Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Decaying Society?

Recently I heard a gentleman comment that the old are treated more shoddily in India than in the west and so are the mentally challenged. In the daily blur of life, we rarely have time to reflect on such social issues but this statement made me watch out for its validity.

The first step was the movie 15 Park Avenue which depicts a very real dilemma of having a mentally challenged member at home and how the family copes. I could relate to that situation as I myself have seen a somewhat schizophrenic lady in my own family. She could not handle her disappointment after giving birth to a female child; she wanted a son desperately to gain acceptance and favor of her in laws. She lost her balance and from then on has remained under very heavy medication and sedation. For many many years her husband ensured that she gets to lead a normal life as far as possible, the extended family accepted her and pretended that serving salt to guests was perfectly normal. Perhaps this support still makes her go on now though times are much more difficult with the care givers passing away and children having their own families to raise.

The other day I went to a prayer meeting where 80% of the people were over 70. For them it has been a life long habit to attend the annual prayer meetings, many came on wheel chairs, some with walking sticks and some supported by their sons, daughters or nurses. One lady seemed to be close to 90 and was seated on a chair, her relative kept wiping the saliva that trickled from the side of her mouth at regular intervals and adjusted her clothes when she fidgeted. The grandchildren helped in feeding the grandparents or held their hands while they negotiated steps.

In my own house my maid talks to herself loudly and sometimes has heated arguments with no one in particular. I keep worrying that she might harm somebody in one of her fits. She was married off to the first available person because she was the ugliest in the family, her husband promptly married again and his family and he beat up this lady and threw her out without a penny. Her brothers would not take her back so she had to fend for herself from then on - it cannot have been an easy life. Perhaps today her only outlet to the angst held within is having imaginary conversations with people who wronged her. We somehow despite our many reservations understand.

So I cannot wholly agree with the statement going by my observations in the last few days, there is an ugly side but I hope the good still outnumbers the bad.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Of Tooth Fairies & Santa

I still recollect the magic and wonder associated with my childhood when I really believed that chairs could grow wings and there were goblins and fairies at the end of the garden. Enid Blyton was partly responsible for weaving this magical world and my parents were responsible for helping me believe in magic. Every time I lost a tooth the tooth fairy religiously left me a 2 rupee note and every Christmas Santa filled my stockings generously with almost all the items I had asked for in my letter to him exactly 15 days before Christmas which was 'posted' by Mother!

Eventually I found out that Tooth Fairies and Santa did not exist but I had probably outgrown that phase so it didn't hit me too hard.

Now that I have a child of my own I try to create the same sense of wonder and magic by reinventing the Tooth Fairy and Santa. Santa is an immensely good tool to use if one wants the kids to behave, so it has its advantages for the parents as well! It has had some very difficult moments too. Once Santa had to leave money for the cycle as the cycle would not fit in his sack. Once the Tooth Fairy ran out of 10 rupee notes so instead had to leave a 20 rupee note. When questioned, I quickly invented that since the tooth was a molar it had more value! Once I almost got caught buying Santa's toy which happened to be a remote controlled car. I had to say that I returned the car as Santa was going to give him one anyway and hid the car in the boot of my car. Once I was away in France so I said Santa stuffed my suitcase full of toys as it would save him a long hard journey to India.

Till now it's worked but I think the phase where one believes anything is coming to an end but I feel that all this 'magic' truly makes us believe that life it's special and magical moments even beyond childhood.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Cambodia on my Plate

Finding spicy food in France can be quite a challenge. Most of the French would is rather mild and delicately flavored and such fineness is rather lost on our Indian palates. After 3 days of fine food I was quite desperate for some serious chilli so I went in search of some restaurant which served some sort of Asian cuisine.

Meylan was a very small town adjoining Grenoble, I was skeptical but thankfully I came across 'Cambodia' in the next block after walking for 10 minutes. I had never ever eaten in a restaurant alone before but sheer desperation makes us do a lot of things, I walked in and sat on a table facing the window to hide my embarrassment of eating alone.

