Sunday, December 13, 2009

My India

Early morning in the Pune Ernakulam express. A groggy-eyed me watches the world go by, bathed in the golden rays of the rising sun. Small hamlets rush by, their occupants just beginning their days. Small mud houses with thatched roofs and acres and acres of farmland all around. The sun continues its rapid ascent in the eastern skies, a blob of fire fast being tamed by the haze and fog of the morning. The wind rushes in through the open window, making me raise my jacket's zip upto my chin. It's the middle of winter. A train whooshes past, shrieking away to glory. The cold in the wind adds to the magic of looking out of the window, there's something quite inexplicable to it. A falcon starts the day's hunt in the distance.

The occupants of the train slowly start rising from their slumber, and start going about their morning duties in leisurely fashion. Such luxury would be rare for many of them in the normal course of their lives, and the sudden abundance of time seems to make many of them a bit confused. Or maybe it wouldn't be. I should stop looking at others through my rather clouded lenses.

A group of Sadhus are traveling in my compartment. They suddenly burst into prayer, performing their daily rites. The rest of the bogie looks on curiously.

A group of kids, just up, wave at us from another small hamlet we pass by. Cows and buffaloes roam around near houses, waiting to led to their daily pastures. A farmer pulls a lone reluctant bull towards some task which it is loathe to doing.

Small hills and large mountains escape by, as the train passes through a more or less barren landscape. Suddenly, as I've just got used to it, the forest closes in. How could I forget? The forests of Eastern Goa, the stunning evergreen forests in which a decade ago, I'd spent an incredible week. Down and down the train goes, leaving the deccan plateau towards the coast, skirting past the awe-inspiring Dudhsagar waterfalls, the rails a mere thread over the vast expanse of the valley.

As I sit at the window of my 6 Euro-for-24-hours, non AC seat, I look outside and think... this is India. My India. As I contemplate my future and wonder where I want to be, these are the moments which will drag me back, from all the wonders and magic of the outside world. Where a simple train journey will give me that unexplainable feeling of everything's-right-with-the-world, even when it isn't.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Last term at IIMK beckons...

It's the last day of the break between Term 5 and 6 of my MBA, and as I pack up and try to collect all the mess I have systematically spread all over the house, the myriad collection of chargers, cables, devices and accessories that our lives have become intertwined in, I am at a loss to understand my emotions. Am I happy or sad? Happy to be heading back to what would be the last few months on campus, or sad to leave home again, this time with the rather scary feeling that I have no idea when I would call this place home again. Leaving home for the MBA was different, there was a time frame attached to that, there was a fair bit of certainty involved. As I leave for campus this time round, I am staring at a lot of uncertainty. Where would my job take me, how far would it from what I call home now? Should I be happy and excited at the change and look forward to another new beginning, welcome the differences and new things, and try to get a role which would take me to new places and destinations and let me carry forward the experiences I so loved during my summer internship, or should I try to come back to what is essentially mine; my city, my people, my friends? These are tough choices to make, especially after I've spent a fortnight at home, experiencing so many of this things that made my life nice before all this circus started. How much of change is good, and how much is too much? When would I get tired of things being different and crave for the things back home? Do I make new friends and move on, or do I come back to the ones I have here, who, although having understandably moved on a bit with their lives, are still more or the less the same old folks I remember from my engineering days? Sometimes I crave for the awesome experiences I had in Europe, the feeling of instant friendships and deep connects that I experienced in a matter of hours, at other times, after a party or two in Pune with the old gangs, I tend to forget that this is not reality, not my present, but a fast-receding past which I am still fortunate to visit once a while.

Should I try to make my past once again my present and future and wallow in the comforts of known vistas and horizons, or should I step out and leave it all behind and move ahead? As much as I loved my experiences at IIMK and in Europe over the last 18 odd months, I do believe that change is often over-rated, and the known and comfortable past too vilified and under-rated. Should one keep striving for change, for novelty, for new experiences all the time, or is it fine to come back to what one loved after experiencing a fair bit of it?

Its a matter of weeks before my time at IIMK ends, and before I (hopefully!) make a choice about my work and location after my MBA. How do I even begin to tackle these questions is beyond me, and what I will do and how I will react when it comes to crunch is something which pretty much scares the stuffing out of me!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Messed up!

Ever since I've moved into a hostel, I've wondered what motivates people into maintaining their rooms like hospitals. The strange part is, everyone here seems to be like that. I came here, a year and a half ago, thinking about how awesome it would be to half my few square feet where I could live in as squalid conditions as I liked, irrespective of what anyone thought about it. I've always thought that being orderly and systematic was a wee bit too over-rated, and disliked it with passion. So I came here with dreams of squalid splendor, with nobody bothering me about the state of my room. Turns out, that's sort of true. The only bad thing is that rather that leaving me completely alone, they've started making trips to my room to convince themselves that theirs is so much cleaner. Which it is. Which I would happily go and tell them myself if they wanted the pleasure. But no, they insist on trooping down, walking through my mess, murdering a few paaavam (the disadvantage of hanging out too much with a tamilian :|) ants and making me rather annoyed. Worse, a few such trips, and I actually start doing something about my room.

So you have me, once every weeks, cleaning up the whole darn thing and turning it all upside down. Yeah, it does look much cleaner and better organized when I do that. Looks. I've no idea where my second belt is after I cleaned my room the last time, which is a bit of an annoyance since Max, the only clothing store in calicut randomly labels jeans with any size tags that they can catch hold of, with the result that unsuspecting customers (and also lazy ones, who do not try out everything they buy) end up having an assortment of stuff, half of which threatens to stop the family genes from going any further, and the other which makes me a fervent believer in the fella up there when I end up wearing it some groggy morning and praying that it doesn't come off till I am in the safety of my room again, all labeled the same waist size (am not telling ya what that is x-( ). And the other day, I drove myself up the wall looking for my pair of scissors, and found it half an hour later hanging on the softboard, apparently an appropriate place for scissors, as I had thought in the moments of insanity that take over me when I am in a cleaning frenzy.

Now the thing is, it would be understandable if folks maintained a bit of consistency in this fastidiousness about cleanliness business, and applied it other matters too, like, for example, hygiene. But no. You see those same buggers with sterilized rooms moving around in the same tee for a week or so. The reluctance to wash clothes and wear fresh ones is remarkable for a place which boasts of 100% humidity almost the year round. It would quite in line for a pig like me, but hey, those hospital keepers ain't allowed to do that!

It's downright funny when some company decides to distribute freebies to us on campus, during a pre-placement talk or some competition-related promotion stuff. Obviously, being free, most people make a beeline for it, irrespective of what's on it. And then, for the next week or so, you have half the campus as if in uniform, wearing the same stuff. I also fall in that category of freebie-lovers, and one morning as I walked to class, a friend asked why I was wearing the tee. I told him that it was the only clean thing I had, so that made it a simple decision. He said that he had received the same answer from a dozen people that day, and was going around checking how many were wearing it for the same reason. It did make me wonder about his sanity and what the hell he'd been doing all this while here if he had to ask people about such stuff.

All in all, I am rather peeved with these hypocrites. And rather disappointed with this aspect of hostel life. I mean whats a 4 by 4 (ok, they're quite nice to us, we have an 8 by 13) without there being no space left to walk in? Kind of takes the charm out of life...

And I reclaim all those comments :)

For a long, long time now, the comments site that I had entrusted the job of handling the comments on my blog was messing around with me. Or, I have moved from being techno-aware to remarkably techno-dumb in a short span of a few years. As much as I would like to claim the former, I have a strong suspicion that it was the latter.

Whatever it was, it meant that I no longer had access to moderating comments on the site. Which was all right, except for the fact that I started getting a few rather annoyed comments from people who were a tad unhappy that I had not approved their detailed comments on my post (not true, I just couldn't!!). So for all those folks, thanks for keeping the faith, and all your comments have been approved :) I've no idea how, but I managed to log in into the site after giving up the last half a dozen times, after trying an obscene combination of passwords and usernames and stuff. The thing is, every time I visit their site, they seem to have changed everything, which makes me rather confused (I have a strong feeling that business education is not too great for the grey matter up there :| ). And when I give in and tell them that I have lost my password, my username, everything, but I do want the site back, they throw some strange html code at me and ask me to put it some unheard of place in my site, stuff which I obviously have no clue about as much as I have done my own share of tinkering around with the template's html code (isn't half of it useless? I keep deleting and adding code and it doesn't seem to make any difference whatsoever :|).

To cut a long story short, and let you move on to the real short story if you haven't read it yet, I am now the supreme commander of arbit globe again :D Err, not a challenge to some bored hacker there... please... I love my site and respect your skills :|

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Trapped!

I am not very good at writing fiction, but do keep making the occasional feeble attempt at it. This story is one such attempt, originally written in an hour for a course in Term 5 at IIMK. I've made few modifications to the original draft, with the result that I am not overtly thrilled with the way it has come out, but the underlying theme is something which has been bothering me for quite some time.

The door of the cage shut behind the keeper, and Mordy waited for the familiar click of the lock that followed it. No sound came, however, and after a few minutes, Mordy couldn't resist his curiosity, and ambled his way across to the door. With his large paw, he nudged it, and it slowly opened a few inches. The keeper had gone, his duties done for the day. Dusk was rapidly losing its daily battle with the night, and a blanket of darkness was quickly engulfing the zoo.

