Thursday, May 31, 2007


I was trying to figure out what would be a good place for a 2 week vacation (the jury is still out, after having considered Bali and Indonesia, Maldives, Greece and Sri Lanka, I seem to be deciding on good ol' Andaman and Nicobar islands right here in India!), when I tried to recall the places I've been to and what I've liked about them.

As far as I can remember, I have been to 16 countries apart from India (my ambition is to visit 24, then I will call it a day!!) - vis -
Europe: Germany, France, the Netherlands, Austria, Italy, the UK, Belgium (in passing)
Middle East: Kuwait
Asia: China (Hong Kong), Singapore, Japan, Thailand, Bhutan, Malaysia
Africa: Mauritius

I think the big ones I've missed (and should definitely visit sometime in the next 5 years) would be the US, Switzerland, Indonesia (i.e. Bali), South Africa / Sri Lanka. That leaves me with 4 more countries to be visited. The Caribbean islands would figure on the list, and so would a South American country (maybe Brazil, though my buddy Mahender strongly recommends Peru, which seems too radical to a guy like me). But who knows what spin of dice life may play, so we will see when it actually happens!

But this post was about what I liked in the places I've visited.
Without exception, Europe has the most beautiful places (London is lovely, as is Munich, and Amsterdam is delightfully bohemian - but I think Florence wins hands down). What I really like about European cities is their smallness - you can walk about for a day or two, and you find that you have seen most of the city already. I did not like Paris because it seemed to me to be too big, and I thought Venice was overhyped. In addition to small size, I seem to like old, beautifully architected grand buildings. Cobbled streets are another favourite. Its places like Pisa or Florence or Salzburg that really get me going.

However, when it comes to comfort, I find Asia much more welcoming. Japan is relentlessly efficient and painfully polite. Singapore is too artificial for me. Hong Kong was refreshing. But Thailand is what I loved. It has the right amount of chaos, beauty, commerce and activity to make it very very relaxing.

Australia is also very nice (esp Sydney - the Harbour Bridge walk was amazing, as was the Opera House cruise), but good only for a week's vacation.
Mauritius had possibilities - nice friendly people, laissez faire attitudes, beautiful beaches, unique experiences (i.e. the artificial ship building industry, sugarcane fields) but again possibly would get tedious after a week.

For the Andamans, I'm looking forward to three things - one is a scuba dive (after some half day training course apparently), the other is a visit to tribal forests (the tribes still live in aboriginal times, according to whatever I've been able to read), and the third is an active mud volcano and limestone caves. Added to sights of the 'Kaala Paani' or the jail which had tales of terror from the freedom movement. All doped with days of doing nothing on the beach (beach no. 7 on Havelock island was rated the 2nd best beach in the world by Time magazine - thought it beats me how you can have a definite rating for a subjective thing like this!!)

I hope I get tickets!!

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Black and white

Warning: this post is somewhat meandering and ambiguous - I'm writing as I think!!

I was thinking about this question yesterday - do i really prefer black or white? Dark and mysterious or sunny and cheerful? Do I look at people mostly as black or white? The chain of thought led to some interesting digressions.

My initial thought on this was a balanced 'horses for courses' kind of phenomenon (i.e. on particular days / situations, I prefer black, on others white). Most time anyway is spent experiencing a huge big swathe of gray (or is it grey? - never could remember!!). Most movies, popular literature, and life as we know it is full of the golden mean, the ambiguous middle, the 'balanced' path. Therefore it is probably true that in my inner world, I always look at everything from two points of view. Nothing is right or wrong, there are only situations and actions. Everything can be justified from the other point of view.

But as I think about this, I grow uneasy. To say that everything is gray (or grey) is the easiest way out. It enables you to not take sides. But seen deeply, everything which is meaningful has happened because it was for a cause, a belief. Once you admit the supremacy of gray, everything can find an excuse, a reason for inaction, and inertia would reign supreme.

I think the truly successful person, the real virtuoso, the grandmaster strives to break free from the shackles of gray and strive for the pure. Black or white, never gray!! One or the other, never both. Yes or no, never maybe.

This thought completed, I return to the original question - is it white or black for me? I am allured by black. It beckons with power and secrets. But I think deep down I like white. I'm always optimistic, always believe the best of everything. I like summers and sunshine. I believe in good over evil. Definitely white!!

Till yesterday I would have said I like white on some days and black on the other. But today I can say I like white :-)

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Anusmaran 2007 in Delhi

This post comes about due to Alam's effort at informing all our batch junta about the happenings in various cities. I was 'volunteered' by him to cover events in Delhi :-)

Last night IIM Bangalore had its annual alumni meet in multiple locations across the globe. The Delhi meet was organized at the Hyatt, and the party rocked quite a bit!
Among the batch of 2004, turnout was fairly good (certainly much better than last year). I remember seeing Uncle Sarovar (after a long hiatus), Nishant Kashyap, Mayank the sailor, Pranjal, Sameer Mahandru (still living his role of President as he handed out his card which said Managing Director, Indospirits) and Budddy. Drinks flowed freely and the food was quite good (actually I dont know for sure, all I know is that the salmon rolls were yummy!!)

