Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Why kolaveri about kolaveri ?

If you don't know what I am talking about when I say ''Kolaveri'', then you have been off the grid ! Everyone involved in the song have been interviewed to death and they all say the same thing - we don't know why its so popular.

Yes, its a simple catchy tune, lyrics are easy to identify with and the tanglish makes you grin. But there so many songs with catchy tunes, simple lyrics and some other fun factor that never made news in BBC and Hindu ! They were not recommended by Big B is his blog, they did not bring twitter wishes from celebrities everywhere, they were not played over and over in MTV and they certainly did not have more than 17 million hits in youtube (as of today).

So what is so special about this one ? Noone can explain it.

Weirdly some people who first liked it do not anymore because they are sick and tired of the hype around it. They believe its ordinary and does not deserve this extraordinary attention its getting.

What about Jennifer Lopez's ''On the floor'' which was nothing but a fancy remix ? What about Britney spears' ''Baby one more time'' ? Granted that both these women are professional singers and put a lot more effort into their songs than Dhanush but my point is that there are so many songs that don't deserve the hype they get, so why pick on this one ? Did Javed Akhtar have anything to say about ''tai tai phiss'' or ''dhinka chikka'' ?

This is the age of text messages in place of calligraphed handwritten letters and 10 min youtube videos instead of hours of theatre. Anything simple and unexpected catches your attention and can hold it for a few minutes if it touches you emotionally and that's all there is to it.

Ponder on this if you will, I'm off....pa pa pa puan, pa pa pa puan, pa pa pa puan papa puan.....

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Nocturnal Visitors and other stuff

Ashok was away on business for a couple of days and I was alone in the apartment for the first time. I’ve lived alone before but never in a large apt. So when I went to bed, I walked around checking if the doors were locked. In spite of that, I couldn’t sleep as usual (read, like a log) and kept hearing every single sound. I finally drifted off to sleep at an unknown time and then I woke up completely startled, someone was banging the front door !! It took a moment to keep my wits about me but I finally came out of the bedroom and walked to the corridor. Through the window I saw a tall guy, all dressed in black (yeah, even in the worst of time, women notice clothes) staring at the door, while another one seemed to be pounding on it.

My heart was racing as I walked closer to the door and I thought to myself ‘’what sort of a burglar pounds on the front door in the middle of the night in an apt in the city centre?”. With that confidence, my heart rate came back to normal and I started hearing a very drunken voice of a woman shouting something in Dutch. Then I knew....and I was smoke-from-ears-annoyed !!

I opened the door hoping for their own sake that they saw the smoke and walked away. And I was facing a girl with the most confused expression and a guy whose mouth was open in shock. Even as I saw their looks turn to apologetic, I still couldn’t help being irritated and I asked them why they were arousing the whole neighbourhood at 3am, knowing the answer full well. Apparently they were trying to surprise their friend (translation: they were drunk and needed a place to crash) and their dear friend is none other than my landlord, who very conveniently had forgotten to inform these noble people of his change of address ! First a cop, then drunken friends showing up in the middle of the night....hmmm....maybe we should consider moving again....

but there is a catch in it....

We moved to Eindhoven. Eindhoven becomes the smartest region in the world. Obviously there is a logical relationship here ;) :D, so we cannot move without considering the repercussions !

So what else is happening in Brainport Eindhoven ? There is an additional glow this week.

This is because of a week-long event during which there are light installations and animations in 20 different locations in the city. The city itself is used as a background and the buildings, canals, even plain walls all turn into amazing platforms for these illusions and illuminations. One of my favorites is the city hall - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tTTDingHfjA

Eindhoven was heavily bombed during the war and is now just a place with skyscrapers. The city knows this and keeps constantly trying to do something fun and interesting to keep the locals and visitors engaged and me like it !

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

As a Dutchess...

...what I like about the 7feet-is-not-uncommon-height Dutch is that they are usually friendly, most of them are bi- or even trilingual (everyone speaks German and English besides Dutch) and they are flexible with the rules (which is a wow factor for someone used to Germany!)

…what I love are tulips, windmills, old Dutch houses, wooden shoes, canals, infrastructure for biking and their great effort to recover land from the sea and their success in keeping it !

…what I miss are mountains. The extent of high slope in the Netherlands that I have seen so far is a road with a 5 deg slope (which ironically is always called the Bergstraat or mountain street)

…what confuses me is their take on sex and drugs – if it’s out there in the open, then the temptation is far less than if its hidden and prohibited. Surprisingly this works, there are coffeeshops (not for coffee but for licensed sale of drugs – mind you, only soft drugs) even close to my place and not once have I seen any junkies or misdemeanors of any kind. People are even allowed to grow their own drugs and can have up to 5 plants in the house ! But what they forget is that this logic applies only to residents and not to tourists who when given this ‘’newly-found’’ freedom go crazy and cause all the trouble. Not to mention having to put up with the jokes from the rest of the world about ‘’everyone being in a drug haze’ in Amsterdam !

While I was watching a movie that I thought was pretty much in the sex-and-the-city-genre, I was surprised to find a bunch of girls who looked no older than 13 or 14 seated in the row behind me. Then I learnt that the movie was rated 12 yrs and above !! In spite of that, every time there was an adults-only joke, I couldn’t laugh and couldn’t help but hope that they didn’t understand it.

…what I find mysterious is that Netherlands is never in the news….and I have been checking both CNN and BBC diligently ever since I moved here and not one word of news about the country…I know its small but how can there be no news given that its one of the stable economies in EU ??!

…what I was not prepared for was the population density (the average is actually much higher than the average density in India!!). After having lived in western Germany for more than 8 years, where an overcrowded train is an once-in-a-bluemoon (read, worldcup football season) occurrence, its hard to get used to the always-crowded and not to mention, lower-quality Dutch trains.

We live right smack in the city centre and going for a walk without someone crossing your path is impossible on any day of the week between 8am and 6pm. People are always shopping, even on weekdays ! Now I know why the shops close at 6pm – to let the residents have some peace and quiet in the evenings !

Cycling during peak hours can actually kill you if you are not used to dodging-the-indian-traffic-antics. People on bikes usually fly and it’s almost like driving alongside a Porsche on the autobahn, which you know will overtake you on the wrong side.

…what amazes me and sometimes totally freaks me out is the average fitness level. Pregnant women are so strong that most of them give birth at home with just their partner’s help (they have a home pregnancy kit..seriously!) and they are up and about the next day ! Rowing, biking, marathon teams are everywhere and this is saying something given that the Dutch weather is worse than the English weather !

…what scares me are the stairs in most Dutch houses (or correctly known as death traps) – they are curved and spiral, narrow and dark – all the elements that actually make sure you trip or in the least, drop something you are carrying! It was one of my criteria when we started house hunting – no Dutch stairs. There is no way I am going to destroy the last few grey cells I have just because the living room and bedrooms are on different floors.

…what I am struggling with is speaking Dutch. Knowing German and English, I can read and understand Dutch to a large extent but listening and speaking is a totally different ball game.

… what I find funny:

Bicycle parking areas - We live in a building with 12 apartments with a max. of 24 people and there at least 50 bikes ! The picture below shows the parking area at the station. If you don’t remember where you parked yours…hmm…well…walk !

At least once a week, some shady looking guy tries to sell me an obviously-stolen bike !

The Dutch drink milk during lunch..every day ! Not kids, all of them !

They will die without Hagelslag (a form of chocolate chips that they put on bread) and biking.

They say Blah-di-blah instead of (what-I-thought-was-conventional) blah-blah-blah; every time I hear it, I have to suppress a grin because to me it sounds like Koundamani saying ‘’bloody’’ in a thick accent.

And finally, what I am looking forward to is to be able to embrace Netherlands quickly as my ‘’second home’’ and explore/enjoy the best and deal with the worst of it.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Homeless in Holland - Part II

If you missed Part I, you can find it here.....

I stepped off the train and thought to myself ''Here I am, Netherlands'' and Ashok says ''We are homeless!''