Mordy pushed the door open and walked out a few feet, when a wave of terror hit him. Suddenly, he was petrified, and blanking out of fear. A cold wind had up, giving him goosebumps. He fled back into the cage and hurried to the farthest corner. He tried to ignore the open door, but it stared at him, tempting, confusing, seducing and utterly terrifying. He started pacing up and down in the cage, his mind a chaos of emotions and thoughts. He remembered his days in the lush, evergreen rainforests of the Malabar coast. Life had been a daily battle then, struggling for food, chases gone wrong, the unbearable pangs of hunger when the prey had been too wily, and, often, intensely satisfying too, the incredible feeling of being satiated and not needing to chase those darn bucks for another week or so, long afternoons spent on the warm rock on top of the lone hill in the forest and those intensely heady days with Kayra. The thought of Kayra sent a tear down his now increasingly scraggy face. Where was she? How would she be? Would she be still roaming those paths with his children? Or would they be out on their own, intimating the forest that a new predator was on the move, and that they had become a force to reckon with on their own? Life had been tough and exciting, frustrating and rewarding, stressful and leisurely, all at the same time. The constant struggle to stay away from that two-legged ape who could magically kill you from a hundred feet away, who would kill and then not eat, for some reason, who would kill for reasons Mordy could never understand. And yet, they had been so magical, those days.

A deafening crash brought Mordy back into the present. Thunder, followed by a heavy shower. He couldn't really complain about life at the zoo. There was absolutely no struggle. Food was regular and plentiful, and brought to him chopped and cleaned, everyday precisely at 7 in the morning. The zoo was well off and treated its animals well. The cage was clean and comfortable. And yet... Mordy missed the jungle. Years of lazing around and doing little had blunted his wild instincts. Even the children didn't seem to be too scared when he growled at them anymore, they laughed and pointed it out excitedly to their parents. He was bored to death. Life had become a meaningless chore and an orgy of sleeping and eating. His rippling muscles, primed for the kill in his forest life had been smothered in layers of fat. His keen, taut face had turned aged and scraggly, the wear and tear of years of having nothing to do and thinking about it showing clearly.

Yet, life in the zoo represented security. He liked the keeper. He got food regularly, didn't have to worry about the next kill, didn't have to fret over whether he was becoming too old to chase down prey or whether his tactics were too outdated. He didn't have to freak out, seeing his dad die of hunger, not being able to chase prey on his own, and refusing to accept charity from his son. Mordy thought hard and long, but just couldn't make up his mind. It was easy getting back to the forest, he had the night in front of him. Several times, he walked to the door of the cage, stepped outside, only to have the same, gnawing fear hit him like a thunderbolt. Several times he walked to the farthest corner and refused to look at the open door, but it refused to let him be. The clouds disappeared as soon as they had formed, and a full moon shone over the horizon, flooding his cage with white light. The wind picked up again, and hit Mordy in the face as he gazed at the moon through the bars of the cage, contemplating his past, present and the future.

The open door of the cage greeted the keeper from afar, as he walked in after signing his name for the day. Wild panic set in, and a bead of sweat trickled down his spine. Mustering all the courage that he could, he approached the cage slowly, anticipating a charge any moment from the thick shrubs spread all around the cage. He tiptoed to the door, and peered inside, trying to get a view of the farthest corner, the only one not visible from outside. With a sigh of relief, he saw Mordy looking at him, spread peacefully on the floor, his tail involuntarily swatting the half dozen flies which always seemed to be bothering him. A strange look had spread over his face, placed on the floor between his front paws - the look of an animal truly trapped.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Nostalgia...

Nostalgia is a funny thing. I have to admit that over the last few months, I've been a tad frustrated at various developments on campus. These things are inevitably a part of campus life, but when you are living through them, they tend to look much larger than they are - as is very often the case in life. I've tried hard to not let myself be affected so much by these small things when all this is going to end so soon, but I have to admit that I've failed. Slowly but surely, I was turning bitter, a state I hate. I don't mind being livid or really upset, but being bitter seems rather a waste.

Tonight, I sauntered into the Night Canteen for what has become a daily routine - a around midnight shot of cold coffee. The far corner table was empty, and I settled there. A rare wind was blowing from the east, cold and crisp. Within minutes, there was thunder and lightning, and the usual pitter-patter of large rain drops smothered most other sounds on campus. An unseasonal shower.

I finished my coffee, went down and stood at the cross-roads. Water dripped over the tall roof, glistening in the amphi lights. The wind brought the rain in in the form of a fine mist. And suddenly, from nowhere, it struck me - I was going to miss this place so much. I stuck my hand out, and wondered - is this the last one? I heard a deep, scary voice within myself saying that it is, indeed.

A short walk down from harvard steps with Rupee, Nami and Tanu, and I started feeling if I was going to leave tomorrow. Oh my god, this is getting over...

I have to cherish these moments. Cherish them for posterity, for a lifetime. Yes, times have been rough, but these times here have taught me lessons about life and myself that I will probably keep discovering for years. I have to be positive, not be petty and not hold silly things against people whom I probably won't see again in my life or if I do, will probably end up having a good laugh over. I have to be a larger person, I have to think big. I have made friends and lost friends here, but I want to take back only the good memories from here.

Can I...Will I?

Where the hell have I been?

I've dared to see my blog home page after what feels like (and turns out to be) an eternity. I see the last post on the 8th of October and wonder what the heck I've been doing all this while. I've really not been around, from the fact that even blogspot seems to have dumped my cookies and is asking me to sign in!

It's strange how you just stop doing the things you love so much for no apparent reason. I went through the first year like the clausial (that's not a proverb, so what else do I call it?) headless chicken, and yet managed a decent frequency with my blog. And then along comes second year, and there is this tremendous lethargy in me. I have a zillion topics buzzing in my head, a few hundred mentally written articles, but I just don't seem to get to putting finger to key (bah, oh, the old days when it didn't sound so ghastly!) to punch that piece down.

It's also strange how after dishing out stuff fairly regularly for a while, and then suddenly stop. It's not that I've been writing elsewhere (as one regular reader assumed). It's just that I've stopped writing. Period.

As I started off writing an essay the other day for a competition, I realized how rusty I was. I wrote the first draft and balked. What the heck was I writing? Right as I was punching out the words, I was going, oh god, what is this? Atrocious stuff.

And so, I make another attempt at a comeback. I am not very good at comebacks, though. My last one in photography ended up with me being in the field with a camera and desperately hoping for some inspiration. I dread to think of a time when I look at a blank screen and feel sweat running down my temples, or worse, nothing at all...

Saturday, August 8, 2009

What, in the world, are they selling?

Going shopping for something specific is an adventure in itself in good ol' Kerala, especially in a suburb, which is the best way to describe Kunnamangalam. It's almost impossible to decide what exactly the shop-keeper intends to sell in his shop (not intending to be sexist here). You have the most odd combinations here. Bananas and hardware. Real gold jewellery and children's cheap plastic toys, the ones which leave you in no doubt about the toxicity of the materials used. Model wooden KSTRC buses, stationary, and a huge lot of something covered with a LOT of dust. Seriously, retail is a very interesting concept here. The selection of goods that a single shop will have is fascinating and mind-boggling.

Shopping here is one of the most entertaining activities you can think of (Yeah, I need to get a life :|). Of course, you need to be a bit flexible with what you want. And ready to have a bit of fun. I wanted a couple of nice plastic baskets, the types which are open and have a grilled bottom. Basically something to store all the paraphernalia I have which ends up hogging all the space everywhere. Also to keep some bananas to rot. I prefer them rotting in the basket, rather than in the plastic bags. That they would rot is beyond doubt, my timing of purchase is perfect in that sense. I go out and buy enough bananas to last a week, after not having any for a month or so, and whaam, next day I have a cold bad enough for me to stay away from even smelling the darn things.

So I went off to buy the baskets. A couple of plastic-thingy-selling shops had everything in baskets but the type I wanted. A couple of shopkeepers gave me strange looks when I asked for them. Maybe they drew the line at selling baskets in mobile phone shops, I realized when I looked at the boards after coming out. A couple of others tried to sell me an assortment of mugs, the types you use in the loo, a wastebin, a plastic bathtub and a plastic pot which looked suspiciously like one of those potty thingies, though I think it was merely for keeping potted plants. Finally, I saw 2 dusty looking things in a stationary shop which looked suitable. They didnt have grilled bottoms, but didn't wanna be picky. Atleast I could watch the bananas rot in their full glory now :)

Chikungunya Sucks :|

I always thought that the whole thing about getting tropical diseases when you live in, err, the tropics and close to large forested areas was a bit of a stretch. I don't mean that there don't exist ghastly diseases which cause some amount of rather unpleasant stuff, but I always though that the odds of getting one were rather remote, and that it was something that was more talked about to get the sympathy vote rather than anything else.

Well, as the fella up there has been trying to make me understand in some rather unpleasant ways, I admit that I was wrong. As wrong as I could I ever be. Wholly, completely wrong. Now could I, please, have the joints of my body back? Yes, it does seem like I don't have them anymore, atleast not in the way I remember they used to be a long, long time ago. Now all they do is stiffen up and pain like somebody's been rolling over them with those cricket pitch rollers. And then they pretend to get well, when all they've done is just pass the buck to some other random joint. Darn, I hate how many joints I have, especially when this bloody disease seems to be on a mission to remind me of all the ones which don't come to mind very often.