Although a lot (most?) of the faces were new (I felt positively an old fogey as I saw people with badges saying batch of 2008), it was good to catch up with familiar faces from 2003 and 2005. Prof. Rajeev Gowda spoke at length about the good things happening at IIMB. Among other things, i was pretty impressed to learn that Harshdeep Jolly had written a novel on life at the IIMs (the book was on display at the venue), Sameer Mahandru is going great guns in his business of alcohol distribution (his firm had supplied the drinks for the party), Vineet Khunger is experimenting with a multi cuisine restaurant and everyone else was well settled in their 3rd or 4th jobs since campus.

The party blazed into life once the dance music started playing, with the old regulars (Rajeev Chaba, the India head of General Motors and a lot of people from his batch) hitting the dance floor with gusto along with the more recent folk (most notably a stunning looking Pooja from the batch of 2003). The party however thinned out pretty early, with most people gone around the time of the witching hour.

When it was time to leave, I omitted to carry back a plaque that declared that I had attended the alumni meet. However, it was good to have caught up with everyone (most after a year), and renewed and refreshed everyone's numbers in my phone book.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The silver lining - link repaired

Life sometimes hands us a lemon. Only a few of us, however, are able to make lemonade out of it. This was the thought that came to my mind when I saw the following link:

Alam's time on national tv

Lage raho, Alam bhai!!

Monday, May 07, 2007

Monday morning

I write this on a dreary Monday morning. There is plenty of work to be done, but little enthusiam for it. The week stretches out long and onerous ahead, and five days look like eternity. Monday mornings often do this to me.

Interestingly, the 5 day week is a relatively recent phenomenon. Not too long ago, it was usual for people to go to office 6 days of the week. I wonder how people would stand Mondays then!! The history of the short work week is a violent one. Organized labour in countries like Britain, Australia, the US and Europe had to struggle long and hard for limiting the legal work day to 10 hours. Robert Owen (a Welsh socialist and social reformer), first proposed the 8 hour workday way back in 1817 (God bless his soul!!). He coined the slogan Eight hours labour, Eight hours recreation, Eight hours rest. Due to his efforts, the working day came down to 12 hours, then 10 hours in different countries one at a time. However the idea took time to mature.

At its convention in Chicago in 1884, the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions resolved that "eight hours shall constitute a legal day's labour from and after May 1, 1886, and that we recommend to labour organizations throughout this jurisdiction that they so direct their laws as to conform to this resolution by the time named."

There was a massive parade of 80,000 workers in Chicago on May 1, 1886, what is regarded as the first-ever modern May Day Parade, in support of the eight-hour day. In the next few days they were joined nationwide by 350,000 workers who went on strike at 1,200 factories, including 70,000 in Chicago, 45,000 in New York, 32,000 in Cincinnati, and additional thousands in other cities. Some workers gained shorter hours (eight or nine) with no reduction in pay; others accepted pay cuts with the reduction in hours.

The real impetus came, not surprisingly, from market forces and the father of capitalism.On January 5, 1914, the Ford Motor Company took the radical step of doubling pay to $5 a day, and cut shifts from nine hours to an eight hour day, moves that were not popular with rival companies, although seeing the increase in Ford's productivity, most soon followed suit.

France, of course, took the lead in legislating 35 hour work weeks, ironically enough, not out of any altruistic motives, but as a means to combat unemployment!! Most European countries have 40 hour work weeks, while the US has usually 50 hour work weeks. Of course, we in India have 65-70 hour work weeks on average (outside of Government service).

I hope this changes soon, and we move to 35 hour work weeks like our French brethren! For now, of course, this looks like a pipe dream. I'll settle with getting through Monday mornings :-(

Note: italicized portions of the post are courtesy Wikipedia

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Flash of insight

The last word has not been said on the war of the cities. Although I make no secret of my preference for Delhi over Bombay, I think I've been successful in becoming friends with Mumbai. We understand each other better now :-)

I've been spending a lot of time recently in Mumbai. Although I live (at someone else's expense!) in the tony southermost part of the city, I have been travelling a lot by local train and autorickshaw, visiting the suburbs. On one of the local train journeys, hanging on to a thin pole (my only anchor against approximately 5000 people who seemed to want to push me off the running train), trying not to breathe in the stench from the tracks, and longing for a sight of land that was not covered in garbage, I finally had the eureka moment.

Mumbai is loved because it is the city of dreams. Survival in this great city requires you to rise above the mundane parts of life. The garbage, stench, crowds, heat and dust - all are mere trifles that necessarily must be overcome if one is to stay sane. An escape from reality becomes a must, and what better escape from reality than through dreams. I have not met many people local to this city who do not dream of great rewards or accomplishments for their toil. And the city of such beautiful dreams necessarily needs to be beautiful.

Mumbai's greatness lies in the fact that dreams could actually come true here. It is a truly green city - only the green is not provided by mother nature, but by the great god Mammon!!

I dont love Mumbai any more than I did before, but I think we understand each other better now :-)