Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Lead the way!!

"The concept of India will shatter, for Indian leaders will be men of weak straw ..." such was the gist of what Winston Churchill supposedly thought about India pre-Independence. The Indian state however has survived many a storm and in its seventieth year of independence we could do well however to ponder on the second half of the prediction. Through the course of the journey of these seventy years India has thrown up many exemplary leaders. Among them Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw would be remembered with reverence. The good Field Marshal delivered a stellar speech at St. Xavier's Institute of Management on the topic of what made a good leader. All of what he said was pure gold and it would have done a ton of good if it had been broadcast through all means of public communication in great dollops like Indian aunties would serve to the visiting nephew or niece. I am guessing the Field Marshal would disapprove of thrusting his speech down the general populace's ears but in view of the current state of affairs that would hardly seem overdrive.

If the country has produced exemplary leaders it should seem to have it done it with as much vigour as water coming out of the municipality taps. In short supply would hardly cover the sentiment. There has been much debate over why the country has not reached levels achieved by others who got their independence much later even leading perhaps to the comparison of India to a grand old elephant. Taking its own sweet time to do things. Blame has been ascribed to the huge population, to our pathetic state when the British had left us - broken socially and economically, among many other factors. The younger generation who have not seen nor experienced those early years the early fifties and right upto the seventies, are increasingly quick to find fault with the economic policies practised, and people of all political affiliations are prone to point their fingers at a rival political party's role. In this land of incredible diversity it is all too easy to have a different opinion and trade accusations as to whose fault it is. But sometimes it would help to point a finger back towards the self. The fact that it has taken a long time to bring development at the requisite pace in this land of ours is quite surprisingly its own people. A look around at one's immediate neighbourhoods - the home, the workplaces, the transportation, the places of education, law and order, all barring none reek of a lack of good leadership. It is like the plague!!it is everywhere. And the Indian attitude which is the cause of this disease has accepted it as the normal. Borrowing from the Field Marshal's speech, among the many qualities which a good leader should possess are primarily technical knowledge and integrity. Both are abysmally absent in the Indian scene. Taking the case of the industrial sector of which the writer is also a part of, there is very less focus for the most part on scientific correctness or accuracy. There is a mad rush to beat the competition with little regard to accuracy or quality. The results are half-baked products which are way behind the world standard for quality. In fact the method of a quick or temporary solution known famously as "jugaad" is accepted with pride and self-professed with wide grins to visiting foreigners. This coming from a nation which centuries ago was the world leader in quality and renown for the accuracy in its work is shocking to say the least. Indian leaders do not as a rule promote quality nor technical accuracy and an overwhelming majority of them do so because they are not technically competent. There is a mad rush to meet deadlines wherein the very reason the rush exists is because of an attitude of procrastination and a lack of the second quality - integrity. Indian 'leaders' barring a minuscule few lack integrity. They are hopeless yes-men and women, charlatans of the worst order. Glaring examples of servitude they attain their positions by constant arse-licking rather than any real talent and are pathetic leaders. They are quick to pass the compliment down the line and expect their subordinates to follow the same revolting process. The atmosphere in most Indian offices is frustrating and nauseating with this vicious cycle in place. The ability to make a subordinate work extra hours with no regard to his/her work-life balance is often projected as a talent rather than an abysmal failure at managerial-level planning. It is no wonder then that the best talent in this country runs away from it at the first opportunity.

Indians are 'taught' all through their long education process and adult life with glaring examples that scientific accuracy and integrity do not pay. Careful inspection would reveal that these very qualities resulted in the colonisation of this people by the British. There were bad leaders then as does the nation now. The question then is: can this be corrected? Yes, by purging the country of this mindset and that is no easy job. The trouble moreover is that there is no alternative, for, with this attitude the nation would slide back into economic servitude if not a political one. A starting step then would be a change in the educational process to favour integrity and accuracy and an acceptance by the national conscience that there needs to be a change. Here is to hoping that it may happen! 

Friday, January 30, 2015

Couple Fever



I am allergic to couples. When I am exposed to them I get prickly, irritable, nauseated, revolted, obliviated, stupified, stressed - altogether, or in parts. What I don’t however, is pick up boils, develop rashes, run temperatures, develop coughs, feel jittery(there is sometimes that tingling feeling though, like when one loses tooth enamel), lose body-balance, froth from the mouth, see hallucinations or any funny symptom of this order. I guess it is safe to say: I am better off away from them. Thus the allergy theory. Before you start making conclusions – I am straight and single(but have no aversion to being a pair). There is no bitterness too; I am happy the way I am.

I am living through a time when my friends are getting married, having kids, fooling around, so I am exposed to couples a lot. It is not that I don’t love them. I love my friends, just don’t understand their behavior when they are a pair. I say fool around you lot, do it to your heart’s content. Let the Earth in its timeless beauty be your playground without any international boundaries. But when you do it, why do you remember me? Don't get me wrong, all I am saying is: why do you feel the need to share your intimate moments with me I wonder? I am just stumped by the gesture. I do understand that love between a man and his woman is one of the most beautiful things in this world as is all kinds of love out there. There are fewer things more beautiful than a kiss of love and I have been humbled by this exchange of love in the earnest. That being said, I limit that feel of wonder for the couples kissing on screen or for my partner – when I find her. I really dread the summer, no, not for the heat. But that is when you guys go for your honeymoons and your trips and what-not and flood Fb with your pictures. Do I really have to see you and your partner kissing, hugging, and doing it in front of every statue, every fountain, under every damn tree and on every park bench all over Europe, Singapore, Malaysia?  Where has the old-school way of doing these things and NOT showcasing it to the whole world, died huh? I say dig that up from wherever it has been buried and post it on Fb like a ticker tape – on an infinite loop. The next time I sit down infront of my computer with my morning cuppa listening to the bird-song and breathing in the stillness of the pure dawn air spare me the sight of you guys hugging the living breaths out of each other.

