Friday, December 24, 2010

"Lights, Camera, Action!"

'Lights Camera Action’…is virtually the only thing I knew went on behind the silver screen.  That changed, once I visited the Universal Studios at Los Angeles.  Movies are one thing, which all of us have grown up with, and totally taken for granted.  What went on behind the scenes was a new realization.  Hand drawn pictures and portraits were replaced by black and white cameras, which gave  birth to the pictures juxtaposed to give the silent movie which went on to become full blown color movies in high definition and sound which we see today, with 3D being the next generation.  I hope the characters never jump out of the screens for a live performance after that!

Apart from being entertaining, the whole Universal experience was highly educational when I further realized the rigor and genius that went behind creating those scenes which we absolutely fail to appreciate such as exploding cars and buildings, alien space ships flying, racing chases, swimming with man eating sharks, dinosaurs chomping away at people and the million other myriad things that we utterly take for granted.

The studio tour in itself was a revelation, knowing the dreadful Amity island beach of the shark thriller ‘Jaws’ was but a tiny pond, the shark was a mechanical equipment, the underwater shots were from a big tank! It was exceedingly interesting to learn about what brilliant camera work could magnify and the effects that it could produce.  I saw quaint European towns, New York city, Mexican villages, all in the course of that one hour!  It was a revelation seeing that all these cities were but facades and totally not real!  Explosions and floods being simulated seemed almost real and it was amazing to see just how catastrophic these could look on the big screen. 

This visit only cemented my belief that film ‘actors’ are just a piffling part of the entire cinema experience.  Though they are the face of the final product and get all the money, acclaim and fame, it’s the people who work behind the scenes such as the directors, cameramen, special effects peoples who are the real brains and heart of the entire movie.  Give anyone 10 years of experience, a 100 times and several hours to mouth one dialogue in multiple takes that too guided by a director, they better say it right atleast once! Well, if they don’t, God help such people! Fortuitously watching a painful film shooting for 8 hours with star acclaimed 'actors' mouthing one dialogue completely made me lose respect for all ‘actors’! But, well, we still have best actor awards for work being done by the directors and everyone else on the set. And that is why, I firmly want these so-called ‘actors’ with their humbug charms and supposed skills to be atleast good-looking, be able to dance well (for Bollywood atleast), maintain a good physique as ‘acting’ really isn’t an art anyway!

Well, now that I have finished venting on this long felt sentiment, back to the other highlights of the tour that I would like to remember forever.  Jurassic park was a major highlight of the Universal experience and the knowledge that the massive dinosaurs were actually extinct and I was looking at controlled machines, certainly helped manage those nerves! The 3D fight of KingKong and the dinosaurs was simply mind blowing and I certainly feel lucky to have survived in that jungle where that earth-shattering fight took place! Another of my favorite rides was the racy ride with the Simpsons in Krustyland where I thought I was on a roller coaster flying about  in that animated world, but it turned out that, I was in a car that just rocked in several directions while being in one single position while I looked at a giant domed screen! That certainly was brilliant. The rest of the shows on Shrek, the Mummy and the house of Horrors, etc entertained as well and there was nothing that I thought fell short of my expectations. 

All in all, a wonderful, fun and educational experience that I would highly recommend!  My rating would be 5 stars for Universal studios!

Monday, December 06, 2010

A trip to Yosemite Valley

Towering trees, bumbling bees; Azure skies, peaks old and wise
Snowy pebbles, brooks that babble, Mystic mountains, springs and fountains
Plains some mossy, still lakes all glossy; Icy cloaks, pines and oaks
Skulking bears, prancing reindeers;Scampering squirrels furry, coyotes in a hurry
Rains and thunder, Nature’s wonder; Glistening snow, eyes that glow
Hills and vales, Treacherous trails; Winding roads, Glaciers once flowed
Myriad hues, beauty so true; Blue and Golden, resplendence beholden
White and green, a splendid scene; Pristine white, shimmering moonlight
Sculpted boulders, fire that smolders; Zephyrs trance, a verdant dance
Pindrop silence, sweeter than violins; A trickle of water, frozen in winter
Glorious clouds, Beauty endowed; The Great Half dome, God’s own home?

Mother Nature has drawn one of her priceless canvases in Yosemite National park with an elegance that makes her splendor even more beautiful. Big is beautiful at this national park known for its old wise sequoia trees that are the biggest in the world, the tallest waterfalls and the most challenging of peaks protecting themselves from nosy humans by the sheer force of nature again.

