Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Killer lines

"Don ke dushman ki sabse badi bhool hai Don se dushmani" - Amitabh Bachchan in (the original) Don

"Chinai seth, jinke ghar sheeshe ke hote hain wo doosron ke gharon pe patthar phenka nahi karte" - Raj Kumar in Waqt

"Hasta la vista, baby" - Arnold Schwarzenegger in TII

"May the force be with you" - Master Yoda in Star Wars

"The game is afoot" - Sherlock Holmes in some silly movie not written by Conan Doyle

"Elementary, my dear Watson" - Sherlock Holmes NEVER said this!!

More contributions invited...

An idyllic day

This weekend has been one of the best ever. This was mainly because I had nothing much to do over the weekend. Mom was not in town and papa had work to be done that took most of the weekend. So I had no formal agenda to follow..

The weekend kicked off in grand style with an official party on Friday night. The tequila was flowing and I helped myself to several mojitos at the fascinating rooftop restaurant at the Oberoi in Delhi. As is wont, this led to some intellectually stimulating conversation with a group of close friends, the subject of which I do not seem to recall in the least :-). As I dragged myself into bed at two am, I thanked God that it was friday.

Saturday morning saw me wake up to a glorious day. I fixed myself a delicious breakfast of Maggi noodles and toast with tea and ate with gusto. I think it was the weather that caused me to sing out loud as I was cooking - clear blue sky, cool breeze, benign warm sunshine! It was the ideal day for a drive. So I picked up my car keys and headed out to the great unknown...

After driving aimlessly for a couple of hours, I landed at one of the new malls in Gurgaon, which has a HUGE bookstore. This bookstore is particularly good, since they stock good books new or old. I spent a couple of hours browsing around and finally bought a book called 'Running Money', which is the amusing story and experiences of a guy who ran his own hedge fund in Silicon Valley (more on this in a later post).

After that I met a friend for coffee and generally chatted about this and that. Time flowed so smoothly that I did not realise when it turned dark and was time to get home. Got back home to a great meal of microwaved frozen stuff that mom had left in the fridge. I then settled down with a cup of tea and the book I had bought, and spent a pleasant couple of hours reading up.

It was soon time to sleep and I dreamt of days like this in the future :-)

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Singapore Sling - 5: Some reactions

My buddy Tambourine Man has this to say on the Singapore Sling series:

I left Singapore because I wanted a change of scenery; but I hate it (and that's a carefully chosen word) when people say Singapore does not have much beyond its plastic-shopping-mall-clean-street-good-cops-and-no-robbers front... It's like saying Delhi is full of snobs and Delhiites dont make good friends... Just to throw a few examples, Singapore has a holiday resort for pets (not a very common thing,and a really exciting place to visit)... I once visited a turtle collector in Singapore who has the world's largest collection of turtles (which makes more sense once you dig into the Chinese fascination for turtles and the good luck they bring) and so on and so forth... Even Sentosa has a history far beyond the plastic face they sell to tourists... Its original name was Pulau Belakang Mati, which means "Island of Death from Behind" (read more on http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sentosa which gives some vague explanations... More interesting stories about Sentosa can be found in the book "Final Notes from a Great Island" by Neil Humphreys)... I used to believe all the usual cliches about Singapore for a long time... But now I think Singapore is an exciting city if you dig a bit deep and start understanding the local people in the remote corners of the island (trust me, they are different from the orchard road shoppers)... so next time, go to a coffee shop in some non-touristy part... and start talking to people there (they will talk if u say you are a writer from BBC)... it's great fun..

Interesting stuff!!

The Lake House

I saw a movie recently on the flight from Singapore (I saw plenty actually, but remember only a couple). The movie was called The Lake House and stars Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock. Watching the movie was a strange and moving experience, especially on a flight, because it gave you the feeling of being disengaged with the real world, in a world of your own (I often get this feeling on long flights). This was perfect for the movie, because it also requires you to suspend disbelief and enjoy the ride.