It was some time in the end of June or the first week of July, I forget what, when I woke up feeling rather strange. Each and every joint of my body was paining, paining like the dickens. I thought I'd messed up with the whole running thing too much, and my body was wrecking revenge on me. A couple of days rest and I'd be ok, I guessed. I was wrong.

There's something about this disease which makes even the strongest of folks want to break down and cry like a baby. Now I don't claim to belong to that tribe by a long margin, so I got that feeling pretty much every morning when I got up and *tried* to wear my chappals to go to the loo. There isn't a simpler activity and a more painful one when you have Chikun%*(&&%^$^&gunya. One by one, the nasty bug affected every part of my body. Except for my feet, which got special treatment, where the darn thing holidayed for like ever.

Even now, I am not completely over it. A couple of hours of less sleep in a night, and the next day it starts inching back. Asking for a full 10 hours sleep every single night in a b school is a wee bit too much, so every week or so, the virus is back. Add to that the fact that the campus doctor refuses to acknowledge the pain I am going through, and keeps on referring the condition as some 'minor' local viral strain, which does not qualify for medical leave, and I am left frothing out of anger. I only wish, from the very bottom of my heart, that he is visited by the nasty 6 legged flying bug which gave me this hideous thing, very, very soon. x-( Ok, I don't. I seriously can't wish this upon anyone. But atleast he could have given me some leave :(

Blog Updates... or the lack thereof

Sometime around mid-July : Darn, haven't updated my blog for a week now. Uh Oh.

A week later : Gotta update blog. Gotta update blog. GOTTA UPDATE BLOG. Tomorrow, pakka.

Another week later : Darn blog :|

End of July : My worst writing month ever. ONE blog post. Tomorrow, update, pakka.

August 1st week: What blog? :|

And that's been the state of affairs for a while now. God knows what got into me since I've returned from Europe. I'm having an allergy towards my blog like I've never had for even other people's (kidding, no really, I love them all, please don't stop reading mine :) ). Yeah, it's been a crazy trimester, but I've seen crazier. It's just that as I progress through my MBA, I get worse and worse with this whole procrastination business. I have a sinking feeling that I am going to end up being an absolutely worthless imbecile by the time I am done with this place. Not that I am very far away from it, but the final shove, yeah, that's happening very soon.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

A crazy day!

I am still hunting for the senior who told me that second year was going to be a 9 month long vacation. Especially since having 20 hour days is not my idea of a vacation. How does it happen that the exact combination of subjects that you have chosen is the worst possible amongst the couple of hundred ones possible (possibly more, I suck at P & C)? So here I am, stuck with enough coursework to last a year, while the guys who've taken fin are having the time of their lives. They seem to be lounging around everywhere, cracking up when I run past them, rushing from one group meeting to another.

The last day of June was the pits for me. This was the exact sequence of events :

00.30 hrs : Wake up in a completely confused and bewildered state after having fallen asleep half-way through reading some case. Cannot fathom where I am and why it is dark outside (I dont recall the last time I woke up when it was dark outside)
00.45 : Continue with reading the case
02.00 : Get a call for a group meeting for discussing a marketing case, submission due the next day
04.00 : Finish case analysis after tearing half of my hair out (group meetings, AAAARGH!)
04.00 - 05.00 : Reply to some emails which have been dropping lower and lower in my inbox, wonder whether it really matters that I reply any more, especially since it's quite possible that the recipient has forgotten everything about the matter and me.
5.00 : Fall asleep at the comp, get up with a start to check if I've caused any permanent damage to my precious mac. Having dandruff sucks in ways more than one.
5.00 -8.00 : Sleep. Thank god for small mercies.
8.00 : Wake up in a completely confused and bewildered state again, look at my watch and try to figure out if its 8 pm or 8 am. It's bloody dark outside due to the rains. Fight with myself whether I should get up now or sleep for another 45 minutes.

Wanting-to-be-good-me (M1): Get up, you lazy slob.
Lazy, sleepy me (M2): Zzzzzzzz
M1: Get up now or you wont be able to have a bath.
M2: Dont wanna have a bath....
M1: You didnt have one yesterday. Or day before.
M2: Nobody knows...
M1: You don't even have a deo.
M2: Nobody knows.
M1: Nobody will want to sit next to you in class.
M2: (a) Everybody else is as sleepy / stinky / indifferent as I am
(b) I always sit in the last row; nobody is gonna leaving a precious last row seat empty to avoid sitting next to a stinking pig
(c) I don't sodding care
M1: Go have breakfast.
M2: Dont wanna have breakfast...
M1: GET UP, YOU STINKING MONKEY
M2: Huh?

8.30: I trudge into the bath, slip over the soapy floor and almost ensure that I don't see the place again for a while
8.45 - 8.55: Gobble down breakfast while watching completely bewildered looking fachchas wander around aimlessly with their breakfast plates.
9.00 - 12.20: Marketing Class, and we end up playing the Beer Game. Without any beer, of course, if only our educational institutions were a bit more fun, I would have taken to this game rather wholeheartedly. What's this balderdash about too much inventory and all, gimme the real thing and all you'll have are backlogs. I guess they'd figured that out and thought matchsticks were a better idea after all. Can't have stuff disappearing half-way down the supply chain, can we? Anyway, the game itself was pretty good, I guess.
12.30 - 13.30 : Another class of marketing, though it's a different course. Nobody's read the case, so we have to do that in class, and get into groups and answer some questions which will be graded. More work.
13.30 - 14.00 : Lunch, thank god for another small mercy.
14.00 - 15.00 : Work on a write-up due in Strategy class at 15.10. My brain's dead, and I just can't think of anything remotely innovative to write. Finally end up writing something.
15.00 - 15.10 : Mad dash from room to computer center to print out the assignment. It's in .docx format, unreadable, damn you, MS. Have to get a print fast and reach class before 15.10, the strat proff locks the door and leaves you outside feeling like a real jackass if you miss getting in on time. Finally manage to get a print, and sprint through the rain to class in time.
15.10 - 17.20 : Strat class
17.20 - 19.30 : More submissions and assignments and readings for tomorrow, try to read up for the fin class later, but I am brain dead
21.30 : Fin class. Good proff, and sounds interesting. Am still following what he's saying, which is a great deal for me.
21.45 : Fall asleep, head on table.
21.55 : Get up with a start, get angry at myself for sleeping when I so badly want to listen.
22.00 : Fall asleep again.
22.25 : Get up, listen to proff for a few minutes, realize I already have no clue what he's talking about. Get really annoyed for having slept off, then mad at the whole world for getting me into this state. Sulk till end of lecture.
23.40 : Lecture ends, walk back to room, angry, irritated and very tired.
23.45 : Go to bed, beyond the point of caring whether there was anything to be read for the next day. Baah!

Monday, June 29, 2009

Does Apple have a self-imposed maximum market share limit?

With the kind of cult following that Macs have amongst their users, one would believe that Apple’s market share in the PC + Notebook category would be steadily on its way up, since their resurgence as a formidable player in the computer market in the early 2000s. Almost anybody who has made the move to a Mac (yours truly included!) swears by the fragile beasts, and wonders why they didn’t move earlier.

Read the complete article at : http://strat.in/2009/06/does-apple-have-a-self-imposed-maximum-market-share-limit/

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Chill second year? Baah!

Second year is supposed to be this really chill thing... or so I'd heard. Unfortunately, the proffs here had something else in store for us. Couple that with my bad luck that all courses I had opted for had most of their sessions in the first few weeks itself, and you end up having a crazy, crazy start to what is supposed to be a time you enjoy and waddle around in and generally have a blast. So here I am, running around like I used to a year ago, except for the fact that I look at the juniors now and wonder why they never seem to have anything to do; they seem to be having the time of their lives. I am sick and bored and tired to death of case studies. A serious overload of these obnoxious things have completely blocked my ability to think of any solutions other than the mundane for them. Which is kind of sad, since it would be fun to really sit down and brainstorm, and come up with something good. Unfortunately, that kind of thing cannot happen when you sit down to do the case after 8 odd hours of classes and 2 more cases pending for you to tackle right afterwards.

Oh, how I long for the previous trimester... And fervently hope that the next ones will let me go around campus without feeling like somebody's run over me and then turned around and did it all over again.

Kampus calls again!

A year ago, I landed up at IIMK, naive and excited, eager to enter the big bad world of business, eager to be in the 'big league'. A crazy year it was, with ups and downs that a roller coaster couldn't come close to. The crazy first trimester, the unbelievable amounts of work, the awesome times spent with an amazing gang of friends with a cup of coffee and a plate of maggi in the Night Canteen, the senseless mugging before exams, days and nights merged into one and another and another till it stopped making sense to consider them as separate entities. The stress of summer placements, the joy of getting something you've dreamt of. A long and never ending yet chilled third semester, probably meant for us to destress from the crazy times of the first and second, and before I knew it, 1 of the 2 most awesomest years of my life were over.

20 days ago, and I step back into God's Own Campus. I fall in love with the place again. This time I come back as an experienced campaigner, but the excitement is not gone. Things will be different this year in many ways, we're used to the system, the seniors, our mentors are no longer around, placements are no longer something which can be forgotten about as something far away into the future. Plans have to be made, questions have to be asked, the mind has to be probed, harsh realities have to be faced, to decide... what do I do after this? What, after Feb 2010?