The flooring/painting job in the apartment we had rented was not even close to completion and we were told it would take atleast 3 more days. And our stuff from Munich was already on its way in a truck and would arrive the following day. Well, we did consider staying at the train station with a laptop table and microwave with a true Tom Hanks spirit but there was this little thing called ''going to work''. After we made it clear that we will not impose on friends or pay for own hotel for their lack of planning, we were given a temporary place to stay.

We made our peace with it, survived on bread/cereal/salads/take-out and went shopping for clothes (we only had spare clothes for a day). But there was a silver lining, atleast for me - since I wasn't due to join work for a while, I got a chance to explore the beautiful town, Den Bosch(that's another post though). On the third day, we were finally ready to leave and the phone rang again and by then, I was slowly beginning to hate the ring tone. I had good reason to do so - they would need one more week to complete the job !

Ashok and I took one look at each other and said we needed another apt. We were not prepared to reschedule/replan anymore. Already our goods from Munich were stored in a warehouse and I was sure my balcony plants were already dead without sunlight and water. We were told that there were no more apartments available in Den Bosch but there was one in Eindhoven that suited our requirements. We took one look at the apt, fell in love with it, nodded and moved in right on time for Ashok's b'day. That gave us an excuse to replace the traditional pal-kachufying with apple pie :D !

I would love to say all's well that ends well but there is more to come....

The apt was in a perfect location, had a great balcony and some tasteful pieces of furniture but there were no wardrobes and no sign that it ever had one. So where did the previous occupant keep all his stuff ? The apt has an intercom with a camera that allows one to see who is ringing the bell before buzzing them in. The day after we moved in, I was sitting in the balcony trying to speak Dutch without spitting (its really hard, by the way) when someone rang the bell. I looked at the intercom and its a cop !

I warily opened the door and asked him for his id first. He said he was looking for our landlord and while my heart was racing thinking of numerous law and order episodes that I wish I hadn't seen, I tried to outwardly remain calm and explained to him that we rented this apt and he doesn't live here any more. He asked me for his existing contact info and I got into defensive mode (living in Germany for 8 yrs makes all ''privacy invasion'' alarm bells go on when you are asked for someone else's contact info). Then he explained to me that our landlord was a victim in a crime and the police wanted some more information from him...phew, now why didn't he explain this right away and what-oh-what was the crime ?! Since he didn't give me any more answers and I couldn't deal with my imagination, I decided to worry about this when I have to (read, re-check our insurance policies).

The movers brought all our stuff the next day. After realizing that it was faster for me to arrange my own clothes than to explain to someone else how it should be arranged, I asked the movers to just assemble the furniture and leave. The first box I wanted to unpack was my electronics - I had shipped everything except my precious back-up external hard drive. I figured that if they lost my laptop, I atleast had a back-up and the latter was lighter to lug around. It turned out this was genius since my laptop really was missing ! It wasn't inside the box with other electronic items. The movers and I searched all the boxes and it was still missing. All they could do was give me a form to claim the insured value. But what was I to do at home without my laptop ?

After spending a couple of days going around the town (how long can you really shop?) and trying at-home Dutch lessons, I decided to do what I rarely did - scrub and clean everything (I had to do something to while away the time). I opened the box with cleaning supplies and something stood out under the dishwasher tablets and glass cleaner, so I dug in further and my hands felt the familiar edges of my beloved laptop...yippee !! Now who in the world packs a laptop with cleaning supplies ?!? I agree I hadn't cleaned the keyboard and screen in a while but that still wasn't an excuse.

Our relocation experience was like watching the movie race; there was a climax at every step ! We expected something, then it took a pretty hard left turn, then we replanned and took another U-turn...and...and....we ended up in a different town and apartment....and we love the place....it took us a while to turn the house into a home but now it is...we are home, sweet home :) !

PS: My plants made it too :D !

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Homeless in Holland - Part I

It all started when Ashok and I got jobs in the same place (more or less, adjacent towns can be considered the same place when its the Netherlands, henceforth known as NL). Since both of us moved from Germany, the companies helped with the relocation (i.e. they pay a firm to help us find a house and tranport our things). We had only 2 criteria:
- should be walking distance from the station/city centre (living in the quiet outskirts will absolutely drive me mad)
- should not have the freaky dutch staircase (you have to watch the video to understand this requirement of mine) and there is no way I'm losing the last of my grey cells just because the living room and bedrooms are on different floors !

With these in mind, we flew to NL. Since our wants were simple, we found an apt we liked and we were given the option to rent it with the furniture. Given that we were in a long-distance relationship and had ''consciously'' chosen a lifestyle where we would blow all our money on travel, we only had the absolutely necessary furniture (read cot, laptop table and microwave :D) and we liked the idea of moving into a furnished apt and sparing ourselves the numerous trips to IKEA and numerous days with tools while getting used to a new place and job. So we happily said yes, discussed the terms and they (god-)promised to send us the lease asap.

I got home, started on the paperwork (change of address at every place from the bank to the miles and more card) and auctioned my furniture on ebay. Amidst exciting bidding wars, I received some bad, bad news. Apparently the landlord woke up that morning, decided that he was going to sell the apartment (in a buyer's market!!) instead of renting it, which meant we were exactly back to where we started !

Since I couldn't afford another day off, Ashok went house-hunting and canon/picasa served as my eyes (I know, I know it should have been iPhone and email but Ashok is just not a mobile-browser person...atleast not yet!) and we found only one place we liked and the caveat - it was completely unfurnished - the ad actually read ''flooring and painting on request'' !

While Ashok was negotiating a deadline for the flooring and painting, I undid the paperwork I had done, took my items off ebay and contacted the highest bidders with my story. I am glad that they all empathised with me and I got off without bad reviews...phew...the things one has to do to protect one's e-image !

The movers and packers were scheduled to arrive on thursday morning and after handing over the apt in Munich, we were to take the night train to NL. We felt we deserved to stretch and sleep on nice beds and have a proper breakfast instead of sitting in cramped economy seats with airline food ! Its 11 am on thursday and it does not bode well when your phone rings instead of the doorbell. Apparently (I am sick of this word, any synonyms ?) their previous assignment was delayed due to an accident and the earliest they can arrive is the next morning !

Ashok still had to take the night train since he had to report for work the next day. This means I got a quick tutorial on how to fill holes in the wall (caused by nails) with plaster and paint over them after the place was emptied by the movers. For those who do not know my handwriting and my grades in arts and crafts, trust me when I tell you that this was no mean feat !

To make up for the previous day, the movers arrived bright and early at 7:30am, when I was still seeing green and red spots everywhere. So I began what I knew was going to be a really long day, with no breakfast. The movers were 2 young dutch guys with minimal understanding of English...which again seemed like Murphy's law given that most of the Dutch speak both English and German ! They just packed everything....based on what room it was in....so books, cutlery, pillows all went into the same cartons just because they were there in the living room. And while I was showing one guy the basement, the other efficiently packed the trash in the kitchen (not trash bins, just plain trash!). After setting some ground rules, it was a little better and after 6 hrs, they were done but I wasn't and wouldn't be until the plastering, painting, dusting and scrubbing were done. When I finally handed over the key and got to the station, the night train was sold out. So I took a train to stay with some friends who live close to the border (God bless them!) and slept like a log all the way through.

I arrived in NL the next evening, after having a good lazy day with my friends and one look at Ashok when I got off the train was enough to tell me that something was very wrong.....

to be continued....

Monday, October 24, 2011

Am I a desi version of German ?

A few days ago (actually months), I was pondering if life in Germany was making me more German every day. But I also realized...

....I need some noise in my life, I find quietness unsettling. If its too quiet, I have a compelling need to make the noise myself :D

....I need some spice in my life, in the food and otherwise (mind you, I am not a ‘’cho chweet’’ saying girl).

....I need some color in my life. Even in winter, I cannot stand wearing grey and black all the time. From bright red to parrot green, I can wear any color and feel cheerful about it.

....I have to speak Thamizh at least once a day (sometimes when there is no one who speaks Thamizh, I just speak to myself...but lets not go there now..rolling eyes).

....I need to do something when I go to the beach –explore, swim, snorkel, whatever, I cannot simply lie on the beach under the sun.

....I need to use my hands to eat Indian food (there is nothing to beat the sense of touch...obviously doesn't work with Spaghetti but since when is this Indian ?)