The movie is a lyrical tale of romance between two occupants of the (eponymous) lake house who actually live two years apart (two years apart for each other, but actually in the same time). Their only mode of communication is an old post box which they use to send each other hand written notes, and a dog who both own (the dog is the only living link with each other). Even though they have never met (and never can meet) they find meaning, strength and love in each other. The guy (who lives in 2004) does meet the girl (who is in 2006) in his time, but at that point in her life she does not know him. So when they meet they cannot express their love, and there is no other way to meet.

Of course there are other twists and turns in the plot, but what is good in the movie to me is its languid pace, its belief in a better future, and its sheer romance (in fact at multiple points in the movie I actually was in tears).

Overall, highly recommended if you are a romantic like me.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Once again...

I will return to the real world again today. The last two weeks have been a smorgasbord of learning, bonding and fun!! Cocooned in a unique risk-free and helpful environment, I have learnt a lot about others, the world and mostly about myself. I look forward to applying my new found learnings in the real world.

The biggest take away for me from this experiment is the need to listen - too often we talk 'at' each other instead of 'to' each other. The other learning is a weird thing called the 'trust equation' that actually has a formula for building trust :-) And perhaps the ease (and indeed rewards) of stepping outside my comfort zone.

But most of all, my learning is that people are very good at heart. All one needs to do to bring out this fundamental goodness (and determination, resolve, honesty, care, love and...) is to show them a possibility. I think that is all we need to make this world a better place. Sounds very 'Matrix'-like, but I believe it to be true :-)

Watch out world!!

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Singapore Sling - 4: Sharks and lions

I find that I am fascinated by heights (although I think I have vertigo as well). Every city I visit I always do one touristy thing - find the top spot i.e. tower or cable car or whatever else and go on top.

So here are some photos from a cable car ride and a tall tower I took from my mobile phone in Singapore:
The port The port The Superstar Gemini The Superstar Gemini Merlion
Those are people on top of the lion's head!
Merlion Cable car

I also visited the underwater aquarium and took some shark photos (quality not so good cos it was somewhat dark). But truly was amazed to see such gigantic and dangerous fishes.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Books etc...

Last weekend I read Q&A on the flight to Singapore. Here is a synopsis of the story:

When Ram Mohammad Thomas, an orphaned, uneducated waiter from Mumbai, wins a billion rupees on a quiz show, he finds himself thrown in jail. (Unable to pay out the prize, the program's producers bribed local authorities to declare Ram a cheater.) Enter attractive lawyer Smita Shah, to get Ram out of prison and listen to him explain, via flashbacks, how he knew the answers to all the show's questions. Indian diplomat Swarup's fanciful debut is based on a sound premise: you learn a lot about the world by living in it (Ram has survived abandonment, child abuse, murder). And just as the quiz show format is meant to distill his life story (each question prompts a separate flashback), Ram's life seems intended to distill the predicament of India's underclass in general. Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Although it had been recommended highly by a colleague, I did not think it a truly great story. I thought it was quite clever and innovative, especially using the format of a quiz show like 'KBC' to frame different short stories, but my principal objection to the book is that I found it very 'filmy' (to use a very Indian word - I'm sure this word does not exist outside of India).

Indeed, I have three principal criteria to judge how good a book is. One is how the book changes me as a person after I have read it. The other is how interesting the book is while reading. The third is how much of the book I remember a long time after I have read it. Some books that meet my criteria include:
  1. Of Human Bondage - Somerset Maugham
  2. The Great Gatsby - Scott Fitzgerald
  3. Catcher in the Rye - J D Salinger
  4. The Money Game (non fiction) - Adam Smith
  5. Fooled by randomness (non fiction) - Nissim Nicholas Taleb
  6. Notes from the Himalayas (non fiction) - Ruskin Bond
  7. Papillon - Henri Charriere
  8. The Dilbert Principle (there is a chapter on Affirmations at the end of the book which is quite intriguing) - Scott Adams
  9. Candide - George Bernard Shaw (this is actually only a short story)