I fortunately was permitted to see this priceless picture on a sunny day while it was splashed with a pristine whiteness on the myriad hues of greens and yellows. I hated to sully the whiteness of it with my footprints. While I could not stop Aahing and Wowing and taking pictures, I realized that it was one of those places where a mere camera lens could not capture even a 50th of the beauty that the live canvas possessed.
Someone rightly said, when nature has a project, she is a genius at work. From the bare leafeless tree to the ice laden pine, she ensures each season has something wonderful to look at. I fall short of words here, to describe the endless vales of snow covered pines and cones that I saw and went past, the winding valleys covered with mist and sheer drops below overlooking unbelievable vistas making us want to stop at every twist and turn where there was space to stop and gaze.

Despite all the human advancement, nature still makes man feel miniscule on just seeing the vastness of what She can create. The United States has certainly preserved the park well, and I am pretty thankful and privileged to see such beauty in this world where almost every piece of habitable land has been captured by humans.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Book Review: Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

The one thing I think I liked about this book and now movie was its title and the cover. I watched the movie with much anticipation but Alas!, I was disappointed, not so much in the execution, but the fact that it was long and boring despite a great concept, locales and a lot of strong characters! I tried the book then, thinking books are usually better than movies, but again I was disappointed. EAT PRAY LOVE was supposed to be a celebration of life, and was supposed to uplift me. It turned out to be one big rigmarole by an unduly supposedly depressed woman who ranted on and on and on about what a nervous wreck she had become and how brave she was facing everything alone. Had she left the part of her depression out for atleast half of what is in the book, I would have been much happier reading it! She wondered what went wrong, all throughout the book, so did I..even granted that she wasn’t ‘normal’ and like ‘all other women’ who enjoyed happy and married monotonous lives with their families, I didn’t get right upto the end her reasons for a mental breakdown!

Besides the part of her sad sad life, I didn’t really find the rest of the book very uplifting either and I didn’t get any vicarious thrills out of her wolfing down pizzas and gelatos at Naples or her absolution in India or her finding her ‘balance’ in Bali. What I did glean though is what I might like to see and experience in the places that she has talked about. Like I said before, most of the characters were really good, especially Kekut in Bali, but apart from that I got heartily tired of reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s whining!

Perhaps I have been too critical since I have been reading too many classics off-late. All in all, this book might perhaps help people with serious problems (hopefully not boyfriend ones) try new things and inspire them to lead happier lives by letting go, but as a read for people with perfectly peaceful lives, it might get a tad boring.

Friday, October 29, 2010

To Spend or Not to Spend

I recently read an article on Mukesh Ambani’s One Billion dollar splurge on his 27 storey home and some readers’ reproachful comments about him frittering away wealth instead of feeding 68 million kids for 20 full days! Mr Ambani is the fourth richest man in the world, has built a vast empire employing several thousand people and still people expect him to be charitable as well as though it is his responsibility to eliminate poverty in the world! Eliminating poverty is certainly not as simple as all the rich people in the world donating their wealth to all the poor. If they choose to be charitable, it certainly helps in some way, however that is not something that should be imposed on them and it certainly is unfair on them to be judged because they spend their money the way they like. And honestly, I wouldn’t even call living in a beautiful home a splurge (even though I found the Ambani mansion pretty ugly!) Everyone has that one dream of having a beautiful home and a comfortable one. Why then deny Mr Ambani that pleasure and insist he live in a 3 bedroom house just because the even wealthier Mr Warren Buffet does. Who is John Galt after all. (for those of who may recall Ayn Rand’s tome Atlas Shrugged)

Well, those were my views on this one rich man spending his money on his dream house. However, this article brought to my mind the other stuff the rich and famous buy and which I don’t approve of! I know, now I m being judgmental just after all those statements above about each to his own. . I completely endorse buying something that would lend value, a technologically advanced car with more features, a large home that’s in a prime location with the latest gadgetry and comforts, to some extent for creativity in outfits and accessories, but I fail to understand how people can actually pay the ostentatious amounts they do for objects that are as ephemeral as passing seasons and stuff that they may not use probably twice. My case in point is handbags

The Luxury bag market is a multi-billion dollar industry and luxury brands Hermes, Fendi, Louis Vuitton, Prada, Gucci, Chanel all jostle for space as new brands try to entice rich gals with their expensive goodies. Well, I was astonished that salaried people even bought these bags at all but apparently they do! Check out the prices of these bags below. Don’t be taken in by the simple design you have probably seen on the roadside purse shop as well! For starters this seemingly simple wallet from Hermes costs $2,600 or Rs 1,16,000.

Now if that ain’t too bad, how about a fancier and larger purse from Hermes for you? Well that costs $7,600 or Rs 3,40,000.