The proprietor gave me a big smile and handed me the menu. My basic knowledge of French helped me to figure out whether it was beef, chicken or fish and I asked the rest to this man who had forgotten to speak English. I asked if he was from Cambodia and he beamed and said yes he was, he came to France in his teens. I asked if it was during Pol Pot and he nodded his head vigorously and said 'Vely bad time'. He asked me where I was from - I said Bombay, India. 'Cinema!! Aishwarya!!!?' I am of course stupefied and most impressed about his knowledge but groan inwardly about the choice of actor. Can't really blame him - he is a man after all.

I saw he had more questions for me but language is a barrier so I pointed out the items I wanted to eat and he gave me a big smile. 'Good. Wait vingt minute ok?’ I waited and felt rather silly sitting alone and looked across the street and saw the shops downing their shutters.

A few minutes later a plate of spring rolls appeared, the main said 'for you - eat', I said I hadn't ordered this but he said 'I give you' so I ate obediently loving every bite and later managed to what I had ordered as well. I felt revived with some Asian food and thanked the man profusely for his hospitality and paid the bill. He offered me a sweet which tasted very similar to a til laddu and I said it’s a lot like Indian sweets. He said 'Asia country so lot is same'. I promised to come back later and said my goodbyes.

This man was in a country very different from his own, he had left all the turmoil to rebuild his life but perhaps in his quiet moments missed his paddy fields and what used to be home and I was in a strange country trying to cope with the language and food and felt quite homesick. Perhaps that is why we were happy, because we met somebody from close to home...

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Fish Philosophy in a Washroom

Most of the Fish books talk about 'Making someone's day', I came across this gesture from someone (who knows nothing about Fish) who we just take for granted and rarely ever give a second glance.

I would not really give us as a race a lot of awards in keeping public amenities clean. Knowing this, the organization employs 24x7 housekeeping staff who make sure that the toilet is clean, toilet paper folded neatly into a V, enough tissues and there are no nasty odors.

We rush in and rush out barely giving these ladies a smile. I did talk once in a while when this lady asked me a question or two. The other day I wore a sari and managed to look quite a mess with asymmetry everywhere. During my mid morning visit to the wash room, this lady literally berated me for wearing something so pretty all wrong. She took charge, fixed the pleats, pinned wherever necessary and I was transformed to this elegant air hostess sort of a look.

To be honest I was having a stressful day because every time I stepped on my sari I thought the whole thing would fall apart. This lady put my fears to rest with all the pins in place, boosted my confidence levels and certainly made my day. This was such a sweet and kind gesture from someone I barely knew.

I just realized that I didn't even ask her name. I must do it when I visit the washroom next...

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Oh! Champs Elysees!

While I was growing up the television didn't have any soaps on it - it was mostly a four hour slot which screened some programs for farmers, some documentaries and a movie on Sundays. So the next best alternative was to read - whatever I could lay my hands on. Reader's Digest was a regular feature in our house and it had a series on Napoleon at one point of time. I remember reading about Josephine, his victories, Waterloo and his alleged arsenic poisoning while he was held captive. I even dreamt of driving down the road that led to Arc de Triomphe. At that time I did not know that road was called Champs Elysees - the most romantic avenue in the whole world.

My dream came true in the most wonderful way. I got an opportunity to travel to France for work, it was a small city called Grenoble in east of France quite closed to the famed Mont Blanc peak. I went to Paris on a weekend by TGV which was an awesome experience, managed to find my way to the hotel, checked in, dumped my bags and set out immediately.

No sunny skies and no lover at my side, I set out to explore the world's most romantic city. It was drizzling and I didn't have an umbrella so I tied my muffler around my head and hoped I would not be chilled to the bone. It was just the week before Christmas and it was rather cold, I took the metro to Place de la Concorde and emerged right at the beginning of Champs Elysees all ready to walk up and down and explore it thoroughly. The sight was truly amazing, tall trees lining both sides, broad sidewalks with Christmas decorations and lights which would come on in the night. It was thrilling; to say the least, to walk past the world's most famous names in fashion... I revel in doing some serious window shopping as I dare not enter these shops with just 800 Euros in my pocket!