Some books that meet only criteria two and three are:

  1. A perfect spy - Le Carre
  2. The little drummer girl - Le Carre
  3. Tinker Tailor Sailor Spy - Le Carre
  4. A book of short stories by Fyodor Dostoyevsky (forgotten the name)
  5. Barbarians at the gate
  6. When genius failed - the rise and fall of LTCM
  7. The Odessa File - Frederick Forsythe
  8. A study in scarlet - Conan Doyle

Would be quite interesting to hear about what books others read and find inspiring! These are only the books that came to mind - perhaps I will update this list as I think of more books that i have read and liked.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Singapore Sling - 3

I have been interacting with a lot of people lately here in Singapore. And all of various nationalities – Germans, Scandinavians, Americans, English, Chinese, Japanese, other Asians, Indians, Australians, South Africans and other assorted Europeans. All in all a diverse bunch. It is quite amusing and insightful to observe the cultural norms and peculiarities of different nationalities. Some stereotypes (apologies to any hurt feelings - no mal intent here!!):
1. Americans usually take center stage – not because they are great problem solvers or people persons, but simply because they are quite assertive and focus a lot on communication.
2. The Germans are dour (that’s a nice word, meant here in a positive way!!), rational and serious.
3. The Scandinavians are a shy and pleasant bunch.
4. The Koreans are the most aggressive of the Asian gang.
5. Indians and Chinese actually get along together quite well!!
6. Indians (living in India) are usually quite intelligent but are usually content to give up the spotlight. Indians (living in the US or Europe) are more assertive and savvy in communicating.

At the same time, it is a strangely reassuring experience to find similarities between people of roughly the same age, background and profession. Overall, it was surprising for me that the issues most people of my age and milieu in India grapple with are exactly the same for my buddies here. For example
1. How can we get ahead?
2. How can we lead more meaningful lives?
3. How can I earn double of my current salary?
4. How can I get drunk quickly?
There are also a few differences –
1. The importance of sports, health and exercise in the lives of people of developed countries is a feature worth emulating in Indians.
2. The fact that most people of other nationalities have some interests and hobbies outside of work which they take seriously.

What is also interesting is the fact that most people respect economic prowess. India is big on everyone’s radar right now because it is BOOMING!! It feels very powerful and privileged to be an Indian living in India right now :-D. I hope I keep getting this feeling for a long long time. I also hope that I can contribute to increasing GDP not only by increasing consumption, but also by producing some valuable goods or services and providing employment to my countrymen!!

Singapore Sling - 2

One interesting tidbit - Singapore's main attraction is an island called Sentosa. This is usually a must-visit place in Singapore for all tourists and even for local Singaporeans.
Did you know that 'Sentosa' is a Malaysian word roughly meaning 'Satisfaction' or 'Peace'??
Remind anyone of 'Santosh' in Hindi??
Quite awesome - the extent of our influence over southeast Asia in historical times!!

Singapore Sling -1

For the last few days, I have been in Singapore. Although cooped up in a beautiful seaside resort for the most time, I had an opportunity to explore the city (to call it a country seems somewhat incongruous, given that it would roughly be of the same size as Delhi) over last weekend. My overall impressions about the place:
The positives:
1. It’s a nice and friendly place. Populated mostly by Asians (and people of South Indian origin), it almost feels like home.
2. It is a very clean and well organized city. There are free bus services on some routes, spic and span public places, taxes on road usage according to peak hour traffic, greenery, awesome infrastructure and the works.
3. It tries hard to be an interesting place – with shopping plazas, multiple pubs, great food joints, a night safari, underwater aquaria, cable cars, cruises along the sea and other attractions that would make a tourist feel engaged.
4. A huge airport that is very efficient and easy to navigate.