I continued this eye-popping exercise of checking the prices of these bags till I reached a magic figure of…. 1 Million Pounds or or $1.6 Million or Rs 7 Crores for the world’s most expensive bag!!!

Well if Mukesh Ambanis wife, Nita Ambani buys 600 of those bags, it would cost as much as her home would! I guess, the new home is a good bargain after all then!

Saturday, October 09, 2010

I wish I had a Time Machine

How I hate waking up in the morning and getting dressed to go to work. Maybe in the near future, we won’t have to go to offices anymore. Maybe we will have a few screens showing us the people installed in our homes for meetings and a robot to take down notes and email them to us after formatting them. Maybe we’ll have flying cars. Maybe shopping will be through simulated rooms with us experiencing even the feel of the fabric and not just plain online shopping. Perhaps we will be able to touch our near and dear ones from miles across on the computer or whatever becomes of it. Maybe we won’t need to know different languages. Speak in English at one end and have it translated and come out in perfect Chinese at the other end which is something I believe Google is working on.

Floppies have become pen drives and hard drives, desktops have become laptops and will soon be tablets or phones or something else totally. Landlines have become mobiles which in themselves are computers. Maybe we will be able to use any surface as a laptop with some projections out of thin air and of course we will have a robot cook and clean for us. I hope we don’t become all fat and wobbly creatures with all that work being automated and not having to step out. Post offices will cease to exist and philatelists (stamp collectors) will perish if they already haven’t.

Maybe schools will cease to exist and kids will be taught like they do in The Matrix..put in a CD through the brain and copy paste the ‘books’ or delete to make more room. No more mugging up History! Books, paper and pens of course will not exist and maybe even most trees won’t. Hopefully we will have travelled to some more inhabitable planets and shifted half the population there. Maybe we will be able to control rains and storms. Maybe we will never run out of food.

Maybe biodegradable only will be the only norm, maybe plastic will be abolished. Maybe the world will cease to have boundaries and maybe there will be no more terrorists. Maybe everyone who is corrupt will stop being so. Maybe there will be no more diseases.

Maybe there will be a nuclear war fought over water not oil. Maybe trees will be present only in Museums. Maybe there will be an ice age, or maybe the ozone layer will tear apart and half of the world will become uninhabitable. Maybe aliens will attack us. Maybe a new form of disease will come and eliminate humanity. Maybe the world will become a garbage dump. Maybe there will be no more room for more population on earth. Maybe, Frankenstein’s monster will become reality and Sarah Connor will not be born.

We are all getting so ahead of ourselves in Technology or maybe I was born just after the dinosaurs! Computers in all sizes, Google, smart phones, Global Satellite systems (GPS), Video conferencing, e-readers, Social Networking are exploding and the world is closer and more aware than it ever was before. What was unbelievable in the past is reality today and we are still in awe of the technology wave that is sweeping us. While the human race is not just ambling ahead, but taking great leaps racing ahead, let us remember the bleaker side and take steps starting with recycling, generating less waste, using fewer disposable things, saving electricity, planting trees and spreading the word in building this amazing future perfect world called Utopia!

Thursday, September 30, 2010


I am currently riding the Vampire wave which has caught the attention of readers and viewers alike. Stephanie Meyer with her Twilight series certainly caught the attention of young romantic readers with her thrills and chills in the backdrop of a soppy romance between a good-at-heart (if he has one) vampire, Edward Cullen and the still human teenager. This fascination around their world did not start with Buffy the teenager who stalked, staked and slayed vampires mercilessly in the late 90s and early 2000s but ever since Bram Stoker wrote the epic novel Dracula in 1897 which I read recently. There have been more than 700 movies that have been made on the topic (recent ones in this decade being the inane Twilight series, the hilarious spoof on them, Underworld, and several versions of the original Dracula. You can find the list of movies here There has also been a recent spate of TV shows (popular being True Blood, The Vampire Diaries, Angel Forever Knight, Blood Ties, Being Human, Being Dracula, Blade, Moonlight, Kindred-the Embraced) which continue to attract wide audiences. Dracula the literally immortal vampire, alone has been the central character in over 170 versions which makes him the most repeated subject in movies so far from the early 1900’s to 2011 in Fangland when Dracula comes to New York. Hats off to Bram Stoker for his fiery imagination that can still cast fear into the hearts of many after the turn of a century.

