Thursday, October 20, 2011



An early morning start on Thursday, and instead of going to office (it is just 5 min from the airport) I was in the Hawaiian airlines flight. The colorful uniform of the crew was the first sign of Hawaii. Flight was relaxing, all of us spent most of the time sleeping. The descent at Honolulu, was beautiful, seeing the limpid blue color of the ocean, dotted with white boats and yachts, the green of the mountains contrasting with the blue of the ocean was refreshing to the eyes.
One major glitch was that my GPS was unusable. Could have been real bad, fortunately I had the back-up of the directions to our destination and a couple of places.

First stop from the airport was a quaint little Hawaiian restaurant, serving local cuisine. Highlight was the fruit punch and garlic Ahi(fish). We were still quite fresh, so decided to go to Pearl Harbour, as it was on our way to the condo that we had rented.

Pearl Harbour is the most visited place in Hawaii. Surprisingly there is no entry or parking fee. It is a wide natural harbour, one could see why it has been used as a major naval base for the last 100 years or so. The serenity of the place makes one wonder, how contrasting it would have been in Dec 1941 when the attack took place. Didn't have to imagine much though, as before going for a boat trip to the USS Arizona memorial, we were shown a 20 min documentary on the attack, which had some real footage of that day. The USS Arizona was the ship that had the maximum casualties. More than 1000 sailors died when the ship sank under the brunt of the bombardment. One can still see the ship sunk in the water, with some oil seeping out. Which is referred to as the tears of the sailors. Was a somber experience. Ironically there were lot of Japanese tourists there, for a moment I thought isn't it embarrassing for them, but then I remembered Hiroshima.

After doing some further exploration around the memorial we were on our way back. Our place was on the western coast of the island of Oahu. It was a meandering drive along the coast. With steep mountains having serrated ridges on the other side.

The place we stayed at had an amazing view of the ocean which was just 15-20 feet away. It was open and breezy. Did not go anywhere in the evening, just relaxed, sipping wine, enjoying the sunset and the night falling over the ocean. Satisfied that we were finally there and the vacation had started, after all the preparations, planning etc.


We visited an arboretum near Honolulu which had rainforest vegetation from all over the world. It was unbelievably humid, and overcast, there were also mosquitoes. Giving the perfect rainforest experience :). From there we hiked to a nearby lush tropical forest and abeautiful waterfall called Mauna-Lua. The conditions underfoot were wet and treacherous, and there was a dense canopy, I had to carry my daughter Anahita on my shoulders most of the way. Was sweating profusely, but the effort was worth it. Had never hiked in a rainforest before. While driving back, we hit rush-hour of Honolulu, it was almost as bad as any other city in US. Spent the evening at home,enjoying the breeze after the stifling weather of the morning, got fresh fish from a local grocery store and fried it.


In the morning went snorkeling, to a place called Ko-Olina, they had a sheltered lagoon. It is bit difficult getting used to snorkeling, but once you master the breathing, it is lot of fun. We weren't satisfied with the underwater view there, not enough fish and corals. Luckily my wife Meghna had read in the Frommer's guide for Hawaii, that there was a better snorkeling bay nearby, what made it special, was that it had warmer water, due to discharge from a thermal electrical plant near it. The place was worth it. I saw many colorful brightly hued tropical fishes, and corals of various shapes and colors. Felt like a big predator floating on top,some fish were scared, others were unconcerned. Was fun following the schools of fish, by paddling behind them. Both of us took turns, with Anahita and our lunch,drinks on the beach.


Roamed around Honolulu downtown, it has some nice architecture, the wide walkways reminded me a bit of Panjim in Goa. Also the weather was very Goa like. Saw the Iolani palace , the only royal palace in USA. Then went to the famous Waikiki beach. This was the biggest and most crowded beach I have seen in my life. It may be the most popular beach in the world. There are a ton of activities to be done also. Meghna went for a submarine tour, and enjoyed it, as she could experience the rich underwater life of the Hawaiian seabed. I spent the time exploring Waikiki, it was like the Las Vegas strip, except the casinos. Full of tourists from all over the world, and glitzy shops. Ate a sumptuous lunch at the International Marketplace, bought a Hawaiian shirt, and a Lei.

In the evening did boogie-boarding, it basically involves lying prone on a surfboard and riding the waves and surf. Fairly confident in my swimming skills I could venture a bit deep ,and come back on the shore riding the waves. The highlight was watching the sunset on the sea, while lying flat on the board in the water. Seeing it disappear gradually at a straight 0 degree angle.
Spent the next couple of hours goofing out on the beach with Anahita. Imbibing refreshing local beer.


Went to see a secluded Japanese Shinto temple,on the other side of the isalnd. It was an exact replica of a 12th century temple in Japan, reconstructed in the 60s. It must be one of the most serene and tranquil places I have been to. The vibes were so positive , it almost made me believe in Feng Shui, it had a nice garden with peacocks and ducks, and a pond with many fish. Then went to a famous restaurant called Roy's, good food,drinks and view. Spent the evening snorkeling,swimming,boogie-boarding in a nearby beach.


Day to go back. Went for a morning walk on the beach. Was reading a book about Hawaii, so finished it on the way back on the flight. Fascinating book on the history of the islands, about how the Polynesians who were master navigators came to Hawaii on their canoes. King Kamehameha, the Hawaiian Alexander, who unified all the islands, how Hawaii came on the world map due to the lucrative trade in Whale Oil, the royal debauchery and excesses, and how the American planters in the late 19th century became a powerful lobby and ousted the monarchy, and how nationalism is still a dream some Hawaiians harbour, and have a resentment against the US military who occupy a lot of prime land in the islands.

Hawaiian islands are really unique, we just managed to see one of them. Would like to go back and enjoy the other islands to, like Maui, Kauai, and Big Island.


Friday, April 16, 2010

The Story Of India.

Saw a wonderful 6 hour documentary, on the history of India. Presented and conceptualized by an Englishman called Michael Wood. This is an ambitious undertaking, trying to distill the entire history of India in a manner that is cohesive and comprehensive. He and his team do quite a good job of it. Shot on actual historical locales like Turkmenistan , Madurai, Khyber Pass, Harappa, Kurukshetra etc. The documentary offers a good panoramic view of different aspects of Indian history.

Starts with the pre-Aryan Dravidian history, Indus civilization, Vedic era. Then it describes the birth of religions like Buddhism and Jainism. The prominence of the Silk route and the Spice route. The Golden Ages of India under the Mauryan,Chola and Gupta empires. Followed by the Mughal era, ending with the British and the Partition. The narrator travels in trains by 2nd class or by road giving a very earthy feel to it, he is effusive and enthusiastic throughout, and seems to be an ardent Indophile. The documentary also borrows footage generously from various historical dramas on TV or Movies .

It was like the NCERT history books I had read at school had come alive. If I had seen this in school, it would have been so fascinating to co-relate all this information with the written stuff. I found the books for history in school well-written and exhaustive, but did not get the feel or involvement as with the visual and aural medium.

I would definitely recommend this documentary to anyone who is even remotely interested in Indian history.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Oscar Wilde Plays

From the treasure trove, that is the local library, I got a set of Oscar Wilde's plays on DVD. It was a BBC Production from the 70s, featuring some good TV actors. The plays were "The Importance of Being Earnest", "Picture of Dorian Gray', "Lady Wildemere's Fan" and "An Ideal husband". The wit, humour, satire, complex characterizations and the gentle twists in the plots make it worth the while watching these plays. Though set in the late 19th century, the plays still feel contemporary in the issues they deal with. The dialogues and repartees are fresh, they could be called the early sit-coms, but with much deeper significance. I also had watched the "Importance Of Being Earnest" live in one Off-Broadway play here in San Francisco last year, and found it fun. In fact that acted as the catalyst in my watching this set.