....I think French cuisine is way overrated. I feel the same way about Michelin star restaurants where the presentation is always great but the flavor and quantity aren’t !

....I have to watch atleast one movie a week and no it’s not a documentary!

and above all,

....I hate beer, can't drink it to save my life.

....I cannot swear in German.

So am I now like the dishes served in Indian restaurants in Munich – essentially desi but toned down to fit the locale ?!

I decided the best thing to do was to ‘’mix it up even more’’. So I packed my bags, said Goodbye to Germany and moved...well, just across the border to the Netherlands.

PS: As you can see, I had to give an excuse for not having blogged for 2 months….don’t you think moving to new country qualifies as one :D ?

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Am I a German ?

I do not smile at strangers.

I prefer not to have people in adjacent seats in buses or trains.

Even if there were people next to me, I prefer to read a book or use my ipod when I travel than talking to them.

I do not really know my neighbours.

I look at deadlines and/or appointments like they are written in stone.

I get extremely annoyed when people arrive a few minutes late, esp. in official situations.

I replace ‘s’ with ‘shh’ many times in English words.

I can explain driving rules and names of road signs only in German.

I prefer and drive only German cars.

I complain about the cost of getting a driver's license here.

I have a ‘Dirndl’.

I do not like McD, Burger King and anything on that list.

I answer the phone by saying my name and not ‘Hello’.

I talk about the weather at least once every day.

I go to Southern Europe (Italy, Spain, Greece etc.) for vacation many times.

I am not reachable for work-related emergencies when I am on vacation or during the weekend.

I do not have a TV at home.

I organize and file my paperwork regularly.

I eat dinner at 7pm everyday.

I never shop or think about shopping on Sundays.

I think of distances purely in metres - if someone asks how far is the bank, I would say 400m instead of ‘5 min from here’ .

I love maps.

I never go on a tour without an audio guide, if one is available.

I complain about taxes but file them meticulously and on time.

to be continued.....

Disclaimer: This post is not intended to offend Germans, after having lived here for 8.5 years, I have to come to regard Germany as my home away from home.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

An ode to Sowmya....

....was written on a paper that I came across today. Well, let me rewind to 15 minutes ago......

I was turning the house upside down to find an important paper for filing our 2010 taxes. The paper was related to Ashok's work and although he insisted that he gave it to me, I couldn't find it with the rest of the paperwork and I had already spent 2 hours going through everything I had. So as a final resort, I went for the ''document bag''. The so-called document bag belongs to Ashok, where he meticulously saves everything from credit card bills to receipts to tax documents year-wise and I have strict instructions not to mess with it.

I figured (like all women...rolling eyes) that as long as I was careful in placing everything like it was stored, there is no harm in checking if the paper was in it. After a few minutes, I came across a bunch of train tickets (thanks to our long distance relationship) and I was just about to move to the next section when I noticed the word ''ode'' and ''mya'' in Ashok's calligraphic handwriting. I pondered just for a few seconds before curiousity overwhelmed me and I was rapidly drawing it out of the bunch.

A quick detour - I am not a fan of poetry, especially those that compare a girl to a flower or a moon. I am not against romance, its just that I like it with a pinch of reality. I find coming home to a warm meal (surprise dinner) after a long day at work more romantic than getting a bunch of roses while at work. I would consider the former comforting, caring and thoughtful and the latter, a nice thought but an unnecessary public display and a waste of money.

Back to the ode - It was on the back of a used train ticket (which is usually an A4 print-out) and it looked like he started writing it to while away the time during the journey. Although I started reading it with a mischievous grin (while I was mentally planning on how to make fun of him!), I had tears streaming down my cheeks when I finished it, with a rush of affection for him (while I was mentally cursing the project deadline that kept him away this weekend).

The ode was simple, cute, extremely well-written with a reminder of how well he knows me and has noticed all my little quirks - some of them lovable, some of them annoying and yet funny. It wasn't blatant flattery but it was like seeing our whole life together on a piece of paper.....I loved it and will treasure it for as long as I live.

We have known each other for 10 years and have been married for 4.5 years and if after all this time, and amidst his hectic schedule, he still finds to write something like this (and feels shy enough to hide it in his ''document bag'') I should consider myself truly blessed :) !

PS: Now one of 2 things is going to happen - he is going to see my blog or someone who sees it is going to tell him. Either way, I am going to get an earful for touching the ''document bag''...well, I deserve it :D !

PPS: I had second thoughts about writing this blog but I told myself - The ode is personal, I wouldn't dream of sharing it with anyone else but the happiness and fierce pride that comes with it is meant to be shared :) !

PPPS: Oh..my, I still haven't found the paper that started it all....

Monday, June 27, 2011

Scorching Summer in Germany....

...is what one would assume if you look at the below given picture greeting you in wetter.de

Well, the maximum temperature today is 27 deg C (and this lasts for 3 hours after which the temperature drops to a comfortable 23 or 24 deg C) and to someone used to the Agni Natchathiram* in Chennai and Aandhi** in Delhi, this is really amusing (read, iva podara scene thangala) !

On the other hand though, when this picture turns all blue, thats a real cause for worry...brrrrr....

And finally, I cannot believe I talk about the weather and only the weather in a blog post....note to self: finish incomplete travelogues if you want to retain at least half of your reader base !

* Agni natchathiram refers to the hottest month in Tamilnadu (May)
** Aandhi refers to the dust storm

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Whitewashing 4000 years of history ?!?

I was both outraged and upset when I read the article in “The Hindu” about how 4000 years of history and art are treated in India especially after seeing all the efforts the western world puts into preserving its history, which are most of the times only a few hundred years old.

An excerpt from the article (if the link becomes obsolete in a few days) - “There are more than 50 temples in Tamil Nadu, which have exquisite murals of the Pallava, the Chola, the Nayak and the Maratha periods. A couple of palaces - the Ramalinga Vilas at Ramanathapuram and the Padmanabhapuram Palace in Kanyakumari district too have murals.

At the centre of destruction of murals in temples are the HR and CE officials**. They have not only whitewashed murals in many temples but continue to sandblast sculptures and inscriptions, disfiguring them. In the name of renovation and kumbabhishekam, the HR and CE officials have fully or partially whitewashed, out of existence, beautiful murals in the Pundarikaksha Perumal temple, Tiruvellarai, near Tiruchi, the ‘Tiruvilayadal Puranam' murals in the Meenakshi temple at Madurai, the Kallazhagar temple at Azhagarkoil, near Madurai”.

When I looked at the whitewashed walls, I died a little! How can anyone in their right minds do this?? I can understand the lack of funds for doing a full-fledged renovation of the murals but painting over them with low cost lime paints is nothing short of defacing them on purpose.

The only reason I always hear is that preserving art and history takes a backseat in a country where people are struggling for the basic amenities of life like food and shelter. Agreed. It is a huge problem but does that mean that future generations learn and see nothing of our past and our rich cultural heritage? Do we just want to be a country of skyscrapers and people in the next century?

Any time I see a historical artifact from India in a museum elsewhere (say in the UK or Germany), I would reflect for a moment in how and when it was acquired and in most cases it was not a gift from an Indian emperor but just the result of Colonialization and shameless plundering. When I now compare how such artifacts are treated within and outside India, it makes me wonder whether they are better off away from home…..

I understand there is no point in just grumbling without doing something about it. I jotted down my thoughts here
  • Choose temples in their historical order of importance (targeting those that have not yet been affected by this mindless renovation) and issue a ban on implementing renovation without a 90 day notice period and an explicit approval from historians who specialize in that era
  • Task students studying art and history to research the restoration techniques and if possible, the costs involved and create a report for each of the categories like pallava murals, chola frescoes etc.
  • The reports can be used to approach the Govt. or organizations that work towards restoring temples and/or other monuments and can also be used in contacting UNESCO heritage programme to see if any funds could be allocated for these purposes
  • If there is an NPO that people can rely on, it will definitely bring in funds from within India and outside. I would gladly give 1% of my salary every year to this cause.
  • Above all, it is of extreme importance to make sure that this is not projected as a religious issue because it isn’t. I would not have been any less concerned about the destruction of such historical sites if I had been a Christian or a Muslim and I am sure plenty of Indians would agree with me
I understand fully that it might take decades before any of the above are implemented with a big “if” in the front but it hurts a lot more to not even try ! I have sent this blog post to “The Hindu” as well hoping that I am one among many who feel the same way and our combined efforts will take us a little bit forward.

