Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Life's a Beach

Here are some pictures of Santa Monica beach on Memorial Day. It seemed that all of California was out on those beautiful beaches and it almost came close to Juhu on a Sunday in Mumbai.
Interestingly, I have always loved this song by Sheryl Crow called ‘All I want to do is have some fun’, that is precisely what I did this weekend, but the only difference from Sheryl’s song was that I had fun till the sun set on Santa Monica Boulevard!
Memorial Day
A tribute to all soldiers, army, navy, marines, coast guards and air force. There was another pillar on the side dedicated to all soldiers who dies in various military operations in the line of duty since 1999. A pretty picture indeed.
The Pier
Everybody is out to have a great time. Somewhat like a walk down to Haji Ali in Mumbai, musicians playing the guitar or flute, people standing up on benches and trying to entertain the passers by to make some money, the serpentine queues for all the restaurants on the pier, the ancient carousel (set up by the Coney Island creator) which has been in existence since the birth of the pier in 1924, the numerous pretzel and hot dog stands by the side…
The Sailboats and Surfers
The oh so blue sea with pretty white sailboats drifting about happily aided by strong gusty winds. The surfers trying to ride waves which did not seem to be as high as I saw in Baywatch and my men readers would be disappointed to learn that the ladies and the men are mostly overweight and way beyond Baywatch expectations! There were some visual treats but very rare!
The Shade
The tall palm trees and beautiful green grass and the inviting shade made me fulfill one of my simple ambitions of sitting under a tree and reading a book, a hammock would have been perfect but one doesn't get everything. Some of the homeless wanderers had spread out their sleeping bags and rested in the shade, a physically challenged person had placed his 2 legs aside and dozed off, a pretty girl sat under a tree rubbing sun tan lotion, readying herself for the beach while the cool breeze blew gently.

The Sun and the Sand

A walk on the beach and the lovely warm feeling of sand between my toes made me realize a few things, the castles we build are temporary, the footprints we leave on the sand are temporary, the next big wave is but a reality, which will wipe it all clean and leave us with fresh smooth surfaces to build upon again. Walking on sand is also about rebalancing and finding steadiness in a constantly changing ground, I envy the light footed creatures of the beach who move with such speed and ease as compared to my apparently laborious movements.

The Californians do know how to enjoy every moment in between the waves.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Capitalist vs Socialist

I have a boss who works 20 hours so not much opportunity to blog. I plan to do a post on all my culinary experiences but in the meanwhile here is some food for thought.

In the numerous meetings I am attending here, a point came up where some government policies had an implication on software design. This country happens to be Spain, it also came up that since Spain is a socialist country, they have such policies in place. The person went on to make a comment - "Socialists are just so stuck"

That's USA for you - purely capitalist!

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Sleepless in LA

I had this very eventful journey from Mumbai to LA. It started on an incredibly funny note and I would have really laughed if I wasn't so stressed out about everything. I flew Air India and the first announcement I heard was that the flight has been delayed because the crew had not yet arrived. I wondered what if they don’t arrive at all. Is that a very diplomatic statement to make to agitated and stressed passengers who would miss all their connecting flights? What impression must have all the visitors to India formed about India's international carrier? I was shocked at the callousness and utter disregard for any passenger needs after being reasonable well looked after by Lufthansa, Air France, United etc. No water and soap in the toilets further added to discomfort and I found a human hair in my food. I know for sure I will never fly Air India again.

On reaching LA a couple of hours late, I found that the apartment I was renting had messed up and I had no keys and generally stranded with nowhere to put up. Most hotels were booked to capacity but finally I managed to find one next to Universal Studios, a plush 5 star hotel which was frightfully expensive but I loved every minute of my stay there, the view from the window overlooked Universal City and was brightly lit up.

Now that I have settled into the apartment I can’t seem to sleep. Well nothing ever is perfect but the place definitely rocks, it’s in the heart of Hollywood on the Sunset strip with many interesting shops and restaurants all around. I am finally going to fulfill my year long desire to eat Sushi at the Japanese restaurant right below.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Preparation

My boss told me that I have to go to Los Angeles for a month, my first reaction is pleasant, being right in the midst of beautiful beaches and Hollywood was interesting. Then the waves of worry replaced the initial thrill - one month is a long time and everything will be topsy turvy at home. Added to that, my maid's tantrums, my Mother in Law's various ailments, my husband's work related travel plans and my son's vacations, complete despair set in. All of it just because I will be away for a month and the family will be thrown out of gear.

The wives manage just fine when the husbands go away for work, why can’t the husbands manage when the wives are away? They behave like helpless babies who need to be given instructions on a daily basis! To ease the pain of my not being around, I have to stock up on groceries which will cover the month, plan the menu with my maid, employ additional domestic help to fill in for the labor that I put in and give my son a few activities and assignments which I hope will keep him occupied.