Wilde was an iconoclast during his time, had a tortured time due to his unconventional outlook of society, in part not helped by his homosexual entanglements. Had to spend time in jail, also died penniless in an indigent state in Paris.

But he truly was a genius, as he famously said when he arrived in USA for the first time "I have nothing to declare but my genius".

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Tennis Match

Last month had a great opportunity to watch top-flight tennis action at the San Jose ATP tennis tournament. Saw Andy Roddick and Fernando Verdasco in action. It was an awesome experience to watch live tennis, we had some good seats just behind the baseline. It was an indoor arena, the lighting was fabulous. One of the best ways to spend an evening.

First up, the home crowd favourite Roddick demolished his opponent in straight sets. The famed Roddick serve was a treat to watch ,one could hear the the thump of the ball loud and clear whenever he blasted an ace. It was also a learning experience to observe the footwork and movement of the players off the ball, as those are nuances we do not always see on TV, another thing was that by watching live action you get to see the gulf in the levels of the Professionals and Amateurs, because when you watch on TV playing and hitting shots look quite simple.

Verdasco was up against Benjamin Becker from Germany, it was a tight match, with Verdasco's vicious spinning forehands, against Becker's solid groundstrokes, some of the rallies were engrossing, I could identify more with Verdasco's game as I am also a leftie. We tried to cheer Becker up by shouting the name of his other illustrious namesake Boris. But he couldn't match up to Verdasco and lost. This experience has certainly whetted up my appetite to watch more live tennis action. Next stop is hopefully going to be one of the Grand Slams.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Have been a regular tennis player since I came to US in 2008. Almost every weekend I play around 2-3 hours of tennis with friends. Have been an ardent fan of tennis ever since I was 10 years old. Followed the Grand Slams quite closely then, including the earlier rounds. Waited for the Quarters and Semis because from that stage onwards, Doordarshan used to telecast the matches. My childhood heroes were Becker, Edberg, Sampras and Steffi. Used to spend hours watching tennis, and celebrate wildly India's Davis Cup wins, of which were quite a lot during those golden years of Vijay Amritraj, Ramesh Krishnan and Leander Paes.

First played tennis when I was 11 years old, in Srinagar. There was a tennis court in the army area we were staying.My father used to play tennis with a colleague, my sister and I usually turned up to watch. Dad decided to buy us racquets in due course, then we started knocking around but it was lot of effort to get the ball across the net, and it wasn't lot of fun. So I decided to shun actual play and take my racquet and ball, and start hitting against a wall near my house. I used to like the rhythm of the shots there, it was more under my control. I started treating the wall as an imaginary player, drew a line on it and on the floor, and devised a couple of rules for points. I became hooked to this format, thereafter I used to play for hours. Take cut-outs from the Grand Slam tournament draws from the newspaper or from Sportsstar magazine, and conduct my own tournament, keeping records of results. This became one of my favourite pastime, also since we were in quite a remote place, there was no one else of my age-group, so there wasn't much else to do after school. Continued playing like this for many years, both in Srinagar as well as in the next place Panagarh, where I found the terrace wall a convenient place. Then gradually grew out of it. For almost two decades of high- school as well as college and work did not play any tennis at all. Though always used to love watching it on TV.

In early 2008, suddenly I decided one fine day, that I should learn to play actual tennis. I enrolled for coaching classes in Bombay, the instructors were quite pleased with my rapid progress, little did they know the countless hours I had spent hitting in my childhood. For one month I rigorously practised tennis, used to get up before 6am regularly for the classes, which was a big sacrifice for me. My quest to become a decent tennis player got another boost when I came to US. US is a tennis lover's paradise, abundance of courts and many interested players. Got good friends Hirak and Atul as enthusiastic partners, kept playing on a regular basis and also improved my game by watching online videos and reading tennis books from the library. At this stage I feel good about my game, and hopefully keep getting better. I enjoy every moment I am on court and am grateful for that. I feel it has been an interesting tennis journey for me, from those early beginnings to the resurrection in my thirties.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

1000 Ways To Die

Was watching this program on TV. It was showing all weird ways of dying in which few actors enacted the method of death, followed by a specialist explaining the causes. Was really interesting. most of them had a catchy caption in the end

Few which stuck in my mind were.

  • A Flying Tent with a woman inside. A freak wind generated enough uplift to carry a tent 1 mile in the air , with a woman inside and dump it over a cabin
  • A convict running from the cops, scurries down a sewage pipe, which gets progressively narrower , which results in him getting stuck , and later in the night getting gnawed to death by rats( Eeewww!!). The Doctors said this is the most painful way ever to die. The caption at the end was "ExVerminated"
  • To get a husband who has a history of erectile dysfunction in the mood, the wife spikes his beer secretly with 3 pills of Viagra (which is triple the allowed dosage) , the husband while enjoying his drink gets a call from his mistress!, so he decides to ditch his wife for the night. Before leaving , to ensure good performance he pops in 3 more pills!! and guess what, his mistress has also mixed 3 more in his wine. So our hero with 9X of recommended dosage , has a rollicking time for a short while, but his body and heart just gives up on him, and he conks of on an unbelievable high. The caption at the end "Die-Agra". If the previous one was the worst way to die, this would be up among one of the best ways to die..
  • One lesbian partner choking on the others edible underwear, which was basically a series of chocolates beaded together!!
  • An Italian guy, who got in the wrong way of the Mafia , was digging his own grave literally watched over by the assigned killer duo. He was begging for his life , but to no avail. By a stroke of luck, his shovel came up with a World War -II unexploded grenade which landed in front of the hitmen and blew them up. Enabling this guy to escape. The caption "Bomb-ino"

Friday, January 15, 2010

Sports Watching

Since childhood I have been an avid fan of various sports , I used to watch all sorts of Sports programs on TV. The initial days of Star Sports in the early Nineties were fascinating for me, for the first time in my life I had a 24 hour sports channel at my disposal, though there were Remote Control wars, but I still had my fill, because Sports were not tied to Primetime TV viewing anyways . During my summer holidays, I used to be glued to the TV like fevicol ka jod, watching some minor ATP Tour tournament like Indian Wells, or the Chinese Soccer League, or Sultan Azlan Shah Hockey, or Thomas-Uber Cup Badminton. I used to be so engrossed. Not to mention anything about the hours watching Channel 9 cricket Broadcasts ,irrespective of who was playing Australia, just for the superb quality of telecast.

Over the years the enthusiasm for watching sports dipped, as life started demanding more. In fact the only thing I look forward to when I get old, is to be just plain old retired , and revert to my childhood passion of watching Sports on TV.

Currently the hottest sport on my list is American Football, the NFL has reached the play-off stage and the games are getting uber-competitive with do or die scenarios. This is the latest sport that I have become hooked to. Thanks to my friend Atul, who gave me a crash-course on appreciating football, now I understand the intricacies of the game , the plays , strategies etc. So we see the games together and place bets on opposing teams. Watched 6 hours of football last week, it was lot of fun .
Looking forward to some cracking games this weekend also, and watch it the American way with pizza and a six-pack of beer handy.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

New Decade.

An entire decade just went by. The fourth such event in my life, do not remember anything of the transition from 70s-80s as I was a toddler then. 80s-90s was quite significant, as I became a teenager then, India was changing rapidly, Indian political landscape was in an unprecedented mess, it was also the advent of the Cable TV, liberalization, Sachin Tendulkar. 90s-00s was also a major milestone for me, as it coincided with my graduation and stepping into the adult world with my first job. And the 00s-10s also had a special gift for me in the form of a little angel as a daughter.

