Thursday, September 28, 2006

My favourite things - 2

One other thing that I really love to do is travel – I love the anticipation of reaching your destination, of experiencing new ways of living, and of just ‘soaking in the atmosphere’ of new places. Top of mind recall for the countries I have visited shows up Germany, Italy, Austria, France, Netherlands, Belgium, Japan, Thailand, Singapore, China (Hong Kong), Australia, Mauritius, Kuwait.
I love visiting new places as long as I know where I will stay. I remember various nights backpacking in Europe with nary-an-idea of where I was going to sleep that night. Various railway stations (hauptbahnhof, as the Germans call them), a boathouse, assorted cafes and a biergarten have played host to me for the night (sometimes very reluctantly :-)). I did it when I had to, but don’t think I can do it again. Maybe that’s what they call ageing :-)
Within India, I don’t recall having visited too many places. One puzzling question I’ve been trying to answer for long is – what do I like more: the mountains or the sea? As I think about it now, the answer is very clear – I love the sea!! The mountains may be grand, but I will choose the sea any day.
I love walking along a seashore. I remember in Bombay, I often walked the 6 kms from my office to my residence in the evenings. I even used to get up early for an early morning stroll along the beach (if there is one thing I cannot do, it is to get up early!!)
Among all the beach places I’ve visited, I like (pre-tsunami) Phuket best. That’s because it has beautiful transparent water, and a very vibrant atmosphere. Multiple water sports and hang out places dot the place. Mauritius would come a distant second, and ironically enough, only because of memories of Jack Daniels with coke on the beach :-)
All this description has woken the wanderlust in me again. Time to dust off the trusty atlas? :-)

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

My favourite things - 1

There are a few things I am extremely fond of. Beer in the company of friends, for example. Good food, for example. Lots of time on hand and multiple books to read, for example. Trading in equity erivatives, for example.

But there is one thing which is close to top of my list of favourite activities. I love driving. Any kind of road, any time of the day, I can drive for hours. My new Hyundai Santro enhances this experience, because it has a very good air conditioning system (compared to my earlier Maruti Zen), and is a very manoeuverable vehicle. Also I have discovered this new channel on FM (95 MHz), which plays only hit songs without any advertisements in between.

I love driving at night on desolate roads. I find it therapeutic to just drive on, without track of time, without care for destination. I love the thrill of adventure, the anonymity of a car. One of my dreams is to drive around India for a month or so, and cover all parts of the country on the Golden Quadrilateral. I'm sure I will do that someday soon.

I think what attracts me most towards driving is the fact that my mind is clear - I am concentrating only on the road ahead, my reflexes primed fully on the task of driving. No thoughts enter my mind, and I reach a state very close to that while meditating. I love the feeling of being awake, aware and totally in control.

I think its time for me to implement my journey around India in my car!!!

Sunday, September 24, 2006

What makes you special?

I like the new IBM advertisement, which shows people of multiple nationalities singing a nice song and eventually asking the question - What makes you special? While I dont have any point of view on IBM or whether it really helps businesses innovate, I DO have a strong point of view on the tag line.
At last count, there were roughly six billion of us on Earth. A billon plus just in India. Mostly with very similar genetic, emotional, cultural make up. Very undifferentiated. Faceless, nameless, entityless.
Whenever I stop thinking about the mundane crises and tribulations of my own life, I often think - Can all of us just be living out routine, insignificant, humdrum lives? Is that why each individual is born - just to go through some motions? Is there a purpose every one is born to fulfill? Or is life all arbitrary - a blip on the unending canvas of the universe. A diversion for some higher being?
I strongly believe each one of us indeed has taken birth for a special purpose. If that were not so, there would be no point going through the sheer effort of life. However, each one of us must undergo some trials before we can find the purpose we seek. To draw a silly analogy, it is a bit like a treasure hunt - the reward comes at the end.
Therefore whenever I get bogged down in some trivial worry, I console myself by thinking that there is a reason why I am here. That energises me to hustle in different directions and seek the elusive purpose I was apparently born for. The world becomes an interesting place again. I find a purpose to live again.

Sound demons

We have shifted recently to Faridabad. Our new home is a quaint little place, nestled on the foothills of the Aravallis. Although a bit out of place from the throbbing hubs of commercial Delhi, it has a very charming environment, with rolling hills as far as one can see, and roads going all topsy turvy, like a hill station. The breeze is always cool and gusty.