A rather strange incident forced me to enter the Louis Vuitton store off Champs Elysees and I will be ever grateful to the Chinese gentleman who made it happen. While I was walking down, a Chinese gentleman approached me and said "Please can you help me? I am from Asia and I need some help...” I was of course well warned to not to talk to strangers so I walked on. Seeing the only English speaking prospect walk away, this gentleman said "You just have to buy a bag for me from that shop ... its Christmas and they won’t sell more than 2 bags to one person". I stopped and decided to give it a shot; I could always walk away or refuse if something didn't seem right. He showed me a catalogue and said "Buy two of these" and gave me 1000 Euro note and said that he would wait at the corner of the street.

Louis Vuitton was very impressive on the inside who obviously did not entertain riff raff like me but I bravely walked right in and said I wanted some bags for ladies. A very smartly dressed store manager appeared instantly and told me crisply that many Chinese people were asking people on the street to come in and buy things from the store who were in all probability nothing but smugglers and hence the store would not sell any goods in cash. I was rather crushed but said that I would like to see some wallets. I was led to another counter and shown wallets suiting the sizes of currency in India. I asked the price and managed not to flinch when the salesman replied. The temptation to buy was very great but I thought about all the other things I had to buy and steeled myself to resist the urge. I asked whether they had a calculator and asked them to multiply the amount by 55. The figure came to a whopping Rs 20,000! I shrugged and waved by hands dismissively and said "In my country I can buy a TV with that money" and marched out.

My next worry was to find the thug and hand him over the 1000 Euro note. Thankfully I found him right at the corner and told him politely that I could not manage to buy what he wanted and returned the money. I continued with my walk, passed several small cafes, peered in to see men and women having coffee and chatting animatedly. I could not figure out what they were eating though. It drizzled steadily and I dug my hands deeper in my pocket and walked on and finally reached the great monument - Arc de Triomphe which was a beautiful sight. I crossed the street and stood right in the middle on the road divider for 10 whole minutes and soaked in every detail, after all my dream was coming true. I cross the rest of the street and plan to walk back down on the other side.

The other side was livelier, had more shops and more people. Perhaps many people had come from other parts of France to see Paris and were enjoying a walk down Champs Elysees as I was. I see many children singing "Oh Champs Elysees" and dancing around. I make up my mind to enter the Morgan de Toi shop which promises a 25% discount. Stylishly (and skimpily) dressed women attend to me and I go right ahead and indulge myself and buy myself scraps of Parisian fashion. Pleased with my bargains I walk down to a large perfume store called Marionnaude (I think) and am tempted to buy the whole store but finally stick to 5 bottles of perfume. I walk on and buy a Swiss watch from a French store and almost bump into an elaborately dressed bespectacled Indian holding a plaque called 'Kashmir'. Apparently 'Kashmir' is an Indian restaurant which was trying to attract customers by curiosity value, placing this gaudily dressed person on the sidewalk.

More cafes and the wafting smells make me hungry but I have no time to stop for a bite. I see a long queue in from of what seems to be a movie hall and Aishwarya Rai beams from one poster - Bride and Prejudice running in French I suppose. Is there no escape from that plastic smile I ask myself and come to a halt in front of the famed Lido. Unfortunately there are no shows at that time of the day, I am disappointed but next time I promise myself to see the Can Can at the Moulin Rouge.

My walk down Champs Elysees ends and I hurriedly walk to Place de Pyramide from where I am to catch a 'Paris by Night' bus tour. The evening shadows lengthen to night as Paris comes alive with its beautiful lights. The bus slowly bends round the corner and the tour guide says 'Ladies and gentlemen, feast your eyes on the world's most beautiful avenue - Avenue de Champs Elysees" The trees lining the avenue were lit up with thousands of bulbs, the Christmas decorations were lighted up to create the effect of snow and in a distance Arc de Triomphe standing illuminated in its majestic glory. It was truly the most wonderful sight ever...

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Art of Jugglery

It seems I am getting good at it every day! I have read lots of articles about how the 'Modern Indian Woman' has to manage house, demanding careers, maids, in-laws, parents, kids and so on. I guess the 'Indian Woman' is quite the superwoman who manages all these roles and responsibilities and usually sails through it without getting ruffled but there are challenging moments and here is just a glimpse into a 'Day in the life of an Indian Woman'...