So can't wait to see what the 10s-20s will have in store :) and nothing to say about the years in between.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Saw Barcelona in action in San Francisco. It was my first world class soccer action, my previous experience being limited mostly to East Bengal-Mohun Bagan match-ups at Calcutta.So saying this was an upgrade is an understatement.

Barcelona was playing against a top-flight Mexican league team, Chivas from Guadalajara. The stadium, belonging to the NFL team San Francisco 49ers, was filled with more than 60,000 fans. Most of them were boisterous Mexican fans. One could hear Spanish all-around, even the official announcements were ONLY in Spanish; English being dispensed altogether, which was kind of strange. But luckily we had a Mexican friend with us and she translated, and there were a few interesting incidents like the Chivas coach being ejected from the sidelines by the referee.

It was really a dream come true to see the best team in the world. Though it was only a friendly , but the quality of soccer dished out was top-notch. Messi was in sublime form with his precision passes and assured runs. Henry was menacing, but still hasn't ever reached the heights he set at Arsenal. Also a couple of young players in the Barca team were outstanding; especially Daniel Alves. The entire match was mostly played in the Chivas half of the field with Barcelona camping there, but Chivas defence was a tough nut to crack. Inspite of getting numerous chances and hitting the post twice Barca couldn't score. And against the run of play Chivas scored. But Barcelona came back strongly to equalize. And that's the way the match ended at 1-1.
A great result undoubtedly for Chivas, but Barcelona got what they wanted, they were able to test out their team before the season, and the superior quality was there for all to see.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Day off from Office/School ...
Some interesting circumstances that have occurred in my life for which I wasn't able to go to my school or office
  • Ammonia leak in a nearby meat-packing factory in South San Francisco, which resulted in the entire office district being closed
  • Firing by terrorists on a school bus carrying children of Army personnel, belonging to my school in Srinagar(Kashmir) (fortunately no one was killed)
  • A bustling religious fair near my office in Pune, which resulted in all approach roads being shut off, and an unbearable decibel level for work
  • A curfew due to religious riots between Hindus and Muslims in Balasore(Orissa)
  • Incessant rains in Bombay resulting in 4-5 feet of water outside the housing complex, resulting in a no-show at office

Feel free to add in the comments any such interesting incidents that have resulted in you having to forcibly take a day-off.
One that I can think off is the fact that schools and some offices were shut down due to swine flu threat.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Independence Day Playlist
For the last two Independence days the only special thing I have done is, listen to a varied list of patriotic songs on my laptop. It evokes a range of emotions; like pride, sadness, regret, and nostalgia.

The list :
Ae Watan Ae Watan hamko teri kasam - Has a simple jingoistic feel to it.

Ae Mere Pyare Watan (Kabuliwala) - A nostalgic melodious song, having a Persian/Central Asian music style. doesn't matter that it is not about India, as it still evokes the universal love of the country.

Aye Mere Watan Ke Logo - Gives me goosebumps and tears every time I hear it. With great sadness the plight of the brave Jawans in the icy rocky terrain of the Himalayas comes to mind. Inadequately equipped, facing extreme physical hardship while battling against hopeless odds the relentless Chinese human wave after wave.

Kar chale hamein fida jaan o tan saathiyon, ab tumhare hawale vatan saathiyon - Reminds me of the school celebrations of Independence day

Vande Mataram - The original Vande Mataram from the movie Anand Math, in Sanskrit, has an ancient feeling to it. Brings to mind the black and white grainy pictures of the freedom fighters and their struggles.

Jahan daal daal pe - another of those special I-day songs in school.

Meri des ki dharti - Manoj Kumar, Mr Bharat, pumping it up for rural India.

Mein Zindagi Ka Saath Nibhata Chala Gaya - Not really patriotic, but the suave,carefree, Dev Anand in the jeep, is a perfect embodiment of an ideal Army officer of the 60s. Can imagine my father and father-in-law, both of whom were in the Army during that time.

Mile Sur Mera Tumhara - Bhimsen Joshi and the assorted multi-lingual singing cast makes this a gem of a song for national integration. No song can be more nostalgic than this; as during my childhood this used to be on TV almost daily. I had memorized the entire song with the 20 odd languages.
vandemataram rehman - The modern avatar of Vande Mataram, good music and well sung, but doesn't bring out the whole patriotic mood as the others
Yeh Jo Des Hai Tera (Swades) - Nice song, One of the few patriotic movies of recent years. One can identify more with this song after coming to the US and speaking to Indians who have been here for decades.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Been over a year in the USA now. The best reminder of it were the NBA-Playoffs. Last year also I started off watching the Eastern conference finals between Detroit Pistons and the Boston Celtics, and this year I improved on it by watching and following both Eastern and Western conference finals, Le Bron James was literally a one-man army, but he couldn't sustain the momentum for the Cleveland Cavaliers, as the combined might of Orlando Magic proved too much for them.
Lakers were clinical in their Western Conference final win, as well in the NBA Finals. Pau Gasol and Kobe were amazing. and they deserved to win it.
In addition to NBA I watched the ice-hockey Stanley cup final series between the Detroit Red-Wings and Pittsburgh Penguins. The same teams as last year. I was supporting the Red-Wings due to my past six month stint in Detroit. Red Wings were the overwhelming favourites, but again sporting world is full of glorious uncertainties. The Penguins won the roller-coaster series by 4-3. The irony was that last year one of the Penguin players Hoffa left the team to come to Red-Wings as he wanted to win a Stanley Cup, to turn up again on the losing side. Maybe a bit of faith and patience in his former club would have helped.
Pittsburgh as a city must be quite thrilled as they have two of the biggest titles in American sport. The NFL Super Bowl by the Pittsburgh Steelers, and Stanley Cup by the Penguins.

San Francisco!

Been over 9 months in the San Francisco Bay Area for me. This place must rank as one of the best in terms of the natural beauty. A sprawling crystal blue bay merging into the immense Pacific, dotted with emerald islands like Alcatraz, Angel Island and Treasure Island; crisscrossed by imposing architectural marvels like the Golden Gate and Bay Bridge and flanked by undulating mountain ranges and highlands. On a clear day, a hike on any of the innumerable trails, will ensure a marvelous vista.

Few notable points about San Francisco which is a unique city in lots of ways.

  • A city with no summer whatsoever, the temperature more or less remains the same throughout the year. Mark Twain once commented that "The coldest winter I ever saw was the summer I spent in San Francisco".
  • Hardly a flat road in sight, it is all steep crests and troughs
  • The most liberal city for people of alternate sexual orientation
  • Tolerant and cosmopolitan population composition
  • One can feel the history of the place with the old stately buildings and neighbourhoods
  • Having the least traffic congestion among the big cities of USA
  • Fitness consciousness is very high. A city of joggers and bikers

Thursday, October 30, 2008

New York and Washington DC

Day 1:

Left home(Detroit) at 3.30 am in the night. Drove about 2-3 hours till Cleveland, took a break and slept around 2 hours in the car. Had breakfast and started off fresh again. Then had a wonderful scenic ride in the morning as we passed through Pennsylvania. The Fall colours were so vibrant, with trees in various shades of yellow, orange, carrot and red. Cruising along at 70-80 miles an hour, with nice music and a bright day outside, it was blissful. There was hardly any fatigue. Started approaching New York in the afternoon, the traffic suddenly became quite crazy with people driving rashly, I was somewhat stressed as I had already been driving for 12 hours. On top of it my GPS system and Google Map directions were leading me up the garden path, and I was sort of lost. But using my general sense of direction and recall of the map, somehow made it to our hotel. I had thought that I would be too tired for any further exertions, but got a second wind, and with a 30 min rest in the hotel, we were all set to go out and explore New York. We went to Times Square, took us about 45 min to cover 5 miles in the bus, was sadly reminded of Bombay traffic.