For me the biggest benefit of the shift was a tremendous decrease in ambient noise in the neighbourhood. In Paschim Vihar (my previous home), we were accosted daily by traffic on the Outer Ring Road, sundry marriages and loud garish bands, competing MLAs organizing 'jaagrans' each night of the year, performances by 'stars' in the community center next to home and other general cacophony.

Of these, I was most irritated by the loud proclamations of devotion to gods and goddesses all night round. I am mostly agnostic, and happy to let people worship whoever they think is the right god for them, but I object seriously to loudspeakers advertising this devotion to the world at large.

So far, my new home has been ideal in this regard. Sadly, with the onset of the festival season, this freedom from noise has come under threat. Only today, while driving home, I espied a Navratra pandal and HUGE loudspeakers... As I write, I can hear some lady proclaiming her love for god on some remixed Himesh tune... Enough to give me the creeps. I hope this is an isolated incident and not a sign of things to come.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Pyar ke side effects - 3

I have been stuck in a dilemma for quite some time now. Today there was significant progress in solving the issue.
The issue was simple - what does one do when your constraints and your dearest friend's constraints do not reconcile with each other? I think in an ideal world the answer would be - you talk it out and work out a mutually acceptable solution.
However this world is far from ideal. Therefore all earlier attempts at problem solving have been inconclusive. Today I found out that the rigidity of both parties was leading to an unfortunate communication breakdown - we were hiding things from each other which we thought would not be acceptable to the other person. Strange how we behave when we are afraid.
So we decided to resolve the issue. We prioritised together what both want out of life. And found that our priorities were different.
Therefore we came to an agreement. We will both pursue our individual dreams.

As I grapple with the after-effects of this event, a few things occur to me:
1) Better pain in the short term than in the longer run
2) Perhaps it is not necessary to find happiness in a end result (since circumstances may push it outside your reach). Perhaps the best way to find happiness is to look for it in the here and now.
3) Perhaps its better to let things settle down a bit before coming up with a point of view on them. Maybe our first reactions are not our best reactions!!

Pyar ke side effects - 2

After my last post, I was siezed by curiousity on what great minds have thought about love. So I accessed what seemed like the best resource - google :-)
And I found a very interesting anecdote - the origin of the word 'love' is from the Germanic form of the Sanskrit word 'labh' which means desire!!
Looks like in addition to zero, astronomy and numbers, love was also invented in India :-)

Pyar ke side effects - 1

I recently saw 'Pyar ke Side Effects'. Quite a good movie, I thought. Funny and watchable. Coincedentally, I also happened to get back in touch with a long lost dear friend of mine who is now in the US. We got chatting about several things, and one big question that loomed up suddenly (in the context of this movie) was 'What is Love'???

My initial take on this was quite analytical and I thought that love is a mechanism that has been designed by nature to ensure survival of the species. Think of it - love is what gets a man and woman together, love is what causes babies to be born, love is what ensures that parents care for a child till it can survive on its own, love is what keeps a family together to ensure that the child has benefits of both a father and mother and therefore the best chances of survival.

My friend (who happens to be married) though did not agree with this. Her take was that love is a dependence that causes 2 people to be bound to one another even though they may have differences otherwise. To this my immediate objection was that love cannot be a dependence, it has to be a choice. And my friend's reaction was that it starts as a choice, and eventually becomes a dependence.

Now I know that there cannot be one answer to this question. Philosophers have grappled with this question for centuries. A buddy of mine put it accurately when he said love is different things for different people.

Would be good to get your reactions to this provocative question!

In the final analysis, I conclude (for now :-) that love is essentially undefined. It does not matter WHAT love is, what matters is HOW it affects you. I think love is what makes life a little less ordinary. All of us look for a reason to live. Wherever we find that reason, we call it love.

Monday, September 18, 2006

A wonder that never was

It is very difficult to recover from the ill effects of a bacchanalian weekend on a manic monday morning! However there are a few pleasant things that have the potential to make the effort of waking up worthwhile. Here is one such article I ran into today -
It talks about the design of a behemoth warship that would have weighed 3 million pounds - more than three times bigger than the largest warship of the day in 1945! And that's not the only feature of this monster - it was to be made of pure ice!!!
A story (probably apocryphal) has it that Winston Churchill was convinced about this idea while in a hot bath tub. Read on...

