Saturday, May 21, 2016

The reason

Nadeem looked into her eyes.

"Are you sure?", he asked with a glint in his eye.  "Or are you trying to trick me?"

"No, I am not kidding.  Look at this strip." Banu offered the smudged test strip to her husband.

Nadeem did not even have to strain his eyes to look at the two lines on the strip.  The two dark blue lines were clearly visible.  More than shock, he was utterly confused.

"How can it happen?", he asked her.  "We were super careful, isn't it?"

"I don't know", her voice quivered.

Five years ago, when Nadeem and Banu were getting married in a rather unconventional way at the marriage registration bureau, he had clearly told her that he did not want to have kids.  He had warned her.  Repeatedly.  In no uncertain terms.  He had explained his position as clearly as he could.
And during every single intimate moment, they never forgot.

"It was lucky you found me", Banu would say.  "Even I am not particular about kids.  Else you would never have found a woman for life."

Nadeem would break into a grin.  "I don't care."

Nadeem had seen the unwavering selfless commitment required by parents to raise kids.  He knew it was no easy task.  He felt there was no way that he could do any justice as a parent.  He had always thought of himself as a selfish person.  To show selfless, unconditional love towards anyone was not his way of life.  He had seen how his mother had raised him, his three brothers and two sisters.  He didn't even want to relive how much she had to endure to put her family in a comfortable situation.

In fact, Nadeem and Banu were asked the question many a time at family gatherings.

"Are you guys still not planning to have a child?", Nadeem's mother would ask.

"No, mom.  You can ask me repeatedly.  But, the answer is still no.  Nothing's changed."

"Why are you so adamant?", his uncle would pop the question.

The questioning from friends and family was relentless.

Fast forward to today, Nadeem couldn't still believe what he was hearing.

"What do you want to do? I want to have this child", Banu said.  She feared the worst.

"Don't worry.  We are going to have this child", said Nadeem.

Banu looked surprised.  But, she didn't ask any further questions lest her husband changes his mind.  She left it at that.

At the next family gathering, Nadeem and Banu conveyed the news to the family members.  All of them were pleasantly surprised, and of course, totally confused.  Nadeem's mother was truly baffled.  She knew her son very well.  Once he decided on something, nothing in the world would bring him to change his decision.  It was a quality he had imbibed from her.

"So, what made you change your mind?", she asked her son.

"It's true that we never wanted to have kids.  We were careful at every step.  But, in spite of all our efforts, if this child had the will to beat all the odds, then I think we should respect the strength and the will of the child to stay alive.  So, he or she deserves to live.  I can't fight destiny."

Everyone remained silent for a few seconds after Nadeem provided the explanation.  His mother was lost for words.  Tears were rolling down her cheek.

"Mom, why are you getting so emotional?", Nadeem asked.

"You have not changed at all.  Even as a kid you were like this", she said.

"Back in those days, in Iran, the ants used to hunt down the honey and help themselves to oodles of it.  The honey bottles would be filled with ants.  In order to beat the ants, we used to store the honey in bottles suspended in water in a large tank.  That way the ants wouldn't be able to walk across the water to get to the honey.  One morning, when we removed the bottle from the tank and opened it, we found a solitary ant inside the bottle.  One solitary ant.  I was about to take the ant out and crush it.  But then, you stopped me and said.  "Mom, if this ant could risk its life, cross the water and get into an air-tight bottle to get to the honey, it means it really needs the honey.  Let it go.  Let it have the honey." I still remember the day.  I don't know if you do."

"You used the same logic today with your child."

[Based on a lunch conversation with a colleague]

Thursday, March 31, 2016

The idea of it

I've wanted to do many things in life and at different stages.  Since education was enforced upon me at an early age, I really thought that my parents were doing a big disservice to me.  I would rebel.  Why should I study? Why can't I play all day? were questions I would pose to my parents.  In India, at least when I was growing up, I didn't have too many options.  First, you had to become an engineer and then figure out what you wanted to do in life. 