The neon dazzle of Times Square did not disappoint, people of all nationalities were in full glory. Roamed around generally, admiring the various stores. Then by 10pm we were dog tired and craving for some well-deserved rest.

Day 2:

We were up and away early, braving the rush hour traffic on the roads and sidewalks, made our way to the pier to undertake a cruise of Hudson river, was a breathtaking sight admiring the towering Manhattan skyline from the boat. With an informative commentary on the history and significance of the various neighbourhoods of NY. Soho, Tribeca, the Greenwich village, Chelsea, Brooklyn, Queens. Went passed some of the world's costliest river facing apartments belonging to celebrities like Will Smith, Calvin Klein, Robert De Niro, Nicole Kidman etc. Then viewed the majestic Statue Of Liberty. Post the Cruise ride we purchased a subway pass to roam around the city and view sites like the Rockefeller Center, St Patrick's Cathedral, Wall Street, the WTC site etc. The highlight of the day though was watching a play on Broadway. It was a comedy play called 39 Steps, a hilarious spoof of the Hitchcock thriller of the same name. In this play 4 actors effortlessly played over 70 characters! Must be a record of some sorts. The witty dialogues and innovative use of props was a treat. It was staged in a heritage building called the Cort theatre. We ended the day with a few cocktails and sumptuous Thai dinner near Union Square with Meghna's friend who works as a reporter with Forbes magazine and had some interesting anecdotes to share, including an interview with an Afghan warlord.

Day 3:

Roamed in Central Park, an oasis of green and serenity in the hustle bustle of NY . Very well preserved. The nearby inhabitants are a mighty lucky, and may I add a very wealthy lot. Went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. A massive complex, one of the largest museums in the world, with about a couple of million artifacts. since the collection was so overwhelming, we opted for a guided tour so that we could admire and get insights on some of the highlights. The Picassos, Rembrandts , Van Goghs were dime a dozen. Particularly liked Andy Warhol's wacky paintings. So after spending half a day there, we were on our way out of NY in a jiffy to beat the rush hour traffic.

After spending a few hours shopping in a huge outlet mall in New Jersey, we were on our way to Washington DC. Though it was a pretty tiring day, but driving was not a chore. In fact I was glad to rest my butt on the seat, as the whole day I was just walking or standing. It was a comfortable drive, listening to melodious Hindi songs, and we reached DC at midnight.

Day 4:

Washington DC must have one of the world's best and most traveller friendly subway system. It covers the vast suburbia through a classic hub and spoke layout. Modern and clean trains and stations. DC seemed so spacious and relaxed compared to NY.

Most of the DC attractions are amenable to a brisk walk schedule, but since we were so tired after the NY stint that we decided to take a hop-on hop-off tourist open decked double decker bus. Admired the architecture of the various stately buildings. Visited the Arlington cemetery, it was a sombre sight viewing the 3,00,000 plus graves of all the American military personnel. Saw glimpses of the huge Pentagon and the Washington monument. The Capitol and the area around it remind me a lot of the Rashtrapati Bhavan, North and South Block in Delhi. Then paid a visit to a few of the Smithsonian museums, they have such a amazing repertoire , and the best part is that there is no admission fees in any of the museums. Particularly enjoyed seeing the vintage aircrafts, the cursed Hope Diamond, the only painting by Da Vinci in the Western Hemisphere.
The White House was an anticlimax, it looks so ordinary and small compared to all the footage that I have seen in various movies or TV. I have seen Kothis in Delhi larger than it. But I am glad I saw it, as I was really keen. There are always some protesters in front of it, this time we saw some Anti-nuclear and Tibet activists. After this whirlwind tour of Washington, we went to a Lonely Planet suggested bar, downed a few beers, then went to a recommended Ethiopian restaurant, and had an exotic meal.

Day 5:

Got up late, and started on the drive back, again some spectacular scenery on the way. Reached Detroit at nightfall. Was a marathon driving effort on my side. More than 1500 miles on the whole! but it was well worth it.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Vonnegut and Chocolate

After coming to USA , one of the best things has been the access to a wonderful local library, where everything is free and unlimited. An unheard of concept in India; was pleasantly surprised.
Hope to utilize the opportunity to the fullest and devour through a diverse collection. Have started off by diving into the works of famous American writers like Vonnegut, Tom Wolfe, Gore Vidal, Paul Theroux. Really enjoying going through them as one gets to know a cross-section of American society, philosophy and evolution of lifestyle.

Vonnegut is a riot as he dishes out over-the-top, satirical stuff. Especially Thank You Dr Kervokian , Galapagos, and Cat's Cradle which is about a mad-cap nuclear scientist. The punchlines in his plots are always directed at the traditionally pro-war and hawkish American establishment. He has a strong pacifist streak in him, which he brings out through his strident anti-war tirade, which he masks so effortlessly in humourous and wacky scenarios.
Dr Strangelove is the closest a movie could resemble a Vonnegut plot. One of Vonnegut's favourite example is to point out that the only successful genocide in the history of mankind is the obliteration of all native Tasmanians, who were hunted down similar to dodos by the White Settlers, as they thought that those aborigines were sub-human in nature and like vermin who should be exterminated. So much for the superior Western civilization.

Also read a brilliant book by Carol Off called Bitter Chocolate, in which she has laid out bare the sordid reality of the sugar coated chocolate industry over the years. Starting from its Mayan origins superseded by the Aztec civilization which was in turn plundered by the Spanish Conquistadors led by Hernando Cortez for its Gold. What followed was the slavery of the Native Americans , to satisfy the cocoa appetites of the Europeans.

Then she talks about the Anglo-American chocolate barons, Hershey, Cadbury, Mars, Rowntree, who popularized chocolate and brought it to the masses. But inside the benign chocolate candy, lies a brutal history of slavery and persecution of the African and Native American people who have throughout the ages borne the brunt of the burden, but have hardly enjoyed the fruits of their toil. In Ghana and Ivory Coast, none of the poor cocoa farmers have ever tasted what the end-product is like. Currently ravaged by Civil war, changing climates and extreme poverty these cocoa farmers have a really miserable existence and Big Cocoa is doing precious little to ameliorate these conditions. She has brought out the issues quite starkly and in an engaging manner in her book.
After reading it one feels that the Chocolate industry is one that could definitely do with a dose of Fair Trade

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Sports in USA

Came out of India when the IPL series was in its decisive phase. followed the last few matches on cricinfo. The semi-finals were damp squibs, but the final was total paisa-vasool(value for money), sorely missed watching it on TV.
The sports scene out here in the US was also impressive with the NBA conference finals going on and the local team Detroit Pistons in the fray, watched a couple of matches on TV with few second-generation Indian teenagers who are staying here in Michigan, it was fun to see their passion for the game. Unfortunately Detroit lost to Boston 4-2 in the series. Had planned to watch the finals keenly between LA Lakers and Boston Celtics but couldn't. Deservedly the Celtics won.

Also managed to catch the much anticipated dream French Open final, but Nadal made it look so lop-sided, he played a fabulous game to again thwart the greatest player in the world. My advice to Roger is to not dwell on it too much, Rafa was better on the day. Roger's chance will come again.