I would appreciate any comments or suggestions from the readers for eg: information on such organizations if they already exist.

Copyright: Photo is from the article in "The Hindu"
**HR and CE officials = Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowment Department officials

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Keep track of your sins…

...with an iPhone app, appropriately named Confession**. I accidentally came across the app and some of the listed features:
- Ability to add sins not listed in standard examination of conscience
- Confession walkthrough including time of last confession in days, weeks, months, and years
- Choose from 7 different acts of contrition

Well…there is at least one app that will not interface with facebook and twitter..atleast not until location based advertising finds a way to monetize people’s sins !

What can you do with an old vacuum cleaner?

You can make it Einstein’s tongue, if you are creative !! You should be able to spot the other interesting "junk" if you click on the picture for the larger version.

Puzzler of the week: Dairy products cause cancer ??

…should rephrase…they increase the probability of cancer, according to a recent forward I got. As always, I googled totally expecting it to be one of those useless rumors that travels around the e-world in a jiffy (I pity those that create these forwards….if only they had a charming friend like me ;) :D) and was shocked to learn that it may be true.

Although studies have gone both ways and research is still being carried out, most of them incline towards accepting this premise as a fact. Almost all of them point to the Chinese, who apparently stay away from all kinds of dairy products, who have a really low rate of cancer when compared to those in the Europe and the US.

Has someone bothered checking out Indians, who live and breathe dairy products? If Indians had a much higher rate of Cancer or at least something comparable to the western world, I would slowly become a believer. However, if they do not, then I would believe that it would just link to all the artificial things that are done to the milk production (pumping it up with hormones and what not) here that’s the culprit. I have been used to fresh milk in India even though we later switched to Aavin but I still hold firmly that both milk and yoghurt taste weird in the western world (you can’t even go to the disaster that is buttermilk – God bless the Turkish for their Ayran that helps me survive in Germany) !

Given that I already know 3 Indians – all women – who suffer/suffered from cancer and that only one of them survives, I should say its not looking good……are the days of milk and paneer going to be replaced with soymilk and tofu?

Some say women should be careful about soy intake – so now, researchers, make up your mind, what can we actually eat??

** The article is not intended to offend Catholics or the concept of Confessional.

Copyright: The picture in from the KLM flight magazine and is the work of French artist, Bernard Pras

Monday, May 16, 2011

What happens when...

...2 people with very different tastes are stuck at home on a rainy sunday with just one laptop ?!?

...split screen technology :D

Necessity is indeed the mother of invention !

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Jinx factor wearing off ?

You all know about how I kill plants.

In an effort to set the record straight, I would like to proudly proclaim that my current effort with plants is paying off.

Below given are pictures of the plants in my balcony, that is now no longer ashamed to face its peer balconies :)

I am especially proud of this small potted plant that sits on my end table. I bought it purely because of the orange color that brightens up the room even on a cold and dull day and I must say I am rather pleased with how well it has bloomed.

I know I am tempting fate by this post but I have to brag given that the chances are few and far between!

I am pushing my luck even further by writing these instructions but being noble (:D), I always think of 'yam petra inbam peruga ee vyyagam'**

10 Steps to have plants in the balcony
1. Buy Balkonkasten (plant holders) from Amazon, make sure they have a plate underneath where excess water can seep through

2. Make holes in the Balkonkasten for the water to seep through (usually there are 4 holes provided that can be easily opened with a small hammer and a screw driver)

3. Cover the hotels with something light such that water can seep through but not the mud (I bought a small terracotta flower pot for 50 cents, broke it into 4 pieces and covered the holes)

4. Add a layer of pebbles (Since I already paid for mud, I was in no mood to pay for pebbles, took it from my apartment garden, ofcourse after checking with my owner. I really don't want to be known as a pebble-thief!)

5. Add layers of mud until the boxes (balkonkasten) are 70% filled

6. Choose plants carefully. Do not choose only seasonal plants, buying new plants for every season can be very expensive. For example, the green plants in the pictures without any flowers do not bloom but they will remain green through out the year and so are the blue ones. This way I only have to change the plants at both ends.

6. If the plants from the nursery are dry, water them by immersing them into to huge bucket of water for a couple of seconds and then let the excess water drain in a kitchen sink. If the plants are too dry, immerse them once more. This ensures that water is evenly spread within the mud.

7. Take the watered plants from their pots along with mud so that the roots are intact and place them in the formation you need with enough gap between them (Usually plants come with instructions as to how much space they would need and to what extent they can grow)

8. Add some more mud so that the roots can eventually attach themselves to the mud in the boxes. The mud layer should rise only up to 85% of the height of the boxes (obviously this is an approximation and no, I do not really measure it)

9. Place the boxes within the hangers and check to make sure they are securely fastened (you don't want to your beautiful pots to fall on strangers' heads or ironically your own)

10.Water them based on weather (the warmer it is, the more water the plants require, just like us) and instructions (my potted plant needs only water once a week). The simplest way is to stick your finger into the mud. The mud should always be moist (NOT wet)

Ofcourse there are lot of people who do this professionally by measuring soil moisture, creating flower formations, using special manure...lets just say that I will cross the bridge if and when I get to it !

Happy Gardening !

** Let everyone else enjoy what I enjoy.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Costa del Sol

Ashok and I made a pact when we got married that we would always be together for our wedding anniversary irrespective of work or any other commitments, given that we had a long distance relationship. This year it was on a wednesday, and it made no sense to take the day off and get back to work the next day, so we came up with the brilliant plan of taking the whole week off :D !

After having fallen in love with Spain and more specifically, Andalucia...

....we decided that we would visit the Costa del Sol before we cross Spain off our list. Costa del Sol has everything for everyone - beaches, mountains, historical places and a rarity - great weather throughout the year and good food.

We had chosen a resort by the beach in Mijas Costa and the nearest town was Fuengirola, separated from our resort by a row of charming villages.

Although the town shows unmistakable signs of growing urbanisation, the narrow streets, the Castillo de Sohail (a Roman fortress converted to an Arab fortress), the open parks and all a stone's throw away from the sea make it worth visiting. Another town close by is Marbella, also known for its Plaza de Torros.

We are not the spend-the-whole-day-lying-around-in-the-sun kind of people given that we have done it willingly and unwillingly for more than 20 years in India before coming to Europe. Fortunately for us, Mijas Costa is suitably located close to the highways leading to many major tourist attractions.

This is the capital of Andalucia and according to us, one of three important historical cities in Andalucia, the other two being Granada and Cordoba. To describe Seville in a few words, I need to quote a friend of mine who said 'The city has character'!

Seville is also renowned for its bull fights (even though the birth place is Ronda). The Plaze de Toros is one of the oldest bullrings and is definitely worth seeing. Although I am curious to learn what the bull fighting is all about and see it happen, I am never sure I can sit through it, so I was not all that disappointed to learn that the bull fights happen only in certain months (most commonly between April and June) and there wasn't one scheduled when we were there.

The Alcazar in Seville is like the twin sister of the Alhambra in Granada and serves to be one of the best examples of Mudejar architechture. The construction began in12th century and it has been through many invasions and renovations. Patio de las Muñecas (Court of the Dolls - shown in the photo below), Patio del Yesso (Court of Stucco) and the Patio de las Doncellas (Courtyard of the maidens) are simply breath-taking and you keep walking around, craning your neck with eyes devouring all you can while listening to the audio guide and never once thinking about the time !

The Seville Cathedral is massive and is beautiful in its own way. What I loved was a tilted mirror placed in a vantage position on the floor through which you see the cathedral upside down and focus on the ceilings.

Nerja is known for its caves and the balcony of Europe. We didn't even know this place existed until we saw a travel brochure. When we got there, we were in for a real treat !

The caves stretch for almost 5km even though only a small part is open for tourists. I can solemnly say that I have never seen such huge and magnificent stalactites and stalagmites in my entire life. Can you spot the guy behind the metal railing in the left of the picture shown above ?That should give you a perspective of how huge this formation is !!

