Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Yet another Love Story: Chapter 1

She saw him by the elevator and her heart skipped a beat. Although she has not thought much of her prince charming, he looked like one. She didn’t like feeling so attracted without even talking to him, but one can’t really choose how to feel, right? He was tall, had thick dark hair and a nice moustache. His ears and nose looked perfect to her and his eyes had a mix of sharpness and softness to them. She stopped herself from thinking any more about him and decided to go talk to him, as he was walking by her now.

“Hello” – she said.

“Hi” – he said and started to walk past her.

“Do you have a minute?”

“Yes, how can I help you?”

“I am new to this company and this is my first day. Can you tell me where the HR department is?”

“Sure, but it would be easier if I took you there as this building is not straightforward.”

She couldn’t believe he was doing this for her.

“How long have you been here?”

“It will be two years soon.”

“What department are you working in?”

“I am in the Mergers and Acquisitions group.”

“I will be in the investment banking division” she says noting that he doesn’t ask her any questions.

“Here we are” he says pointing to a room. “Nice meeting you. Good luck in your job.”

“Thanks for your help. Really appreciate it”.

“Bye-Bye” he says and leaves.

She stands there looking at his back for sometime before she remembers that she needs to focus on starting her job.

After a week in the company, she calls him and asks if he would like to have coffee with her. He is not sure why she is doing this but says yes out of courtesy.

They meet after work one day to go get coffee. She suggests the Starbucks nearby but he says that he prefers smaller coffee places and suggests a place called Everest Coffee Company which is out of the way. She reluctantly agrees to go there as her tastes in coffee are very exclusive (read picky).
- To be Continued

Monday, January 30, 2006

Remembering Mahatma

Today was the day Mahatma Gandhi (fondly known as Bapu, meaning father) was killed fifty-eight years ago. There is an excellent article, Remembering Gandhi by Uma .This article is very moving and well written. All I can say is that I wish I had written it!

Having grown up in India, I used to hear about Gandhi a lot, especially at school. When I was in sixth grade, some organization sponsored a contest where we had to read the book “My Experiments with Truth” and then take a quiz. My school made it mandatory for us, and that in itself made the task laborious. Anyway, I read the book and did not really appreciate him much then. During the quiz, some of the students (including yours truly in a small manner) did not maintain high ethical standards (let us just say that we were too helpful to one another than we should have). This made our teachers very mad. One of the teachers (who was a big inspiration to me throughout my school life) was deeply saddened that we would do something like that in something related to Gandhi.

The one thing I remember vividly about the book is how one night he heard the animal making sounds inside his stomach, since he ate some meat, that he was not supposed to. I was not mature enough to understand the hidden meaning behind this. I also was not impressed then that he did not fight against the British but did fasting and marches.

As I grew up though, my understanding and admiration for Gandhi grew as well. Here is a guy who got freedom for a country as diverse as India without resorting to arms. To me, this statement by Gandhi (shamelessly stolen from Uma’s post) summarizes everything that is so great about him.

“I am prepared to die, but there is no cause for which I am prepared to kill”. Wow!

Just the words make it a profound statement but his following it up with actions all through his life makes it even greater.

Working out issues through peace seems like the best approach to me, which is not something people seem to be doing these days. It would do them good to remember Gandhi’s sayings and life. Violence begets violence (as we are seeing in a certain country right now) and there is no end to it. No cause justifies killing thousands of people. I will stop here, as this post is not about non-violence, although it goes hand in hand with Gandhi.

Let us all remember what this day is about – practicing what one preaches, patience and tolerance, and what this day is not about – world dominance, killing and wars.

Mahatma Gandhi ki jai (Victory to Mahatma Gandhi)!

Friday, January 27, 2006

Amado Mio

The first time I heard this song (which was by sheer accident), I was enchanted. Some songs make me very happy whenever I listen to them (regardless of where I am or what my mood is) and I don’t really know why. There are quite a few tamil songs that do this to me (theeraadha vilayaattu pillai is one) and that is a topic of a separate post. There are some hindi songs (Kabhie Kabhie is one) that do this as well. The other English song that do this is Uptown Girl by Billy Joel – I just start tapping my legs when I hear it – anywhere anytime.