Vampires as they are known are blood sucking creatures that can transmute into bats or even into mist, control elements of nature, control evil animals, and raise an army by merely infecting more people. They sleep in coffins, cannot stand garlic, cannot stand light, cannot see their reflections in mirrors (poor female vampires) and are afraid of anything that is Holy. The only way to kill them is to drive a stake through them, behead them and stuff their mouths with garlic! The Un-Dead is a term coined for these creatures that have the wile and cunning of the living, powers gained on dying and immortality. It is not in the scary masks and made up faces apart from their malicious fangs, that they cast terror but in the fact that they look like all other humans, only more charming and connive to ensnare their victims into letting them drink their blood. Vampire lore has indeed come a long way from Count Dracula who was evil vampirified to Edward Cullen, the good vampire.
Duhh..are vampires for real? Well, I don’t think so despite the presence of the many websites which exhort ‘real vampires’ to join their communities and give helpful tips to identify people as vampires! Come to think of it, maybe real life vampires are just blood sucking leeches and mosquitoes! What do you think?

Here are some bloody cheesy vampire jokes:

Why is it a bad thing to tell a vampire to get a life?
Because it might decide to take YOURS.

What's the difference between a lawyer and a vampire?
A vampire only sucks blood at night.

How did the ghost say goodbye to the vampire?
So long sucker!

Why does Dracula consider himself an artist?
Because he likes to draw blood!

What is a vampire’s favorite holiday?
Fangs giving

Wat does a vampire fear most?
Tooth decay.

If you like Vampire stories, you might be interested in Zombie movies. Do check out this blog (after you share your views with me!) for more to keep you awake!

Friday, September 24, 2010

The Great Common Tamasha

The Commonwealth games have already begun! Well, perhaps not the actual sports, but the ongoing tamasha before the games itself is no different from any game! It is India vs the Rest of the World, the Organising committee in India vs the global committee overlooking the games, US the common people vs Them the Corrupt Government. Debates abound, and forums, blogs, TV, Radios, Newspapers all cry foul. Every little thing is zoomed on to the last detail and penalized heavily by further outcry. To add the final icing on the cake, there is the suspense of finding out, if they are indeed going to be pulled off well, with a segment even hoping they are not so that there is a further brouhaha that will bring the defaulters to book even if it is after a few decades and by that time their account books are fatter than ever with the credits they make in the meanwhile.

I wonder what the hell is happening ? Does it take a public outcry from all corners of the globe to get the Prime Minister involved into the organizing of these simple games when he should have probably just done the lamp lighting or something insignificant like that? The whole situation is so insane. On one hand, we talk about being the next super power and on the other hand, dunnkkkkk, we can’t manage a piffling few thousand sportspersons accommodations..why even big fat weddings in India boast of over a 1000 guests and organized immaculately! It’s a shame, a great shame.


Wednesday, August 18, 2010


I had been to a Classical Music concert by Shubha Mudgal once with Mom and was absolutely enthralled in it when I had anticipated a good 2-3 hours of pure boredom! The fact that Music transcends language and all other barriers is so true. Even though I had no knowledge of what the lady was singing, it was divinely captivating. There was much I needed guidance on, the talas, the ragas, surs et al. Consciously singing absolutely in control to match all those permutations and combinations to the exact beat of the tabla and the chords of the tamboora and keys of the harmonium is indeed an art. I wonder if our future generations will have in them to go through the rigors of training to produce music that is fulfilling and lasting. In this age of clamor, the best we get are songs which are all absolutely forgettable. Good songs take you on a high and they keep you floating for a while ruminating over the lyrics and the music and make you forget the worries of the world and linger in your mind. Sometimes irritating jarring songs stick around too and it is particularly difficult to get a hated song out of ones head unless replaced by a better one! But I digress from what I’m saying.

I am no expert on music and I hate to go down in the past again, but seriously the half baked half English half Hindi Bollywood songs liberally sprinkled with Punjabi with nonsensical lyrics and several booms and bangs called beats, and ‘sung’ tunelessly are getting worse! Perhaps there are good singers, and perhaps there are great composers out there, but these are the songs we appreciate now. It’s only the songs that sound and look like they will be runaway hits are broadcast. Why, the song is least important, put a sizzling Bipasha Basu in it, and it could have everyone hooked!

The music shows and the talent hunt shows have indeed brought about a revival of the classical music scene and there is much encouragement towards the arts such as singing and dancing. Organizations such as SPICMACAY are doing their bit too, but honestly I don’t think it’s enough..why, I have no clue about who the upcoming singers are on the classical scene and I am sure there are more who are totally oblivious or disinterested or who find it uncool to listen to Indian music but appreciate ‘Jazz’. This is certainly not to disparage those who find the western forms of music alluring, but to bring to the point, that our Indian youth in its rapid westernization is rapidly moving away from its own cultural roots and mostly takes no interest whatsoever in what is indeed an age old civilization. I should certainly wish there were more music schools and more dance schools to propagate this art.