Over a period of time, you realize that you had to do something with total dedication to pursue your interests.  I used to envy the cricketers.  Wow, they are doing something that they really like.  I wish I could be like them.  Then, one fine day, my friends and I decided that we will play everyday in the early mornings.  We followed rigorously for a day or two before one after the other started dropping out on some pretext or the other.  And then after some days, nobody even spoke about early morning cricket routines.  My mother was very keen that my brother learn Carnatic music.  My brother has a gift for music.  But then, everything requires dedication and practice.  After some days, I don't have to say, but I think you get the point.  

Like I said in one of my earlier posts, the fact that everything turns into a routine at some stage does not help.  Being a cricketer feels easy, but hardly so.  Otherwise, everyone would have turned into a Tendulkar or Kohli.  It's just that the idea of doing something different feels good than the prospect of actually doing it.

 Often, I get into one of these introspective moods.  It doesn't do any good to me, and when I reveal what I think, it certainly doesn't please my wife.  There are many who think before they speak.  I certainly don't belong in this category.  

It was a couple of years ago.  I was telling my wife, "I am thinking.." Even before I could complete the sentence, she cut me off.  "This time, what?"

Wait till you listen to me, I said as though I was an epitome of thought and patience.

"Violin is such an awesome musical instrument, isn't it?", I said.

Knowing me, she asked in a puzzled voice.  "Okay, what are you thinking?"

"I want to enroll in a class.  I want to channel my inner musical voice to do something meaningful.  I don't have the ability to sing.  But, I feel, I will be able to do justice in learning to play a musical instrument", I said in a manner of "yes, I have made my decision" kind of confidence.  

"Do you know that the violin is probably the toughest musical instrument to learn?", she said as a matter of fact.

When a statement like that comes up, it becomes a personal challenge to prove her wrong.  

"Oh, I have always dreamed of playing the violin since childhood.  Don't discourage me now.  You have no idea how dedicated I will be.  In a couple of days, I will find the best violin teacher.  Wait and watch", I challenged her.

She let out a sigh.  "Praveen, you like the idea of playing a violin.  You don't actually want to play one.  Trust me."

So, I scaled the internet to find a violin teacher about ten miles from our residence.  I made an appointment.  My wife and I went to her place the next day in the evening.  

"Please watch me teach my students for half an hour.  And then, you can go home, think and then decide if you really want to learn the violin" was what she told me."

I wanted to blurt out, "No madam.  I am definitely interested."

My wife preempted my thoughts.  "Okay madam.  We will do as you say." We exchanged glances.

She had two students with her.  She was helping them with the posture.  "You should know how to hold the violin", she said.

And these were students who have been practicing with her for a couple of months.

And then, they followed the teacher's notes.  There were many jarring notes, obviously.   They played with excruciating difficulty.  It looked really hard.  I immediately felt that it required tons and tons of dedication and hard work.  It's not something I felt I could master easily.  

We stayed for about half an hour.  Then, we thanked the teacher and left.

"What do you think?", my wife asked me.  "Will you be able to handle that?"

"I think I can", I said with confidence evaporating faster than a drop of water in the Sahara.  

My wife smiled.  "You like the idea of playing a violin."

She left me at that.  

Monday, February 15, 2016

The Kindled Spirit

It's been a while since I graduated to e-books.  There is a massive amount of convenience associated with reading on a Kindle.  I don't have to toss and turn and adjust my position a thousand times when I turn the page.  And then, I don't have to listen to my wife who would tell me in no uncertain terms, albeit in a sleepy voice, "Praveen, please switch off the light" even if there was no more than a few lumens emitting out of the poor lamp.  I would sigh, sulk, and be tempted to get into an argument.  But then, I would still do the same things with just a little bit of difference.  I would sulk, sigh and switch off the light, and get to sleep and start browsing on my mobile phone.  There are other disadvantages associated with a physical book.  When I fall asleep, I would have no clue as to which page I was on when my eyes drooped.  So, I would have to rely on my memory to figure out the context and land myself in the vicinity of where I intended to be.  That was truly painful.  Of course I can wax eloquent about how beautiful it is to hold a book in your hands and feel the texture of the pages and smell the pages of a freshly minted book in a bookstore.  That can never be experienced in a Kindle but the other advantages far outweigh the hard copy.  And if the hard copy is really a big, fat, hard copy, then the light weighted Kindle is definitely a no brainer.