Here are more details:
The ship would have been over 2,000 feet (600 metres) long, with walls each 30 feet (9 metres) thick. As the ship was designed principally as a floating airfield, propulsion through the water would have been minimal (from a dozen outboard electric motors), supplied with power from diesel engines that would also have driven essential on-board refrigeration.
“HMS Habbakuk” (Habbakuk is a book of old Testament containing the prophecies of Hebrew minor prophet), as it was named, was to sit in the middle of the Atlantic as a floating aerodrome, or icedrome, to handle the refueling of aircraft flying from the U.S. to support the anti-Nazi was. It was the idea of Geoffrey Pyke, a polymath who had been a journalist, spy, educator, and investor.
During the war, Pyke was on the staff of a think-tank run by Lord Mountbatten.
“HMS Habbakuk” was one of a number of wonderful ideas that Pyke was to continue to generate throughout the war. Mountbatten found many of them significant enough to push hard for their approval by the British War Office.
Even so, the concept of an ice ship was extremely difficult to sell. Pyke had sent as memo explaining the concept to Mountbatten, written in rambling detail. This is not very surprising as the memo weighed over 2 kilograms and was several hundreds pages long.
The memo began with the notion that it was possible to make a very heat-resistant ice by mixing it with wood pulp. The idea had occurred to Pyke, perhaps, through the example of the Inuit (Eskimos) who in those days till made their traditional homes by mixing ice with lichens to make it strong. Pyke suggested that it would be possible to freeze together in huge blocks a mixture of water and something cheap and plentiful like wood pulp, he calculated that the resulting solid would be as strong in stress resistance as steel.
In fact, experiments with a 14 per cent wood-pulp mix showed that it was even better, and it was thought that this new substance, now named Pykrete, should be relatively easily fashioned into ship-building material. Pyke had a sample made, and delivered a large block to Mountbatten, who whisked off with it to Winston Churchill.
There is a story that Churchill, smoking a large cigar, was in his bath when the ice arrived. Invited to the bathroom, Mountbatten sat on a chair near the edge of the bath and on an impulse, dropped the large slab of Pykrete in the hot bath water. It floated around between Churchill’s legs, impervious to the heat.
The idea gathered momentum, and a group of engineers met in Canada to build some experimental models of the ship, and to best the practicality of working with ice as a material. They built a model 100 feet (30.48 metres) long, and it proved to be tremendously strong. Mountbatten demonstrated this convincingly by using a shotgun, showing how the ice was completely unharmed by bullets fired even at close range.
By the early months of 1945, the ship looked likely to be made, but the project was written off when Allied victory was announced in Europe, and then, a little later, came the surrender of Japan. Pyke was offered the chance to patent (thank God there were no GATT rules then) his odd material, but he decided not to. The project, recorded in the huge memo, is now in the archives at Broadlands, the Mountbatten home. Pyke died from cancer in 1948.
“MS Habbakuk” would have made an extraordinary machine, certainly the largest manufactured object on earth, both then and even into the present times. It would also have been very safe: it was believed that the ship, with its 30-foot walls, could easily absorbed by impact of a torpedo. And should a crack appear, why, turn up the on-board refrigeration, and mend the hole with sea-water ice!
Research has been done into combinations of ice with other materials, most notably glass fibre, in the ice laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, but no suitable use for ice has turned up.
It is unlikely that anyone, even the petroleum industry, with its eyes on Antarctic Oil, will use ice alloys to build tankers. No ship will ever sail with a hull made from ice — but we should think what a great loss to the romance of seafaring.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Water of life

I am nursing a mild hangover from last night. I had been invited to a friend's farewell party, which went on till the wee hours of dawn today. After some boring office gossip, the party picked up momentum via a game of dumb charades and really came to life when we started gambling with cards (we played 'Teen Patti' - literally three cards, also known as Flush, and Banco, also known as Jackpot). But this post is not about gambling.
Although I was remarkably moderate (by my standards!!) in my intake of alcohol, 3 of us managed to polish off a new litre bottle of Teacher's Highland Cream. Memories of the pleasant experience made me want to dig into the history of whisky.
Few drinks are as synonymous with a country (and vice versa) as Whisky and Scotland. 'Whisky and freedom gang thegither' wrote Scottish poet Robert Burns. Whisky is made with the most elemental ingredients - water and barley (with perhaps a dash of peat). Successful maturation relies to a large extent on the cool, maritime climate of northern Scotland. These conditions are apparently impossible to replicate anywhere else in the world, and therefore tie whisky to Scotland like a singer to his song.
The very origin of the word whisky comes from uisge, which is an abbreviation of uisge beatha, Scots Gaelic for 'Water of Life'. Distillation of this king of drinks was first done by monks in monastries for medicinal purposes (With a monopoly on the production of whisky, is there any wonder that monks led such contented, secluded and peaceful lives :-) .
There are two major categories of whisky, single and blended. Single means that all of the product is from a single distillery, while Blended means that the product is composed of whiskies from two or more distilleries.
1) Single malt whisky is a 100% malted barley whisky from one distillery.
2) Single grain whisky is a grain whisky from one distillery (it does NOT have to be made from a single type of grain).
3) Vatted or Blended malt whisky is a malt whisky created by mixing single malt whiskies from more than one distillery.
4) Blended grain whisky is a whisky created by mixing grain whiskies from more than one distillery.
5) Blended Scotch whisky is a mixture of single malt whisky and grain whisky, usually from multiple distilleries.
Thanks to wikipedia and the Scotch Whisky website for all this information!!
Whew!! All that terminology has left me feeling thirsty. I think I need some of the medicinal benefits of a stout glass of Chivas Regal!!