Other main sporting event was the Stanley Cup finals, it was the first time that I watched it. My only ice hockey viewing prior to this was watching a few Winter Olympic matches in the 90s. I was fascinated by the game then, played at such a breathtaking speed, non-stop action, and with minimal rules. Unfortunately on Indian TV did not get to view it much. then when i went to Canada in 2006, I saw what a big sport it was, with sports shops stocked with Hockey accessories and merchandise.
So this time it was a treat to watch the best ice-hockey in the world, and to top it the local team Detroit Red Wings was playing the finals, one could see numerous cars on the road flying the flag of the red wings, Detroit is also known as HockeyTown, as it has one of the richest Ice Hockey tradition in the country, the final was with the Pittsburg Penguins, liked the name. One could almost imagine penguins walking in the middle of the cold ice rink, the name of their arena was even better Igloo.

Detroit won a thrilling series of matches 4-2 to be crowned the winners. There was a massive parade organized for the team, it took place right below my office in downtown Detroit, just caught glimpses of it.

What I gather from my experiences is that the most popular sport out here is American Football, so I am also awaiting that season expectantly, supposed to start in Sept. Let us see what the fuss is all about and whether it even compares to my favourite sport the real football(i.e. soccer), where they actually kick the ball rather than mostly throwing or carrying it around.


Life has taken a nine and a half hour phase shift, as I now find myself in Detroit for the next 8 months. Weather wise the timing was perfect having avoided the inconvenience of monsoons in Bombay and getting the best possible climate here with the onset of summer in this notoriously cold part of US.
Hope I could have said the same about the Economic or Political climate out here. Michigan has been the worst hit in this recession in the USA; in fact it was a laggard in most of the economic indicators for a long time, owing to the heavy dependence on the chronically under-performing US auto industry. It is a part of the so called "rust belt" of the US. One can see signs of a economy in depression almost everywhere, starting from empty roads (except maybe during rush hours), houses up For Sale signs, unusually high number of garage and other distress sales, half-empty malls closing down, heavy discounts on various goods, people talking about lack of jobs, low rents etc. Inflation is also at a high with high gas and food prices. A classic example of Stagflation.

Downtown Detroit the business capital of Michigan is also quite sparse compared to many other similar cities in the US. Though that cannot be solely attributed to economic reasons, but also due to other socio-political reasons. Phenomenons such as ghettoizing of Afro-Americans (being politically correct), white-flight, high operating costs and lack of a specially skilled workforce are some of the factors that have inhibited new investments in the state.
Politically it has been a roller-coaster ride for Americans as the electorate has become highly polarized on race, gender and class. The coming few moths will be quite charged politically, so it will be a good experience to observe the American Presidential elections with a ringside view.

Overall personally the last one month has been an eventful period, with lots of things happening mostly good some not so good. One can find somemore details on my wife Meghna's blog.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Had a bump-in with the rear-end of the mobility icon of the Indian Government, the Ambassador.
No prizes for guessing which party was worse off in it. With less reaction time and my bike CBZ's front disc brakes not responding fully; I went skidding into the Amby, and had visions of crashing straight into the rear window of the car and become an unannounced guest of the paper-reading babu of Maharashtra Govt. But I jammed my brakes hard, and didn't forget the cardinal rule of bike crashes i.e. never let go of the handle. The bike bounced off the car ,but somehow I managed to maintain my balance during the impact and was suitably shaken but not stirred.

Though when I got off my bike to assess the damage, suddenly my legs were all wobbly. Babu's driver comes out and says there is a dent in his car. I wanted to give him a piece of my mind, on his sudden power braking. He justifies by saying there was a pothole in front. Then a sympathetic crowd gathers around me saying that he is lucky that I didn't get hurt. On this he makes a quiet exit from the scene. I go to the nearby paan shop and uncharacteristically smoke a cigarette to soothe my nerves. I usually don't smoke, maybe the stereotype image of a cigarette to relax tension made me reach for it.

After a few minutes when I again mount my bike, I find there are no potholes in the vicinity. So still a mystery why that jerk braked so suddenly.


Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Melbourne Trip
Went on an official trip Down Under to Melbourne for two weeks. Landed on the evening of the Australian Open Mens final, got to hear the radio commentary on the taxi!! Later found out that my hotel was a 5 min walk from the Flinders Park Station, and about 10 min to the Rod Laver Arena.
Melbourne is a great place for sports enthusiasts; the city has some of the best sports stadiums in the world, and another good aspect is they are so accessible. MCG, Telstra Dome and Flinders park, are just 5-10 min drive away from each other.

The public transport in Melbourne is the best I have seen. Though Mumbai could give it a run for its money only if it had around half the number of commuters and cars, with the frequency of buses and trains remaining the same.
Melbourne has regular trams, trains, buses criss-crossing the entire metropolis. The tourists can also hop into special trams and buses and take a round of the entire city free of charge.

The two weeks went off in a trice. The highlight of the trip was visiting MCG during the 20-20 Ind-Aus match. Though the match was a damp squib. But the thrill of sitting in a packed MCG, with a grandstand view and glugging away Australian Beer was memorable. Cricket wise it was a treat to watch Gilly hammering away. I gave him a more raucous ovation than even the Aussies themselves. Gilly has been a sweetheart, one of the nicest blokes in World Cricket. Also since it was the season of the "maa-kis", so I gave a primer to my Australian colleagues on Indian expletives.

Another interesting experience was visiting the Melbourne Zoo, was quite intrigued with the idea of seeing the unique Australian fauna, and it was a treat. Especially the playful Platypus,which was darting around furiously in its exclusive darkened enclosure; the serene koala and the cute Meerkats. Also enjoyed seeing the Gorillas and Orang-utans in action.The Kangaroos and Penguins were a disappointment, they were too small and frail than what I expected. Not that it is a valid criteria for feeling dejected, but somehow that was my first impression. After roaming in the zoo, walked around 90 min to go back to the hotel because we couldn't get a taxi. The walk was pleasant though, and we covered a lot of Melbourne on the way.


Monday, July 09, 2007

Read some good books recently, the sort of books one should chew on rather than gulp down.

- Man Behind the money
This is a biography of Alan Greenspan, lucidly written with lots of anecdotes about his Jazz days, association with Ayn Rand and the tumultuous times with the various Presidents, and how the cult of Greenspan came into vogue.

- Sumantra Ghoshal on Management
Consists of a collection of essays written by India's foremost Management Guru ( He had some resemblance with Satyajit Ray).
One controversial issue tackled well is as follows:

Milton friedman once said that "only social and moral responsibility of a business is to increase its profit" Ghoshal disagrees, he says it has given rise to asshole management (taking tough decisions and being ruthless). Economics and transaction cost theories have denuded managerial roles, they have made business reducible to a type of physics in which managerial actions are shaped by economic ,social , and pyschological laws, a sort of causal determinism.
He says management is more holistic in nature, and cannot be reduced to the level of a deterministic decision tree.

- Investment Biker, Jim Rogers
The book is about the world travels of investment maven Jim Rogers in his BMW bike along with his companion Tabitha. Jim describes his incredible adventures as he traverses more than 50 countries, and also comments on the economic and investment climates of these countries. A bit dated though as it is the early 90s. And "No" he doesnt travel through India.
Some of his predictions come true are those regarding China, Chile, Turkey etc. He is wrong about Ireland and East European countries as he was very pessimistic about them.

- The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari, Robin Sharma
Though some may call it a spoon feeding and trivializing of philosophy, but the appeal of the book lies in its simplicity. Definitely worth a read, and if we can imbibe even a quarter of the learnings it will enrichen our lives.