Anyway, I did not mean to write about the advantages of a Kindle over a hard copy when I started the post.  It's a different matter altogether that if I had written a post on the same topic a few years ago, I would have fought tooth and nail on the advantages of a hard copy. As always, I digress. I don't have to say how much my reading has dwindled over the years.  I always feel that the student days are the best days in your life.  There is so much time to read all and sundry.  During those days I used to think, "How I wish I am past the student life.  I'd have so much time to read books." Somehow, I would always (I should have put the "always" in caps actually) find an interesting book to read a day before a test or an exam.  I would put it off for a later date.  Magically, after the exams got over, I wouldn't find the book as interesting.  There was something magical about exams and distraction. All the great things happened during the exam season.  India's greatest ever test win happened a day before my Signals and Systems exam.  My brain was convoluted with thoughts of the test match and here I was trying to figure out the concept of Convolution in the exam.

Anyway, this was well before the internet era.  And then as other distractions caught up with my life, my reading was limited to what I'd find on the internet.  In the pre-internet era, I would read every tiny piece of every news article, including the editorials and op-eds of the Deccan Herald and the Times of India.  I would learn some new words, look into the dictionary and figure out the meaning.  It was a fascinating experience.  In the process, I also cultivated a bad habit.  I would sit on the floor during meal times and I would always have a newspaper by my side while eating.  My mother would yell at me but to no avail.  Even today, I have the urge to keep my laptop or Kindle by my side during meal times.  It's a very bad habit.

I am not sure how many read a long form article on the internet though (like in a New Yorker).  Recently, my friend was talking about active and passive watching  Active watching, he said is watching informative documentaries, while passive watching he said is useless stuff.  I think the same thing applies to reading as well.  Reading a gossip column on the internet would hardly qualify as reading.

One of the things I love being here in the US is the public library system.  The public libraries are truly phenomenal. I have a membership in at least three of them.  Actually, a membership in one is more than sufficient.  But, there is something exquisite about visiting libraries.  It's just an awesome feeling to step into a library, see a lot of kids running around with as many books as their hands can hold, and people standing in lines at the information desk asking questions about why their hold copies cannot be found or something as trivial as "Where do I find this book?" when you have at least five computers to help you search and find a copy of a book at a particular location.  For me, visiting a library is like visiting a shrine at the temple.  It's a devotional experience.  It just puts you in a different state of mind.  Anyway, I would go to a terminal, see the recommended books at the library, find one of interest and then find my way to the appropriate shelf to pick the hard copy of the intended book.  Like I said, for all the convenience of the Kindle, the feeling of holding a book in your hand is absolutely priceless.  I would browse around, pick about three or four books for the next three weeks.  My wife would do the same.  And then, we would pick a few more books for the little fellow.  My wife and I would grin at each other.  There is no way in the world that we are finishing so many books in three months, let alone in three weeks.  But then, it's good to have as many books as you can at home.  Even if you end up reading just a few pages in one of the books, I think it's still worth it to get the many books home.  You never know what you find until you start reading a book.  At any given point, I'd always have books on the hold list for e-books as well as hard copies.