The negatives:
1. There is a weird haze over Singapore these days (the kind you would find over Delhi on winter evenings in the pre-CNG days) due to some forest fires burning in the Indonesian island of Sumatra. The news and newspapers are full of dire predictions about how terrible it is for people’s health.
2. The newspapers are all very juvenile and seem to be written by earnest 14 year olds, carrying such weighty articles as ‘Is Singapore losing its culture?’ or ‘Why do women care so much about their weight?’ or ‘Are Singapore malls displaying too many expensive clothes in stores?’ on front pages.
3. The city overall seems mechanical (for want of a better word!!). There seems to be too much planning, too much structure, too much organization. One longs for some good old Indian-style commotion and hullabaloo.

All in all, I think it is understandable why so many Indians make Singapore their home. It offers the closest you can get to an Indian life with western public systems.
But I can never live in Singapore for long. For the sole reason that there is no chewing gum allowed here!!! Not sold in shops, nor allowed to be carried into the country. Gives me the shudders. I am beginning to hyper-ventilate as I think of a chewing-gum-less fortnight ahead in Singapore.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Two countries

Sometimes I feel as if I live in two countries at the same time. One poised to take its place in the league of powerful nations and another, which is mired in filth, decadence and corruption.

Yesterday I returned from one of my regular visits to Chennai. The first half of my trip was in the great country. I visited a place on the outskirts of the city, which had recently had a port built in quick time by private operators. The port had completely changed the topography and profile of the erstwhile sleepy town. Now it was bustling with activity, and was witnessing a boom in infrastructural development, roads, industries, employment and economic development. I felt part of something big, and I think so did everyone else who had encountered this development.

The other half of my trip was in the medieval nation. I had to visit the office of a local government run agency in the same city. From the first step inside the filthy, ill kept and depressing building, I felt somehow oppressed and revolted. This feeling was only reinforced as I met one babu who had been mandated by law to attend to people like me. Not only was this gentleman filled with a sense of his power, he was also ignorant and arrogant (a deadly combination!). He was far removed from the logic of business or the compulsion of change – all he cared about was his position of authority, which I guess he owed to sycophancy of political masters. I felt a sense of great relief as I walked out of that building, even with my work not done.

Sometimes I wonder about the sustainability of all the good things happening in this country. Growth and progress will one day have to meet and overcome the barriers placed by babus like my friend above. One day the two different countries will have to collide and go to war against each other. I don’t know which one will win – still under the influence of my visit to the latter country, I only fear the worst!!

Monday, October 02, 2006

Words that allure

Words have a strange magic. I like words that take time to be said - a word with a weighty meaning that takes time to say, is pon-der-ous and requires effort to grasp fully makes the effort of speaking worthwhile. This occured to me while I was driving on a beautiful road today.

I thought of the word pro-li-fic. Such a delicious word - you can roll it over and over again in your mouth. I thought that's what I want to be with my blog - pro-li-fic.
This led me to the word pro-li-x. I hope none of the blogs are prolix!! Rather, I would prefer them to sc-in-til-lla-te. And not ob-fus-cate matters.

A short and sweet word that I admire is hock (a type of wine - not to be confused with hawk). It is sharp and immediately brings to mind the assertiveness of a stodgy Englishman asking for his favourite drink!
A colleague of mine once used ‘bl-ud-geon’ to describe the style of a batsman. This is a cool word – it immediately brings to mind violence and crudity.

Some non-English words are also my favourites. For example – zeitgeist. Very apt word for describing the ‘spirit of the times’. Also scha-den-fre-ude. Very weighty word - though I doubt if I have ever heard anyone use it (or ever will). I think one word that truly is unique is wanderlust. A more apt name for this malaise is impossible to find - I think it is the 'wander' in the word that clinches the issue. For example 'travel-lust' would be nowhere as powerful.

Another German word that I find quite funny is 'putsch'. Although the consequences of one are terrible, the feeling I get on hearing it is as if I have stepped on some horrible bad smelling gooey substance. Ugh!!

I hope this post brings out the quint-es-sen-tial beauty of words and does not sound like so much so-phis-try :-)