Alarm rings at 5:30 but I am down with the sniffles so I quit the idea of going to the gym and go back to sleep and dream of osteoporosis and creaking joints catching up with me in my old age. I guess it was induced by the guilt of not going to the gym.

I wake up at 7:00 AM and tell my husband that I have an office party tonight and will be back at 11:30 PM. A few minutes later I added 'Can you send the driver to the hotel?' and I am faced with instant resistance. I am given a lecture on neglecting my son and how my continuous partying is bound to have negative effects on how he turns out as an individual.

It’s a lecture I hear every time I have to go out at night (roughly 2-3 times a year). I also listen to the various reasons about why the car cannot be sent to pick me up. I breezily shrug and say I'll catch a cab and continue to brush my teeth.

Over a tense breakfast I am told about the project that my son has to complete by the 16th which is a good few days away. I am also given a sermon on how he sacrificed various nights out with friends to be with family to which I serenely respond ..'Oh but you must go out - I can more or less manage without you'

Goodbyes are said before leaving for work, a few everyday sentences are left out for obvious reasons...

I carry on with a leisurely breakfast, read 2 newspapers, wake up my son, help him do some of his project work, run the washing machine, select a nice dress from my wardrobe, hang out the clothes to dry, get ready, put my favorite perfume and explain to my son that I have to go out with those Frenchmen (not even good-looking ones :-( ) and will be back before he goes to sleep. He understands perfectly and shoos me off to work.

While traveling I get a call from my husband that the car will be sent to my office at 7:30 and he will come back slightly earlier and take care of my son's homework!

Not such a bad day after all!

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

A Thank You Note

Just something I discovered amongst the piles that I wrote centuries back (it seems like that now!) - it was a note written to somebody but its a view point I would like to share here....

It just sort of occurred to me that all of us so so busy with ourselves, I would say we spend about 95% of our time in running after our goals, desires. wants etc, given this situation, time and our attention are so much at premium and precious specially if we choose to give it to something or someone that does not serve our goals in any way.

So I just wanted to say that I really appreciate the time you have taken out for me, you may have done it willingly or unwillingly at times, I know I can be pushy, irrational, emotional, rude or irritatingly honest at times (but most times I am nice or naughty). As for your attention, I am deeply honored. Human attention is a very rare commodity these days and I treasure, value and respect everything that I get.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

The Girls at the Gym

One morning at the gym I noticed two rather young and relatively raw looking girls trying to give half baked or totally wrong instructions (in Maratthi, Hindi and a few words in English) to people who were working out. In an up market gym this was not such a welcome sight - people could be seriously injured. I wondered that is the gym really so hard up that they can’t even afford to get proper fitness trainers?

Youth always is very refreshing; no matter what form it comes in. These girls after they joined added more enthusiasm and warmth to the normally snooty atmosphere, they greeted everybody, made sure that everybody smiles and tried their level best to catch up with the various fitness jargons that they had never heard of before. The blunders still continued but they got better with each day. Their colleagues also mostly refused to explain the intricacies of how to set up the Smith Machine and the correct way to do squats but they learnt by observation.

One day I decided to find out that why they were at this gym and what were their credentials to be a fitness instructor. I struck up a conversation with the girls (called Suchitra and Pallavi), it was rather challenging as I had a tough time figuring out what was spoken in Marathi.

These girls were aspiring sportswomen and one played basketball for the state team and the other was into state level athletics. So I guess it made sense to have them around! We talked further and Pallavi made a comment about my 'I love Paris' T shirt and said that some of her friends had been there and they said it was very beautiful. She added that her friends had gone to represent India in some sports event and how she could not go as she didn't find a sponsor.

'Sponsor'? I asked, to which she replied that each participant has to find a sponsor for the team who will bear the costs - the one who doesn't find one gets left behind. Obviously it's all about the money rather than talent and ability. Suchitra too was looking out for a sponsor so that she could participate in some games in Nepal.