It's been a crazy 20 odd days here, the proffs probably want to ensure that we shake off all the rust built up over the summers properly and get down to work. But it is, as always, fantastic. There is, of course, a sinking feeling at the back of your mind that the clock is ticking, and before you realize it, your time will be up. So I have to make the most of now, enjoy these precious moments and store them in the recesses of my memory, moments which will have to last a lifetime....

Here's to another rocking, awesome year at IIM Kozhikode!

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Disabled Thinking

Why, as a nation, as a society, as individuals, are we so callous to the plight of our disabled?

A week or so in Germany, and I was wondering, why are there so many disabled people on the streets? People bound to wheelchairs, blind people, people on crutches, they seemed a common sight, a tad too common for me. I saw them quite often in public, crossing streets, walking on the sidewalks, getting on and off trains, and getting on with their lives like everybody else. A few more days, and I was crossing the street in the square below my apartment, watching a wheelchair bound guy crossing the street at his own pace, when, like the sudden realization of a ghastly fact, it struck me. There aren’t more disabled people in Germany. It’s just that, unlike back home, they are given the chance to live life as normally as possible.

Read more at : http://strat.in/2009/06/disabled-thinking/

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Turn the page...

A post which deviates from my current mission of not gassing my readers to death with senti stuff, but I got to get this off my chest.

It's funny how things work out. I think the fella up there has an incredible sense of humour, I can see him tilt back and laugh loudly, watching me down here below. Every time I have questioned him, questioned his actions, asked, 'why?', it's as if he's just saying, turn the page, dude... there's something else waiting for you.

27th April, 2007. One of the lowest days of my life. 5 IIM rejects in the space of 3 hours is enough to shake the confidence of anybody, especially somebody who already doesn't think too brightly of himself. Never in my wildest dreams would I have enough mulled over what would be reality in just over a year - that I would make it through almost all the places I was interviewed for. A year later, and as that undreamable dream turned into reality, I wondered whether I should be taking my passport along to campus. For what, my cynical self asked. One day before summer placements began, the idea of getting a foreign summers in a batch of 250 fellas, with a profile as average as mine, in one of the worst placement years sounded ridiculous. 7 months later, I stand in my room in Germany, wanting to go back the day after I reached here. Turn the page, dude, a voice inside me said. Just under 2 months later I wish I could not go back, I wish I could continue this awesome journey forever. My second weekend trip, I got bored stiff in the space of 2 hours, and thought that maybe I should just stay at home for the rest of the summer. And then, a page turned, and I ended up wishing I had more weekends. Especially since I had traveled during ALL of them.

Sometimes, I think I missed out just because I didn't turn the page, till somebody ripped the book out of my hand, conked me on the head with it and stuffed a new one back in my hands.

Maybe I need to hear it again. It's time to turn the page. And discover something incredible, beyond my wildest dreams.

Why?

Why would a guy from a city in Eastern Europe, throw the doors of his house open for a random stranger who wants a place to stay for 2 nights, then welcome him in and hand him the keys to his house after knowing him for an hour, so that he could come back whenever he wanted from the party that night? A stranger who doesn't speak his language, who is differently coloured, who comes from a culture so completely different, a stranger he will, in all likelihood, never see again in his life. Why would he offer him dinner, breakfast, anything and everything he had in his kitchen, then help him with anything he needed in the city, give him 2 gifts and one awesome home-made cake, and then carry his luggage to the bus station just before his bus left so that he didn't have to lug it around when he went around the city?

What makes more than a million people across the globe open their minds to this concept?

My couchsurfing experiences have left me overwhelmed by the generosity of the human spirit, and the kindness of souls which I have done nothing to deserve. It has raised more questions than answers, but happy questions, questions which make me ponder over the way we lead our lives, scared, afraid, wary, fearful of the unknown, whether it's a place or a person or a community.

I owe you big-time, Marek. And I owe so much to Couchsurfing. I've reached the end of my travels in Europe, but it has been an exceptional and life-changing journey. In the space of 7 weeks, I've discovered a concept which I hope I can use and contribute to as much as possible for the rest of my life. I am sad that I will be leaving Europe soon, but even more that I will not be able to continue this breath-taking journey which is shaking the very foundations of a dozen assumptions and prejudices of mine.

Kabaddi!!!


I hit the ground hard, and my head bounced violently off the concrete floor, as the American football player who'd been the reason for me hitting terra firma watched me with a bit of concern. It was my mistake, really, I should have realized that while, in theory, helping the sole Indian girl teach a gang of 200 foreigners the amazingly docile and gentle game of Kabaddi looked like a good idea, in practice, it was rather unadvisable, especially when the group of a hundred foreigners also included some hefty, tall men, apart from a lot of good looking girls. Especially since after teaching them, I couldn't very well not participate, and after participating, not quite take the lead and show them how it's played.

So after the explaining part was over, and it was time for a bit of action, I went into the ring, and well, tried to play the game. The next moment that I remember was the one I described in the beginning. From being the guy who showed them how to do it, to being one whom everybody was looking with the look usually reserved for a quadriplegic, was a rather rapid transition. And boy, it hurt. Not just the bit that my leg was so badly hurt that I could not walk later that evening and could just about hobble around the next day, but because of the realization that a mere casual tackle from that bloke had caused so much damage.

But, I guess I'll take it, for the gang loved the game (so much for it being looked down at in India as uncool and a 'rural' game!). I was in Krakow, Poland, for a couchsurfing meet, and we were picnicking in a small garden. Afternoon was turning into evening, and half the crowd was satiated with gallons of beer and all kinds of food, and wanted something new. And that's when Oindri, the Indian girl who started this stuff came in. It was kind of a tough end to my participation in the proceedings, but then it was looked upon as the highlight of the afternoon by many, so that's fine.

I wonder whether just over a year and half a month ago, I would have, ever, in my wildest dreams, dreamt of me teaching Kabaddi to a group of around a hundred foreigners from around a couple of dozen countries, in a small, unkempt university garden in an east european city which, to be frank, I had never heard of before, and having the time of my life inspite of almost being taken out of circulation.

Life can be the stranger than any, any, any fiction you can think of.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

German websites and other such pure evil...

German webmasters seem to derive a significant portion of their everyday joy from the vile act of sadism. They design a site, all in German, of course, which is fine with me, an act which I don't highly approve of, but which I understand, since the number of customers who will take their business elsewhere is negligible, especially when there isn't much of a choice where to take their business. But why do they then lull these wretched users into a false sense of complacency by putting up a nice, small little link at the top or bottom of their pages saying 'English' is beyond my assumption that most people usually tend to be nice and not mean. The unwary or unaccustomed user, by the lack of his ability to understand a language which he has not been fortunate enough to be born into, tends to click on these things, under the false impression that it will, actually, lead him or her to an English version of the website.

He does that, and sees a page which makes his heart leap with joy; here is finally a business concern which actually values every single customer, and understands the trauma that a visitor goes through when overwhelmed by a string of familiar letters which make no sense to him. He clicks here and he clicks there and makes full use of the multiple tabs options in firefox, only to be suddenly struck by the magnitude of the vile fraud that has been pulled off. For what promised to be an English version of the site was but an English version of the page, and he is stuck with half a dozen brightly coloured and beautifully designed pages in German. Thank god I have a mac which provides me with an otherwise very nice computing experience, for the combination of German websites and annoying windows balloons kindly informing me that my wireless internet connection has now connected would have resulted in one hell of a broken LCD.

Of paid loos and cleaning streets...

Why does a country which has enough money to clean its roads, not the sidewalks, not the signposts, no, the very road surface itself, ask you for money to use a loo? Especially when it's so frigging cold all the time that you start wondering if they forgot to take the stuffings out of your bladder when they rolled you into use, somewhat like trying to put on a shoe without taking out those balls of paper they put inside. Ok, bad analogy, but I'll get on with it. The point is, you need a loo rather too frequently, and it rather annoys me to pay half a euro every time I need to take a leak. I have no fundamental problems with parting with the money, but why they would charge people for facilities as basic as this, WHEN they seem to have so much money to do things which, frankly, seem ridiculous is really astonishing. I can understand the logic in India - if you don't charge money, you get a stinkpot which will put you off food for half a week - and I am ready to pay half a euro even there to use a decent loo - but doing that in a place which is (was?) rolling in the stuff beats me. I see those funny machines BRUSHING the road surface clean, and it makes me realize that there's another addition to the list of things that I just don't understand.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Strange encounters

It's funny sometimes how somebody reacts to your acts in a manner which is completely unexpected. I was roaming around Stuttgart station, waiting for my train connection. It was slightly late, and I had nothing to do, which meant that I went around in circles, window shopping, all over the place. Stuttgart Hbf (Central Railway Station) isn't very big a place, so I ended up going across the same places a few times. This attracted the attention of a couple of policemen, who looked at me curiously. A non-white guy, lurking around just like that, with a rather large bag on his shoulders should expect that, I guess, in these times. So then, he approached me, and asked for my papers. He stood at a distance of around 3 to 4 feet from me, which necessitated that I took a couple of steps towards him to hand it over, unless I wanted to play catch with the thing. So I stepped closer. An alarmed look spread over his face, and he stepped backwards. Sometimes, you don't quickly understand what is going on, and this was one such occasion, so I stepped ahead again, following which he stepped back a further 2 steps, and we started enacting some sidey Hindi movie song dancing step.

Suddenly it all became very clear, and I couldn't resist a chuckle, and stepped back with my hand extended, passport in it. I understand that they might fear somebody with his hands in his pockets, for what he might pull out from there, and it's consequences, could vary considerably, but to fear a guy with a 170 cm x 55 kg frame who's approaching you with his passport in one hand and very clearly nothing else in the other is somewhat beyond me. Especially when you are a policeman. And a German one.