Have your double-dates and your couple get-togethers and your weird past-time games, I understand the feeling that you feel different now that you are with each other. But pray can you not be condescending next time when you are with us single-lot? I can bet that you didn’t learn anything overnight when you were fooling around, so why suppose now that we your friends up until this point and perfect gentlemen don’t know how to handle it when we see you as a couple? We knew how to be around a lady or a guy as the case might be, before this; so why the airs as though we cannot handle it? How do you suddenly forget that you were one among us right up until she said “yes”, making the same sick jokes, poking fun, neck-deep in general tom-foolery and suddenly turn a ‘new leaf’? Why this insecurity? Either keep us the way you saw us or move on you lot. It does hurt to ask you to push off though – even though you would do that without batting an eyelid.

Will I become one of you lot? Not a chance in a million. I laugh even as I write this. As a guideline take this: there are things you can share on Fb guys – pictures of your new house, a family picture, your new stereo, that new awesome car that you bought, even the new shoes that she wants to flaunt(all of this earn a big thumbs-up), pictures of the two of you looking into the sunset(yes), of the two of you looking dreamily into each other’s eyes(ahem), kissing as if there is no tomorrow(quit spoiling my today). See the drift? On a similar note with girls I should believe. Though I can be damned if I know what counts as ok with you lot! I am joking. Don’t cross the “weird-line” people; that is the thumb rule. You know it, because you were once single too. So use that brain of yours -  if you can manage to bring blood back to it, and be “unweird”. You can be sure that I still love you lot from the bottom of my heart and would still want to be around you – pray don’t give me the creeps.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

No country for young people..

I stay in a dinghy, old appartment in Pune and it is not as though I am here by choice. I have enough money to rent out a better, cleaner, newer appartment. Yet even though the Supreme Court has ruled that there will be no discrimination against bachelors, the rule has not found its way to the aam admi (common man). Whenever I had gone to a better 'housing society' I am greeted with the sometimes unwritten 'rulebook' which wags its knarled crooked finger disapprovingly in my face "no appartments for bachelors". Even spinsters are not spared, making us wonder what it was that these 'housing society' people feared. Maybe the men didn't trust their wives and the women their husbands. All in all I ended up in this old, forsaken appartment from where the owner in his sixties moved into a better place a few yards away in a better 'housing society' and here I am sitting and writing.

Every year the prime minister or the president of this country or some other chap who has reached some position in his life, at the Red Fort or in the insides of some crowded auditorium infront of hundreds of young faces reiterates the golden words "the youth of this country is its future". I guess the words stop their way when it has reverberated in some young chap's hypercharged brain or the walls of the auditorium and perhaps when the 'IAS' written speech finds its way into some convenient dustbin in a convenient manner. True the words inspire a few young men and women to tackle the odds and rise high enough to whence they would deliver the same speech in front of another set of drooling faces. This is in no way to belittle the office of the PM or the President, let me not find the police when I return tomorrow to my ramshackle place. What I ponder however is what this country is doing when it is not listening to the aforementioned speech. " Oh these teenagers they are so unruly"..."the young people they play such loud music..." .."no regard for basic manners..." we the youth of this country have so many epaulets showered on us. Not one wherein someone is thankful or better still nurturing or looking upto the youngsters of this country and handing them the reins of responsibility. Is it me or is there the feeling that I live in a place which doesn't value its youth.There exist societies where the youth are valued, respected and forever reminded that the reins of responsibility rest with them. Here they don't believe that you are capable of choosing your own life-partner so I'm guessing the reins of responsibility are still a far way off. It is sad that I get to hear about the youth of the nation and its 'power' only from ads of a soft-drink maker and not from the front pages of a national daily. What instead rules the front pages is the public drama of some political kingpin or the gory images of a riot somewhere; anything for a little extra readership. We drool in the cesspool of political drama and highly disturbing images of mangled bodies, blood and gore and of wailing relatives. Reports of riots and personal loss are important, but what is disturbing is the image of a nation which greedily laps up this daily dose of gore every morning. We are more than eager to find new role models and we wallowed in pride when we had a president of the stature of Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, but I wonder how many of this nation or is its press remember his observations when he compared the first page of an Israeli daily to an Indian one. The gist was that the Israeli one carried the news of some ordinary guy who had worked to create an invention on its front page while there was a bomb blast in the country which killed many, while the Indian one ran pages including the first one on a similar blast. The press of this country has a responsibility to its citizens but it is questionable if it  is doing its best to work it out rather than to feed upon the negative psychology of the general populace.