I was reminded about the fitness instructor at the gym in my previous organization (who also doubled up as floor admin) - he too had said that he was a national level football player but had to quit as he had no backing and had to earn a decent living.

I guess now I know why India has fewer medals at the international games; it seems that nobody can look beyond Cricket in this country. I was also reminded about Madhu Sapre's response to a question asked at the Ms Universe contest. She said that if she became the Prime Minister of India she would build more sports facilities to encourage the youth of India. This also cost her the crown as this wasn't an 'intelligent' enough answer! In retrospect I think she knew exactly what she was talking about ...

Monday, January 09, 2006

Woes of a Project Manager

All my fellow IT professional would agree that this role is the backbone of any established IT firm. Of course it’s different that as a developer I felt developers were the key. So what one thinks is kind of relative to what one does or where one is. The Project Manager is a much maligned person as I have experienced. The team you lead thinks that you are a decorative accessory who just has to say a few smart words at the right time to the right people. They also think that you are a disaster technically and the poor chap/lady is around just because he/she has no chances of getting a job anywhere. What does a Project Manager have to do anyway??

1. Read and reply to mails
2. Attend Meetings
3. Conduct appraisals - only twice a year at the most

For this shit they get paid so much. Of course the developers have to bear all the burdens in this world!

Now let’s see the other side, what does a Project Manager's boss think about this great person. The typical words you hear are:

"Now that we have a full time Manager for this project, I should not hear anything from the customer - if I do that means you are not doing your job properly"

Phew! That’s loads of responsibility; you have to be answerable for things beyond your control like:

Q1 Why didn't you reply to my mail within 2 hours as defined in the SLA? (The mail server crashed :( and pigeons don’t reach where you are in 2 hours...)

Q2 Why wasn't the team member available at the desk when I called? (He went to the loo for godssakes!)

Q3 Why did you use a SELECT statement when you could have used a cursor (excuse me? are we supposed to read minds as well???)

Q4 Why doesn't the team sit together? (Blame the admin - they never give you a seat and they don’t really care if you sit on the floor with a laptop)

Q5 why did you attend training on Informatica when the project is on PL/SQL?? I will not pay. (Clients don’t believe that you should add to your skills)

Q6 Why didn't you deliver on time? Why does the code have bugs?? I will not pay

I am confused now ... it seems I am a shopkeeper who always has to make sure that I get paid for the goods I sell!

Now for any of these problems you are not going to be supported by the organizational hierarchy. After all, the project is your baby and you gotta manage if the baby falls down or the baby cries.


I have recently found a reason to live and bear this ordeal of being a Project Manager. I was convinced that I am nothing but a punching bag who offers solace by absorbing the punch but now I have this wonderful viewpoint that another fellow Project Manager recently shared with me.

Consider this; an idol in a temple is central to the existence of the temple, the devotees, and the flower seller and so on. Take away the idol and the temple is nothing but an empty room. Similarly, a Project Manager is essential to the existence of a project without whom it will not run.

God is truly great - he has shown me the reason to continue in this role!

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Defect Prevention - A perspective!

This one if for the Geeks!

We all know about defect prevention meetings, for the first 10 minutes we genuinely make an effort, sit quietly, try to analyze why the defects occurred and the ideas that come out to prevent those defects are sometimes highly creative but very far fetched. What the heck, we are humans and we will make mistakes so what’s the big deal about spending so much time analyzing them? That’s the mood that sets in after the first 10 minutes. The next ten minutes is usually dedicated to analyzing the human race, the surroundings and environment that we work in and of course our esteemed customer. Let us examine what takes place in the middle of the DP meetings:

Scenario 1
Lots of creative ideas floating around but its not leading anywhere, the DPR earnestly tries to put on a serious expression and reminds us that we are nowhere close to reaching an action item and since the conference room booking will last for another 15 minutes we should cut out the crap and hunt for root causes and action items. The hunt begins for the root cause for "Copy Paste Errors", after a lot of brain storming the light bulb flashed (or was it a tube light?) and the conclusion was that the customer cannot visualize what they want so requirements come in batches where much of the code needs to be copied and pasted so the customer is at fault. But of course we cannot put that in writing, the customer is always right - that is our mantra, so the root cause needs to be carefully rephrased. Phew! So we found a root cause what about an action item - think fast 10 minutes to go, another light bulb flashes somewhere ..."Think Modular" slogans to be put up in every cubicle so we don’t have to cut and paste, we can just re-use.