There is the convenience of the Kindle but at any given point, our place always has e-books as well as physical copies.  At the end of the day, I'd always want to have books that I haven't read.  Even at the tiniest minuscule of time, if I feel like reading, I feel I shouldn't be in a situation wherein my lack of choice puts a hold on my reading, even if my reading lasts only for a few minutes.  Because, it's a great way to fall asleep holding an unfinished book instead of a mobile phone.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Routine

Days go by.  Months sail past.  Years fly by.  The one thing that remains constant is the daily routine.  You can change your routine once in a while, but when you try to stick to the change, that becomes yet another routine.  Oh, I should go to the gym thrice a week.  I should be reading daily.  I should be learning some new stuff.  I should write blog posts regularly.  All this is fine, but eventually, you've contributed to a routine.  So, I've realized that there is no escaping routine.

There are other things that keep me and my wife busy.  Rather, there is just one person who keeps us on our toes.  He is our, little older than a year, infant.  It's amazing how life changing a close to three feet tall fellow can be.  A few years ago, when I was getting married, one of my ex-colleagues told me, "Praveen, marriage is a life changing event, no doubt.  But then, you are two adults.  You will find a way to work things out together.  Wait till you have a baby.  That's what is truly a life changing event."  We didn't realize how true the statement was until we had our child.

Now, with the little fellow, we still have a routine.  With both of us working, having a routine is probably the best thing in life.  Anything out of the ordinary, anything that kills our routine kills our peace of mind.  The days are jam packed, starting at 5 AM and ending at 9 PM.  And then, we indulge in 40 minutes to one hour of Netflix or Amazon.  One hour.  That's it.  I am not kidding.  Sometimes, we don't even wait to watch the full episode.  We stop watching at some point.  By the time we finish, on most days, I would see my wife close her eyelids and say, "Praveen, let's continue tomorrow." Late nights for us end at 11 PM.  There is no luxury of late night binge watching.  One, we don't have the energy.  Two, we have to get up early in the morning, come what may.  In spite of that, I try to eke out some time for some things I just cannot miss, like watching the Federer Djokovic semi-final game a couple of nights ago.  Those days are rare though.

Yes, there is a routine.  But there are so many moments in the day that make the whole thing so worthwhile.  Taking care of a baby is stressful - mentally as well as physically.  The fact that we are responsible for shaping an individual's life can be overwhelming.  How do we make him eat better, how do we get him to sleep on time, what are the kind of activities we should engage with him, what are the books to read to him, what are the parenting books to read, how do we combat his cold and a million other things stick as a part of the daily schedule.  There are times he would throw the food away for no reason.  It's easy to lose your cool.  "Why are you doing this?" I would say in a loud voice.  And again, he would throw.  Kids do some(most) things for no apparent reason.  And then, I'd realize, "At this point, there is only one person who can control his behavior."

But then, now and then, he would find something really funny.  He'd pick a toy from his toy cupboard, find an instant connect with a car or a plush toy, look at us and flash the most beautiful smile, a smile that can only come to an innocent child, rendering everything else around us absolutely insignificant.  You have several such moments during the day and these moments make the whole experience absolutely worthwhile.

I read a passage several months ago.  I keep going back to the passage because every word is etched out to create magical sentences.  The last sentence, I would have read a few hundred times.  Now, we can really feel the meaning of that sentence to the last letter.
"Forty weeks come down to a mother's first moment, and everything changes.  Crying keeps her awake, but silence is deafening.  She'll teach him to walk only to chase him out of the street, out of a tree, and out of harm's way.  Then suddenly time stands still; long days and endless nights morph into years and as other mothers are chasing their babies, her baby is driving away.  The mathematics of motherhood: Days that last forever add up to years that pass in the blink of an eye."
In the midst of the routine, we find moments filled with boundless happiness and small joys sweeping aside the monotony that creeps into our everyday lives.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Krishnar Thaalattu (Krishna's lullaby)

Summer holidays were spent in the confines of our ancestral home at Pudukkotai, Tamil Nadu in the presence of many elders - paati (grandmother), athai paati (mother's aunt), thatha (grandfather), many mannis (aunts) and mamas (uncles).  There was an earthly charm in doing some of the mundane things as kids.  For us, they were anything but mundane.  Playing under the sun in a nearby maidaan (grounds) in soaring Tamil Nadu heat is no joke.  Our bodies would be dripped in sweat, and we would be coaxed by the elders to come back home for a break.