Friday, September 15, 2006

Virtual thrills

Air hockey is one of my favourite games. There is something thrilling about a vigorous game against an active opponent. For those of you who are new to this name, air hockey is a common sight at most malls. Here is a photo.

I think air hockey is the ideal game to get one up and running. It is very similar to life, in the sense that
1) the proactive players usually have an edge
2)you cannot plan too far ahead and
3) its very easy to score self goals
I can never play just one game of air hockey. Indeed it takes a couple of games to just free up my arms. The next game lets me strategize the right angles and tangents to aim my shots. After that I spend a couple of games wondering why my strategy is not working!! Eventually I 'go with the flow' and let my reflexes take over. And that is when the real results start coming in.
One thing I really aspire to do in life is 'go with the flow'!! Its usually very difficult to do, but once you get the hang of it you can never settle for anything else.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

An unfinished story

There was once an ordinary guy, born in a good family. His childhood was happy and normal. He went to school and made good friends. His parents inculcated good values in him and fulfilled his ordinary desires.
Education was a priority in his home and so the guy did very well in studies. He went to the best schools and eventually the best college. He took the best courses and scored the best marks. There was, however, only one course that remained with him for the rest of his life.
The professor teaching that course was young. Mint fresh returned from the best college in the world. And he was unconventional.
One day he told the class a story - about an ordinary boy who led a normal childhood, was really good in studies, went to the best college, took the best courses, scored the best marks, took up the best job, did well in his profession. The boy in the story always wanted to play tennis for a living, but kept waiting for tomorrow, the next year, the next bonus, the next event. Eventually he was old and could not play any tennis.
After this story the professor turned to the class and gave them a choice - do what you want to do or live with the thought of what-might-have-been.
Our hero was troubled by the story. He could not forget it.
He completed his education and took up the best job. He did well in his profession. But he kept remembering this old story that his professor had told him. It still troubled him, and he did not know why.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006


My dearest mother is upset with me. Some trifling reason or the other. Well deserved as well, I'm sure. Whenever mom gets upset with me, I get into a state of panic. This is because I really love my mom.
I think mom for me is my reality check on life - whenever I get too morose she lights up my day by knowing EXACTLY the right thing to say or do. When I get too drunk on enthusiasm or arrogance she brings me back to earth with the deftest of touches.
The best thing about her (apart from her cooking i.e.) is also slightly scary - Mom is the only person on Earth who knows me inside out. She knows me better than I do myself! Therefore I always have someone who knows exactly how I'm doing or what I'm feeling. There are times when I wanted to hide things from her, or not communicate civilly. A stupid thing to do, really. For two reasons -
1) she knows the best answer to the problem
2) she will know anyway
Fights with her have become far and few between, ever since I recognized that to me she is worth much more than anything else on Earth or heaven. This happy state of affairs though is a recent phenomenon - in the past I would always look for a good fight with her. For those times I really am sorry. Want to tell her so in many words but somehow never get around to saying it.
There are times when I want to buy her all the happiness in the world, but never tell her so. For someone who makes my life worth living surely deserves that and much more.
So here's to you mom!!
I love you :-)

Chennai adventures - I

I dont have great love for Chennai. The city's autos, sights, smells and aggression turn me off. This is quite ironical, because most of my best buddies are Tamil (or Tamizh, if I pronounce it accurately)
However recent visits to this metropolis have begun to weaken the strong feelings I had for the city. 3 instances stand out for initiating this process -