So, I ended up listening to this song three times in a row. I learnt that the song is performed by a group called Pink Martini , whom I had never heard of. The group is not a mainstream one but is described (by themselves) as “Somewhere between a 1930s Cuban dance orchestra, a classical chamber music ensemble, a Brazilian marching street band and Japanese film noir”. The more I found out about the group, my interest and admiration just grew. It looks like this group got started by a Harvard-alum with some of his friends and is based in Portland, Oregon – how cool is that?

I am not big on analyzing music, as I think that some things should be left unexplained to retain their mystery. If we examine everything, things either lose their charm or we cease to wonder. But I cannot get this song out of my system. Some days I play the CD just to listen to this one song. What is it about this song that is so enthralling? The lyrics are good but not extraordinary. I don’t know Western classical music and so I can’t talk about notes here. It is the combination of words, music and voice in this song that transports me to somewhere else.

After all this, you can imagine my glee when I found out that Pink Martini is performing in a nearby city, also by accident. I got the best tickets and made a grand date out of it. It was a surreal experience for me to listen to them in person. Of course, they opened the concert with Amado Mio, and that gave me goose bumps and I was at the edge of my seat. Everything that happened after that was anti-climactic. But this group is good – if you like variety in your music. They can sing in different languages – French, Spanish and even Serbian. Even though I don’t speak any of these languages (and maybe because of that), they all sounded authentic to me.

After the concert, the band was meeting with the audience and signing the CDs. I went and got some cash and stood in line for about an hour to get it autographed. The whole band was there and talking to audience (yes, that includes me!) and they were all so nice. It was an experience that I will remember forever.

If all this has made you want to listen to this song, check out the Pink Martini radio on their webpage (under Sympathique album). Better yet, find out when they are playing somewhere near and go see them in person. I tried to attach an audio link to an mp3 file I have on my computer but could not figure out how to do it. If anybody can help, it would be appreciated.
Do you have songs like this? Care to share them?

Some truly random thoughts to justify the title (I am going to start doing this once in a while as a friend pointed out that the blogs don’t seem random enough. See, I do pay attention to suggestions once in a while!).

Kutti Update: Kutti (our pet dog) has not been letting me sleep in peace the last couple of nights. One of our neighbor’s dogs is barking a lot at night (don’t know where the neighbors are) and that seems to agitate Kutti. So she starts barking in the house and yours truly has to take her out. It is very touching to see Kutti run towards that neighbor’s fence and bark with that other dog as a show of support. But it is disturbing (literally) to wake up a lot in the middle of the night. Because of this, I have been snoozing my alarm and getting up later than I planned to.

Love Monkey: I read somewhere that Love Monkey is like Sex and the City (SATC) with guys. Sex and the City is a show I love to watch (again and again) and so I decided to watch Love Monkey this week. Sorry to say that it didn’t even come close to SATC but was interesting in its own way. I like Tom Cavanagh from the show Ed, and thought the subject matter on recording artists and scouts was new.

James Frey Drama: I find the whole James Frey episode to be silly. If you haven’t heard about this, James Frey is the author of a memoir called A Million Little Pieces, which is about an addict going to rehab and all that follows. Apparently, this book was first sought to be published as fiction but the publishers did not want it. Then the book was described as a memoir and published, but we don’t know what changes were made to the book itself. I don’t understand how a book can be changed from fiction to memoir just like that. But it is an example of how a book is judged only by its cover. And why would anyone say that they went to jail, when they really didn't?! This underscores the reason why I don’t like to read non-fiction (memoirs included) as there will always be an embellishment when one tries to put something in writing. So, for now, I am sticking with fiction and expect everything written to be subjective and biased and tweaked (we are human, after all, aren’t we?).

