July 29, 2009

The India experience

Know how you've had a million transits through various countries and you haven't felt a thing? Have you ever transitted through India? I did.. just this time... through our fabulous capital, Delhi. Here's the thing - when you transit through some city in any country as the port of entry, you have to do the customs there. Not a big deal... except for the pain of actually claiming the baggage and re-checking it after the customs. And it's not a big deal in any other country. Not here in India though. A 3 hour transit was just about enough. For what? Claim the bags... go through the non-specific customs... and then starts the "fun". So, I was told that there was a "regular" shuttle service between the international and domestic terminals of the airport. First, by "regular" in the normal sense in itself they meant once in 20 minutes. Well, having gotten used to international customs, I thought it was not-too-conveniently paced. But I figured it wouldn't be so bad if it was indeed 20 minutes with no additional "IST" clauses. But who was I kidding? The next thing I learned was that the ride took 30 minutes on an average. Why would this whole thing be called "transit"? I was frustrated... I can't imagine what the whole experience translated to, to the foreigners, especially the ones visiting the fantasy land of India for the first time. And the people at the airline counters weren't equipped to answer in English too well either. Half the time, people like me were chatting to the people in charge in Hindi and translating for the language-challenged folks. That done, the waiting "lounge" was excruciatingly small with the overflowing passengers and further overflowing luggage. After over 40 minutes of waiting, the first "shuttle", a complete run-down school bus variety vehicle pulled up to a curb of overly eager passengers (I don't blame them - each one had a flight to catch) who stuffed their luggages and themselves into the bus and within the blink of the eye, it was full. I decided to wait for the next one, having marginally more time than the people who'd jumped ahead of me. Another 40 anxious minutes later, no buses, more useless banter with the guys at the counter, more eager passengers and the news of one broken-down bus and one in accident. The guy at the counter finally suggests that it may be better for me to get a prepaid taxi. While I mutter curses under my breath and make my way halfway across the stupid lounge, the other one yells that the bus is here. To their credit for having bantered with me for so long, they helped my suitcase into the bus first and then assured me that I would make my flight. I chattered with everyone in sight and made a few short friends out there while the bus paced painfully within the airport making it's way to the domestic terminal from the backyard of the international terminal. 40 minutes later we are dropped off at what is obviously the destination. Only to learn that the terminal for the Air India flights was a level lower and we couldn't get there unless a smaller "golf-cart" took us. I was very nearly at the end of my tether and there was under 20 minutes for my next flight and I still had luggage to check in. The stupid surprise wasn't going as per plan in this leg at all. With 10 minutes to go, I reach the Air India counter only to be misinformed that the flight has departed... and then told that that it was cancelled and then finally told that I needed a proper printout to let me board. I was exasperated beyond measure and a few choice words started exiting my mouth. Realizing my utter frustration at the system, one helpful dude finally thrust a printout into my hands, guided me to a counter and told me that the flight was late by 10 minutes and that meant I could make it. A rush of adrenaline... a checkin.. a boarding pass... a delayed flight and 2.5 hours later, I was finally in Chennai, ready to carry on with the surprise.

We'd want our country to project the best we have to offer... we should be willing to make that effort to expose the advancement in the country. The unhelpful (and under-informed) staff, the complicated procedures, the run-down airport vehicles, the delayed flights... none of this have the vestige of giving anyone the experience of landing in Incredible India. Let's really hope that a good change is in the horizon... and soon. If only we could all individually help.

July 28, 2009

Surprise surprise!

Finally I did it... I've always wanted to surprise my family by just showing up at the doorstep. I've never had the heart to do it because a big part of the "going to India" thing was to celebrate with everyone at home and countdown to the day, and hour even. but this time, encouraged by S, aided by his parents, we kept it all under wraps... till S made that phone call to my dad while I waited under the balcony in eager anticipation of catching sight of that first face and that first reaction of anyone from the family. It was my dad who stepped out to look out at which VIP had come to see them but didn't know the way up (that's what S told them when he called to say someone was waiting downstairs). And I clearly caught the reaction as I yelled out "Appa... surprise!". It was pure shock bordering on hallucination as he ambled out the door announcing the grand news that I was here to the rest of the family. More disbelief, shock and shouts later, I was assured in... with chidings... with reconfirmations of all the lies that I had to say to lead up to the day... and with utter, total disbelief. It was all worth it to see the jaw-dropped looks from all the faces - my mom and my grandmas. I felt like a celebrity. And my long-term wish was fulfilled. I wanted to do this surprise thing this once. And it was worth every lie I said. For me and for them. All thank to S. Happy holidays!

July 24, 2009

The empty house

"Empty" house: a house that has been left behind by people who'd made it home for a reasonable period of time, thus making them regular fixtures in the grand scheme of the house.