We don't care for the least that the best of our minds leave the country in search of better pastures, except for some screaming headlines when there is nothing better to write of. It is been quite a while that we have been hiding behind the excuse that we are a 'developing' country and cannot provide them minds with the infrastructure that they are looking for. When everywhere we want to be counted among the cream of the 'developing' nations why don't we care that the people responsible for making this change leave the country at the first chance? We say the youth are unruly and that they have no manners. The youth of this nation did not drop down with the South-West monsoon and were very much a part of our households till they became the 'youth'. So we have only ourselves to blame if we have raised up a society which has no manners. I am not saying that the youth of this nation is innocent of all crimes like the pure white snow. It can and should think for itself. But fostering a society where the youth are at best onlookers is pathetic. If there are 'gropers',  'party-freaks', 'druggies', 'hippies' in the society it is high time we remember that education starts at home. If you dress up your daughters in micro-minis don't expect them to wear anything more when they are grown-up either. If you shower your children with unwanted gifts and aid him/her in becoming a show-off in school remember he/she will want exponentially more when they are growing up and it just might be that they no longer get enough money to satisfy their 'needs'. In all probability you didn't care or listen to them when they were growing up and didn't know that they were not 'just attending' school and college like you supposed they would be but also spending the cash on smoke and drugs and anything else they could lay their hands on. So they are into drugs and all sorts of shit and deal with the underbelly of this society (who incidentally are there because people like you foster them) and notwithstanding all the crap they are in may come to the situation where they are short on cash to pay off the dealer. Now you were negligent when you brought them up, such dregs of weak moral fibre, so it is hardly surprising when they decide to conk off one of you so that they could get their hands on some easy cash. And you are up in arms against the youth? You made them weak, incapable of taking any major decision, morally feeble, socially inactive (you can be sure I'm not talking of nightlife here). You taught them that things can be done in an incorrect manner as long as nothing fails. Boys are termed as miscreants and girls 'incapable' of doing anything on their own so it is hardly surprising when a large number of them become so.

There is a huge chunk of untapped young human resource in this country as stated by many experts. But for it to be worth tapping into the attitude of  this nation towards its youth must change and so must its attitude of  'kuch bhi chalega' (anything will do as long as it works). Maybe someday the youth of this country will stand up and take its place, will be held accountable and will be worthy of shouldering responsibility.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The Lady's bag

Small, big, 'vanity', basket-shaped, all-weird shaped, they have baffled me for years- ladies bags. I never thought so much of fashion could revolve around a single accessory. But over the years I have been witness to these things taking forms and shapes I couldn't have fathomed, before they made their appearance. More often than not beating reason and purpose for sheer looks they have been as attached to women-folk as much as their very limbs. There was a time when I used to think they were mere objects to carry things around as we men have our satchels. But I couldn't have been more wrong. There were signs of trouble early on. When they changed from hanging bags to uncomfortably hanging at elbow-level they struck a warning note. Why would anyone want to walk around with their arms sticking out at odd angles just to accomodate a bag which was previously worn happily at waist level? To appreciate the problem you will have to practise walking around with you arms sticking out as if there were bricks stuck at the arm-pit level. Now maintain this position for hours. That will give you an idea of what I am talking about. What was so valuable about these bags that they would give up the comfort of walking at ease to be seen in public with their arms sticking out a few feet from their bodies; not to mention the perennial unease of walking around looking a bit like one of those dolls that my baby cousin pulled apart.

What am I doing poking my nose into where it doesn't belong you might ask. No pun intended. Some might go further and point out that I am sacrificing my self-esteem doing this. To all of which I have the following to say. Gentlemen, not the ladies, lend me your ears 'cos who knows what I am about to say might change the course of future for us folks forever. I have been witness and so might you, when some of our women-folk have lost it all and begun to hunt for something desperately in their bags. After rummaging for ages in their bags they would proceed to shake out their contents instead. Out would fall combs, make-up accessories and what looked the entire contents of a dressing table, and what not. There have been times when I expected the dressing table to fall out as well. Now the lobby whom I have earlier mentioned would twitch their noses in disgust and would proceed to ask me if it was gentlemanly to wonder about the contents of a lady's handbag. Now correct me if I am wrong who among us if we have actually noticed this phenomenon haven't felt "how on earth did all this fit inside?". So it is not the contents per se that I am worried about Mr. and Miss so-and-so who have felt disgusted about my activities, it is how all this got inside and stayed inside rather, that has been on my mind. Those who have read Harry Potter might remember the handbag that Hermione carries around in Deathly Hallows. Where she hides an entire tent and supplies for months and what not. Ha! you thought that was a mere fairytale didn't you? What if that was for real and has been happening around us for years? It is a conspiracy gentlemen! and it has been going on under our noses for centuries and we have been too busy to notice. Imagine what a joke it must have been to ladies when they went to magic shows and the magicians pulled out a rabbit from under the hat. They must have been thinking "Pooh! is that all? I can pull out a grand piano outta my bag this very second." Honestly when I see them ladies walking around with handbags splitting at the edges, I swear I half-expect a baby elephant to poke its head out if not for a rabbit and a goat or lamb or  two.  I can see ratings for the Self plummetting on ladies charts due to this expose, but someone has to bring this to light and if I have to face slander for progress, so be it. I wonder when this started and how is it they do it. Was it prevalent in the Stone ages itself? Did cave-women carry a deer or two and their knitting needle-rocks and perhaps other paraphernalia to go with it in their leather bags? I can't fathom what it must have been that they carried. I can't and don't want to fathom what it is that they carry around these days so it will be a laugh if I try to figure out what the Stone-age ladies carried. Still a dead rabbit or two and a few deer couldn't be too misplaced can they? I wonder whether they cared about their looks in those days. I mean their modern counterparts have gone to the extent of pulling out eye-brow hair - painfully might I add, and I wonder whether the Stone-woman did care about her looks. A necklace of round rocks perhaps?, a string of shiny rocks, pearls, bones? Wonder what counted as beauty in those days. Whatever that might have been, women of all ages would have been gatherers and would have had plenty to put into bags. But it still remains blurry as to how they accomplish this task of packing so much in. It is with great peril to the life then that the Self has put together this little piece of research. For, I find it hard to believe that there hasn't been an inquisitive chap who hadn't stumbled upon this till now. Snuffed up long ago I guess.