"Ennada, ippadi thoppala nenanjundu vandhurkel," they would say. (You guys are absolutely soaked).

"Go wash your hands and feet, or why don't you take a shower".  Taking a shower was pointless, because after a mini break of having lunch, we would head out again.  In a matter of minutes, we would again be soaking.

Being the eldest in the family, I was supposed to have responsibility.  My partner in crime was my cousin, who is just a year younger than me.  We would have our fights, plan our mischiefs together and figure out how to stay away from home from the prying eyes of the elders.  And then, slowly, every year, the members of the young troupe increased one by one.  In a joint family, with a collection of elders and young ones, there is never a shortage of fun and frolic.

The houses those days were very different from homes of today.  It was a long stretch from the front courtyard to the backyard with a number of rooms.  Our atthai paati occupied the oonjal (swing) at the center of the living area.  It was a long wooden plank, and whenever I go back to the days of my atthai paati, I can only imagine her occupying the position on the swing with kids on either side, and singing the lullabies for the kids.  With her loud, clear, crisp voice, she would sing,

Gopala Krishna Swamy Gokulathiley, Kuzhandayi roopam kondu vilaiyaadinar...

All of us were lulled into sleep thanks to the Krishna lullabies.  She had a whole collection of them, but the one that sticks in my memory is the one I mentioned above.

She would get up at four or five in the morning, when the youngest member of the household wakes up, render all the lullabies for about two to three hours.

Generations of kids have been soothed to sleep, thanks to the way it has been passed from elders in the family.

Now that my mother is here to take care of her grandson for a few months, she sings these lullabies to my son.  It gives me a chance to happily relive those glorious days of time spent in the summer.

I told my mother, "Everything is available on Youtube.  Let me Google it and bring it to you.  And you will see that this song would be renditioned in many different versions."

As I Googled, I was super surprised to see that there was not a single audio or video of the song.  In fact, there were a lot of people who had requested this song.

My mother also mentioned about Ananthamkaatu kummi, a collection of songs that were transferred to her by her atthai.

"I have the book at home, back in India, with all the lyrics", she said.

In an era when we try to digitize and preserve as much information as we can, it is surprising that some of the classic old lullabies that have been passed several generations down may be lost forever.  So, I told my mother, "Let's have your rendition of the lullaby uploaded to youtube.  At least, there will be some folks grateful for it."



These songs are true masterpieces that definitely deserve a wider audience.  That way, we will have a chance to sing these lullabies to the next generation of kids.  These classics deserve to be preserved.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

The overwhelming moment

The fascinating aspect of life is probably the first moment of life.  That instant of birth is probably the perfect example of intersection of science and Godliness.  There is something miraculous about the whole thing.  It's certainly inexplicable.

He was supposed to have arrived four days ago.  At the beginning, we waited with expectation, which slowly transformed to patience and boredom.  We wanted him the very next instant.  Anyway, after all the anticipation and drama, he arrived the next day, with a splash and a wail.  To call that moment the most overwhelming moment of my life would be a gross understatement.

With as much information of pregnancy classes loaded into our heads as possible, we were thrown into the complex world of parenting.  Theory and practice are two different beasts.  I had found that out in my Engineering days and the real world scenario was no different.  So, on the first evening, at the hospital, my wife and I were gaping at him with a feeling of awe and fright.

The first night, all alone, with the little one, we had our self doubts.  The duty nurse walked in.  "Guys, do you want to place him in the nursery?"

My wife and I looked at each other.  We had discussed this scenario a million times before.  We were sure of what we had to do.  Yet, we were confused.

"OK", I said.  "No", my wife said.

"We'll see how things go tonight", my wife said.

Obviously, you will have no doubts as to whose decision prevailed.

So, ten minutes into that decision, everything went well as planned.