I think it's been a while since I felt an "empty" house. For a while now, I have been the one travelling and hence leaving behind "empty" houses... That explains why I can feel the very obvious emptiness around me now that S' parents have left for Chennai. I suppose it's a very noticeable difference in our teeny house when half the members have left... add to that 4 suitcases leaving too.. that means an unsettling amount of space.

For the past month we've enjoyed mom-made food, dad-cut fruits, a clean home and other basic comforts that we were once used to receiving and now used to providing. It felt good to be pampered all over again by the doting parents... and it was an all-new experience of living with the in-laws... all just for a month and now, it's back to just the both of us. We'll get used to it of course, as with anything. But here's wishing Amma-Appa a Bon voyage and a safe couple of flights!

July 21, 2009

The perfect lie

Know how some people can't lie? Like their lips lie but their faces and especially their eyes give them away? Well I used to be one of them... But now you know the second category? The liars-on-fire type? Where it's second skin for them to roll out the lies off their tongues and it's just as good as the truth being told, except that it's not? Now here's the third kind. Those who've gotten so good at lying that they start to believe that it's the truth. It is true... once you keep repeating something over and over again, even though it is not true, it starts sounding true. You soon lose sight of what is real and what is not. I am caught in limbo somewhere. To be continued...

July 20, 2009

Fair play

India is one of those countries with an obsession for "fair" skin... From matrimonial ads to face creams, the emphasis is on "fair" skin. For some weird reason, everyone wants to be "fair" or so the beauty markets assume. Which explains the large variety of fairness creams for sale in the market. If it's not enough that this vanity was associated just with the women in the past, these days it has extended to the men as well. I just saw an ad for Nivea men's fairness cream endorsed by the likes of Dhoni... and fortuitously, right after that I read this article on BBC, where Ms Authentica is crowned based on her natural skin and all contestants are verified by the organizers to have untreated and natural skin. Immediately, I wished that this concept took off in India too... we have a large spectrum of people occupying all the shades of colour possible and we have to be proud of what we're born with. Trying to change what is naturally ours, to blend in with what the world's view is, is not the solution to anything. Not in terms of skin colour, and not in terms of personality, not for anything. Instead, the world would be a better place if we embraced what was ours and made the most of it. Unfortunately in India, people are made to believe that having fairer skin is superior. Period. It's the age-old race war... where white trumps black. It's as simple as that. I applaud stars like Aishwarya Rai-Bachchan who have made conscious efforts not to endorse any of these "fairness" creams in an effort to globalize all skin tones and colours. And the fairness cream ads totally piss me off too - have you noticed how they show the quality of skin to dramatically improve as well when someone uses their product? And what's with the doors opening for their careers with "white" skin? It's all such BS and what's worse - people buy into it. I mean there are people with glowing skin with whatever colour. We don't have to go far to prove that dusky beauty is very real - look at Nanditha Das or Bipasha Basu for instance. And to think that we've transcended into the modern era... where one would've thought it was relatively easy to be who you are and get what you want with your charm/persona and not having to rely on something as fickle as fair skin. Embrace yourself.. that's what makes you glow from within... not any of these beauty propagandas or the likes of it. The rest of it is not fair.

July 17, 2009

Bonne vacances!

After days of dreaming about it, days of cribbing about the busy-ness, here it is finally -the start of the vacation. And so we celebrated with pizza, with cake and with well-wishing emails and what not.. vacations are a big deal in France and this vacation has been embraced with open arms by everyone including me. Not that this is going to make me jobless in any manner, mind you. Upcoming in these few short 4 weeks are a couple of out-of-town trips, S' parents departure, moving apartments and what not... it promises to be busy and I promise to keep you posted. until then, bonne vacances, as we would say in France.

July 16, 2009

One ticket please...

I had an interesting discussion with a friend just about 30 seconds ago which is what sparked this post in the first place. So, she expressed a desire to see the new HP movie. And the reason she hadn't seen it yet was because she didn't have any company. I suggested she go alone and well, she dismissed the idea, opting instead to die. :D. But this is just an opening line for a very interesting discussion. Are you one of those people who can't eat/go to a movie/shop alone?