There must be quite a price to a secret such as this. If women have gossiped around for centuries and yet managed to keep this from us I feel that it would take more than a strong will to get to the bottom of this. Some secrets take more than that and this one looks like it would take the price of blood to reveal itself. The occasional blood donation is one thing, even the frequent blood-borrowing by the Kochi-mosquito permissible, but to shovel up something so powerfully hidden might take sacrifices - literally. Till such a time gents don't doubt your eye-sight if you did see a baby-elephant taking a peek out of the bag. What it is doing there in the first place is still beyond me but he is probably poking his head out to say that it quite cramped in there with the dressing table butting into him everytime she swings the bag. 

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Eurotrip Part-3: Interlakken-Paris & Paris

In Deo confidimus
Interlakken-Paris
We left for Paris the next day at about 10. It would be a long drive to the city of love, but before we set off there was a little bit of last minute shopping to be done. A watch for mom, and a chance for me to try my French on the shop-lady. We set off and I said goodbye to the city between the two lakes- atleast for now. We reached the French border soon enough and as we crossed over to France we noticed why the Swiss landscape is so famous. I mean it is more or less the same landscape once you cross over, but while the Swiss side looks like a never ending post-card the French side looks like the same postcard has been given to a pup, who well took it for a rip here, a toss there. But personally, I love the French countryside, what if it is without the prim and trim look the Swiss side has?; it has a beautiful feel to it. After watching 'Flyboys' life has never been the same for me, and my love-story with the French countryside has been quite selfish and unending since then. So it was that we watched brooks winding across farms, across the countryside, saw sheep dotting the meadows, gazed at the hedges as they flew past. Me and Fatso got back to playing the 'predict-the-brook-game'. Simple really, all you had to do was predict when the brook would reappear again. I won that one. Fatso was good with the cars, and me, I was predicting brooks. Was I losing out on a life? I made a study which showed that I spent more time in my lab than anywhere else. If that time resulted in anything worth is another matter altogether. I was lost in the beauty that was slipping past. No wonder Wordsworth and Coleridge wrote those beautiful lines. They had the likes of this infront of them and the leisure to relax in this surreal environ for as long as they liked. So as farms and meadows sped past, dotted here and there by quaint farmhouses, I mused in the silence of my mind. My thoughts on several things- on life, on the blessing incurred, on what lay ahead. We passed ruins, of houses it seemed, standing forlorn, holding back their stories. Where these WWII ruins? seemed like it. I doubt any of this area was bombed seeing that the Nazis didn't face any resistance coming in. Maybe this happened on their hastened exit? I don't know. We stopped at a KFC somewhere along the way, in a small town. Nandana got talking to a local who turned out to be quite a nice guy; we spoke for a long time. He talked of his life thus far and we told him about ours. We spoke of the people there, their relationships, their fleeting nature, of how marriages were rare and took place after a series of relationships usually. He spoke of his life, job, village and we told him about our lives too. It was a very nice conversation and I got to test my French again. We said goodbye to the gentleman and were on the road again. We reached the suburbs of Paris at sundown and after a quick dinner at an Indian restaurant (I am getting tired of Punjabi food following me everywhere), we did a quick city tour and saw Paris at twilight. It goes without saying that I was spell-bound by the city, its buildings, their architecture, its cafes, the crowd in them, the lighted Eiffel, the Seine flowing by. We turned in at the Holiday Inn was it? near Charles de Gaulle airport. Slipping in and out of consciousness, after a failed attempt to place a call at IST 5:30, I fell asleep.