Inside the caves, these formations form a natural amphitheatre where concerts and shows are regularly held. The best thing to do would be to catch a flamenco show and watch the colors flow and the feet tap with the imposing background !

The balcony of Europe (one view is shown in the pic below) is a short drive from the caves and completely lives up to its name !

Be prepared to be speechless for a while when the view first comes into view ! There is a beautiful promenade that leads to the sea and when I stood there and watched the sunset, I had this feeling of serenity and a strange calm wash over me and I was completely absorbed in it and silent (if you know me, you would understand why it is a big deal :D) for a few moments (oh..well, how long did you think that would last !?)

The best way to explore Malage is by a horse-driven carriage :D ! There is something incredibly romantic about the clop-clop sound (am wondering if it comes from girls liking knights and traditionally there are no knights without horses !) especially when you are leaning on your loved one's shoulder and riding through a picturesque street.

Malaga is a huge city and after having visited Moorish villages and towns, this urban place does not hold one's interest for long which is why a 1.5 hr quick guided tour (and doing it in style never hurts, does it :D?) helps you get a good glimpse of all the important places and choose what to want to visit.


Benalmadena is a town known for its boating trips - tourists are taken fishing and are given fresh sea food (obviously not interesting for herbivores like us) and the beautiful promenade along the sea. One can spend hours walking here and having occasional breaks either by shopping or sipping Italian espresso.

The aquarium in Benalmadena could be interesting if you can appreciate a wickedly large star fish, spider (or is it a tarantula ?) and a glass walkway with sharks (which you tell yourself are harmless and you try not to think about Jaws) swimming above your head !

Algeciras is a historic Mediterranean port. It is also a city of Churches, Monastries and above all, a beautiful square in the centre of the town that comes alive with festivities. All around the square are small cafes and restaurants where the locals enjoy tapas.

We could have made another day trip to Gibraltar if not for a teeny tiny thing called a 'visa' and an immigration officer who is unlikely to forget me for quite some time !

- I saw so many oranges in one day than I have seen in my entire life !

- I did not have to get up early to watch the beautiful sun rise (this was at 8:30 am :D)

- Famous metadors apparently get paid like football stars !

- There were nearly 200 Indian restaurants in Costa del Sol although we never saw any desi tourists (not that I am complaining since Spanish cuisine is not really vegetarian friendly)
How/Why ? God bless the English tourists who love Indian food and who flock there regularly !

- Groceries were ridiculously overpriced everywhere (everything was almost twice as expensive as Munich and Munich is one of the most expensive places in W.Europe!)
How/Why? Recession and economic instability leading to inflation ?!

On another note, the trip to Costa del Sol did not let us cross Spain off our list, in fact we are going back again...rolling eyes.....

Friday, April 8, 2011

I kill plants....

....I don't know why or how (or may be I do...) but I have never been successful in rearing a plant life.

In my defense, I have lived in a city in an apartment all my life without as much as a glimpse of gardening...well, if you don't count the potted Thulasi that amma had (and obviously amma took care of) and yes, I did occasionally water it and did the mandatory pradakshinam and namaskaram whenever amma asked me to but now that I think about it, I don't even know where she got it from or how often she changed the mud !

Trial 1: Year 1996
We had this inter-St.Johns' (there are 4 branches) competition where each school had to do their own mini-projects and exhibit them for the others. Since my engineering skills are way better than my artistic skills, I was assigned the ''technical'' tasks but a friend falling sick at an inopportune moment meant that I had to prepare one of the ''fields'' in her place for an irrigation project. It was nothing fancy (or at least that's what I thought...I was naive back then), I was to sow some wheat or kezhvaragu in a tray and allow it to grow for 3-4 days and bring it to the school (just like we create or rather amma creates a park for Golu). I duly took the seeds from amma and a green tray (with amma saying ada kadavule, adhu vethalapakku kudukara thattu di!), found some mud with the help of our watchman, carefully planted and watered them.

Day one - Nada
Day two - Null, I kept it in the mottamadi for a couple of hours after wondering if it was getting enough sunlight in our balcony
Day three - still nothing, by now I was really getting worried because I was to take it to the school the next day. I was so desperate that I actually sat and talked to the tray for a couple of minutes (seriously!) since I had heard somewhere (most likely vayalum vazhvum) that talking to plants and treating them as beings with feelings help their growth !
Day four - tray looked like green eminems hidden in the mud, took it to school, got a wrathful look from the teacher, who somehow managed to include it as a ''just-budding'' field in the project.

Trial 2: Year 2003
It was my first birthday in Germany. A few friends had come over for dinner and one of them got me a small potted plant that apparently blooms beautifully in the spring (and I thought to myself, if it makes it to the spring!). She gave me instructions on how to take care of it, I diligently took a note of them and created outlook reminders. Seeing the first bloom was as exciting as seeing the first snow !! Not to mention that I took a zillion pictures of it !

One became many and at one point, I actually had 37 small blossoms (and yes, I counted). I proudly showed it off to a friend who pointed out to me that the plant was getting bigger for the pot and I should shift it to a bigger one.

I asked around, went to a store, bought a pot, some mud (and after getting over the initial reluctance of paying for mud!) and then shifted the plant to the bigger pot....and 3 days later, it died ! I cursed the friend who suggested shifting the plant to another pot and told my friends ''No more plants, please!''

Trial 3: Year 2006
A plant-crazy colleague of mine was telling me about how she had requested her mom to come and water her 50 potted plants (yes, 50) when she travels for work. I told her about my jinx factor w.r.t plants and she was shocked. She gave me a plant (oh..no, not again...) that belongs to the cactus family and told me that it required no care whatsoever. I took it home with some trepidation and gradually realised that she was right, it hardly required any water and the sunlight in the window sill was more than enough. After two years, I was really glad that I had beaten the jinx factor.

In 2008, I had a travel marathon and was away for 5 weeks and when I came home, the plant had breathed its last !

Trial 4: Year 2011
My new apartment has a huge balcony. Now that spring is here, I went outside and stood on the balcony enjoying my morning coffee. As I looked around, I noticed that all my neighbours's balconies were suitably decorated - hanging flower pots, pots on the ground, creepers on the sill and to add insult to injury, the lady in the opposite apartment came into her balcony with her gardening gloves and started planting new ones !! In the interest of not being the only apt with a lacklustre balcony, I am going to try my hand at this again and all I can say is.....May God save the plants ! Amen !

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Curiosities of Budapest

Hungarian Parliament, BudapestFor a tourist, both Buda and Pest (two parts of Budapest on either side of the Danube) have a lot to offer and you can easily spend a 3-day long weekend without being bored even for a minute.

Buda Castle district
You can either take the funicular or walk up the hill to reach the Buda Castle District. Either way you get to see some beautiful views of the city before you start exploring the district. There is an imposing building of museum and after passing through what looks like a village with shops and hotels, the beautiful Mathias church comes into view.

The fisherman’s bastion was my favorite in the district, to me it was a magnificent terrace of the Buda Castle and offered beautiful views of the Hungarian Parliament and the rest of the city.

The Buda Castle also houses the Hilton hotel and the very famous Faust wine cellar. If you are a wine-lover, it is definitely worthwhile to spend some time tasting different wines from Hungary while sampling some delicious scones and cheese along with it. The sommerlier is very friendly and explains all about the wine while allowing you plenty of time to sample it.

Saint Istvan
Although the cathedral had an impressive façade and offered views from the top, I was enamored with exquisite interior with designs that had a touch of the Oriental about them.

Hungarian Parliament
To me, it was like the Sphinx in Cairo, impressive in pictures and from afar but lacking lustre up-close. Guided tours have long queues and did not seem worth the money.

Opera house
The best way to see the opera house is to catch a concert there (obviously you have to plan ahead) since the opera guided tour is overpriced. The building looks like any other from the outside and this adds to the ‘awwwww’ factor once you see the inside….really beautiful.