Scenario 2
An earnest effort is going on to examine why on earth are there defects due to "Negligence". The 5 why analysis tool is used.
Why is there negligence? -> Lack of concentration
Why lack of concentration? -> Feeling sleepy
Why sleepy? -> Afternoon tea did not arrive on time
Why tea not served on time? -> The milk curdled and was spoilt
Why did the milk curdle -> Very hot day so refrigeration collapsed

Well some things are beyond our control it seems and defect prevention seems to have a much larger scope than we had imagined. Anyway the team hunts around for a plausible root cause and an action item which will make sense to the project managers and the auditors. No doubt it’s a tough job!

The last 10 minutes is usually a sermon, the entire SDLC process is revised, we MUST follow checklists, we MUST review, we MUST test etc etc etc. The minutes are jotted down, responsibilities assigned and back to our seats! What a relief!

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

A Walk Down the Street

I get up bleary eyed every morning, brush my teeth and rush to the gym to shed the flab that is added due to ever increasing incomes and better lifestyles (however hard earned that may be). Saturdays are different though, I dont have to wake up at the crack of dawn, I take my time, read the paper, have breakfast and then go for my workouts. Saturdays are all the more special because I have time for other 'pamper myself' activities too. While coming back home I walk half the way, window shop, browse though the local library and buy a few things for home.

One such Saturday afternoon, all the usual Saturday activities I was feeling great about myself and thought that I would indulge in one of those delicacies that my dietician strictly forbade me to eat and went ahead and got a few things which I would gorge on (ok nibble on!) while I read a book at home.

While walking down, I pass a popular restaurant, my pace was slow, I had time to observe my surroundings and in doing so I noticed a beggar sitting under a tree, the sight is common enough to people living in big cities. I looked further and I saw that he had some half rotten discarded leftovers (probably from the plates of the patrons of that restaurant) and a newspaper from a nearby bin for a plate. I thought of the rumblings in my stomach, the goodies in my bag and the feelings of anticipation about enjoying them.

My inner voice screamed at me to give my bag of goodies to this beggar, let him enjoy his food for once. But unfortunately I have acquired a lot of flab in areas other than my physical body. I didn't listen and walked on and told myself that I will do this tomorrow. I will find the beggar, buy him a meal etc etc. I went home and tried reading my book and nibble on the stuff which I had brought which seemed to taste a lot like cardboard or perhaps it was just the taste of disgust (aimed at self).

Perhaps the inner joy of giving my bag of goodies to the beggar would have been far greater than eating it myself. Since that day I try to look out for the beggar but I haven't seen him since. I guess opportunities to truly shed the flab of apathy are rare.

An Ode to Cafe de Paris

About seven years back I first heard the name Café de Paris, my husband often mentioned it whenever I asked him where he had had lunch. This place seemed to be a favorite hang out during the various sales calls he used to make in the Dalhousie area and I often heard him singing praises of the pudding he ate there. The name brought visions of the cafes one sees in Paris while walking along Champs Elysees; of course I knew that what I visualized was quite far fetched for a busy street on Dalhousie.

Though I was curious and always very eager to explore all kinds of eating joints, Café de Paris was forgotten in the midst of the daily din of existence. Then one fine morning we made a decision to move to a city with greater opportunities and better careers and the first step in doing so was to go and purchase railway tickets from Koilaghata. It quite slipped our minds that we could have purchased tickets from Ballygunj station as well which was quite close but anyway we had made the journey at almost crack of dawn to secure a position in the already snake like queue, after standing for two long hours without any food and water we did manage to get our tickets to a brighter future. In a buoyant mood we walked towards the bus stand to catch a bus back home, however we could not ignore our rumbling stomachs so we stopped right in front of Café de Paris!