We need change :|

There seems to be a worldwide agenda against the act of giving change. I mean wherever I've been, across India, Nepal, and now Europe, asking for change gets you a reaction where you wonder if there was some grave mistake in the other person's interpretation of what you said, and whether your words sounded like an invitation for indulging in activities which respectable people - giving the other person the benefit of doubt - do not indulge in with strangers.

I just don't get this. It's not as if they are spectacularly rude or selfish otherwise, but when you request some change for a 500 rupee or 100 Kroner or 50 Euro note, they will all refuse to co-operate with a vehemence which is quite astonishing for an exchange which does not leave either parties worse off, and one of them slightly better. I guess there's something about this fundamentally coded in our DNA. Oh, well...

Of English and the lack of it

Prague is so incredibly tourist friendly... Almost everything is in English apart from Prague, and it's such a relief after visiting some of the bigger western european cities... which seem to be under the erroneous belief that everybody in the world knows their language or the pompous one that everybody who comes there should learn it. Now, I don't mind a country being so proud of it's language that it refuses to have anything else almost anywhere. But to have all sorts of vital information in spots where usually only tourists would read it, only in their native language is rather pushing it and defeating the purpose.

So I was actually thrilled when I kept discovering that they had taken the effort to explain things almost everywhere in English. Even the ticket machines at the small tram stops had English instructions, which, ironically, did not help a group of German tourists at all, who were wondering what to do when faced with a choice of 2 languages, neither of which they seemed to understand much of.

Subway stations in Prague have these large LCD screens which keep showing some videos on subway etiquette. I ignored these, initially, since all of them were only in Czech, but a curious look on the last day made me wish I had observed them properly, for they were the amongst the most brilliantly funny and cute ads I have ever seen. It's remarkable how something as dry as subway etiquette could be taught in a manner so entertaining that you want to let the next train go and keep watching. I was cracking up after watching them one after the other, something which amused Lydia a bit, I think. All the text was in Czech, but it was fairly obvious what they wanted to, for there are not too many different ways in which you can interpret an ad showing a bunch on youngsters occupying all the available seats, and an old lady flying like a flag, holding on to a pole desperately as the train starts, or when a football bounces over a line of passengers' heads on it's way from one youngster to another. Why these range of ads should be only In Czech kind of beat me, but they were still worth watching. I wish I could get them from somewhere off the net, unfortunately, google did not really throw up much that I could make sense of.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Prague :)



There's something unmistakably charming about Prague which you just cannot pin down. On the surface, there seems to be nothing. But there is something indeed, which makes you feel comfortable and yet bewitched by the old-world charm of this magnificent city.

Right : The Astronomical Clock in Old Town

I got off at the Florenc Bus station on the nippy morning of the first of May. A quick visit to the loo made me realize that it was essential to change my Euros into a few Kroner if I didn't want to pay a 20-30% premium for anything. My couchsurfing contact in Prague, Lydia was supposed to meet me at 6.15 here, and I had half an hour to kill, which I did by roaming around and taking wild guesses about any random female being her.

6.30, and still no signs of anybody looking even remotely interested in me, and I decided to send her a message. Well, she'd overslept, and were meeting at 9. That was fine with me, I could wait for the currency exchange to open at 7 and then drop off my stuff at the hostel. I had used the subway system in Paris and Vienna, so I thought this would be easy too, but the Prague subway takes a wee bit more careful attention. It is not too tough, but they dont have so many signboards and notices and arrows as the other ones. In Paris and Vienna, you would have to rather dumb or compete with a bat for blindness to really miss something, but here, they probably thought that it was not too bad an idea to let the occasional bunch of tourists see the Prague castle rather than have yet another round of shopping at Palladium. Maybe they'll change that, with the way the recession is biting, and make it the other way round for a while...

Right : One of the ancient Jewish synagogues

So I wandered out of some rather tough-to-pronounce-for-my-non-Czech-tongue railway station, and tried to proceed towards a similar tram station. Unfortunately, the council probably tries to keep the tourists off the trams - there are so many of them, or maybe I should say us - it's not a bad idea if you let a few of them rest for a while in the zillions of parks and benches they have everywhere rather than fill the trams. So there was nothing to indicate where I should be heading. I wandered down a street, and found a man walking along. He stopped when he saw me, and a hint of a smile covered his face. I offered a hesitant 'excuse me', to which he his face lightened up with a genuine smile and he went 'How can I help you?', and then proceeded to tell me just where the tram station was. Wow.

The Hostel was seemed rather nice, although I believe they had forgotten to put up a board outside which announced that this, indeed, was HostelOne, so I had to bear the risk of ringing a random bell and have a rather cheesed off Czech fella hollering at me for ruining his public holiday slumber in a language which I couldn't even read, forget understand. What they do with so many consonants and so few vowels kind of beats me.

A quick bath and dumping of my luggage in the luggage room later, I left for Winceslas square where Lydia was going to meet me. We were going to meet under the large horse, which seemed like a good idea, until I saw that the place was swarming with half of Prague's tourist population. A bit more of the guessing-whether-she's-the-one game, na she's looks a tad too old, na she's way too young, na, oops, she's actually a he, later, she walked up to me and introduced yourself. Sometimes it helps to be the only person who looks a fair bit different from the rest. It would have been jolly fun if I was also a white westerner, we would have played catch me if you can around the horse for a few times before realizing that we both had mobile phones and could call each other.


And so we roamed around, all over the place, seeing majestic castles and towering, err, towers and ancient clocks, and really ancient synagogues and a whole lot of a lot else. As usual, we discussed about a zillion things, the Czech Republic, India, Germany and since she was from there, Slovakia.

Right to Left : My right shoe, me, Lydia, Ondrej and Branislav

No, I don't have one exceptionally large foot... just an exceptionally awkward pose :|

It was 3 incredible days. The first one went in seeing the usual touristy stuff, which was rather beautiful, but a wee bit tiring because of so many
tourists. The evening was rather nice, at a Slovak students party, where they tried their darndest to get me drunk, by making me have 3 shots of some rather strong Pear liquor, neat, thank you very much, followed by Vodka and something else which I now find it tough to remember :P Unfortunately, just as things had started to get a wee bit wild, we had to leave to catch the last bus, since this place was somewhere rather far away from the city. We had a dozen odd Slovaks with us, all in different stages of inebriation, who proceeded to ask me anything and everything about India. They were incredibly friendly and nice, and there was never a hint of malice or a trace of superiority in their voices even when we talked about something about India which wasn't exactly nice. I really liked these guys, and it made me want to visit Slovakia a lot. I got off at my stop, and realized to my relief that I was in pretty ok shape to make the 5 minute walk back to my room :)


The second day was spent in sunbathing on the banks of the Vltava river, and soaking our feet into the water to remind us that it was rather cold, and it was not a very bright idea to have a dip in it. 2 of Lydia's friends joined us. They were really fun company and slightly crazy at times, which I believe is a very good trait to have, especially when I have it in abnormal quantities. We then went to this hillock which looked upon the entire city, and was surrounded by a small forest. It was a stunning view, and I wish I could just sit there for an entire day, taking in the sight.

Right : Moi on the hill-top

Sunday, and we had just a few hours left, for I had to catch a bus back to Germany in the evening. We went up the Eiffel Tower replica, not a bad effort, though I think they got bored of it after a while and decided that they needn't make it too tall after all. The view from the top is fantastic, though, and it's well worth the hike up the spiral staircase.

After a long walk down, Lydia decided that it was time to take me to a vegetarian restaurant. I was wondering what they would have in a veggie restaurant in eastern europe, when we walked into proper indian restaurant. A few bites and I couldnt believe myself... this was way better than what I would get in a few places back home! Superb food, and really authentic Indian stuff, not the rich, greasy stuff you tend to associate foreign indian food with. This was the stuff, seriously!

Right : Lydia and a rather zonked looking moi

Another hour spent on a park bench, soaking up the sun, and it was time to go. Prague and its people had left me enchanted and wishing for more. It was a beautiful place with really friendly people, and it left me wondering if I could change my travel plans for next week, chuck Zurich, and somehow find my way into Slovakia or Ukraine instead. I mean where else would some really, really nice girl troop around for 3 days with a twisted and strapped ankle (I realized the strapped bit later :| ) with some random stranger just so that he could see what was not even her native city? Oh, Eastern Europe!

Friday, April 24, 2009

Couchsurfing!

Couchsurfing. Come again, I said when I heard of it for the first time. Couch..... surfing? Weird name. But well, that's best way to describe it. So this is this awesome idea which lets you meet, and stay with, complete strangers in a strange and unknown city. That's it. There's no catch, there's no punchline. And neither is this some new, weird way to hook up. it's not about dating. At all. It's just about surfing. Couches.

I had a look at the site, and was intrigued. This seemed very interesting. My Eurotrip (ok, Summer Internship) gave me the perfect chance to try this out. I came here, and somewhat developed cold feet. Stay in a strangers house for a night? Meet a random stranger just like that? I balked at the idea, and decided to 'not take a chance' and book into a hostel on the night I was going to be Vienna. But then I reached Vienna, and after half a day of trooping around in the sun and wondering what made me think of the loony idea of traveling alone in a city where I did not even understand the road signs, and where each beautiful monument made me go... hmm... nice... now what do I do with that?... and I thought of shaking things up a bit. I remembered the CS site, and decided to give it a shot. It was a long shot that somebody would respond so quickly, but having nothing to lose, I dropped a few messages to some interesting profiles, with the confidence that I would never hear from them.