AT the end of all this I think that perhaps it would have been better to refuse the assignment altogether but another side of me wants to go and work and have fun. I guess this is the eternal dilemma of the working woman who has to balance out home and work.

Monday, May 15, 2006

My Window to the World

Knowing about and exploring different cultures and places has always been a hobby. These days one can do a lot of armchair traveling thanks to the many travel oriented shows on TV and write-ups in magazines but when I was growing up there weren't too many options available except for reading and traveling to the location and exploring for real.

Thanks to the uncountable Mills and Boons I consumed in my teen years, I know quite a lot of UK, Australia, Italy, Portugal, Spain and Greece. I wonder why Frenchmen were not preferred as heroes in Mills and Boons - perhaps it is because of the age old rivalry between the English and the French? My other obsession was listening to shortwave radio. During a trip to Amsterdam, my Mother brought me a Sony world receiver where one could do a digital scan of all shortwave frequencies. It is till date the most wonderful gift that anyone has ever given me.

Shortwave radio added an entirely new dimension to my learning and also gave me a chance to peek into cultures and countries far away from me. The most accessible stations were Voice of America and BBC; VOA ran a US top 40 song countdown which was then probably the only source for updated music. I still remember Ray Mc Donald who hosted those shows and actually came down to Calcutta to marry a Bengali girl (not me :(). BBC was my favorite source for economic analyses, news and literature. There used to be a program called Bookshelf where selected works for great authors were read out - I 'read' Madame Bovary, Picture of Dorian Gray and Hayavadana through BBC. Hunting out newer shortwave stations became an obsession, I used to maintain a diary of the names of stations and their frequencies - later I found that this hobby had a name, it was called DXing. Then the Internet had not hit India so there was no way to connect with people having the same hobby and no way to share what I had found.

Everyday I would strain my ears at each frequency to try and discover a station; at times the languages were different so I had to wait till they announced the name of the station. I found Radio Luxembourg, Radio Berlin (before the unification of Germany) and few more - 40 in all. Radio Australia was also one of my favorites and I used to listen to a program called Good Morning Australia hosted by a very cheery gentleman with a wonderful Australian accent - he managed to paint a very vivid picture of Melbourne.

I still miss my world receiver which was junked a few years back and I haven't got down to replacing it and neither have I checked the state of shortwave radio after I started working but it was my greatest companion in my growing up years and also my window to the world.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Cold Climates Colder Hearts?

My Mother recently made this comment under emotional duress - distances and cold climates kill warmth in our hearts. Our personal agendas and our immediate world consume us so totally that we have little care for what else happens around the world or to our extended families.

Most Indian families will have at least one relation staying outside the country, sometimes they are very close relations who choose to move away in search of better prospects and incomes. Longer distances from home may mean lesser frequencies of visits back home, at times they come back after years and years and all distances melt away and it seems like as if they had never left. At times it seems that some stranger has come in place of the person we originally knew and it is so hard to make the connection that we were used to.

I have watched both these situations up close. In one situation a daughter came to visit her Mother after a period of 20 years, the first time since her Father passed away. This was also the first time her mother would see her two grown children who had never been to India before. The mother still had limitless love and affection which would engulf not only her daughter but also the new found grand children but the daughter had emotionally drifted away and barely managed to exchange a few words now and then with her Mother. At one point I heard her saying "I don't want to go anywhere with Ma as I don’t quite know how to handle her". I guess that statement sums it all up.

Thankfully there is a brighter side as well, I have also seen people return and blend into the family as if they had never left, the parties and get togethers, the little thoughtful gifts for each and everyone in the family, visiting the people who have aged and the long conversations over lunches and dinners at home with our fingers and plates all dry with caked gravy residue. It's always a joy having them around and we look forward to their visits.

Maybe distances and colder climates do lead to mental and emotional distances as well, maybe the pressures of living away from home in a strange country do take their toll, maybe definitions of 'home' change but no distances should be that great that they cant be bridged with a warm smile.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Chandalika & the Caste Drama

Chandalika is a dance drama written by Rabindranath Tagore back in 1933. I was watching it on TV last night and found that it is perhaps as relevant now as it was in 1933.

It's a story of a girl named Prakriti, who is ostracized by the society and lives on its edges. She does not understand the consequences of her birth into a family which is regarded as 'untouchable'. She watches wistfully from the shadows as the world passes her by as even her shadow was inauspicious, the sweet meat vendor, the bangle seller and the flower girls all shunned her existence. One day a Buddhist monk appeared and asked her for some water to quench his thirst, he brushed aside her hesitance and said God made all men equal and her origins were inconsequential and proceeded to drink water offered by her.