- How To Have a Beautiful Mind, De Bono
Another common-sense book, on how we can better utilize our minds , to have more meaningful conversations, be more interesting persons, improve our creativity and tackle problems effectively.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Triumph of the "Galacticos"

Was privileged to watch a pulsating last match of the Spanish league between Real Madrid and Mallorca. The passion and excitement kept me awake till the wee hours. The most interesting match I have seen this year. Madrid scripted a brilliant come from behind 3-1 victory after losing both their stalwarts Nistelrooy and Beckham to injuries and trailing till midway in the second half. But cometh the hour cometh the man, as super sub Reyes clinched the title for them after four long years. Among the audience was the Mallorca man Rafael Nadal, though he is also a professed Madrid fan. Tom Cruise, Katie Holmes and Victoria Beckham were also there all cheering for David.
This year Madrid deserved the title for showing resilience and fighting spirit after being down in the dumps midway. Barcelona paid the price for complacency, also Barca were not spectacular this season as compared to the previous ones, with the loss of Eto and non-performance of Ronaldinho.
The celebrations were also awesome, one could see that the title meant a lot to the players and fans.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

It was quite an eventful year, involving lots of changes. So let me relive some of the defining moments of my life in 2006.

Last term in IIM Lucknow
The best part of the stay in Lucknow, with all the fun of student life without the attendant pressure and stress. I had got placed early and the subjects were less and not taxing, so the two months from jan to feb were an extended party, with ample time to indulge in my pursuits of reading, quizzing, watching movies, hanging out with friends, exercising et al with full gusto.

Life in Bombay
It is a unique experience living in this megapolis, the hugeness and the frenetic pace, mindboggling traffic, the stark contrast but seamless coexistence between burgeoning prosperity and the squalor of poverty never ceases to amaze.

Canada trip
One and a half month trip, in the best of weather, a beautiful country, roamed a lot during the weekends, highlight being the majestic Niagara falls. It also was a period when I was most prolific in my blogging.

Other significant things that happened
  • Saw the most beautiful lake ever, in Sikkim near Nathula pass
  • Did an arduous trek of nearly 20km of treacherous trail in McLeodganj Himachal. Also had to endure a violent hailstorm on the way down
  • Learnt to drive a car, that too in roads of Bhandup, (suburb of Bombay) where there are more people on the road than vehicles
  • Did all night quizzing in Lucknow till Breakfast of next morning, With ample stock of booze and snacks
  • Was part of quiz team that won Rs 1.75lakhs in cash, the biggest booty I have ever collected
  • Saw professional plays for first time, in the famous Prithvi theatre
  • Jogged continuously for 40 min around 6km, while doing two rounds of the race course in Pune
  • Did a midnight trek in a dense jungle, infested with leopard and supposedly tigers
  • Once did not go to office due to flooding
  • Drove long distance on bike for first time. From Pune to Mumbai and also from Pune to Bhimashankar(190Km) and back.


Friday, December 01, 2006

Visited INS Vikrant docked in the Bombay harbour. It has now been converted into a Naval musuem. It was a worthwhile trip, got to see the innards of a ship for the first time. That too a mammoth aricraft carrier. Very well maintained by the Navy, and a comprehensive tour is allowed, which takes more than an hour. Timelines and details about Naval combats of the Indian navy, plus lots of pictures of various events are kept. One almost visualizes the life inside a ship.
A must see , and there is a lot to learn for the other musuems in the country on how historical stuff should be preserved and displayed.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

"Dusk To Dawn"

A really weird movie that I saw recently. Quentin Tarantino has done the screenplay and it is directed by his buddy Robert Rodriguez. , it is a typical Tarantino action crime thriller with profane dialogues and dark humour. Midway it effortlessly segues into a comic horror movie . Not a great work of art, but a decent timepass after a few glasses of beer. First time saw Tarantino act, infact he looks a lot like Roger Federer. He and Clooney are bank robbers called the Gecko brothers The movie has some profound dialogues like
Keitel: "Where are you taking us"
Clooney: "Mexico"
Keitel: "What is in mexico"
Clooney: "Mexicans"

And Clooney brandishing a gun at a hostage and saying
"I have six friends here who can run faster than you"

A vampire saying: You know what everybody says about me ? I suck. "

Lot of gore and loud music as the humans fight the vampires all night long. Salma Hayek makes her presence felt with a sensuous slinky python clad item number.

The Mens World Cup hockey had some exciting action. The final was high-paced end-to-end stuff with goals galore. The German teams display was electric, their hockey team has also reinvented itself just like their football team, it is not the dour, mechanical clockwork display we are used to, there is a lot of flair and skill involved.I am disappointed with India's performance, especially this sinking feeling of conceding late goals. But on the other hand the silver lining is that India was competitive with almost all the teams they played against. The matches were not one sided. Heard of an initiative by FIH and IOC to invigorate hockey in India, don't know if it is too late in the day. Their motivation is surely financial, otherwise if it were out of a genuine concern it should have started in the late 80s. Anyways hope they manage to improve standards inspite of the pernicious influence of the IHF.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Split Loyalty

Morning when I switched on TV for the US open, Blake and Federer were playing with the third set tie-break at 3-3, and Federer 2-0 sets up. Then for the first time in my life I willed Federer to lose points, so that I could watch him play another set. There was so much conflict inside me when the rallies were going on, with the "Black bloke Blake unable to finish the tiebreak". Prolonging it , but prevailing at 11-9. Then before you could say Roger, I had switched sides. Admiring the phenomenon as he went about pummeling Blake, and finally winning the fourth set and the match.
Such instances of split loyalties are very rare for me. When I was a kid I saw no point in watching a game without giving support to one side or the other. I had to pick sides even if it was with the throw of a dice.
I had no concept of enjoying the game by admiring the performances of both the sides. I would be befuddled if someone told me that he was not supporting any of the teams. For any major cricket or football or tennis tournament I had a mental ranking of favourites, so I always knew whom to support.
But from my college days onwards I started appreciating the game of both the sides. Learnt to be a neutral or even if I do support a side I see the good points in an opponents game, and I have started enjoying the game more but the passion of the earlier days is gone.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Roger Federer

Following is the text of a small persuasive 2 minute speech that I had to give as part of a Communications course that I had taken in IIM Lucknow. (It was before 2006 French Open).
Is Roger Federer “The Greatest Tennis Player Ever” ?

From the land of chocolate, cheese, banks and the Alps comes a phenomenon
He has 7 Grand Slam wins in last 3 years. Never lost a Grand Slam Final (proven wrong at the French Open 2006).
World number one for last 2 years, and no one near him by a long shot.
Also named the Laureus World Sportsman of the Year in 2004, edging out the likes of Michael Schumacher, and Lance Armstrong
So is he the greatest ?
His Game::
He doesn't really have a weakness. He plays well on all surfaces, he has an unique record of three consecutive tournament wins in different surfaces: grass, clay, and hard court.He is comfortable from the back of the court, he's comfortable at the net. Sublime backhand, mesmering forehand, quicksilver returns, versatile serve.Graceful, elegant and fluid movements - a symphony in tennis whites

Some doubts raised about his greatness are that
First he hasn’t won the French Open and second there is no real challenger to him.
What I retort to that is: he has it in him to win the French, he already has 6 titles on Clay, and has beaten lot of clay-court specialists. Reached semis last year (also the final this year).
Safin, Hewitt, Roddick all were in reckoning as the next stars of world tennis, but advent of Federer has put paid to their hopes, shade unlucky to be a contemporary of the best tennis has ever seen

Let us hear what some of the other Tennis Greats have to say about him::
"Oh, I would be honoured to even be compared to Roger. He is such an unbelievable talent, and is capable of anything. Roger could be the greatest tennis player of all time." - Rod Laver, winner of 11 Grand Slams.