I wandered around in the evening, looking for some place where I could decipher what went into the food so that I did not eat something which I did not want to, namely meat, sat in the underground and decided to get off at a random station, and spent the evening on the banks of the Danube. I came back, and to my surprise, I had a reply and a phone number. A call next afternoon and a few messages fixed things up, though I was still rather skeptical of the whole thing. But then what followed blew me away, it was an experience which was simply awesome.
And now I am in love with this concept. I think it's not just a fantastic idea, but very doable. I can hear the usual arguments - it's ok in Europe, it's ok for a guy, it's ok just for coffee, and such blah. But I say, for a moment, open up your mind and trust a person. Just for a little while. Maybe you can ask him or her to have a reservation in a hotel as a backup, and meet up over coffee to see how it goes. Why not? Sure, it would be a tad strange to tell a chap to buzz off after being with him for a few hours, but hey, if not that, you'd have stayed the same old you, closed and scared and not wanting to meet anybody. Maybe you can call a friend over to stay with you when the visitor is going to come, maybe when you stay with somebody, you stay with somebody of the same sex (which somehow does not make me feel any more relieved, though ;) ), there are a hundred things you could do. The CS site also has a reference system where previous surfers and hosts rate how their experience was. Yes, it's not risk free, but then what in life is? Bad things happen, irrespective of what you do, at times, but does that mean we close ourselves up completely? I mean you could take all this care and be safe and then get mowed down by a car the next day (which is quite possible for me in Europe, with my unerring tendency of going to the extreme left of the road each time I turn when riding my bicycle, and consequently landing up right in front of some rather startled motorist who is too freaked out to even be angry at me).
So then, I am game for this. Time will tell if that's a wise thing to do, but maybe I'll trust the collective wisdom of several hundred thousand people who use the website. And disregard that of some people who told me I was stupid to go to a city all alone without knowing anybody or anything. Maybe, I'll just let go and see what happens!

Why it is a big deal...

Now, my reaction to all of this might seem to be a bit overboard. But then, what are the odds that one will ever end up having this sort of experience? When you meet a complete stranger, and have a fantastic conversation, and end up having a great evening, in a place far away from home, where you know no one, and are all alone. When you see a city the way it's supposed to be seen, unlike a typical tourist, running around and seeing strange edifices and articles, forgetting the last after seeing the next. Yes, I spent half a day from the mere 2 that I was in Vienna doing nothing but taking a walk along a river, but so what? I'd seen half a dozen of the typical tourist spots the day before, but had come away without feeling a thing - I mean, sure, they were beautiful, but so what, what do I do with that - half of Europe is beautiful that way. But that evening on the banks of the Donau - that I'll remember for a long time, as an experience which is indeed rare in a world in which we've learnt to be always wary and watch out for somebody - anybody - whom we don't know.

An Evening in Vienna

We sat on the grass, inches away from the crystal clear waters of the Donau. The sun descended towards the horizon on the other side, playing with the clouds, turning the water in front of us into liquid gold. A large goose drifted towards us, in the hope of getting a last tidbit before nightfall. Cars whizzed by on the bridge, far enough not to ruin the scene, yet close enough to remind us that we were in the middle of the city. The towering skyscrapers of the business end of the town dazzled in the evening light, seeming incongruent with the rest of the place, yet reminding us that we were in a city, and a large one at that.


It all started with me standing outside Alt Donau station at 5 past 4 pm, wondering whether the girl who had agreed to meet me was going to stand me up, when Barbara came in in a rush out of the exit. I think I rather surprised her by offering to shake hands rather than the usual European cheek to cheek greeting which she was shaping up to do, which I must confess I still find a bit weird. I mean I guess there's nothing wrong with it, it's just that I find it a bit too intimate to do with strangers or friends whom I am not close to (still the quiessential Indian at heart ;)). A few hesitant questions and we were off. Thankfully, she was a fairly talkative person (and I mean that in a good way!), which made things much easier, for yours truly tends to be somewhat shy when around strangers, especially if they are of the female kind. She told me that she was going to show me 'Old Donau', which is what Alt Donau meant, and that we had to walk a fair bit. I was game, though how I was going to do the walk a fair bit part after running a half marathon earlier in the day was worth pondering over. Anyway, I could hardly refuse to walk when she'd so graciously offered to show me the place, so I went along.

It was one of those experiences which leave you wondering how nice life can be at times. I mean, here I was, wandering all alone in a strange city where I did not know the language, and there comes along this girl who takes out what must be the ultimate leisure time of the week - sunday afternoon - to show a stranger around, without having any idea who or how he was, and trusting him to not make her rue the fact that she did so.

So we talked and talked, and found out that there was so much in common that we had, our views towards consumerism, and capitalism, and food miles and dropping groundwater levels, and so many other things about the world, the environment, climate change and stuff. We walked to this nice little cafe a kilometer or so down the river. And then we walked back, and met up with 2 of her friends from portugal, and over some fresh beer, discussed everything from Vienna, Portugal, marriages and relationships in India, elephants and how we didn't quite ride them all the time, to how I had flown to Europe on a flying carpet, and how I had to leave my elephant back home because I couldn't get a carpet large enough for both of us, or rather, considering my size, for the elephant. In the meanwhile, Barbara proceeded to roll her hand-made cigarettes, which was a show in itself, and smoked them one after the other. Somehow I found the smoke from these things quite less unpalatable to those nasty looking productionized ones. The beer was great too, I don't know why we tend to put up with the crap that we usually drink in the name of beer. There was absolutely none of that disgusting smell which tends to put me off the thing here, and it was actually a very nice drink, something which I never thought I would say about beer!

After beer, I realized that I had forgotten by German - English dictionary back in the cafe, so we proceeded to walk back to the place again, and on the way back decided that the grass was too green and the light too beautiful to not enjoy it leisurely by the water, and proceeded to do just that.

The sun set at it's usual-for-here late hour of 8.30ish, and we walked back to the station. A few stops later, it was time for her to go. Just as I was getting over with thanking her, she placed a hand on my shoulder, did the cheek-to-cheek, somewhat startling me, said 'This is how we do it here!', stepped out, and vanished into the crowd.

Running!

I started running in January this year, more out of interest in seeing how far I could go than anything else. I'd always wanted to run a marathon, but any attempts to do anything like running always ended up with me hobbling for a few days, courtesy my left knee. I decided to give it yet another shot this January, when, after measuring the distance on the IIMK football ground, I proceeded to do 52 rounds, or 10 kms non-stop, something which left me quite amused and thrilled to be frank. Of course, I was dead after that, but I made it a habit, running alternate evenings. I never had any set targets for running a marathon - or a half one -, running for the joy of it rather than anything else. A 16 run in jan end and a 19 km one in the first week of feb convinced me that I could give it a shot, though the 19 km one was an absolute nightmare in terms of the pain I endured to do it.

So then, first obstacle passed. Now for the biggie, the full marathon. That will take some doing, and some real work on my knees. I guess I can make it to the 30 km mark if the knee holds. As they say, when you reach 30, you hit the wall. I don't know how or when I'll reach 42, but it's going to be the same way as now.... enjoying it all the way :)


Running rocks! :)

Vienna Half Marathon 2009 :)

The hooter rang, or hooted, there was a big roar from the thousands of runners waiting in nervous anticipation, and the crowd started moving forward, one step at a time. The first dozen or so steps were but slow walking, as the multitudes in front took time to gather pace. A few gingerly taken strides at a faster pace, as everybody tried to find their natural pace and rhythm. The walk turned into a slow jog, and then, by the time we ascended the flyover, more or less everybody settled down into their optimum speeds.

I was still trying to find mine, all the nervous energy and excitement of my first half marathon was making me go much faster than was optimum, at this rate, I would tire out very quickly, around the 7-8 km mark. I had to check myself and concentrate. Within a few minutes though, I felt fine, going at a pace I felt was slightly under what I usually started off with, but a conservative approach made more sense when the distance I was aiming for today (21.1 km) was something I had never done, although I had come agonizingly close once, although with too much of a fight and risk of injury.

Around 10-15 minutes later though, I felt a slight pain in my chest, this meant that I was going at a pace faster than was sustainable. This was surprising, but there was no choice but to slow down further. The pain stayed for 10-15 more minutes, and disappeared after some deeper breathing and lessening of speed.

It felt great to running, in Vienna, of all places, in great weather, amongst thousands of similar running enthusiasts, cheered on by so many thousands of people on both sides of the streets. It was a festival, and it felt great to be a part of it.

I reached the 5 km mark in just under 30 minutes, which was my target, so I had underestimated my speed. This was just fine, I was feeling great, things were looking good. A splash of water on my face and some water to drink at the 5 km mark, and I felt good. The next 5 kms were also fairly easy, this was the time when I had settled into my rhythm and warmed up well. The 10 km mark came up soon, again, I was just under 30 minutes, good going, though I had targetted a 25 here. Some more water to drink and splash around a bit, some powerade, and on we went. 11 came quickly, but the next one took a while, and I was wondering whether I was slowing down dramatically or had missed one, when 13 came along. I was beginning to feel tired now, It had been an hour and 15 minutes since the start, and it was getting to me. My shoulders and thighs complained, and a slight something in my left knee reminded me of the injury I was just coming out of and which had kept me away from running for almost 2 months. I was beginning to feel a trace of pain there, and was desperately hoping it wouldn't flare up quickly and prevent a finish, or make it too much of an effort. A similar thing had happened the last time when I had done the much shorter IIMK - NIT Calicut run, and I could barely walk for a few days after that.