The 'caste system' sometimes rears its ugly head during matrimonial alliances but otherwise it’s quite forgotten - at least in urban India. Now with the fresh wave of proposed reservations in education institutions like IIT and IIM, we are reminded again of the antiquated concept of 'castes' and discrimination on the basis of religion.

Now if we extrapolated the Chandalika situation to education and reservation, things are quite simple. Education is the 'water' to be given to one and all irrespective of his or her origins. Unfortunately, money and not caste or religion, is a limiting factor. Some students may be brilliant (no matter what caste or religion they belong to) but have limited financial resources to consume premium education. If reservations are necessary then they should be modeled in a different way which helps such students to gain education on basis of merit.

Obviously the creators of such preposterous plans are some dim witted politicians and political parties who have their own agendas to pursue and think that there are even dim(mer) witted people out there who'll just accept their diktat as manna from heaven. Before India can truly compete at a global level we still have many such seemingly ridiculous problems to solve at the grass roots.

Friday, May 05, 2006

My Days on Bench

One may wonder what a 'bench' is, so for people who are not aware, it means being without work in an IT company. It is also the most dreaded situation to be in, no place to sit, no computer to pass your time and since you are not doing much there are no credit points to add to your annual appraisal. Most people on bench are seen loitering about in the canteen or in the library. The people blessed with more respectable designations do not have to suffer similar indignities but it still feels miserable to be out of the mainstream delivery drama and generally forgotten. The other day I bumped into the CEO at lunch, we exchanged greetings and he asked which project I was associated with and I said that I was on bench, to which he responded "Oh! Finally you found a place to sit!" Well, that’s a lighter way to look at things I suppose!

It’s been two loooooooong months since I have been sitting and wondering how to kill all of 8 hours. Talking to others was definitely out as everybody looks awfully busy (even if they are not). Watching TV in the canteen was also out as the wafting smells made me hungry and I am on a diet. So I attended every organizational meeting I was invited to without fail (earlier I found smart excuses to avoid them). I bugged my boss about state of various internal tools and zealously (pretended) planned to set it all right, that took care of my visibility within the organization. I sat and looked awfully busy to the extent that nobody dared to come and disturb me - one must always look busy, that's what I have learnt.

The things I did while I 'looked' busy were of course blogging and browsing blogs; it has been a great way to devote some time to something I had just been planning to do for years. I also managed to learn all about mutual funds and online trading and have gone and used my new found knowledge which I hope will make me rich. I downloaded a tarot card reading tutorial and religiously go though lessons each day, I also try one card readings on myself which have been quite accurate till date. I googled on some of my good friends and some I have lost contact with to see if I can get in touch with them and where they have gotten to in life.

So in general, it’s been a fruitful 2 months with lots of additional knowledge and skills which may not be useful in the corporate domain but it sure adds layers to my persona. Sometimes it is good to switch off completely and focus on things which are 180 degrees away from work; it may help us to bring creativity and fresh thoughts when we get back to work.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

The Chatroom - Then & Now

I discovered chatting back in 1999 when I started working for a R&D unit of a US based product development company. Like most startups, the work took its own sweet time to flow down, till then we were asked to update our skills and so some self study and send daily reports of what we learnt. The team comprised of three women and each of us was equally innovative, creative and naughty when it came to sending daily timesheets. Needless to say that with the luxury of an ISDN high speed internet connection, all we did was chat. It was like a drug, an addiction which always left us wanting more. I discovered the true meaning of the word 'disconnection' back then.

MSN Chat rooms were my favorite haunt (not sure if they exist now); it seemed like my gateway to the world, so many different people from so many different places who were quite eager to exchange views. I met a fireman from New York who had lost his girl friend in a fire, an engineer who specialized in lift doors, I have always been petrified of getting stuck in between but he reassured me that there is nothing to worry! I met a stand up comedian from South Africa and a Dutch fashion photographer who worked for JP Gaultier. The Indians were very forgettable barring one, who was working in Brunei. Maybe it’s not fair to generalize but I found that people outside India were quite willing to have general conversations but people from India were mostly looking for some 'cyber'.

Work and the Boss's strict eye cured us of our chat addiction soon enough, the withdrawal symptoms were worse than that of alcohol or drugs though! Idle curiosity took me to a Yahoo chat room recently, the differences are as follows: now all people are looking for 'cyber', same sex preferences are openly evident and so are fetishes and queerness of all kinds, its a happy hunting ground for pimps who 'sell' their 'variety' online. Another new phenomenon struck me as laughable, male prostitutes; men have at last caught up on the last female bastion! Obviously these days the chat rooms are not a place for cross cultural exchanges but more a place to feed baser instincts, enter at your own risk!