"He's the most gifted player that I've ever seen in my life. I've seen a lot of people play. I've seen the Lavers, I played against some of the great players - the Samprases, Agassis, Beckers, Connors', Borgs, you name it. This guy could be the greatest of all time. That, to me, says it all." - John McEnroe

"There's probably not a department in his game that couldn't be considered the best in that department. You watch him play Hewitt and everybody marvels at Hewitt's speed. And you start to realize, `Is it possible Federer even moves better?' Then you watch him play Andy [Roddick], and you go, `Andy has a big forehand. Is it possible Federer's forehand is the best in the game?' You watch him at the net, you watch him serve-volley somebody that doesn't return so well and you put him up there with the best in every department. You see him play from the ground against those that play from the ground for a living, and argue he does it better than anybody." - Andre Agassi.

No top of that he is a humble down to earth guy, a role model, he also invariably becomes emotional and breaks down into tears after every Grand Slam win. His favorite quote is “It is nice to be important, but it is more important to be nice”
So people next time there is a Federer match on TV, just watch it, you would be then be able to tell your grandchildren proudly that you saw the greatest tennis player live in action.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Back to India

Started with an airport staffer asking for a bribe of 20 rupees, I just ignored him and walked off. Then pondered over whether I should be pleased for it or disgusted. Pleased, because did I look innocent and young enough that among several people, he approached only me to blatantly ask for the money, since in a year and a half I would be pushing the wrong side of thirty.

Bombay looks as wet as ever, I thought I had given the monsoons a grand miss by being in Canada for the last six weeks, but Thor, Indra and their ilk proved me wrong.
Re-Re(raised to power of googol) digging of roads has started in right earnest, even before the rains have bade us their teary goodbye. How ironic, these guys do not start their work on time before the monsoons, leave it half-done and forget it, and now itch back to hold their axe and shovels and hack away with full gusto at some other poor road and sidewalk, and do a botched cover-up job, that would shame the efforts of evidence hiding by even a punch drunk, blind and demented junkie murderer.

Also finding it difficult dealing with walking on the "right" read "left" side of the corridor. Because in Canada(and US) they walk on the right side of the corridor, similar to the way they drive.
And the "horny" Indian drivers. Honking away to glory on the roads.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Niagara Falls

Finally ticked off the most important "to-do" thing in Canada. Saw Niagara Falls, the name Niagara means "thunder of waters" in the native Indian language . The falls were as spectacular and majestic as expected. I remember as a small kid I had seen lots of photos of Niagara and had a longing to see it. So it was a day of wish fulfilment for me and it was worth it.

The best part was going almost to the base of the horseshoe falls in the boat called "Maid Of the Mist", with the rising mist and the water splashing all around and the all encompassing roaring sound of the falls. It feels like the boat is getting sucked into a vortex. I got drenched big-time, though they provide rain-jackets but one still cannot completely escape the swirling water droplets all over.It was exhilarating.

Also went for "behind the falls walk", it takes you through man-made tunnels that are there on the cliff. It gives the closest feel of the falls. There was also a perfect semi-circle VIBGYOR rainbow that one could see.
Rest spent lot of time walking, and also lazing around in the lawns, soaking in the ambience. I find it a great way to de-stress myself by thinking of places with natural beauty, Niagara would rank really high on the list, along with sights I have seen in Kashmir, Mcleodganj, Sikkim etc.
Then also went for a scenic drive along the Niagara river, there is a huge gorge almost throughout, reminded me somewhat of the Teesta river in Sikkim, also at one place there is a big whirlpool.
Finally made the 90 min drive back to Toronto.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Canada Diary

Been over a month here in Toronto. Days have gone by in a pretty structured manner. Weekdays have been quite unvarying in nature, essentially consisting of bulk of the day spent in office, then going for a walk or jog in the evening followed by the treadmill, cycle or some weights in the gym, then have a relaxing shower, have some beer at times, watch TV or read newspaper. Have dinner by heating some ready to eat stuff in the microwave, or go out nearby, then crank-up the AC at its minimum, curl up in the cosy bed with a novel till I drop off.
Some of the highlights in the above activities have been.

  • Never in my life have I woken up before 6.30am consistently for so many days

  • Jogged for 30 min nonstop on one day, it equals my all time record that I had set :) when I used to run in the Pune Univ jogging track, in my pre-knee injury days. Though the distance covered now may be less

  • Have sampled quite a variety of beer and ales like Molson, Sleeman, Boddington, Coors, Labatt, McEwan. And Molson seems to be the best

  • Read quite a few books like Gorky Park, Siddhartha, Forrest Gump, and a biography of Sherlock Holmes, also bought a few books for a dollar each

  • Watched the Roger's cup tennis on TV which was held in Toronto, lifted up as expected by its namesake. Saw a few matches only, but the standard was good, especially the semi-final between Federer and Gonzalez was very exciting. I as usual supported Fed wholeheartedly

Weekends have been more exciting have had four major trips so far.

Cottage country
This was an impromptu trip, we all just decided on friday evening to go for a drive on saturday, had a vague idea that the countryside up north was beautiful, and we searched on the net found out there were some "falls" and "rapids". Took a printout from , armed myself with a huge map of Ontario, and out we were in our GM Grand Cherokee Jeep. The maps were so accurate that never for a moment did we feel lost. The countryside was quite beautiful with tall conifers on both sides of the road, and intermittent view of the Lake Huron and undulating terrain.
Finally we neared our first destination, Severn Falls, expecting a decent enough waterfall, after all it is the land of Niagara, we were grossly disappointed, actually Severn Falls was the name of the town, and there were no falls there. One person told us there is a sort of short slope in the nearby Severn river and when it flows at its best in spring it has some fall-like characteristics. Similarly swift rapids was also a misnomer. so our enthusiasm had flagged, but then we saw some good sights, we stopped at a place where the road bifurcated two lakes, there we saw a contraption called the "Big Marina Chute" which transported boats from one lake to another. It moved on rails, and crossed the road. Both lakes were at different heights, so it was quite a sight seeing the huge thing move up and down the slope. another interesting highlight, was making our own path on the banks of a nearby stream, and finding a comfortable rock in the middle to sit.
Toronto Downtown
Best part was going up the tallest structure in the world, the CN tower. Had a nice lunch and a beer on the top, enjoying the grand vista. Looking down upon the Toronto skyline, the aqua-marine Lake Ontario, and the Toronto islands. Also visited the Royal Ontario Museum. Exhibits that attracted me the most were the ones that showed a progression of military armour across the ages, and a huge African totem that spanned three levels.

Toronto Islands
They are just a few km off Toronto. Went in a ferry, it was full of greenery, and tranquil walking paths, spent half-a-day there just walking around.

Sutton Fair
A rural fair that we attended, our client, a electric company had put up a stall there and we had free passes, plus we had volunteered to spend a couple of hours in the booth, and impart information to the public about their new initiatives for energy conservation. It was fun interacting with the local populace, it was an unique experience. Also saw pig races,duck races, and best pig/horse/cow competitions, there was continuous live country music being played complementing the atmosphere.
The pigs reminded me of the Empress Of Blandings in PG Wodehouse. Rest of the time , tried out some of the rides, and other games on offer. One ride was mindblowing, in that they put you in a cabin and then it rotates like a giant wheel, but it turns you around total 360 degrees, in a complete random manner, both clock and anti-clockwise. It felt like a gyroscope and I think it is a good primer for Zero-G simulations for space travelers.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Dozen Things I did not know about Canada

1. More probability of finding a Sardar than that of spotting the enduring symbol of Canada, the maple tree.

2. Topless women drivers tanning themselves, maybe getting the benefits of greenhouse effect in the car.

3. Canadian dollar is known as a "loonie" and two dollar is a "toonie", shows the seriousness with which they take their currency, and people prefer dealing in coins rather than notes, that makes one prone to the uneven butt syndrome.