He was fed, his diaper had been changed and we thought that we were covered for the next three hours at least.  And then, out of the blue, he let out a cry.  It was not a quiet sob.  It was a piercing wail that could bring the entire ward down.

We looked at each other as though babies were just expected to be quiet.  It's very easy when sitting in a class as to what to do.

"What do I do now?", I asked my wife.

"What did we learn during the birthing classes? Let's just follow the instructions", my wife replied.

"What instructions", I wondered. I mean, I went blank.  All that I could hear was a high decibel wail piercing through my ears.  I was totally nonplussed to react.  Like I said earlier, theory and practice are totally different.

"Let me hand him over to you.  It'll be good for him to get skin to skin contact", I said.  I had to say something meaningful.

Nothing helped.  The cries did not subside.

"OK, OK.  Call the nurse.  Press the red button", I said confidently.  Calling the nurse was probably the only thing I was confident about.  That should have been the last option.  But for me, I thought that we had already reached the last option.

The nurse walked in.  She had such a confident demeanor as though she knew exactly what she was doing.  She held him for a few seconds.  She asked us a couple of questions about his feeding and diaper change.  We answered, rather less confidently.  At that point, we were not confident about anything.  If somebody had asked us what one plus one was, we might have hesitated to answer two.  Such was our state; so unsure of anything.

The nurse was smart enough to understand.  She smiled at us and said, "It's probably the diaper."

She quickly undid his diaper, and lo and behold, he had a wet diaper.  We heaved a sigh of relief.

My wife and I quickly said the same thing "Please take him to the nursery." We'll catch up as much sleep as possible at least as long as we are in the hospital.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2014

Writing end of the year memories has become common trait, but I think it provides a great chance to retrospect and introspect the year that has been.  It's no secret that life has its ebbs and flows, and more often than not, they are way beyond your control.  You reflect and wonder if you could have done things differently.  If yes, you add it to the lessons learnt notes and move on to the next.  It's not always that simple.  The truth is, there are so many things in life that can tear you to pieces.  It is up to you to pick the broken pieces, put them back in order and move on as though life can only scar you so much.

It was a landmark year for India, as Narendra Modi was elected as the Prime Minister of the country with a stunning majority.  You could sense the excitement with the Indian diaspora even here.  Such is the magic of the man who rode the anti-incumbency wave of the Congress to clinch the polls in spectacular fashion.  The full use of social media by Modi was there for all to see.  2014 was certainly a landmark year for Indian politics.

Of course, as to be expected, India lost yet another overseas series during the English summer.  Honestly, it wasn't even disappointing.

The mysterious disappearance of the Malaysian airlines was one of the low points of the year.  Many a time, I have been concerned that Google and Apple know my whereabouts every second of my life.  In this day and age, it is hard to accept that something as large as an aeroplane could escape everyone's radar and disappear into oblivion.  It was deathly frightening, and in a strange way, I felt secure that my location could be tracked at all times.

Terrorism showed its ugly face this year with a number of deathly, chilling incidents.  I hope the world will be a better place next year.  What happened in Peshawar last month sends a chill down my spine.  Unimaginable and super scary!

As far as technology is concerned, there was nothing revolutionary this year.  It's kind of strange how consumer electronics is moving at a slow pace.  Everyone is releasing new phones, but I am yet to see the magic of 2007.   Revolutionary product lines have been replaced with minor evolutionary ones.  I am excited to see what 2015 will serve us.

On a personal level, my blog posts ground to a halt by the end of September.  Once you face a downtime of a couple of months, it becomes difficult to come up with a new post.  But, for the year that has been, it would have been unfair if I did not have a concluding post on a year that I will look back several years from now with gloating satisfaction.

At the beginning of the year, I had written

In Breaking Bad (Full Measure - Season Finale of the third season), Walter and Skyler White are house hunting and when Walter feels that his wife is apprehensive of their financial position in their choice of a good house, he says,

"We've got nowhere to go but up"

That quote best summarizes how I feel about 2014.