The 15 km mark came soon. More water and powerade and a banana this time. 16 and 17 were quite tough, as fatigue started settling in quickly. I was feeling really tired now, and had to struggle to keep going. 19 came along in 10 more minutes, and while taking a turn, I slowed down, only to feel a sharp stab of pain in my left knee. After hobbling 1-2 steps, I picked up pace again, and the pain vanished. I had to keep running to keep it away. But the end was near, 2 kms was doable even in the state I was in, and the new found confidence and joy of the realization that I was going to finish made me increase my pace. I went faster, and overtook several runners who were slowing down. 20 passed, and I forgot all pain and continued along. Soon, the exit came into view. A few large strides as I ran freely and without pacing myself, and I was through and done.

So that's that. Vienna Half Marathon 2009, 2:02:01, after 1 sleepless night crouched in an uncomfortable train compartment, and 3 pizza slices for lunch and dinner together on the previous day (couldn't find anything that I felt like eating). Not great, but not bad either :)

Friday, April 17, 2009

The weirdly suited guy

It's a funny thing to be wearing a suit and driving a bicycle. There I am, prim and proper, in full-fledged business formals, with a grey suit and a silk tie, riding on a mountain bike, with my trouser ends tucked into my socks to prevent them from getting caught in the chain. That would create 2 possibilities. The obvious one is that my trousers would tear, and the less obvious would be that I might fall. Now I don't know which one of these is worse; both would probably work out to be horrendously expensive. Pain and trauma from the fall does not even come into the picture, that would be small compared to the mental agony I would go through if I had to pay for either a new suit or get my head or hand or leg fixed. No, I am not being a cheapskate, it really is that expensive here!

Anyway, so there I go, driving along, and I get more than a fair share of stares and the occasional smile. I am sure I must be a funny sight! Well, at least I give passersby a reason to smile.

Attempts at cooking...

So I finally experimented with cooking here. It wasn’t successful in the conventional sense, in the sense that I did not quite end up with what the directions were meant to make me end up with. I’d bought raw pasta which I thought should be easy to make. There were directions on the packet, which I thought I’d translate and use. Theoretically, it all looked fine.

So I did translate the directions. Problem is, they made no sense to me. Obviously, translating individual words didn’t quite give it the meaning they wanted to convey. There was also an assortment of stuff with the pasta, including what looked like Tomato puree, some herbs and grated cheese, all in individual packets. The herbs and cheese I left alone, it felt like too much work to open them, use a bit, and pack them up again so that they wouldn’t go bad. The puree, I decided to use.

So from whatever little I understood from the instructions, and what was kind of obvious in order to make Pasta, I boiled the hell out of the Pasta. Getting bored standing there watching the thing happily making gargling sounds and threatening to spill out, I decided to throw in some tomatoes and carrots, and of course, the puree. 10 minutes of boiling later and when the pasta was threatening to get a wee bit too chummy with the base of the pan, I sampled a bit of it. It was still raw, so I poured in more water, and repeated the cycle. It was a tad better now, but tasted horrendously bland, so I decided to put in whatever I could get my hands on. A bit of salt, lots of chilli powder to give it some colour, a slab of butter for no discernible reason, loads of tomato sauce (the puree and chopped tomatoes seemed to have disappeared with the water), and 2 torn-to-shreds slices of slightly pungent Holland cheese. Some vigorous stirring and scrapping off the bottom of the pan later, I was ready to go.

It turned out to be fantastic. The cheese melted and formed a rich, thick sauce like thingy, enveloping the pasta strands. It was yummy, and was washed down excellently with the last pint of Apple soda that I had left. Finally, a kind of filling evening meal!

Music to my ears...

There’s this inexplicable joy that one feels when somebody speaks to you fluently in a language which you are good at, after a while. While almost everybody at work speaks good English, it is of course not spoken in the same way as somebody who’s spoken it as the primary language all his life speaks it. There’s this Irish chap here, a senior fellow, who’s been working here for several years now. He speaks excellent German – atleast from what I could deduce – but seemed to be much happy to speak English. Both of us kinda realized that we could speak English the way it’s spoken, and it felt great. I guess the high point was when, while departing, both of us said, exactly at the same time, ‘I’ll see you around’, something which a native German would almost never say, for it is as typically English a phrase (and by that I mean the language, not the people) as one could have, something which would make no sense in other languages.

The Dummy's Guide to using a Shopping Cart in Europe

A trip to the supermarket here is like trying to figure out what they wrote on the pyramids. Row after row of colourfully packaged stuff, with things on it which I cannot fathom. It takes a real effort to figure out what is what, and I am pretty much clueless about what is there in 90% of the place. I struggle and find what I need - most of the time - and leave, without bothering about the rest. I guess one of these days I am gonna give the supermarket staff something to talk about by opening the german - english dictionary in the middle of the aisle.

Germans seem to want everything in big quantities. Nothing is small, and when you buy something, you wonder how many weeks or months this would last you. But there is no choice in most cases. Even the trolleys are huge, I would fit in one easily.

The first few visits to the supermarkets were hilarious, and we ended up behaving a bit like village idiots. We couldn't figure out how to unchain the trolleys, so we ended up making a circus of the visit, with each of us carrying around a dozen items on us, and trying our best to prevent the jam jar from hitting terra firma. The shop attendant gave us a curious gaze when we reached the till, wondering what the hell was wrong with us. Enquiries with one fella resulted in the knowledge that we had to insert a 1 Euro coin in the trolley to pull it out. Now, we were in no mood to put in 1 Euro in trolleys, especially after seeing the prices of stuff, and hence proceeded to ignore the looks that we got when people saw us lugging ridiculous amounts of stuff. It reached a point where it was not possible to carry all of it around. So we thought of what seemed to be a rather brainy idea. We deposited all our stuff on a stool we found in an aisle. One of us guarded it, and the other went around looking for more stuff that we needed. Then, the other stood guard, and the, err, other went around. Needless to say, this also resulted in a fair number of funny looks from people.

In retrospect, I can't believe how dumb we were. I saw daylight on a visit yesterday, when I found myself lugging too many things again, and decided that enough was enough, and that I was getting a trolley, even if it was costing a Euro. After dumping the assortment of items that I had collected so far in an empty corner of the shop with the hope that some over-enthu shop attendant wouldn't find it and place it back, I went outside the shop, and watched a young girl put out a trolley. She got a bit freaked out I think, so I sauntered off and came back after she was safely inside the shop and did not need to fear me any more. A girl with scarlet hair was placing a trolley back, and I proceeded to ask her if she spoke English. A positive response encouraged me to ask her how I pulled a trolley out, a question which I believe rather surprised her. If she were Indian, I am sure she would have thought "Kahaan kahaan se aate hain yeh log..." (Translated as 'Where the hell do these people come from, not to know even this...'). Anyway, she kindly explained the system, and gave me a what-else look when I asked her if I got my Euro back when I put the trolley back. I then proceed to hand 2 50 cent coins to her and take the trolley before she put it back, and sauntered off inside the shop. Victory was mine!

I think there must have been some rather desperate folks who ran off with the trolleys and sold them for scrap or something. It made no sense to me, otherwise, to have such a system in a country where almost everybody abided with the law and people left bicycles on the streets without locking them at times.

Paris...

My first weekend in my internship turned out to be a long weekend. Now being a rather lazy sort of chap, a long weekend is something I naturally loved, but the prospect of spending one in a room which did not even have a ceiling fan for me to watch go around wasn't an idea which brought me much cheer. So I decided to visit Paris. With Keertida stationed there for her MBA, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to see Paris in a good way, and also for cheap :P


I reached Paris on Friday night after a stunning 4 hour train journey, which left me marveling at the technical progress and systematic nature of things here. The vistas were fantastic, the windows large and clear, and the weather great. 4 hours passed by in a jiffy. I had directions on how to get to the place she lived in, but I could make no sense out of them for the first 15 minutes. A visit to the information counter resulted in a sad shake of the head and a 'No English' remark. After wandering around in circles and getting exasperated, I approached a random stranger, who did not quite know what I should do, but knew where we could find somebody who did. With his huge bag in tow, he walked at a pace which made me run in order to keep up with him. We went all over the place again, but couldn't make much progress. Finally, he asked another random girl, who was busy smoking a cig. Finding that she spoke English, a quality that he lacked, he promptly deposited me in her care, and vanished before I could thank him. The girl apologetically asked me if I could wait till she finished her cig, which she proceeded to do in a state which made even me asphyxiate. After depositing the remains, she took me to another information counter, where we waited in a long line, before the attendant made me a ticket and drew lines on the metro map to explain what I should be doing. A quick round of thanks later, the girl vanished, and I proceeded to find my way. I had to ask another person, this time a young chap of African origin, who told me the way and shook hands in a hearty, happy manner and hopped into the train which had arrived as we were talking.