Jewish District
We saw people clothed in black robes and matching hats and no one needed to tell us it was the Jewish district. My hands were itching to take pictures of them but it was Saturday (Sabbat) and Ashok told me that he wouldn't come to my rescue if I got beaten up for sacrilege! The synagogue came into view with the 2 minarets shining in the sunlight. After we took a walk in the block, we decided to come back again for the guided tour on Sunday.

Ashok is fascinated by Jews and more specifically Hungarian Jews (a small but extremely talented group of people) and so I couldn't help smile when he was given a cap soon after we entered the Synagogue.

The tour was very informative and the guide, really friendly. I learnt a lot during the tour and here are some of the key points:
- This is the largest Synagogue in Europe and second largest in the world (weirdly, the largest one is in New York)
- The interior of the Synagogue was fashioned like a Cathedral (unlike in other Syngaogues where the altar is in the middle and the audience sit around it in concentric circles) out of respect to the Christian community
- More than 2000 people who died during the holocaust are buried in the Synagogue (and not in the Jewish cemetry) since they were killed while taking shelter in the Synagogue and there was no way to dispose the bodies.
- More than 80% of the Hungarian Jews live in Budapest.

The museum in the Synagogue was very interesting too but I would probably need a separate post to describe it.

No visit to Budapest is complete without doing what the locals have been doing for hundreds of years - a visit to one of the legendary baths. Even cab drivers will recommend this as one of the must-do things. Yes, weekends are crowded and its better to take your own towels but the experience is new and refreshing on various levels because of the openness of the baths and the beautiful architecture. I have a good mind to go back for a spa weekend since each of these baths offer a wide variety of treatments and massages. Tip: Buy tickets from your hotel or travel office to avoid the long queues at the bath.

Holocaust memorial centre
As the name suggests, it is not exactly a ‘fun thing’ one does during a vacation but it is a historically important place offering a lot of information and insight into the sad past. My visit to the Dachau concentration camp left me completely drained both physically (since I chose a severely cold day to go there) and emotionally, so if you have not read much about the holocaust, then you should brace yourself for this visit.

Danube night cruise
A night cruise after a visit to the holocaust memorial is a good way to remind yourself that whatever happens life goes on and that one must not dwell on the past but learn from it and move on. The area around the Danube river is a UNESCO world heritage site and you will see why. It is indeed a sight to see the historical monuments (castle district, museum etc.) along the river glowing against the dark sky while you cruise through it sipping champagne (I would not opt for the dinner cruise since I find it overpriced and eating will distract you from the beautiful sights). Tip: Choose to sit on the upper deck – the views are better and you can go out of the cabin for taking some great pictures.

Govinda to the rescue
My biggest concern in traveling to Eastern Europe has always been the ability to find vegetarian food and my past experience in Marienbad did not help. Google pleasantly surprised me with Govinda, a vegetarian restaurant in Budapest run by Hare Krishna. All my doubts about the chef’s capability vanished when I tasted the lentil soup they had, it was this ratatouille moment when I almost smelt home ! They had a wide variety of menus and a surprisingly low price. Add to it the convenient location (a few 100m from the Saint Istvan Cathedral), it was the perfect place for us.

Other tips
- Exploring the city on foot is a great option when the weather is good
- Transport to and from the airport is possible only by means of a taxi or airport shuttle (there are number of private companies doing this, google to find the best option)
- Although we did not have any issues, the locals warn you against visiting certain districts to avoid your pockets being picked.
- Get Hungarian forints from your home town or use an ATM since the exchange rates offered at the Budapest airport are very poor.

Budapest made complete justice to its reputation as one of the most beautiful cities of Europe. It was a weekend of feasts – a feast for the eyes, the mind and the stomach.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Talking with Amma...

...about frivolous things like a poor-man's version of a complicated recipe or reliving her past like how she felt when Appa came for the penn-parkum ceremony was always something I enjoyed mainly because these occasions were rare and precious. Amma is/was working and was never a housewife. So with both of our schedules and with the menfolk constantly wanting our attention (while amma takes care of appa and Raghav, my job was mainly fighting with either of them either over a topic or over the remote :D), the only time this would happen was just before going to bed. Amma would bring me mango complan (yeah, that's right) to bed and while I sip slowly, the talking would begin.

After I moved to the hostel, these moments became scarce and almost disappeared when I came to Germany. I called/call home once a week, mostly on a sunday, since saturday became a working day for Amma few years ago. The call was always along the same lines, discussing the weather, my health and after marriage, Ashok's health and finally, discussing the likelihood of me becoming a mother in the recent future (read, she bugs me and I pretend to listen).

Today morning I was blissfully sleeping at 9:30 (I made a solemn vow to never wake up before 10am on a saturday unless there was a Rajini movie playing at 11am in the city centre) when the persistent ringing of the phone woke me up. I hurried to pick it up when I saw it was Amma and in spite of all the phones having caller id and me starting with ''solluma'', amma will always begin the call saying ''chowmee, amma pesaren''...and it always makes me grin.

She said she was at work and it was very quiet today since everyone stayed home to watch TV (hmmm...now why would that be :D ??) and she felt like talking to me. I was surprised, I began in a sleepy voice and slowly we talked about a lot, laughed, reminisced and finally when I hung up, I was plastered with a wide grin....we ''talked'' again like good old days, now the only question remaining is how I would satisfy my craving for mango complan now....?!!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

I miss my girls...

I was the only girl in my
….masters class at the University of Stuttgart…..
….department when I started at Bosch……
….department when I started at Intermap……

In short, my life in Germany has mostly revolved around interactions with men and on some days it gets really tiresome (Menfolk can truly be incredibly boring)! I have never been a pink-loving cho-chweet saying girly girl but at times it drives me nuts to have no female perspective around me!

I miss…
the infinite patience that girls (atleast most of them) have when shopping for the most trivial things…
explaining to a colleague that I was late because I couldn’t find matching shoes for an outfit (read realized that I couldn’t wear sneakers to work)….
discussing a co-passenger’s really weird eyebrows (I once mentioned it to Ashok and it freaked him out, he said concentrating on weird eyebrows made him see the woman as a witch :D)….
grumbling about my unsuccessful attempts of using cold wax strips at home….
talking about an emotional scene that I saw in a movie or read in a book….
gossiping about oh..well…anything and everything :D (Men are not allowed to roll their eyes at this statement given that they gossip equally well)
sharing ideas about what furniture or curtains to buy when moving into a new house (Men treat the concept of curtains so trivially that it drives me nuts!!)….
talking about weight loss (successful or unsuccessful attempts, work-out routines, diet tips…oh the list is endless….)

Yes, I can call my girl friends but they live in different countries and different time zones and waking up someone at 3 am to talk about eyebrows will only result in sleepy swear words ! Although I have a few girls here in Germany to call, I can hardly impose on them on week days when they have enough things to deal with. This is why, when I get the chance, I really abuse it ! All my conversations with my girl friends easily last an hour and anytime I go to a party and see a bunch of girls, I get all excited like a kid being taken for ice cream…after all it has indeed become a luxury that I get a glimpse of only now and then !

To all my girl friends out there: I REALLY REALLY MISS YOU !!

Monday, February 28, 2011

A painter is born...

...if you think Ravi Varma or Picasso…well its your own imagination that you have to blame because reality is an adult with a faded jeans and an even faded pullover with some white paint sticking to her curly hair, a paint brush standing on a stool in the middle of the living room wondering which part of the wall she painted last...

The story begins with Ashok and I deciding that we need to move to a bigger apartment (apt from here on). We answered the “budgetla thundu vizhume” Q with a solemn decision to reduce our travels (and ignored the “haha, like that’s ever going to happen” responses from within). Moving has always been a distant concept for me. I have lived in the same place and completed my schooling in the same city. Besides a brief sojourn in Trichy when appa got transferred (and the bank took care of all the moving, house hunting etc.) I have always called the same place my ‘home’. Moving to Munich from a furnished student apartment was also a piece of cake given that I had only 2 suitcases with some books and clothes (and no I did not have a dozen pairs of shoes then!). So this is my first official move and frankly it feels like I ran a double marathon over and over for a week!