I am not. Sure, I'd prefer to go to a movie with someone, but I can name a handful of movies that I've been to by myself... mainly because I have a unlimited movie pass (for which I pay monthly) and partially because no one was available to accompany me at a time that suited me best. But I have done it nonetheless. Similarly I have actually lunched alone a few times, mostly in college when my lunchtimes don't match anyone else's. But I've done it all the same. And with no pretenses. I have never used books/notes/ipods to be a pretend companion with me. I just enjoy looking at people around me and eating. Sure, some probably thought I was a loser. But here's where my don't-care attitude benefits me. For everyone who thought I was a loser, there might've been someone else who thought it was cool that I was secure enough to eat by myself with no props. At least with eating alone, I can understand the discomfort. Perhaps it is a little unsettling. You do feel like an invisible spotlight is around you. Everyone knows you are alone and wonders why you have no friends. That's what you think. But here's the thing - very few people give a damn... and that actually works out to your advantage! But as far as a movie is concerned, I am very comfortable going all by myself. After all it is dark and no one is looking at you... everyone is there only for one reason - to see a movie, during which even if you went with a companion and discussed in loud whispers, the only extra thing you get is dirty looks. Sure it's totally great going with a friend or a group of them, but it's hardly that horrible to go alone. In fact here are some tips to surviving a movie alone (all totally dumb) -
1. Go there just in time - Well obviously if you don't want to be thought of as being alone, you can just get into the cinema hall at the last minute when everyone's gushing in and no one knows if you're joining someone or not.
2. Skip the snacks - Well, people tend to notice you only if you are loudly cracking on pop-corn or guzzling down pepsi. If you don't want to be noticed, the easiest way is to not give anyone a reason to.
3. Sit between groups of people - When people are in loud groups, they don't care who's with them or not. Ergo, they don't care about you.

Well, that concludes my simplistic guide to lone movie-watching. I hope the friend is reading. Just coz no one else joins you, doesn't mean you can't have a good time alone. And well, if you miss a friend to "discuss" the movie with, that's what cell phones and free nights n weekends are for. Go girl!

July 15, 2009

Appearances matter?

Ah.. why are we so fickle when it comes to deciding upon something that is neither in our hands nor matters too much? For example when you are apartment-hunting (like we are), is it important for the building to look nice or for your particular apartment to look nice? Ideally, both of course. But what if you had to choose one? Logic says that it only matters what the apartment looks like on the inside. Why then does it bother you when the building is a little old or a little unkempt? Because impressions matter. Remember how you walk past a beautiful building and wish you could live there? You have no idea how it looks on the inside...if it is practical... if it will be large enough... if it will fulfill your everyday requirements... if it is well-designed, etc. It just goes with the territory in your head that a beautifully designed building on the outside can't go wrong on the inside. If only that logic were infallible. Buildings like people come with no guarantees or promises to match the outside with the inside. Even while we preach that the "inner" beauty is all that matters, we are haughty when it comes to "lesser" significant things like rental apartments. We want that our building look imposing and majestic... Practically, how much time do you spend looking at your building anyways? But it is hardly a question of practicality as it is of status. For some reason it matters. I haven't come across anyone who's disregarded the outside completely giving credit to the inside alone. Are we this judgmental when it comes to people too? I certainly hope not, for that would be truly sad.

July 13, 2009

The woes of apartment-hunting

We’ve all been through this at some point of time or the other… be it while hunting for shared accommodation as students, collocation as colleagues/friends or your happy home with the husband, we’ve all dealt with the woes of apartment-hunting. Barely 24 hours after having compulsorily decided to switch apartments, I am fed up already… sometimes with the lack of choice and sometimes with the abundance. However, most of my complaints this time around are to have embarked on this search during the long weekend – the consequence being that no one answers the damn phone! Oh and add to that that S n I work at 2 ends of the spectra leaving either or both of us to travel eons between home n work. But I guess my biggest issue is the inertia itself (look at the post below) and the fact that we are so in love with our locality. So that severely restricts our choice because add to the whole rent situation the fact that we want a decent-sized kitchen, preferably larger accommodations, with maybe a balcony and perhaps a cellar… it brings our choices down to very very few. Sigh! Oh and did I mention I hate moving? No, I am not helping myself. I hope fate does.

Inertia of life

Remember when they taught us about inertia in middle school Physics? I don’t know why I thought it was a hard concept back then. It wouldn’t have been so, had they even remotely associated it to the million examples from life. Take us for instance. We live in a gorgeous suburb close to the heart of Paris… the rent is astronomical… the markets are exorbitant in price… but the place is so likeable. There is a certain warmth to the streets, a lot of gaiety in life, not to mention that it is extremely well-connected by public transport. Common sense says that if the cost of living is too high, we’ve got to move to more affordable places. Not that the other factors outweigh this very important one, but we’ve been reluctant as hell to move. It’s just the inertia. We’re so used to living here… people know us here (no neighbours or friends or any of that – just the store clerks, the bus-mates and other people who change with the tapestry of the place we reside in. We just haven’t gotten around to seriously looking at apartment rentals. The fact that we have a lousy gas (read hot plate) in here at home, something that never struck as vital when it was just cooking for the 2 of us was put to serious test when S’ parents came and the people doubled. (I’ve cooked for a dozen people while hosting them at home – but I used to spend close to half a day making the food while it took all of 10 minutes for it to vanish – true physics of life). And so we have another big fat reason to move. All of this propelled mainly by the gas and that fact that we could save a neat 200€ a month has finally forced us to at least consider the apartment listings on the various websites. This is the force that was required to move our asses off the inertia. And this is just one simple example of physics in everyday life. And with inertia, there are plenty examples up for the grabs.