Paris
The next day, we had a quick French breakfast and drove over to the Seine. We were to go on the Seine river cruise, on the Bateaux-mouches, and the city was blanketted in a thin fog. There was a huge group of school children (kinder-garden mostly) with us on the boat and we were lost in the chatter. As the boat cruised down the Seine the famous monuments on either side were explained but again most of that was lost in the chatter. I couldn't help trying to remember what it was like when I was their age. Life was more carefree, there was never ending chatter, fun games. It was more simple I guess, except for those class-tests which I thought I could be free of when I became an adult. What a dream that turned out to be! There were teenagers too on the boat and I couldn't resist smiling to myself when I saw their 'we-are-different' airs and how they were looking at the smaller children, the 'oh-these-kids' looks  and the general indifference they give to the general populace. Such teenage trends. On that boat I had time to take an assessment of where my life was going. Of how uncertain my future looked even though it was all clear on paper. There are some things which you can control and some that you can't and the latter ruled my thoughts at the moment. We passed the Eiffel on the way. I noticed that the tower has, on a girder at the first level I guess, written in golden letters about ten names- names of famous french scientists of the time I'm guessing. I'm saying this because I did notice Lagrange and if I'm not wrong Dirac too among the names. We saw many famous monuments including the Notre Dame Cathedral with its twin towers, the French national assembly building and the likes. Some of us were lucky to get ourselves photographed and bought our snaps with the Bateaux-mouches emblem on them, when we got off. After a quick lunch we got in queue for the Eiffel and after a long wait we got onto the elevator to take us to the top level. We were lucky that overcast conditions of the morning were gone and a splendid view awaited us o the top. Every which way I looked Paris spread itself out infront of me. The Seine winding along, the presidential palace, the cathedral of Notre Dame, the renaissance architecture was evident on most buildings, the network of streets spread out like a carpet infront of us. We peeked into the apartment that Gustaav Eiffel had built on the top level and saw the wax figures of him, his daughter and Edison in there. A scene depicting when Edison was invited for tea and gifted Eiffel his latest invention- a phonograph. I tried my best to get the shirt-blowing, bare-chested, photo atop the Eiffel I had promised myself. But given the crowd and mom's stern looks that was not to be. Instead I had to be content with a jacket-blowing-in-the-wind photograph atop the Eiffel. It was gusty out there and I loved every moment. Then there was the moment when my hanging-from-a-girder-on-the-Eiffel photo too didn't come out the way I would have liked it to, but hey that's life.We bought souvenirs and apart from the few tense moments when dad went 'missing' there was not much action at the Eiffel. We were given one more tour around the city and along the way we passed through the tunnel where princess Diana died. It seems so long ago but Diana with her social outlook was one of my favourite people and I still fondly remember her. We passed by the Louvre and it was disappointing we couldn't take a peek inside. But we didn't have time and that's for another visit. We then went perfume shopping and even though I am a sucker for perfumes, I had to be content with learning new brand names as I had used up all my Euros. We left for Charles de Gaulle international airport the next day quite early in the morning. I was lucky to be seated with quite friendly old ladies on a vacation to Sri Lanka. I tried my broken French and even though I forget the name of the friendly old gal next to me I do remember that she was quite a nice lady. We pieced together what the other was saying and her friends sitting next to her were very friendly too. My new friend told me they were on a vacation and we discussed ordinary things like her fear of flying ( all in my broken French and her purely local slang), our families. She showed me pictures of her grandchildren and I showed her my family. I said goodbye to her friends and her when we landed at Colombo- nice old lady she was. Apart from the 7-hour-or-so wait for the next flight at the crappy hotel Air Srilanka reserves for Indian travellers, there was nothing special about the wait. The people Negumbo (near Colombo or in Colombo, whatever) dress in an Anglo-Indian style. Must be what is left of the Dutch culture in the area. The Negumbo beach was deserted apart from a coconut-seller whom we didn't see, trying to sell coconuts at the price of gold-biscuits- to Malayalees no less. What a joke. When we landed back at Kochi I had to say goodbye to all my new friends- both old and young. Thanks a lot people. The trip wouldn't have been this fun without you making it fun. I shall the remember the old songs we sang, the pennu kaanal stories and many incidents in this trip forever. Wish we could go someplace again soon. I remember the talks I had with Gina ma'am, Albert and many other people on this trip. Those will be memories I cherish.
P.S: anyone in touch with Gina ma'am? Almost everyone else I have located on FB. 

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Eurotrip-Part 2

In wait for the blessing
You can only pour more water into a jug that is not full. So too with knowledge you can only add more to a mind which is not full or willing to accept more information, or so goes an old chinese saying I guess. Why did I say this? Ah...just that the times suit such sayings.