Sunday, January 15, 2006

The Clock Story

During my recent trip back home to India, I got a digital clock for my parents that had LED display on it, to help them see the time at night easily. My parents thought it was a great gift and my dad went and got a converter for the power right away. When my dad was at the store buying it, apparently the store guy told my dad that American clocks will show a different time and will not work in India. We were laughing about it all the way through setting up the clock.

After much discussion on where the best place for the clock was, we set it up. Everything was fine for the first five minutes. After that, the clock started slowing down (or at least we started noticing it after that). We kept checking it every so often, and the clock just kept losing more time with time. My parents could not believe that an American clock was not working properly. So they kept checking the time aganist Sun News and Jaya News as they are polar opposites. Still the clock was losing time. After about ten hours, our great clock was four hours behind. Go figure!

Based on somebody's idea that there was a 30-minute difference between American and Indian time (whatever that means) and that there was only one store that could adjust for that in Chennai, my dad made a trip all the way to Mount Road to take the clock to the best clock store in town (did you know that it is P.Orr & Sons?). The guy at that store said that we had to have a battery installed and that would take care of this problem (even though the manual says that the battery is only needed for power backup). So my dad purchased that battery in a store next to P.Orr & Sons (apparently this battery is not available everywhere). My dad was short by fifty rupees but the battery guy was trusting enough to let him bring it later.

So, we installed and "charged" the battery and then set the time and started watching it again. It came to a point when I thought that my dad was going to start recording the time like in a lab experiment. Still the clock was losing time like before (if not more!). My mom would keep unplugging the clock as it was showing the wrong time and interrupting my dad's experiment. Meanwhile, the battery guy would call us up asking for his fifty rupees; and my parents would tell him that the battery he gave us is not working properly. At this point, I was ready to give up on this clock and get them a different one in India. But they did not want to give up and so upon my mom's instruction, myself and my dad made our follow up trip to the best clock store in town (we both had to go to get the story right).

The guy who had told my dad to get that battery was nowhere to be seen. So we went to a different guy and he wouldn't even look at this clock as he thinks all digital clocks from America don't work. The service was so poor that I did not even want to stay there. So I told my dad that we can get another clock and we went to the battery store to pay up the fifty rupees. What I really wanted to do was return the battery but it seems that you can't return it once you have opened it. After having been used to returning anything that you don't want in US, this was a little hard to get used to. We went to the battery store around 11.30 am and the store was closed. My dad went to the next store to ask about this store and they didn't know anything about it. My dad (against my wishes) asked the other store if he can give them the fifty rupees and they can give it to the battery store and they said that they don't talk to the battery store people. So we left that store. The highlight of this trip was the sugarcane juice we both drank before coming back home and the quality father-daughter time we spent together.

By this time, I was blaming myself for bringing this clock as my parents were feeling sorry that they are not able to use the gift I got for them. But anyway, we went on a search for a similar clock, and apparently LED clocks are rare to find in India. But finally, we found a store with a few different kinds of digital clocks. One was with seconds and the other one was without. I thought we should get the one without the seconds but my mom wanted me to call my dad. So I called and asked him and he immediately said we should get the one with the seconds. I asked him why and he said that is how we will know immediately when it stops working. I did not have any response to this and so we got the one with the seconds. We set it up and it works fine and most importantly, doesn't lose time.

I told my parents that I will return the clock after I get back to US but that I will set it up and check once before that. So here I come back and set the clock up and lo and behold, the clock works fine. That was not what I had expected. I was speechless after all the things I had to go through with this stupid clock. The theory is that it had something to do with the converter (by someone who knows more about electronics than I do, as that did not occur to me at all) and I guess that could be.

We decided not to return the clock and keep it in our home in US, as now we have a history with this clock. I told my parents that the clock works here and they didn't seem as surprised as I expected them to be, but my dad wanted me to spank it for not working there. But they seem to like the other one though.

The moral of this story (at least for me) is not to buy electronic stuff from the US to India. For one it is very difficult to find a place to repair it and the other thing is that there are lots of affordable electronic stuff in India now. They are all made in China, right?