The house hunting was unbelievably short and I liked the first apartment I saw and what’s more it was close to work and suited our needs perfectly. Just when I was beginning to think that moving is not all that complicated I got a letter from my house owner saying that I have to leave the apt cleaned and painted. After hours of packing (I couldn’t believe I had 4 cartons of books and no, I didn’t have the heart to throw or give them away) and multiple trips to the new house, we finally emptied the old one….except for some of the furniture. We had made a decision to throw away a futon and a writing table for very good reasons (read they were so beyond their prime that even ebay couldn’t help in selling them), only we didn’t know how. You cannot just throw the furniture into trash but you have to drive them to the Recycling area and even if we manage to get it down 2 floors, we didn’t have a truck to transport them (one needs a special license to rent and drive such trucks). So we called the city to pick them up, only they charge like crazy when you want them to come at a time that’s convenient to you – 50 bucks for every 15 min. So we had to get everything ready and just bite our nails and hope that they didn’t send a couple of slow moving lazy men….

Painting a couple of rooms white sounded quite simple to begin with but the catch is covering all other places that you didn’t want to be white (like wooden floors, electrical outlets) and then using varnish for the rest (door frames, window frames, heaters etc.). After painting came the cleaning….ohhhh… the cleaning…I think its excruciating to scrub a bathroom floor knowing that you will never use that bathroom again ! The worst part was the lunch break in-between when we were too hungry to make do with a coffee and croissant but also too dirty (and smelling of bleach) to go to some place decent. Those were the times I fondly remembered people moving in India….where friends/relatives or neighbours’ take care of the food for those days and painting is left to the house owner (of course at a small price).

Inspite of having a friend help and getting a day-off from work (In Germany, I get a ‘moving day’), we had to work all weekend and I couldn’t remember where I was when the alarm went off this morning! I slowly realised that I was in my new apt and that I have to go to work even if I couldn’t feel my arms and legs and go I did…wearing a cotton kurta at -2 deg C because I was too tired to look for the carton containing my pullovers....

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Encounter with "Spanish Mama"

I wrote half the story in “Lost and Deported”, let me continue with the rest of it.

The resort we stayed in had WiFi but weirdly it never worked within our suite – we tried even the balcony and the gardens but it simply just wouldn’t. there was an internet café 400m from the resort and it was quite pricey. The first day, we had an excuse – looking for directions using google maps (since we hadn’t rented the car with a nav) but from then on we knew which direction to take since our resort was directly located off the highway. This resulted in me not using the internet for almost a week and so far, it has only happened in one place, in India, where I am overwhelmed with good people and great food and can blissfully forget the world wide web. The first couple of days were eerie – no youtube for songs, no online weather forecasts and above all, no gmail or blogspot! I was inordinately pleased with overcoming the internet addiction….but the happiness was short-lived, as soon as I got home and saw more than 50 new emails in my Inbox, I was hooked again (Vanity, definitely my favorite sin!)....

Driving along the coast in Spain was fun – it was neither the erratic Italian driving nor the stiff German driving, it was somewhere comfortably in between. Speed limits in the highways were usually between 85-120 kmph and almost everyone was always driving 15-20 kmph above the speed limits anytime there were no radar speed trailers around. During our entire stay we had driven around without any problems but that changed on the last day on our way to the airport. We had just got on to the highway and mama was behind us. The cop car overtook us and was in front of us for a while and we figured he had his own things to do until the lights started flashing and he took the exit and asked us to follow suit.

We quickly checked to make sure we had the license and put on our most “innocent” expressions. Two cops got out of the car, asked us to get out and started talking rapidly in Spanish. I waited for them to stop and asked “You want to see the license?”. Ashok has an international license from India, so when he handed it to the cops, they assumed we were tourists directly from India and started rapidly talking among themselves (and we did not try to correct them :D).

One of them steps forward and starts pointing to the road and talking in half-English-half-Spanish. I knew we broke some traffic rule but I still didn’t know what. He starts pointing to the road again and this time I notice he is pointing to the lines. It finally dawns on me that we crossed over to the next lane when there was a solid white line in-between (and not the broken or dashed lines) and in all frankness, I never saw it. Instead of telling him that, I chose to say “sorry, we are tourists” with an additional stress on the last word (am glad he didn’t look at my German driving license). After more discussion in Spanish, they let us go but they trailed us for another 20 minutes. To me, it was like taking the driving test all over again…Vivek madhri kayyala 8 pottu kamichurundha enna ayirkum ? uno, dos, tres nu kambi ennirpeno ??

Monday, February 21, 2011

Lost and Deported

I lost a bag, was refused entry into a country, was cut off from internet and the cherry on top, was pulled over by cops! Sounds like a fun week, right? In truth, it actually was!!

Let me enunciate each part of that sentence.

I lost a bag at the Munich airport. I usually carry a backpack as my carry-on and one of my girl(y) friends suggested that I carry a small hand-bag (gender woes…grrr!) for my passport, cash and cosmetics. I did, only I forgot to pick it up after the security check. Since I had a whole line of my items coming out the x-ray (from belt to shoes to laptop), I conveniently forgot the seldom used hand-bag. Fortunately, I had my passport and cash in the backpack (God bless the force of habit). Unfortunately I realized I left the bag only when I got into the shower at the hotel in Spain and realized I had no shower gel or shampoo.

Happy ending: On my way back, I picked up the bag from the “lost and found” at the Munich airport
with a twist: I had to pay 5 bucks to get it back since they had “stored” it for me. They actually have a list that says how much you pay for retrieving your item from the lost and found !

I was refused entry into Gibraltar. We were staying along the Spanish coast and Gibraltar was just over an hour’s drive from the resort. Since the checkpoint gets fairly crowded, we got up early (which is a herculean task for me esp. during a vacation) and got there before 9am.

Officer: Do you have a visa to enter Gibraltar ?
We smugly flashed our schengan visas
Officer (with an “I am not impressed” look): Gibraltar is not a schengan country
Us: Blank stares…..
Officer: You have to go back to Spain (and then he points to the U-turn)
Us: Blank stares turn into disappointed looks
Me: Does being in Europe for long and having a PR count?
Officer: No
Ashok turns the car around, reaches the U-turn and a sudden wave of genius hits me and I force him to make an illegal turn to get back to the port of entry.
Officer (now impatient and annoyed) walks towards us.
I had remembered that Gibraltar is a British territory and both Ashok and I have UK visitor visas. With a triumphant look, I flash those visas.

Officer: I would have let you in if you had a British PR but a British visitor visa does not count
Me: Are you sure?
Officer (exasperated): Madam, I am the head of immigration, I think I know!

Unfortunate ending: For the first time in my life, I was denied entry into a country (thankfully no “denied” stamp in the passport)
with a twist: we still saw the rock of Gibraltar
and a resolution: to go back with a visa and am keeping my fingers crossed about meeting the same officer (cat one time, elephant also one time).

To be continued…..

PS: I know the heading is exaggerated and misleading. Oh..man, I really should stop visiting rediff and times of India pages !

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Chandramukhi in German

...das kann doch nicht wahr sein !! mudiyala pa...mudiyala !

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

SS in Germany

A friend of mine in Germany works for an American company that simply loves abbreviations. They recently had a re-organisation and the result was a number of teams like Sales Engineering (SE), Marketing support (MS) etc. The only problem is that my friend was in the sales support team located in Germany and he/they got stuck with....you guessed right....SS !!

Being known as SS in Germany is probably not a good idea.....remember our dear old Adolf ? You can imagine people's expressions when they get an email saying ''SS will take care of it''...! I am tempted to say ROFL but will that be borderline racism ?

Friday, February 4, 2011

At crossroads...

There is this mattress ad that says that one-third of life is spent in bed. And I think the remaining is spent in decision making - when we decide to get up, what to eat, what to wear, when to leave for work, what things are to be done today and when we finally get to back to the comfortable one-third part of life !

The day-to-day decisions are indeed easy since they fall into a routine and we can often deal with the consequences easily - a sigh when the favorite blouse doesn't fit anymore, a shrug when there is no time to eat, honking when there is traffic, an irritated look when we switch lines and the line we just left starts moving ahead....but what happens when we know we have to make a decision that may alter our lives forever?