July 12, 2009

Leonardo's lion

Here's a look at yet another creation conceived by the Master. Ode to Da Vinci.

Return to “innocence”

Yesterday I was out shopping all by myself with a mission to get gifts/souvenirs for S’ parents to give back in India… One of the people on the list was a little girl of 5. And I thought I was fully qualified to deal with what to get her, considering I had been there.. done that and all that. What I wasn’t prepared for was the variety and utility of things available, even for little girls in today’s world. The store I went into was a giant eyesore of pink. Don’t get me wrong.. I am a fan of pink myself.. but think of this as a largely overdone Legally Blonde store. Yeah, not so girl-invoking anymore, right? Anyhow, the crowd there was unbelievable. This store must’ve been all of 300 sqft and every breathable inch was filled with moms and daughters or young giggly teenagers trying on ridiculous wigs or people like me – lost in an ocean of one another with not a clue of what we were looking for. As I scanned the store for something I thought was appropriate for a 5 year old, I caught glimpses of what was considered appropriate in this day and age – makeup (not-so-faux anymore), elaborate hairdo-creating bands (remember the good old days of love-in-tokyos?), actual purses kiddified only by adding cartoon characters on top.

As always, this post isn’t what it was made out to be. My mind wandered into our days of simpler schooling where our textbooks were our bibles. And where we could get the teacher to change our marks/grades, simply by showing proof of the print on the textbook to back up our claims on the answer papers. Fast forward to today. Where the kids are all internet-savvy, not just with Facebook or Myspace but with the whole googling experience as well. Now the evidence to backup any of their claims stretched to astronomical limits. I don’t know how it works in school with this development. But it would make a solid argument to claim that something was true and that one had read it off Wikipedia. That puts an enormous strain on the poor teachers who now had the world wide web to contend with and had to be abreast of all the facts that were and not just the ones mentioned in the now seriously-restricted textbooks. Does anyone have a clue how this works now? Please enlighten me if you do. I would imagine it would be terribly competitive with each person trying to show up the other, particularly if it was a subject they liked. And all of this thought manifested itself while I was in that horribly-crowded store, fishing out a coloring book and jumping the queue to pay for it and get the hell out of there. I only wish I didn’t move in slow-motion further strangling the crowd and the air in that place. Don’t have a clue. However, Good luck teachers.

July 10, 2009

Paris visits

Here's some of the scenes we've captured while taking S' parents around Paris. The beautiful Sacre-Coeur church in Montmarte. Gorgeous, isn't it?
Tip: Click on the photo for a higher-resolution image.

Happy Birthday RER E

Isn't it cute when people celebrate birthdays of trains? I think it is.. So it was my favourite train's birthday apparently one of the days last week. And the entire train was festooned with balloons and stickers saying "Bon Anniversaire" and all that. Not just that, they gave all of the travellers that day a free juice box and a madeline. Cute, huh?

July 9, 2009

Je suis bizee

Dear Readers,

I sincerely apologize for not having been able to update this space for about a week now. Sounds less to you? Feels like eternity to me!! Having been pretty regular with MindBlogging, I find it oddly unsettling that my thought-flow has been arrested enroute to making it on the blog due to unforeseen busy-ness. With the vacation fast approaching and work remaining to be completed and S's parents here, there's just enough time to breathe and exist. Once the vacations start, you can be assured that I will be back in full swing.
Until then, please hang in there.

July 2, 2009

5 shades darker

Don't you hate summer? All that skin colour that you slowly and steadily accumulated all through the torturous winters using moisturizers and what not, all gone within the flick of an eye-lid? It's like 4 days into hardcore summer with sweltering temperatures of 32°C (sorry, Parisian 32°C are nearly unbearable) and I have bronzed rather evenly. Gone are the days of fairness I say. I support Aiswarya Rai in her claim that all skin tones are beautiful. And if I have bronzed, so be it. Bronze is beautiful.

July 1, 2009

From my android

Yoohoo... now I can blog on the go thanks to the husbands android. cheers.

The days of slog...

Ever since starting my PhD, I've been unconvinced about my conviction in the whole thing. I took it up as an interim thing to do in a new country where I required some orientation. And the PhD just fell into place and was interestingly in my field of interest and everything, so I had no reason not to take it up. And all along it's haunted me that I haven't done justice to it. And then came along S's parents for a long visit. With my MIL taking over the kitchen, this is finally my chance to bask in the days of being a PhD candidate - finally I can work on something for however long I like without having to be concerned about going home and whipping up dinner. The days of slog are here and I welcome them with outstretched arms (only because the vacations are in the horizon and I know this phase won't last). Every slog has a holiday lining.