Though I would heartily like to dwell on the facets of Indian Classical music, I discover, there is just too much to be said. For the uninitiated, I shall try to fit a bit in one paragraph. Our Indian classical music emanates from the Vedas which are in the form of a song and hence, divine in itself. The tradition of Indian classical music is an oral one. The music tradition has been handed down over 2000 years to the pupil and there still live the ‘gharanas’ that have descended from eons back. Unlike Western music, the sounds cannot be captured on any manuscript. There are two forms of the music, Hindustani from Northern India and Carnatic from Southern India. The soul of the classical music is based on ragas which is a combination of several notes (sa re ga ma..), sung in a particular sequence, pitch, speed etc where as tala is the pulse of the music that captures the rhythm of the music . Where the musical instruments are concerned, there is a long list, some of the popular ones’ being Sitar, Sarod, Santoor, Veena, Sarangi, Harmonium, Shehnai, Flute, Tabla, Mridangam.

Due to the diversity of the culture we have, there are numerous popular folk music forms which differ from region to region. Folk music instruments also differ from those of classical music and may be less refined and are usually fabricated from commonly found materials such as bamboo, coconut shells, conches etc. For example in the rich culture of Rajasthan there are folklores, tales of heroism of the Rajput kings and queens, the praise of Gods etc. In most cultures the songs have been handed down through generations to mark the beginning and end of seasons, of phases in life, festivals etc.

The Indian culture has such divine forms of Art in it. I sincerely hope that I am mistaken, and even in this impatient fast moving world, certain beautiful things will never diminish.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Idle Thoughts of a Desi Mind


Well, it’s been almost half a year since I moved to the US from India, and I continue to marvel at the differences between the two countries.  I guess, I am about to say what every Desi who comes to this land goes through. 

On Conversions

The first thing that hit me in a week was the number of conversions I kept doing to get my perspective right.  Fahrenheit to Celsius, Miles to Kilometers, Pounds to Kgs, Ounces to Grams, Dollars to Rupees, Gallons to liters…  I know we are used to the difference in the spellings now, with due thanks to Bill Gates who points out not coloUrfully but colorfully in red and all of a sudden I was flummoxed when everyone resorted in India to saying XYZeee instead of XYZed that I had learnt years back! Here even the switches get turned on the wrong way..On is up and Off is down!

On Beggars

Our local beggars endeavor to be as pathetic as possible singing sad songs in pathetic voices and generally making everyone feel guilty about being better off. Believe it when I tell you, here beggars wear weird costumes and have smirks on their faces with placards which say ‘Gimme $5 for a glass of beer!’ or ‘I need my Dope’ or sit with a dirty dog with a placard saying ‘Help me care for my dog’ and yes, they mutter maybe ‘Ass****’ at each person, loud enough to hear if you pass them without giving them anything.  Local train beggars aren’t dissimilar to our Local buggers.  They come with their musical instruments and make speeches and stories all starting with ‘Ladies and Gentlemen. I am homeless.  Please help me’.  Of course, this being a far richer country, the numbers are far less than what we have.  But it’s funny to see ads of ‘Please donate a used car for the poor’.  I could use one of the donations!

On Prices

And now for my long pent up emotions on the horrendous prices here, even though I have recuperated from the shock now.  People back home said we would be really rich in the US!  But consider this. Back in India we were supposedly in the upper middle class having a 3bhk, a car, never used the local train, and had 2 maids to cook twice a day, pack our lunches, clean up, tidy up and do everything that enabled us to lounge around only watching TV.  And here, we live in a 1BHK, have a four wheeler..uh, I mean 2 bicycles, no maids (if you discount the dishwasher) and commute in the packed subway trains.  Now that life on the other side of the ocean was certainly comfortable!

I reckon getting past the currency conversion from the $ to the Rupee was a challenge given the fact that ‘everything is so cheap back home!’  It started with the bread being $4 (Rs200) for a loaf (@#* I paid Rs 20 back home!), onions being $2 a pound (Rs 200 for a kilo) (@#&; Governments have been brought down back home because of the rising onion prices!), well you get the idea.  I won’t even speak about the unspeakable amounts we pay as rent!  Okay, even if you don’t convert, sometimes the rates that are charged for some piffling labor are downright absurd.  There was a cleaning ad saying they would clean up rugs or carpets really well and remove all stains etc in just $150 (Rs 7500).  Well!  I could get a new carpet for that price!  In fact there is no concept of MRP or any sort of standard pricing.  It all depends on the rate the store wants to fleece people!  You could get the same brand for half at some other store or for 1/10th online.  Perhaps it is because I am around one of US’s most expensive cities.