A few minutes later, I stood at the exit of Cite Universitaire, wondering what to do now. Keertida was not quite there as she'd said, and the public telephone seemed to accept only calling cards. Thanking my stars on my decision to get a mobile, even though it was a tad heavy on the pocket, I called her, wondering if I had enough balance to make an international call while roaming. There seems to be some strange system here though, calling locally within a country while roaming seems to be cheaper than calling it when you are in your home network. Anyway, it was a rather relieved keertida who took the call, having wondered for over an hour as to where I had vanished, and an even more relieved me, in the knowledge that I wouldn't have to spend the night on a park bench after all.


I later found out that Parisians are known for being snooty and unhelpful, but the experiences I had with 3 people - one of which was definite snooty material, being young, female and undeniably and completely hot - went quite against that, making me feel happy again. Maybe we tend to get a wee bit too cynical at times...

More about the Paris trip later :)

Danke Schön!

Germans seem to be rather generous. So much that I doubt I would get the same sort of generosity in India. There was I, in the Subway in town, asking for the whereabouts of a payphone after a meal. The shop attendant asked me if I wanted to call India - I guess I look as Indian as anybody could - and then offered me his cell phone for me to take a call. I was a bit surprised and turned down his offer, which left him rather flabbergasted. It's not a tiny amount, 2 Euros, for a call to India, and the readiness to help, even when it cost him felt really good.
A similar incident happened in the loo in Mannheim station, where I was switching trains on my way to Paris for the Easter weekend. It was a paid loo, and half a Euro did not seem like too high a price to relieve myself in the state I was in, so I decided to use it. Now the machine accepted only coins of 50, 20 and 10 cents, and I had one 20, 2 tens and a whole lot of small change smaller than 10. The fella I had asked for help to use the machine saw that I was short of a 10 Euro coin, and promptly handed me one, and started walking off after giving me a hearty smile. He seemed rather surprised to see me run after him and hand over a 5 cent coin, and then again after a few moments, another 5 cent one.
I don't know, but I can't seem to come to terms with this. It's a great feeling to find people ready to help somebody who doesn't come from their land, doesn't look anything like them, and doesn't even speak their language.

First Impressions..

Weinheim is a small town, and the proportion of non-whites here is rather small. Apart from us (there's this chap from IIM B who's also interning here), and the couple of other asians we've seen, and a few people of apparently Turkish origin who run a few of the eating joints here, there are very few people of other races. So seeing a non-white person seems to be a rare sight here. I wouldn't for a moment say that people on the streets look down at us or are racist, but there is a definite way in which they look at us. It's not a mean, why-are-you-here look, just a confused what-do-I-do-now kinda gaze. They look at you and suddenly look away, or look through you, both of which can be rather disconcerting. It isn't that they are unfriendly either, for I have ventured to talk to a few people on the streets, for some or the other form of help, and they have always been extremely polite and helpful and friendly, even when I talk to them in a language with which they are not comfortable at all.
So it's a bit strange, and you end up being confused too about what to do. If I smile, they give me a hearty smile back, but otherwise they just leave it at that. I guess I should break the ice with a few Guten Tags!

Germany Ahoy!

Life does tend to surprise you. also pleasantly at times. I remember deciding to take my passport along when I was packing for joining IIMK, and I told myself, right, sure, you'll need that. Very, very sarcastically, of course! A foreign summers is rare, especially in a 'lower' IIM ( L/I/K ), and I do not have an exceptional profile, so the odds were low. But then...
So here I am, and it's been a week so far. A crazy but fun week. Most of my posts til May end will be about the European experience. I wish I could add photos, but I have severely restricted net access, so it's just text for now...

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Hrmmmph

It's as if the fella up there is just waiting for me to make some statements, so that he can go ahead and make me contradict them and look like a bit of an ass, or at least, make myself feel like one. I wrote that piece on flying and traveling by trains not a fortnight ago, and since them, I've taken 3 flights, and am about to take another one in a matter of hours. Some folks who, in spite of being regular readers of my blog, choose to stay friends with me - may god bless them :P - wouldn't let the irony of things escape me, with the effect that I have to get into this huge thing of explaining why I have been flying around like a bloody prince for a week or so. It's all completely justified and necessary, yet, it feels a bit weird to be flying around so much. I realized how much I was doing it when I couldn't care less today between choosing a window seat or an aisle one, something which usually is a no-brainer for me.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Half done :|

And we're done. After 4 crazy exam days, the toughest bunch of papers I've written ever, we were done, done with first year. I'd looked forward to doing my MBA, to the incredible life that you can have at these places, to 2 solid years of fun and frolic interspersed with a bit of studies.. Most business schools have an amazing culture, and it's an absolutely crazily fun world. There are incidents good, bad and ugly, but then that is life, and there's no better place than a b school to give you a better microcosm of it. After waiting for it for so long, suddenly, half of it was over. It had been a long year and yet a very short one, one filled with countless memories of fun and awesome moments and memories which I would cherish for life and yet it had whooshed past us at breakneck speed. We entered a term with the knowledge that the first 2 or 3 weeks would be bliss, and sure, they were, but before we knew, there were over. A few more slightly work heavy weeks and then exams, and then back to the cycle. 2 such cycles and you go home, where the week or so that you have there passes by at an even faster rate, and you land up in campus again to start things all over again. It's tough to believe that half of this is already over.

Summers was going to be exciting, in a new part of the world, but I would miss campus like hell, especially the care-free aspect of it. Summers would be good from another point of view too, it would make me realize the value of campus life even more, especially given my tendency of taking it for granted by getting too used to it. In campus, you always have this incredible support system for you, especially in first year, when the seniors are there to guide you through almost anything that business school life can throw at you. Doubtless, this would be one of the big things I'd miss during summers.

I packed my bags with a heavy heart, although the rush with which I had to pack them made things easier. The sun started setting in the western skies, and cast its usual orange glow onto the sea of coconut plantations which extended till the horizon. I would be leaving this room for good, and getting an 'upgrade' to one a floor higher, though the view would be a bit blocked by a leafy tree which stood right in front. It was a tree quite popular with a pair of tree-pies, and whether their noisy chirping turned out to be something I looked forward to or tolerated due to a lack of alternatives would remain to be seen. A mad dash with my half a ton of luggage towards the bus waiting to leave for Bangalore from our Harvard steps meant that I forgot to cast a last look at the amphitheatre, now prettily decked up in yellow lights. I descended the steps and looked back, and my first morning here came back to me, when I'd stood at the same spot and looked in awe at the majestic north tower standing tall over the wide, lazy steps next to the admin building and library. It all felt so long ago, and yet I remembered it as if it had happened just yesterday. What a year it had been!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Bludgeoned!

Pre-exam week rushed by, as usual, with loads of assignments and submission work. Term end is like that, in the last few days when you'd like to catch up with what had been taught in class for the exams, you invariably have to put in all your time for submission work. Exam week was even crazier because of an incredibly heavy workload in terms of classes. There had been a lot of cancellation of classes over the duration of the term, and they all invariably ended up in the last few days for lack of any alternative. In between, I had to rush to Cochin and Chennai for the visa application for summers. The hectic schedule really got to me, and I ended up with a horrible cold and a fever right on the day before the exam.

There's only one way to describe the exam, and there's nothing more apt than the picture below। I was in this state during almost all papers, and I'll leave out a verbal description. As they say, a picture says a thousand words!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

A bit of introspection...

There are events in life which change you. Now that might seem as a bit of an understatement or stating of an obvious fact. But although these things keep happening, we rarely realize what exactly has changed in us due to them. This change is rather subtle, till one fine day it hits you.

Term breaks here are short, and time is scarce. Going back by train takes more or less 24 hours, which means that from the 10 days that we have as a break every 3 months, 2 go in traveling to and fro Pune. Which makes the case for traveling by air, maybe once every trip, decently strong. A lot of people do that, and my parents also keep asking me to do the same. However, I always refuse to, refuse to even travel by AC. It's not because I am a bit of a miser, which I admit to being. It's just that I tend to feel that I am not worth it. My time is not so precious that I fly in and out like a bloody prince.

Now, things weren't always like this. I remember one fine day in April 2007. The IIM results had been delayed (the first time around, when I had set targets for botching things up which few people could match :) ), and I grudgingly had to go and pay fees at IMT-G to reserve a seat. I was without a job and had nothing to do while waiting for the results. And I look back now, and find it difficult to believe what I did - I flew to and fro Delhi. I am pretty appalled by it now. I mean there I was, with absolutely nothing to do, and flying around for no good reason, when I could have perfectly easily taken the train and saved a good lot of money. I now wonder, had the IIM calls gone to my head? Had I become proud and vain and conceited, and thought too much of my time and comfort? Maybe I had. I shudder to think of myself like that, I'd hate to be like that. And yet I was.

Maybe the IIM shocker that year did me more good than I ascribe to it. Maybe it just prevented me from turning into one of those conceited, pompous buggers who think no end of themselves. Sometimes, it takes a good, hard shake-up to make things clear. Sure enough, I made it into the IIMs, but without, hopefully, turning into a prick. Somehow, that shock, and the events that followed over the next 12 months or so affected me so deeply, that it has changed me subtly in many ways - at least I believe so. When people ask me, as they often do, why I don't fly down, the answer is clear - because me and the time aren't worth it. It's not just about flying, of course, that is just something which is an obvious change. It's more with the way I tend to look at life and not take things, situations and people for granted. Which I was guilty of doing, for sure, earlier. Maybe I'll stop looking at the professors in IIMK who rejected me the first time around and going, why? Of course, it was never a angry, justify why kind of why, just a curious, scared, one.