4. Every second day I see atleast one banged up car on the roads (refer to point number 2)

5.A big fat tadka laden Punjabi wedding occuring on every weekend in the hotel, with gaudy dresses and even gaudier vehicles, which have personalized names like "Harkir 8", "Bund 007", "Sukhy 69" , "yuvraj 1" etc. Havent seen a "Flying 6" or a "5 pyaare" , or a Pammi 38-30-38

6. The Canadian english pronunciation is a mixture of the American twang and the British stiff upper lip.

7. Temperatures above 30 degrees is treated as a heat wave, and advisories are issued in the media, such a threshold in peninsular India would result thankfully in sparse traffic and schools never completing their syllabus.

8. Counting the number of world famous Canadians I now know requires help from my fingers rather than my ears and probably my nose.

9. Apparently Americans have had more success in Canada than in Iraq, they pervade every aspect of Canadian life, from media to corporate, almost all stores and brands are US based. Even the most famous Canadian product the Molson beer, has been taken over by US based Coors. It is almost like the 51st state of US. (Though it is bigger than the whole of USA). Even the distress call number is 911.

10. Most Canadians call electricity "Hydro", though most of the electricity is produced through coal and nuclear power plants.

11. License Raj in Canada, liqour is only sold in Govt shops called LCBO (Liqour Control Board Of Ontario), very surprising considering it is a neigbour of the free market champion of the world.

12. There is an Essex, Perth, Hamilton, Wellington, Birmingham, Kingston and London in Canada. Also a Holland, Finland and Khartoum! And believe it or not a reference to my Alma Mater, a town called Lucknow. Wow. In a few years hope to see a Ludhiana, Patiala and Bhatinda in Sada Kanada.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Middle-East Conflict

Watching more television here in Canada than I do in India, because I am at office by 7.30am and am out between 5 and 6pm. So the evening is long enough. I catch most of the TV while I am at the gym or while having dinner in the room. Mostly watch the news pertaining to the Israel Hezbollah conflict. CNN coverage is quite comprehensive, with their correspondent Anderson Cooper, Amanpour, along with their military analyst Gen "Spider" Marks and few others. Larry King Live also makes for some engrossing viewing. Nothing boosts TRPs more than a proper war. Started with the 91 Gulf War, after that for every war or even minor skirmishes there has been a surfeit of coverage.
CNN image was somewhat tarnished by their so-called biased reporting of the Iraq conflict. Al-Jazeera was the most sought after channel then. But CNN will always remain synonymous with the First Gulf War.

In this conflict the CNN reports have been balanced giving as much importance to the humanitarian crisis as they are giving to the actual fighting. Plus they are giving air time to all the stakeholders. My heart goes out to the ordinary Lebanese who are really caught between the Devil and the Deep sea.

This conflict has really dragged out surprisingly, I thought Israel would silence the Hezbollah rockets in a few days and also take out Hezbollah's leadership and find out about their abducted soldiers either dead or alive. Given that its army is supposed to be the most battle-hardy and efficient in the world and enemy is not sophisticated enough, also the terrain was relatively familiar and quite modest in size, say compared to Afghanistan. Though nothing of that sort has happened, Hezbollah has shown lots of guts and gumption, its gone top of my list as the most capable terrorist organization, upstaging the good old Tamil Tigers. Sri Lankan army and a one-leg tied IPKF are no comparison to the famed IDF (Israeli Defence Forces). Al-Qaida is too cowardly for me.

My sympathies traditionally have been with the Israelis, I always admired them as a nation. This admiration was shaped in no small way by reading books such as O Jerusalem by Lapierre, Exodus and Haj by Leon Uris, Eagle in the Sky by Wilbur Smith, also accounts of Raid At Entebbe, The six day war, the Nazi and Black September search operations. I admired the great general Moshe Dayan, Golda Meir. Was in awe of Mossad and the way Israelis have managed to bring fertility to a barren land and made themselves into a economically prosperous nation inspite of so many hurdles. Hats off to them.

But somehow from being the world's most famous underdog they became a big bully. Not satisfied with their existing land, they usurped more land from the hapless Palestinians, responded brutally to even minor provocations and agitations from them. Leading the Palestinians to more desperation like suicide bombings, even then if they killed 10 then Israelis came back and killed double plus destroying property and other infrastructure,humiliating them, it was a deadly spiral, more the Palestinians got desperate more vengeful the Israeli reprisals.This led to rise of Hamas, and the right-wing of Israel politics.
Israel also treated Lebanon and Syria harshly in the past, they could have been more pragmatic and yielding one may argue, but then that would have been construed as a sign of weakness. Also the implacable anger on the Arab side makes any concession seems worthless.

So in a gist my viewpoint is that though in principle I mostly support Israel in this war, not just against Hezbollah but even against other Arab states and Hamas, but the other side has also got legitimate grouses against Israel and are well within their rights to fight for it in whatever way they can. No side is either right or wrong. As with most things in life there are various shades of grey and I can't think of any ready solutions to this crisis.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Impressions Of Canada

Came here last week on an official project. Will be here for about two months. Staying in a nice Marriot hotel in one of the suburbs of Toronto called Brampton.
As usual the first impact is the serene clean environment, the superb roads,and the lack of people. The contrast is even more starking especially if one is coming from Mumbai.

Canada seems more multi-racial than the USA. Also the society is much more assimilated , jobs are not that stereotyped according to race that one observes generally in the US. Like Indian software programmer, Chinese Phd student, Mexican housekeeping staff, White anglo saxon truck driver or Govt official etc.

Weather is at its hottest, Canadians are finding it tough, but for us Indians it is like October, with temperatures hovering around 25-30. Days are really long with dawn at 5am and dusk at 10pm.

The best way to discover and soak in the atmosphere of any new place is by walking around. I do it in every new place I visit, whether in India or abroad. But many of these small suburb places in North America are more or less similar. Have the usual look and feel; grid layout of roads, manicured lawns on the sides , strip malls at major intersections, with the usual suspects, McDonalds, Subway,Wendys,Walmart etc.

Have spent quite a lot of time doing exercises, jogging is fun here because of the cool weather, plus I can jog on the grass near the sidewalks, which protects my knees. There is a good gym in the hotel that has some fancy equipments, one of them is like a combo of treadmill and a stepper, you dont know whether you are walking or running or climbing stairs. It also measures your heart rate and there are options for hill training/cardio/fat burn/random. I was doing this thing yesterday, got tired in 10 min and then went on to do cycling, and there was this old lady about 60+, who worked out on the same equipment for over 30 min. I was really impressed. Though I have been never been a gym person but I intend to frequent this one for the duration I am here.
Another interesting thing that occured in the gym today when I was cycling was, that on TV they were showing Tour De France live, it was such a thrill watching Landis and co. cycle through Paris, while simultaneously I was also pedalling away energetically, having a vicarious pleasure of being a part of the Tour.

Have been sampling a wide variety of cuisine, though mainly been having red meat, but compensating it by having less portions and exercising more. Also had some good wines, first in the Air France flights, and later in a client party, which was held in a pretty golf course.