On Healthcare

Well, I am one of those really unfortunate people who are underinsured due to ignorance, and now may have to shell out some $500 (Rs 25,000) for a single sitting to have an ear cleaned!  A doctor charges a cool $150 (Rs 7,500) to prescribe an OTC balm for an aching hand.  I have not known a more screwed up healthcare system than that exists out here. Wikipedia told me that it is in US that 62% of all personal bankruptcies are due to Medical Debt.  I don’t blame them.  If an uninsured or underinsured person were to fall ill, he would sell everything he has to pay it off or die of a cardiac arrest on seeing the bill!  Well, there is health insurance, and since 85% of the people have health insurance, all doctors charge astronomical amounts, and because they charge astronomical amounts people have to rely on health insurance. And, since the docs get sued all the time, they have to make up for the money they spend on litigation!  So, I guess, being a lawyer is the best profession there is in the US!  I am now contemplating a flight to and fro from India to have my ear cleaned!  It might just be cheaper.

On Labor
The other thing that struck me, was the fact that despite the unemployment numbers being supposedly high, the labor rates here continue to be just phenomenal.  There is little wonder that there are so many drop outs in America.  I hear that truck drivers make around $100,000 to $200,000 a year in this country!  I mean that’s really wow!  They certainly can compete with educated PhDs flaunting all their degrees or investment bankers or make even more! Babysitters charge some $15 an hour in cash, that’s around $32,000 tax free. Women who earn around $50,000 a year, which is a decent amount, quit as their babysitters charge more!  I think all the girls on H4 out here who cannot really work, but do like kids should offer their services in this field!  It never amazed me in American TV serials when they showed plumbers and handymen living in the best of the suburban houses with manicured lawns..(if you are guessing, that’s Desperate Housewives)! Now as my building doorman drives down in his car wearing a tie and a designer suit, I have ceased to wonder!  What I don’t understand is, why can’t the unemployed unskilled workers, just offer their services for a lower wage?  I am sure there will be a lot of people willing to employ them.  The unemployment rate will certainly go down.

On Cabbies
Something that is similar though is the sport of fighting with the Cab driver. There was this cabbie who wanted to charge a cool 100 dollar bucks (~Rs 5,000) for a 25 min ride with one stop on the way, the unreasonableness being, he would charge $50 without having to stop! Add to that, the ridiculous 'tips' that are mandatory to the tune of 20-30% of the total fare.  No wonder, people prefer renting cars and driving around the whole day for a maximum of $100.  Most cabbies are either Pakistanis, or Indians or Bangladeshis and the seats are dirtier and mustier than in Mumbai.

On Shopping

Finally, once I entered the acceptance mode after the denial, anger and resignation stages of shock of prices, I discovered shopping was a pleasure here, thanks to the huge departmental stores around here.  There is no dearth of brands and consumers are spoiled for choice in every category.  Furniture, cosmetics, Electronic goods and all the capital investments that go into a new home are relatively still cheap because mostly everything is Made in China. The awesome part is you can always return goods, no questions asked for up to 90 days!

On Gadgets

Thanks to the technological advancements here, most happening products such as the iphone, ipad, e-readers, Wii, GPS Navigators and other cool gadgets get first released in the US, and then trickle down much later to India.  It’s pretty cool to be connected on 3G everywhere and the large number of wifi hotspots there are.  I can’t wait for 3G to get to India and download books on my Kindle e-reader as easily as I do here.   Browsing the internet is a pleasure, since the ultra fast speeds allow me to stream videos really fast, watch movies on Netflix etc. 

On People
People are so much more civilized here.  The very Indians who wouldn’t blink before they discarded chocolate wrappers from their car window, pick up their dog’s shit with gloved hands (that part is really ewwwwwwwwwww for me) and discard it wherever designated.  Even though the subway is really crowded, no one really jostles to get in or cause any stampede to get out.  People don’t spit on roads or consider the outside of their homes as the garbage can.  They are always polite and smile and hold doors and the smiling does not arouse any suspiciousness. Everyone is interested in sports and not everyone wants to become an engineer or a doctor. 

On Dogs

Talking about dogs in the previous blurb, US is a dog obsessed country.  I have never seen dogs pampered as much as they are here.  There are dog birthday parties, dog sitters, dog walkers, dog designer clothes, prams for dogs, beauty products, cosmetics, and accessories for dogs, dog beauty parlors, dog restaurants, dog toy shops, dog playgrounds…It really gets disgusting the amount of pampering that goes on!