All my visions and pre conceived notions crashed, it resembled a hole in the wall, and two broken steps led into a dark room with soiled brown walls, marble topped wooden tables – eight of them in all with four chairs per table. Most were in a state of extreme disrepair. At the entrance there was a cash counter with a rather sleepy looking gentleman and above him was a huge portrait of the founder (freshly garlanded) of the place who was long dead and gone. My husband informed me that this portly gentleman of the portrait was my Mother in law’s uncle. Well maybe that is why he patronized the place!

My husband was in his element, he knew the waiters by their first names and he seemed to know the menu by heart as well – I don’t remember seeing a menu card though, all items available were usually rattled off by the waiter attending the table. So the order was given with much fanfare, one kobiraji (chicken breast cutlet coated with egg whites and deep fried), one moglai porota (dough stuffed with egg and meat mixture and deep fried), one chicken afghani (I cannot describe this one!) and one pudding and a few buttered toasts. My husband insisted that this was a feast fit for kings while I waited with my many reservations, snootily turning my nose at every other thing.

The food arrived promptly served on chipped plates and slightly bent knives and forks and I started digging in with trepidation but the moment I put the first bite inside my mouth I was transported to heaven, all that I ate was equally wonderful and I couldn’t quite decide what I liked best. My husband had this ‘I told you so’ look on his face which I ignored completely. Later after boarding the bus I grudgingly admitted that it was the best food I had ever eaten.

In my mind, Café de Paris truly symbolized the beginning of the good times and when we returned to Kolkata (as it is spelt now) we did always go back and savor the taste of success and tipped the waiters handsomely who were suitably shocked by the amounts. This year when we planned our itinerary, Café de Paris had its rightful place on it and we were to stop after we visited the zoo (which again is a must do activity till the children reach the age of 10). We took a taxi from the zoo to Dalhousie peering out of the window so that we don’t miss our ‘hole in the wall’! We peered hard but even my husband’s trained eye could not locate it so he crossed the street, searched in vain and finally asked a shoe shine man about its whereabouts. We were informed that the place had shut down in late 2004 and now the shop was to be some hardware store or some such thing.

Seeing our woebegone faces the shoe shiner kindly suggested that there are other such eating joints just round the corner but we were not really listening. With heavy hearts we walked back dejectedly to our taxi and went home hungry. It was an end of an era – this restaurant (if it could be called that) had been around since World War II and fed innumerable hungry people on the move for almost 60 years. Perhaps this place was too weak to handle the great winds of change blowing across and perished but I do hope the loyal will pass the place and remember that here I once sat and enjoyed every bit I ate.

Childhood Lessons

It was the first ever Asiad games in Delhi, there was a lot of excitement all around, everybody had tickets for some game or the other. Not to be left behind, I asked my Mother whether we could go and see *any* game – that would take care of the pressure of being in the club of the ‘people who had seen an Asiad even’ in school! My Mother worked in a high profile advertising agency so she did get some complimentary tickets for a game of hockey which would be played between some quite unknown teams right in front of my house at a sports stadium. Hockey was not my favorite sport but who cared as long as I could say in school that I too had seen a game.

The day arrived, the stadium looked brightly lit with the floodlights but there seemed to be no mode of transport available (I can’t exactly recollect why now) and we didn’t have a car. I did what pre teens do best, cried and howled but obviously that didn’t turn a pumpkin into a chariot (or for that matter a Mercedes) to take me to the stadium. Then I turned to my friends – called each and every one of them (being blissfully ignorant and simple) and asked them whether they could drop me to the stadium. The friends tried but their parents said NO. With each NO my heart sank a bit and by the time I finished my last desperate call I saw that the lights in the stadium had dimmed, the match was over and my Mother had tears in her eyes.

Both sights were rather disturbing but despite being a selfish spoilt brat drowning in her own grief I did manage to ask my Mother why she was crying. She did give me what I thought then to be a lecture. Strangely, I cannot recollect what words she used but what seemed to be then the most traumatic event of my childhood coupled with her words made me realize how important it is to be self reliant, self sufficient and not asking for favors unnecessarily, the importance of self worth and the importance of being independent.

Perhaps it was one of those life defining moments that has made me the person I am today, also perhaps learning the hard way has a lot more impact.