Big decisions are never easy; not knowing whether we can live with the burden of the consequences makes them even more intimidating. A simple example - if we had to choose between a high paying job in a god forsaken city and a low paying job in a happening one, which job should one take? Is the social life worth the money one would lose? If I take the high paying job, can I deal with the fact that there will be nothing to do in the evenings and over the weekends? A more complicated example would be if the high paying job did not promise any challenges that would give one job satisfaction. Does one choose money or improving one’s career? In some cases, the priorities help determine the decision – a big family dependent on my salary would make me choose the high paying job, come what may and will serve as a motivation to help me deal with the pitfalls of the decision ! But what if the priorities themselves are unclear?

I am now in a place where I have to make multiple big decisions both in my personal life and work. There are no right or wrong decisions, all of them have their pros and cons. I cannot ask for anyone’s help (except of course Ashok) and I cannot count on the future turning out exactly as I hope. I am afraid that down the road, I may resent the decisions I make now and even if make my peace with the consequences, I am worried that I would hurt my near and dear ones.

Kadavule, give me clarity of thought, give me courage and resolve for clarity of action and above all, give me strength to stick to my decisions and anything else they may bring!

I googled for Manadhil urudhi vendum lyrics and found it in a blog…..by Sowmya…..maybe this is a sign.. :)

Monday, January 24, 2011

The Greens of Long-Distance Relationships

Ashok and I have had a long-distance relationship for many years and I think that qualifies me to write about it. Since everyone knows the blues of long-distance relationships – travel, double household expenses and above all, staying away from each other, I decided to throw some light on the greens.

Respect for each other’s career choices: Long-distance relationships are 99% of the time the result of career choices. When both of them are employed and the decision is not simply about the money, it calls for an understanding and respect for one’s career from the other partner. In many cases, the girl inevitably has to make the career change and while it may be practical because of a number of reasons in some cases, in most others, she simply does not have a choice. So any partner, who is willing to try a long-distance relationship for the sake of the other, immediately takes a Vishwarupam in the other’s heart.

Keeps passion alive: A relationship always survives on love but the zsa zsa zu is needed to keep the spark alive. Many of us can easily spot people who are newly weds or couples who have just started dating. This is mainly because they have too little time and too much to say/do and hence have eyes only for each other. This precisely works for a long-distance relationship where weekends are exclusively reserved for the other partner and everyone/everything else ceases to exist. Ashok amma used to make fun of me for calling her on Friday evening saying that I was saving my time over the weekend for Ashok and getting the phone calls to families out of the way! Well…guilty as charged!

More consideration and compassion: Well, its hard to fight with someone on the phone and in the age of cordless and mobile phones, its even harder to bang the phone down and create the appropriate effect. When one comes home tired after traveling, the other, however angry, will push the anger aside and choose a warm welcome instead. So its more or less abusing the absence-makes-the-heart-grow-fonder logic ! In addition to that, it teaches a partner (especially a man) the value of housekeeping. Being alone and fending for himself makes him more open to helping with household chores (although I have to say that nowadays most men I know do this).

Allows more traveling: Long-distance relationships mean travel…duh! So it makes taking vacations and traveling for pleasure even easier. I can’t keep count of the weekends Ashok and I spent in another European city like Madrid or Hamburg or Verona. We figured “Why meet in Munich? Why not meet elsewhere if it means traveling the same distance?”. Not to mention all the additional flying miles one accrues and that ends up as a free ticket later ! In the last week of 2010, we had just come back from a trip and we spent 4 days at home without doing anything – no travel, no restaurants, no outings, nothing (except of course grocery shopping). At the end of the 4th day, on New Year’s Eve, when we were going out to watch the fireworks, we suddenly realized that it was the first time that year we had spent 4 days at home without any plans!

Avoids the ‘we’ syndrome: We love that restaurant, we hate that movie, well, there is nothing wrong in being “we” but many couples very often lose perspective of the “I”. I personally feel that its very important to retain one’s individuality. While one learns new things for the sake of a partner and makes changes w.r.t a few other things, a relationship should not mean losing one’s identity. Ashok takes part in chess games and tournaments, I blog. He plays squash, I like table tennis. He started dancing since I like dance and I started showing interest in history since he loves it. So while we do things in common during the weekend, we also keep our separate interests alive during the week.

Time for friends: For many people (unfortunately here people means girls), a marriage (or even a relationship) means hardly any time for friends. Somehow even in this social networking age, some people never find or rather take the time to keep in touch with friends and the first excuse they give is “busy with partner” (I say excuse because the partner may still have time to keep in touch with his friends). The excuse ceases to exist, when the partner is not in town during the week.

Of course this may not work for everyone but when it works, it fosters trust and builds a foundation that makes one say “evalavo pannitom, idha panna mudiyadha” !

Well, as always, I need a disclaimer to safeguard myself. This article is in no way intended to recommend couples to have long-distance relationships. It should only serve to enlighten those who are in one such relationship and cannot see the silver lining. Any decisions you make are wholly yours and neither the author, nor the examples given can be cited to suggest otherwise :D !

Monday, January 17, 2011

Attention, (Indian) Employers !

A girl who has just written her final year engineering exams attends a campus interview for a huge MNC. She hears nothing from them for nearly 5 weeks and then suddenly one day the appointment letter arrives by post asking her to join work in 2 days in a different city. In addition to that, the letter also has a list of requirements from getting the provisional certificate to registering at various places.

I cannot believe that the employer is dumb enough to assume that the girl is some version of superman and can fly and get all these things done in a day, pack, move to a totally different city, find a place to live in and still be ready to start working at 9am the next day.

The girl is obviously anxious, calls HR, gets an extension of 5 days, hurriedly does everything (not to mention the parents who work round the clock to help accomplish this in addition to all other things they normally have to do), goes to the new city, finds temporary accommodation after spending a whole day going around the city and arrives on the joining day exhausted and even more anxious!

Is the employer increasing productivity by making the freshers join a week in advance? Wouldn’t it better if all candidates were given at least 2 weeks time to be prepared, especially when they are just stepping into their careers from student life? When HR already knows that the candidates are going to ask for an extension, can they not save all this drama by being a little considerate? Why take the freshers for granted? Is such behaviour going to give the employer loyalty and respect from those freshers?

An NRI wants to move back to India for good. He has a telephonic interview with a MNC at 7am in the morning (because of a 4 hour time difference with India). Its 7:45 am and he is still waiting. He writes an email to the person with whom he has interview asking if there is a change of plan. He gets a reply in 2 minutes saying that the person is in a meeting with a client and will call back later.

Would it have been difficult to send this email 45 minutes ago informing the NRI of the change? It would have been clear from the NRI’s resume that he is currently working and has a job to go to and cannot sit around for 45 minutes doing nothing. How can a group lead at an MNC not even have this basic courtesy?

The interview is rescheduled and this time the group lead is again 20 minutes late. Neither does he inform about this in advance nor does he apologise for being late.

Following the interview, a video conference is set up. The NRI has now taken an afternoon off and is sitting in a video conference facility. He has a presentation prepared and is expecting 4 people to be present. As usual, they are late. 3 of them turn up in 15 min and the fourth in 25 min. No apologies, as usual. He starts presenting; one of them sitting right in front of the webcam starts chewing a samosa loudly while 2 others are discussing among themselves. Patiently he finishes presenting and then answers a few questions. He is told that he will be informed of their decision in a week.

2 weeks pass by and there is no response, so he writes an email asking them for an update. 2 more weeks pass by without a response.

The NRI writes to HR saying that he is withdrawing his application. Who would want to work with a bunch of people, with absolutely no professional ethics whatsoever ?!?

Does applying for a job translate to “I need a favor from you and so you can take me for granted”? (Indian) Employers, please understand that it means “I have skills that I think will be of use to your company and your company has prospects that will help me grow”. It is a mutually beneficial relationship and until both the employer and employee understand this, there can never be a healthy work environment.

I have heard of number of people in India who change jobs just because they get a better package elsewhere and have seen a number of employers complain. I am not saying that its always the fault of the employers. But before expecting loyalty from the employees, they should think if they did at least a few things right to deserve such a loyalty. Paying a salary does not guarantee that because it is not money given away, it is money given for services rendered.

Unfortunately (or rather fortunately) there are certain things beyond money….

….for everything else, there is master card :D !
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