On Sports
One thing that is apparent is the evident enthusiasm of everyone in sports.  Each match is attended with gusto and the subways overflow even when there are obscure local matches and there are Cheerleaders for most matches. Even the sports Americans play are different from what the rest of the world plays.  While the world calls Football, Football, the Americans call a game they play with their hands, as football, and the actual football is relegated as Soccer. And that American Football is actually almost like Rugby, but with extra protective gears, helmets and padding. I’ve heard few Europeans call it a sissy sport.  While the world played cricket, they invented Baseball.  In Baseball, they have something called as a World Series in which the local teams compete with each other and the winner becomes a World Champion! No wonder many Americans think they are the world in themselves and everyone else is an alien! Thankfully, basketball which is another popular game here is still the same.

On Roads
In India I used to look left and then right before crossing.  By the time I realized my mistake, I shifted here, and I now look right and then left which is like all other things opposite to what it is in India.  I guess I can attribute whatever misfortunes I might have to the curses of the motorists in both the countries!  However, the roads here are truly beautiful.  The infrastructure is simply superb, the highways are a pleasure to drive on, and connectivity is great. And the good news is there are good clean restrooms to stop by.  That is so very difficult back home to find! It is sad that we can boast of a few good highways, such as the Mumbai-Pune Expressway.  Imagine all of India being connected from every village with such roads. Travelling would be so much easier.

On Natural Beauty
The country on the whole is so gorgeous and there always huge forests they call National Parks around everywhere in the country, an endless number of weekend getaways and a host of weekend activities to indulge in. With the fact that this is such a huge country, there is so much to see and appreciate.  The terrain varies from the rugged Colorado Desert to the blue water beaches of Florida to the verdant greenery elsewhere. I certainly can't get enough of the beauty around me!

All in All
All in all, I reckon, living in each country has its pros and cons.  As I remove my rose tinted glasses to look at India, I reckon I can point out fallacies there for all my criticisms above with the rising inflation and low transparency and a million other reasons in our governing system.  Each country has its pros and cons.  While I miss the culture that I grew up in, I have grown to appreciate the country I am currently residing in.  Fulfilling the American Dream is still aspired by many, and I don’t blame them. After all, it is a beautiful country with much to explore and excellent facilities and infrastructure to explore it.  Cleanliness and less pollution add to better living. It is quite an experience to live in the multicultural vibrancy of this country.  India isn’t quite there yet, but I am optimistic, with all the leaps  taken towards development, will one day fructify and it will be a more pleasant place to live in. Right now, I reckon, I will just indulge in everything that India doesn’t offer, and then when I don’t have time to do that, I shall come back and live a life of luxury with maids and cooks and drivers to serve me!

Friday, July 16, 2010

The More and Less of it

I do not remember what led to this train of musings, but well, warning you to keep off if you don’t want another dose on the philosophies in life from yet another person!
Well, I have no idea how to start off to an absolutely non-introductory start..

Why do we always want More? Just because Pepsi tells us wisely Yeh Dil Mange More?  The question I pose is, is there a More or a Less?  Isn’t it all relative?

A poor guy who earns just enough to have two square meals a day and lives in a garret wishes that he just had more money to move to a bigger hole. The bigger hole leads to bigger aspirations and so on.  A person commuting on a bicycle may wish for a motorbike, a person on a motorbike for an AC car while the gentleman in the AC car would want a bigger car maybe and his wife next to him is grumpy about why his friend’s wife has More diamonds than she does.  For him, More diamonds is Less money and all the traffic out there makes him wish he could take the Lesser bicycle fleeing both the traffic and the grumpy wife.  Its funny when people are proud of their wealth and others jealous of them for it. Don’t they know there is always someone richer, brainier than them? Even the richest in the world want to get richer in the race to remain the richest. At the end of, don’t we all know it’s a journey to oblivion?

While at school, for a kid, a trip to Juhu beach Rs 5 worth of peanuts and 10 Rs of Bhel and a balloon would be a wonderful holiday. In college heading off to Lonavala-Khandala in an ST bus, yet enjoying the ride on the rickety bus singing songs loudly would be just as much fun. With the first job, even if it doesn’t pay much, a trip to a farther off hillstation or Goa is more fun. Now suppose our lad has further gone ahead in life, nothing short of exotic foreign locales please his family. Why don’t I just pause for a moment and put this grown man where he started on his Juhu beach with Rs 10 worth peanuts(Rs 5 of inflation J), and then on that bus which is still rickety, to Lonavala. Well, ofcourse he ll be miserable and hot and bothered with so many poor people around him and cannot conceive how he enjoyed those moments but the fact remained that he did like so many in that station of life do and that same More is now so very Less.