Day-3: Zurich-Geneva-Interlakken
We said good-bye to Zurich early on day-3 after a sumptuous Swiss breakfast. Here as in most western countries, the drivers have a limited driving time. I guess it is near about 10 hrs. after which they have to stop for the day. This includes toilet stops every 2 hours and unannounced stops if taken. They have to log into the bus's system when they start the journey and can be checked anywhere enroute to see if they are adhering to the rules. The penalties are very severe and no one breaks the rules. So we were told that all toilet stops would have to be time-limited and any extensions would take their toll on our Geneva-visit. We would only pass by Geneva and would rest for the day only at Interlakken.
 What began then was a fun day in the bus. I had earned the nickname of 'laptop'. Everyone enquired whether the laptop was safe when they saw me. We started off with David maashu rendering a few prayer songs as also did a few of the girls and some of the 'aunties'. Then along came Sachin with his 'hit numbers'. Soon the bus was rocking to 'glucosum vellam' a hit number from north Kerala. I know this 'cos Muringa(mate from IIT) sings this at most of our parties, and I tried to join in too. Then along came the 'uncle' gang and sang a few golden old malayalam numbers. Some of which they might have sung to their spouses some time back, by the looks of it. Jina ma'am then suggested an ice-breaker where each couple had to speak about their 'pennu-kanal'(a ceremony in India particularly in Kerala where the prospective groom goes to meet his prospective bride at her place). It is a nerve-wracking encounter for some and makes for very entertaining narrations. So it was pleasantly surprising to see normally shy people come forth and share very amusing pennukanal stories with the rest of the group. I was very nervous when it came to my folk 'cos I really didn't know if they had some surprise up their sleeves. I guess most children are thrilled to hear how their parents tied the knot and so was I. I listened with bated breath as they narrated their tale, most of which I already knew. Still it is thrilling each time you hear it. But there are some love-stories which make for very amusing narrations. And there were few such as well. I love to hear such stories of love, bravery, destiny, divine-intervention, chance; there are many facets to them. But each of them is a thriller in its own way. There were stories of guys waiting around while the girl had almost 47 rejections to finally marry the girl, stories of long courtship where there were n number of love-letters written, postmen befriended to make sure that letters reached pronto, in short going the length and beyond for the love of their life. Fascinating tales I say. Meanwhile the bus was taking us through the eternal post-card that is Switzerland. We passed farm-houses, neatly planted crops, cows with cowbells lazing on the fields, on the slopes of rolling meadows looking content with the world around them. Munching grass and flicking their tails, beautiful creatures they were punctuating the scenery. Every now and then we would pass a canal or a brook, twisting and turning its way through the countryside. They were picturesque making their way through the landscape, making a turn here and a turn there, their muddy banks tracing a path through the lush green meadows and fields. Infact me and Fatso had a game where we would predict the arrival of the next brook. Needless to say I won; but Fatso won the name-the-car contest that we had. Reminded me that I have been away from the field of cars for a little too long; losing my grip on the subject that I treasured when I was Fatso's age.
Geneva:
We stopped by the lake in Geneva where there is the tallest fountain in all of Europe. We were let out for a bit of sight-seeing and shopping. After a spot of taking snaps Albert and I decided we should roam around the city in the half-an-hour that we had. Off we set with Fatso and negotiated zebra-crossings as any local would.  As we walked by the side of the lake we saw people relaxing on the bank as it was a sunny afternoon. There were people reading, couples relaxing, their arms inter-twined looking out at the water, musing, some kissing. There is this thing with the western world that you wouldn't find anywhere in the eastern world- public show of emotions. They have no qualms in letting off their emotions even extremely personal ones in public, whereas it is taboo in the eastern world. So it was that by the lake on the streets as we passed we saw couples hugging each other, kissing with not a care for the rest of the world. I being Indian am confused when it comes to this. On the one hand I am extremely inhibited when it comes to emotions and would chose to show/express them at an extremely private level; on the other I respect the western world for their devil-may-care attitude and expressing their feelings freely for the ones they love with not a care for the rest of the world. As we walked we saw first one and then another gang of people probably in their twenties, one of them in a bride's attire, some girls all in pink, both groups extremely loud and approaching strangers and asking them stuff, hooting. For all I knew it was a marriage party or a gay-pride gang, and I wanted to stay really clear 'cos I had Albert and Fatso too. Fortunately they didn't 'catch' hold of us and we enjoyed with a tinge of nervousness the 'show'. We admired the architecture around us as we walked, some renaissance and some modern from what I could make of. We passed by a church with tall spires in Gothic style and there was calming church music emanating from inside. As we were in no way dressed for church and there was a small crowd outside posshly dressed for the occassion and due to the fact that we had very little time left before Jina ma'am would start turning purple with worry, I skipped my urge to take a peek inside. From the lake we went on a city tour and passed by the various U.N buildings. We stopped at the U.N headquarters opposite of which is the Broken Chair. We took snaps outside the U.N Hq. and tried to spot the Indian flag among the two rows of flags that line the road leading upto the building from the gate, but to no avail. Dad says he spotted it at the fourth from the start on the right row, so if anyone can confirm it let me know. We took snaps under the Broken Chair named aptly cos one if its legs is built to show that it was blown off. It is said to be inaugurated by the late Princess Diana as a symbol of the fight against the use of landmines. Diana ws an active crusader against the use of landmines and tried her best to spread  awareness about children losing their legs on abandoned mine-fields after wars. Hence the blown-off leg in the Broken Chair.

We journeyed on from Geneva and on the way we stopped and did a little shopping. That was were I picked up something dear and Fatso bought himself  and me chocolates. I also became good friends with Jina ma'am enroute and we talked about a lot of things.We reached Interlakken late in the evening, but the sun was still up as it is until late 7-7:30 wherever we went.

Interlakken- "The city between two lakes"
Interlakken is called thus because it is nestled between two lakes- Thun and Brienz. It is a small town with 5000-odd people but it is extremely beautiful as it is situated at the foothills of the Swiss Alps. We passed by one of the lakes on our way into Interlakken. We were on the bus a few yards from the water, but from where I was seated I could see the bottom of the lake. So clean and clear was the water!. Greenish-blue pristine water for miles ahead, the lake was beautiful and few houses dotted the edge and at one place there was a dock with many yachts and boats moored. There were yachts on the water too and i can only the people there for the beautiful, beautiful lake that they have. Back home I have always admired our Chalakkudi puzha as I have spent evenings on its beautiful banks with my cousin and uncle. But that has a different feel to it; this is different with it is crystal-clear, greenish-blue expanse. We were boarded at the City Hotel Oberland and the rooms were neat and tidy complete with a bath. But the view was breathtaking . The windows opened onto a backdrop of the Swiss alps in all their beauty and out over the rooftops of the quaint old houses of the town. We went out for a spot of shopping and sightseeing. We set off on one of the roads out of the town-centre and were beheld to a jaw-dropping view of the Swiss Alps- black custodians with icy slopes, on one side. There were rolling meadows that stretched upto the foothills from one side of the road. We took snaps with the Alps on the background, on the meadow, near beautiful fountains on the roadside. I drank in the beauty as I walked, the folks enjoying the view too. On the other side of the road were shops of all variety that included the very famous casino that features in that first song in Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge. The film was shot partly here in Switzerland and Austria. At the end of the road we came upon a quaint old church with tall spires and a bell-tower. Now we were all for getting in even for a little time but couldn't find an open door. We were just leaving after looking around the beautiful church when someone rang for the vespers. Shortly though a boy came riding on his bicycle and opened the church doors. The church was beautiful on the inside too and there was even a grotto. After a few minutes of prayer we got back out. Fatso and me took snaps around the Church and we hurried back to the hotel for our dinner at an Indian restaurant.