1) I discovered Cherry Brandy while staying at the Trident Hilton last year. This drink had me floored - not only did it taste divine, it gave me a nice warm fuzzy buzz as well. In fact so enamoured was I that I began to ask for Cherry Brandy at all the pubs I went to. Sadly, no one seemed to have this exotic drink, till I got it at Goa Portuguesa, a fantastic place to have sea food. I wanted to buy the whole damn bottle from them, but the manager tempered my enthusiasm a bit and informed me that they had procured the bottle with great difficulty from a bootlegger. Attempts to get the bootlegger's contact details obviously proved futile for me :-)
I have since discovered that the cocktail Singapore Sling, if made properly, has a good portion of Cherry brandy (though of course the drink itself gets diluted).

2) I bought The Money Game from a roadside bookseller in Chennai for Rs 50/-. This is one of my all time favourite books, and I have been searching for this book every bookstore I've visited. I would gladly have paid about 20 times more for a copy. I love this book because my passion for the market finds an echo here. To quote - "The market … is like a beautiful woman – endlessly fascinating, endlessly complex, always changing, always mystifying...It is an art. Now we have computers and all sorts of statistics, but the market is still the same and understanding the market is still no easier. It is personal intuition, sensing patterns of behavior. There is always something unknown, undiscerned.”

3) Recently I noticed some really cool movie hoardings in Chennai. Though I didn't get the names (they were all in the Dravidian script), I thought they were quite innovative. All of them are REALLY huge, sometimes occupying as much as 20 mts of hoarding length. Some are quite funny, with guys in huge moustaches displayed prominently, and buxom women peeking out coquettishly.

All these things are associated with Chennai now in my mind. Therefore the mention of the city gives me a warm glow somewhere deep down, though on the surface I still balk at having to visit the city!!

Airport outings

Before I go on, one minor clarification - due to an adroit change in settings for this blog, you can now post comments even if you do not have a blogger id. Thanks to a dear friend for pointing this out. Now for the post -
One thing I always notice at airports in India (and particularly Delhi and Chennai) is that the women are all well dressed! Of course men may also be better dressed inside an airport than outside, but then I never notice men as much as I do women.
Perhaps being well turned out has to do with the socio-economic profile of passengers, with the people able to afford air travel generally being better dressed than your average Jane. I however would like to believe a less statistically provable theory - Indians by and large view air travel as an outing to be enjoyed. Therefore better dressing for the special occasions.. complete with makeup, fashionable dresses and perfume!!
This provides good diversion for me as I undertake those interminable waits for delayed flights.
Just today I espied a couple of beautiful women on my flight to Delhi, dressed in clothes I have never seen outside a ramp. Closer inspection revealed that they spoke in Creole, which led me to the conclusion that they were Mauritian. Therefore not a valid sample to base my theories on...
I can, however, not count myself among the set of people under focus here. For me, air travel is strictly utilitarian, and comfort comes first. Not that I dress fashionably under ANY circumstance. Indeed, I have been asked if dark blue t-shirts are all that I have in my wardrobe!!

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Rules of engagement

Now that the plunge is taken, its time to create a strategy for this blog. Is this page going to be like my aforementioned friend Andy's blog - mostly slices of life and descriptions of exotic Indian places? Or will it be like my friend Groovy's blog - reaching out to find an audience for his poetry?
What would YOU want to visit this page everyday to read?
On some reflection, I come to the conclusion that blogging is really about finding an outlet for expression, and not a carefully constructed compilation of content. Build the power plant and the industries will come to you!! (a contextual and unfunny take on building the apocryphal mousetrap)
Therefore, I will blog about what I find interesting - random thoughts and reactions to the varying vicissitudes of life.
Very satisfying to have decided on the strategy. Now to implement :-)


I usually am not happy about delayed flights. Waiting at crowded airport lounges with a warm laptop on my thighs and loud piped music intruding into my innermost soul gives me the creeps. But this one Chennai - Delhi Indian Airlines flight IC 539 gives me reason to say thanks. Whiling away time while trying to pretend the nasal gentleman who kept shouting that he was sorry for 'late arrival of aircraft' from Bombay did not exist, I chanced upon my friend Andy's blog.
Andy's blog makes one feel that he leads an exciting life. It also brings out the grandfather in me, wanting to share (shove?) pearls of wisdom with anyone who cares to read.
So after much procrastination and an earlier still-born effort, here it is!! My very own blog.
Hope it leads to big things.
Here's to many more delayed flights and noisy airport lounges :-)