Go to any Sari shop in Mumbai. The range of prices is mind boggling. I am sure a sari of Rs 500 pleases a our maid at Diwali as much as a sari of Rs 50,000 pleases the so called rich. And this Rs 50,000 may probably be peanuts to our designer label toting celebrities.  It is crazy what people can pay for a brand. I think there is very little value in a Gucci plain black conventional leather purse that sells for Rs 50,000 if I can get the same for Rs 500.  Ah, but the brand has More value you see, even if the cost of material and labour and other overheads are valued at Rs 500.  Take for example, a branded Cross Pen that costs Rs 5000.  Give it to a young executive who knows its value.  He will value it and think its worth a lot.  Give the same Pen to a factory laborer who has no idea about it, as a big prize, and he will curse saying, it is worthless to him.

So, probably, being happy is completely relative to the expectations and desires and Less or More of anything has different connotations for different people. Its not just money which could be the ephemeral factor on road to satisfaction. The value of time is different for an athlete where a microsecond might count , a terminal patient to whom days might be longer than usual, or a parent whose kid is growing up quickly or a commuter who has missed a train. The ugliest of old dolls might have a sentimental value to the richest kid. Being the CEO of a company would be of greatest consequence to one while being in a comfortable less stressful job might make another happier. My point is, the measure of everything is relative. Money, time, ambition, relations, comfort, everything. There is no difference between More or Less the final goal being fulfillment or contentment. It is not to say, we should not desire more. Our aspirations will rise and that is a human trait that has brought us a long way. It is not to say, lets be contented with what we have and not exert ourselves to fulfilling ourselves to our potential. These are thoughts just to say that we need to value more what we have and stop the comparisons of More and Less because there is no difference. What we may perceive of little value to us today, could be a dream and an aspiration to another. 

Disclaimer: I honestly do not know if I can actually follow all these ruminations given the fact that I am a materialistic, self-centered, pleasure loving person caught in the rat race..well who isn’t?  But do not question me or judge me too harshly for indeed, I am afterall another trivial human being.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Champaks and Tinkles and more...

Continuing the ACK Blog that I wrote last, there was a wide world for us young readers back then. Champak was looked forward to every fortnight when the postman used to drop it in. Champak, you might remember, was that small sized colorfully illustrated magazine full of life, of animals who dwelt in Champakvan and Nandanvan apart from other children stories and a few comic strips in it of Cheeku the wonder rabbit and others. Then there was Tinkle too, which was loved by all. Initially I used to get the larger sized Tinkles, then I remember getting the smaller sized fatter versions of it in the form of Tinkle digest. Fond readers might remember Shikari Shambhu and who can forget Suppandi and his goofiness.

There was a phase when I also read up Chacha Chaudhari with his red turban and stick and Sabu who hailed from Planet Jupiter. These were of course our own home bred super heroes who saved the world! And who can forget, whenever Sabu gets angry, volcanoes erupt!

I’ m not sure if a lot of people read Chandamamas, but they were one of my favorites too. I had amassed quite a collection of Chandamamas right from the 60s from various ‘raddi’ and scrap stores! They used to have several amazing folktales from all over the world and different parts of India. There used to be an engrossing serial story too in each volume and typically continued for the year. And it was from Chandamama that I learnt about Vikram the king and Betal the ghoul who put up an ethical or moral question after a story recited to King Vikramaditya in an eerie cremation ground with strong gusts of wind and terrifying voices around. Unfortunately with the technology boom and changing times, I am not too sure how well it has adapted though I hear they are out with a revamped look but I didn’t really see it in the regular book stores.

The American world of Archie also had us hooked and his perpetual dilemma back then over Betty and Veronica kept us commiserating with Betty and bitching about Veronica! Now I believe, Archie proposed to Veronica. That was big news a couple of years back! Besides the American teens, the Gauls Asterix and Obelix who entertained then, well, still have me in splits over their banter and the magic potion by Getafix is still quite potent! Tintin and his dog too led me through several adventures along with Captain Haddock (I still remember his characteristic ‘Blistering Barnacles’! though I haven’t read it for long now), and the forever bungling up twin detectives Thompson and Thompson.

Besides the comics ofcourse, there was a world of Enid Blytons to plunge into. Magic, adventure, mysteries, school stories, simple stories, the lady had it all! I guess, giving me an Enid Blyton was my Moms way of getting me out of the way! She did try some of the childrens classics too such as Tom Sawyer etc, but I guess, I stuck to the Enid Blytons!

Then as we grew up we graduated to the teen detectives in Nancy Drews, Hardy Boys, Alfred Hitchcock and baffling mysteries of Agatha Christies. I guess, that was the last of my childhood reading and then suddenly I just wanted to read other books!

I certainly am thankful that these delightful books were a part of my childhood and they certainly inculcated the habit of reading in me!

What do you remember of your reading as kids?