Regardless, this clock turned out to be one of the funniest episodes during my trip and is still making for interesting and laughable conversations. I only wish this was a fictional story, but sometimes, life is more interesting than fiction. Hope all your clocks show the right time!

Monday, January 09, 2006

Going Home

I went back to Chennai (aka Madras), India end of last year to visit family. Going back home is always a very introspective period for me. I have lived away from home for the last fifteen years and away from India for the last eleven. So there are a lot of mixed emotions about going home, but the strongest one is of anticipation - of the changes since the last time I visited and the similarities to the way I remember things (note that my memory is not that great!).

Check out this website at www.ilovechennai.com for some pictures and details on my hometown.

I tried to make the most of the long flight trip by eating, drinking, sleeping and watching movies. It was interesting to sleep through the movies and watch them intermittently, but that is no different from what I do at home. My flight reached Chennai around 1 am and the first thing that caught my attention was the bad smell in the air. Even though I could not believe that an international airport couldn't be better, I reminded myself that I should not be judgmental and moved on. I had checked in two suitcases and it took more than an hour for my second suitcase to show up. Since they don't let visitors inside, there was no way for me to let my family know that I was there till I got all my suitcases and came out. And then I had to walk through scores of people before I identified my family, and went home with them.

I did not have too much of a jetlag and was fine with just a few hours of sleep the first night. It always takes me a few days to get used to the people and things there. So I decided to keep mostly to myself and my immediate family for the first few days. I was surprised to see a lot of coverage on US related items in newspapers like Hindu and tamil magazines like Vikatan and Kumudham. It was disappointing to see the amount of coverage movie actors and actresses get in the tamil magazines. My memory tells me that there were more stories and articles by authors (and not by movie celebrities) that were more interesting. I can't believe that people are interested in Vijay's new car, but maybe they are. But those magazines were page turners for me.

When I watched TV, it was mostly Sun Music. It was interesting to see DJs (or comperes, like my mom likes to call them) talk in a mix of tamil and english and trying very hard to be cool. But I enjoyed watching Sun Music as I am a sucker for tamil movie songs - both new and old. My dad was even asking me if I could get Sun Music in the US and watch it. The only thing that I did not care for was the abundance of SMS messages people send during some shows - most of them were droll but some of them were vulgar. It was funny to see the DJ telling most of the callers to turn down the TV volume, not see the TV, but just talk on the phone. In spite of that, the callers kept saying "hello hello" a lot. In a moment of weakness, even I called Sun Music as my mom dared me to, but hung up when they put me on hold.

I did not watch any news on TV as the channels are owned mainly by politicians. The overlap between the media and politics in India is just too much. Movie stars move on to politics and then the political parties run the TV stations - since it is all in the open, there is not even an expectation of unbiased news. Everybody was talking about the Kushboo story but then when I asked them what she said, they didn't know or were not sure.

There is a lot of western influence in Chennai - malls, megamalls, mega movie theaters, pizzas, fast foods and so on. But the thing is that all of these have been changed to suit the people there. I think it is a good thing as it adds variety to life. There are a lot of restaurants in Chennai now and one can even taste different cuisines. In spite of that, due to my dad's loyalty to Saravana Bhavan, we ate there mostly. In fact, the first week I was in Chennai, we ate at three different HSBs (Hotel Saravana Bhavan).

I bought a whole lot of churidhars and nighties and was very impressed with the colors and designs. I think Chennai Silks rocks. There are cell phones everywhere. I used to think that people in the US use a lot of cell phones, but looks like the people in India use them more. There are several ring tones and everybody seems to be on the cell phones all the time. But it makes sense to have one when you are in such a big city.

I had a wonderful three weeks savoring all that is Chennai - the sounds, the smells and the sights. And came back to my other home just before Christmas. Once I got here, I realized how different and interesting Chennai is. US seemed very quiet and grim after the always bustling city of Chennai. I think that I will always be a Madrasi (Chennaiite just doesn't have the same ring to it) at heart, no matter how long I have been away. I love Chennai, after all!