Fatso if you are reading this, you should know that we didn't take you 'cos you are not old enough for this and I will certainly take you when you are old enough. I would suggest that you stop reading here but the inquisitive idiots that you and I tend to be I hardly believe that. So read on at your own peril.

'Cos we are guys:
Me and Partner(as he shall be called) set out after dinner to visit one of the casinos or pubs/discs. The aim was simple- 1. Enter a local pub. 2. Enjoy the music and if possible shake a leg. 3. chat with a local girl(that was my personal aim..don't know if Partner had it in his mind). Now Interlakken is a predominantly German-speaking town and I soon found out that my "il y a des boites ici?" was practically useless. We asked a teenage guy and some school-girls who shrieked at the mention of beer, but they all pointed to a region down the road. And that was where we found probably the only disc in town way before the opening time of 10p.m. We roamed around till 10 and [I] entered with a pinch of nervousness. 'cos I knew the scene could ugly if the locals were not friendly and I was worried more so because I had brought Partner into the equation. My strategy was to leg it with him at the first sign of trouble. We entered to find the place pretty empty except for two bar-maids. There was some German rock music (I guess) playing and disco lights scrawling on the dance floor. We took seats near the counter. We gradually got talking to one of the barmaids, the prettier of the two and also the more friendly of the two.
Me: Comment sappelle vous mademoiselle?
Her: Uhh..What? (Dash it no French!??)
Me: You don't speak French?
Her: No. Only German and English.
Me: Nice place you have here. What is this music? Is it German rock?
Her: Thank you. Yes.
Me:  Which band? (As though I knew any except for Rammstein)
Her: I don't know. We just play it from the CD.
In walk a couple of guys and a girl, one guy on a wheel-chair. They sit opposite to us at the circular counter.  I look for signs of trouble. The girls move over to talk with the newcomers. They get talking after initial greeting kisses. The scene looks ok. Me and Partner sit enjoying the music. Grins on our faces, so far so good. After sometime the girl we were talking to returns and asks us if we'd like anything.
Me: (Pointing to a board "Our house wine Jaggermeisser") what is that? How much does it cost?
Her: Oh..that is a joke. Jaggermeisser is alcohol actually.(she goes over to the tap and reads the label as to how much percentage was alcohol) It is very strong.
Me: (Huh! she thinks we're too young?)So how old do you think I am?
Her: Twentyy-eiight -thirrrty?
Me:(laughs) No not that old. 25 actually. Me and friend Partner are from India. So what is your name?
Her: Laila(name changed). So you are staying in the town? At a hotel?
Partner: Yes. We're staying at the City Hotel Oberland. We just arrived here in the evening. So you are from here?
Laila: Yes. My father is Saudi Arabian.
Partner: Oh..so your mother is Swiss?
Laila: Yes.
Me: So you have stayed here all your life?
Laila: Yeah except for teo years when I stayed in Zurich. I didn't like it there, so I returned.
Me: So when you are not working what do you do? Do you study?
Laila: I am not a student. I am a mother, I have two daughters. I actually work here only on Fridays and Sundays. They(pointing over her shoulder to the others at the counter) work here except on Sundays.
Me: Come on! Two daughters, why you don't seem more than twenty-eight! seriously?
Laila: Yes.
Me: Wow.(She could be easily more beautiful than most women I have seen in my life. Not that being a mom makes you less beautiful. But there are some signs of aging; this woman looked near-about perfect.) So when does this place get crowded?
Laila: Usually at 3-4 in the morning. Today is a Sunday. So it will be less crowded. People have to go to work the next day.
Laila took a snap of me and Partner. We said goodbye to her and returned to the hotel, happy that we could do something a bit wild.

To be continued...

Monday, May 28, 2012

Part 1: Day 2: Zurich

For the blessing

Seasons may come and go, but some things are here to stay....doubt thou not, for when the heart desires and the mind agrees is where I have found peace.
-Mawerick.
Day 2:

