were overflowing (thank god we had seat reservations!), so book in advance if you don’t want to spend too much on a mediocre hotel or stand in a crowded train, especially if you are traveling on a holiday/long weekend.
- The central station has an unusual number of shops and restaurants when compared to other cities (like Munich) in Germany. So don't think twice about having a meal here or picking up a souvenir.
- For the boat ride, if the weather is not good, choose a closed boat that has coffee on board. 1.5 hours of chilly breeze on an extremely windy or cold day can be quite unpleasant.
- For fish lovers, there is apparently a great fish market close to the harbour.
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