"Mane" Issues:
A word about the reception I got from the group. Most of it were colleagues of my parents or of the same age-group, with their families. And I had specially chosen a super-man t-shirt to add to the cheek-level, for with my Bob-Marleyish dishevelled look, I was sure I would be on the danger-level according to this group. I had worn my hair all ruffled and dishevelled as what I had been doing in the insti for three months, to very good response. I was proud of the look and it made my day when I looked into the mirror at times, even though it miserably failed me on my journeys to the church. But I knew with this group it would go all down-hill and even before I started I incurred my mom's wrath and dad's disappointed looks. So to save them further embarassment I thought I would try to tame my mane. Bad idea, curly frizzy, dishevelled hair has a mind of its own and it is used to a certain liberty in life; certainly hates the comb. So it was that when I was done with the hair I looked like a French poodle on a bad-fur day, tufts of hair sticking out whichever way. Add to it the super-man t-shirt and I was somewhere between a nerd and a fool. The lengths we go to save our parents' pride. My folks would have broken down laughing hadn't it been for the extremely grave situation they were in. They were probably at cross-roads thinking about about disowning their elder son and taking only the younger one instead. Fatso was picture-perfect as this trip was one he wouldn't miss in a life-time. Finally after much thinking they probably came to the conclusion that they had to bear with the prodigal elder son. It has taken much pain to raise me up and I felt sad for the poor folks; hence the attempt to tame the hair at great personal embarassment. I was right on all counts as with each introduction foreheads wrinkled, noses twitched, fingers pointed(to be hastily put away), and long hard stares were donned at the 'different' elder son. 'Bank-aunties' had their pupils open real-wide and not-too well-hidden smirks flashed at the black sheep of the family. 'Bank-uncles' couldn't hide their disappointment for the rotten apple of the family and foreheads wrinkled riding their spectacles up real high, and the whites of their eyes which ride out only for crisp 1000 rupee notes and heavy discounts at retail-stores, were visible now with obvious disregard, for the son that turned out 'bad'. All in all I enjoyed the obvious aversion to my looks(really I couldn't agree more folks, my hair shouldn't have been tamed), but I did feel sorry for my poor folks. They are pretty decent people and they shouldn't really take flak because they have a son who wants to think 'differently' for a change. Not when the son is 25 anyway. Anyways I wanted to get out of my tamed look. And that I did to partial success and went out with a lighter heart to a full-Swiss breakfast.
Breakfast was a special affair as I loved the French breads and the various jams and the cheeses and oh! just about everything. I will never tire of Swiss/French breakfasts, though I am yet to get in terms with their cold meat. I washed everything down with a rich coffee and stepped outside with a spring in my steps to see Zurich.
Rhine Falls:
We were headed first to the Rhine Falls on the Swiss-German border. I sat plastered to the window as the road took us through breath-taking Swiss countryside. Quaint farmhouses, rows of neatly planted crops, freshly rolled grass lying on the fields. Meadow followed meadow with lush green grass, dotted with wild flowers of every hue. All growing as though someone had trimmed them to perfection. Every hedge, every field, every barn we passed was picture-card material. There is something about the Swiss countryside; it looks as though everything here grows to be beautiful and is naturally trimmed to perfection. Even the tree-lines around the farms have a definite curve about them and I am quite certain someone has taken a blade through them so that everything looks beautiful. All through there is no sign of trash of roads or anything ugly. It seems like God has given the Swiss a view of what is paradise and the Swiss, hardworkers that they are, have maintained it to perfection quite like their watches.
We reached the Rhine Falls on the river Rhine ofcourse. Quite like the Niagra falls in appearance, it was a beautiful sight. The water rising as foam at the base from twin falls seperated by a small piece of rock at the top. The spray hung in the air giving it a beautiful appearance. We took snaps and also a family snap at one of the cafes with the Falls for background. We did some shopping and I spent considerable time thinking if I should take a Swiss cow-bell. I became good friends with our tour guide, Jina ma'am, a friendship that would be further strengthened in due course of the trip. Fatso picked a Swiss-army knife while I picked the Swiss cow-bell.

Where is the bag????
It must have been half-an-hour into the journey from Rhine Falls to our next destination Mt. Titlis when Fatso asked for my laptop bag. It came as a sudden sharp shock to me- I didn't have it with me. Then came the sharp realisation; I had kept it under one of the chairs for the family snap at the cafe at Rhine Falls. A deathly silence descended upon the group as I related to them the loss and that the laptop held the contents of my thesis. There are no words to describe the feelings at the time, the laptop's contents were my life's work till then. There were copies but nothing could compare with the original. I was stunned and in a sense of shock. I wanted to et out of the bus right then and hitch-hike back and get the bag, but m'am would have none of it. We were too far and transportation was near impossible. Sometimes nothing works but divine intervention. One of the group, Roy sir, had just the previous evening got in touch with an old friend in Zurich and was yet to see him, both after a very long time. He called him up and the friend very readily agreed to drive all the way to Rhine Falls and get my bag back to the hotel when we arrived- provided it was still there. Tense minutes passed and I think rolled into an hour, all passed in silent prayer. I was hating myself for making such a stupid and costly mistake and also for spoiling everyone's good time. And then came the call like a God-send "the bag is still here and everything is inside. I will bring it along to the hotel when you people get back from the day's trip" said the friend. I thanked God profusely and proceeded to thank the group for their support in my hour of distress. I still remain indebted to Roy sir and his friend for all the help and for everyone's prayers during the time. That incident though was an eye-opener in more than one way which I will not discuss here.

Mt. Titlis:
We reached Mt. Titlis in high spirits. With a height of 3238 m. Titlis is the second highest peak in Switzerland and its most popular ski-resort. We took a cable car that climbs up the mountain to its summit in three stages. The last stage is covered in the rotair or a rotating cable car which rotates as it climbs thus giving the passengers a 360 degree view. It is huge and can take upto 30-40 odd passengers at one go I guess. The snow-line starts way before the summit and it was a beautiful sight to behold the mountain decked in thick snow. We spent close to an hour on the summit, throwing snowballs, making snow-angels (Fatso and I have never had the opportunity of doing any of this before). We quickly got the hang of it and had a lot of fun. I still maintain that I got Fatso with a wicked one(snowball) and that he could never really close the tally. Ha there ! we made slides in the snow and it was a treat to watch the old man get a whiff of life while mom watched on. I guess both of them enjoyed the mountain in their own way. From the summit we descended into the thickest ice-caves(artificial) in the world and went about exploring them. We enjoyed the ride back down on the cable car. On the way back it was more watching in awe-struck silence at the beautiful Swiss countryside. We had our lunch at an Indian restaurant and did a Zurich city tour before heading back to the hotel. I marvelled the clockwork working of the Swiss -be it their watches, trams, machinery, lives. In Zurich everything runs on time and the people abide strictly to the laws. Everyone is paid well and all in all the quality of life is the best in the world. I guess that is the prize for living in such strict but healthy regimen.
To be continued....