2014 has been all that I could ask for and maybe even more.  We were looking at 2014 with a lot of optimism, and it couldn't have started anyway better than a trip to New Zealand and Bora Bora.  The breathtaking locales and exciting uncertainties in figuring out new places are what make travel a worthwhile experience.

The Kawarau Bungy, South Island (Milford Sound in particular), Te Anau, Wanaka, Queenstown, Hobbiton and swimming with the sharks and exploring the coral gardens at Bora Bora are something that'll be some of the biggest takeaways of the year.  New Zealand is a fantastic place and any amount of description will only be less.  The pristine clear waters of Bora Bora is something to be experienced.  There was not even a flutter in the calm waters.  Breathtaking!

Overcoming several personal challenges from the pitfall of 2013 to an overwhelming 2014, personal experience has shown what a difference a year can make.

When there is a new addition in the family, it enriches life.  There is so much to look forward to with the new generation.  A new way of life, new challenges, exciting times and above all, new found hope and optimism.

It's fascinating how every year exposes some new personality traits in you.  It's exciting to think what the future beckons. Let us move towards 2015 with profound optimism and hope.   Still, there are several peaks to be conquered and pinnacles to be attained.  I am sure everything is possible.

But for now, I'll say this.  Several years from now, when I look back on my life and unwind the years, 2014 will occupy a special place in my heart.  It felt right from the first second on Jan 1, 2014 at 12:00:01 AM.

I am sure 2015 will only be better.

Wishing everyone a very happy and prosperous 2015.  As a community, let us attain greater heights.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The quick witted

We get to interact with different kinds of people on a day to day basis.  Add a few kids to the mix, the interaction level changes completely.  It's always fun to get down to their level and have a nice discussion.  There is always a takeaway at the end of it; it's always a pleasant experience.  Their depth of interest in things always leaves me dumbfounded.  "How do kids pick up that? How can they be so smart and intelligent?"

Anyway, to cut a long story short, as we were house hopping for Navarathri, I happened to meet a cute little girl over the weekend at my wife's friend's place.  Kids are adorable, and this one was no different.  She was like a bullet train, asking million questions a second, expecting you to keep pace with her and belt out the answers.  She is just six years old.

"So, you and my father are school classmates?", she asked me.

Nope, I replied.

"Oh, so you and my mother are classmates?", she turned to my wife.

"Yes", she replied

"What about you?", she asked me again.

"I am sorry.  I have never been to a school", I said with a straight face.

"Oh, you have never been to school? Do you know how much you can learn in school? How come your parents didn't say anything?"

I know I missed a lot in life, I said truthfully.  I mean, we always miss things in life irrespective of time and age.

"So, you don't know geology? You don't know anything about rocks?", she asked.

"I don't know about anything.  In any case, how is studying about rocks helpful?", I asked.

Anyway, we went back and forth, and she always came up with witty questions, as well as repartees.  If there is one thing I enjoy, it's interacting with a bunch of little kids.  Time just flies.

After some time, she ran inside and got some chocolates.  She put one on my wife's plate.  Then, she came to me.  She carefully unwrapped the cover and placed the Hershey's kisses on my plate.

My wife and I looked at each other.  My wife grimaced.  Obviously, I was a benefit of the kid's largesse.  In fact, my wife gave me that look of "You asked her all the dumb questions and yet she gives you preferential treatment".  I was all smiles.

Then, I asked her, "Thanks for unwrapping the cover.  Why did you not do that to aunty?"

So, she replies.

"Aunty is educated.  She can do everything on her own.  But you are not like that.  You haven't gone to school and you need a lot of guidance.  That's why I am helping you out."

The room was in fits.  I couldn't control my laughter.

I did what any other person in my position would have done.

I gave her a warm hug. 

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Narayaneeyam

The lack of identifying Raagas has never been a negative when it comes to appreciating good music.  At the end of the day, it's important to lose yourself in the realm of music, instead of worrying about the nitty gritty details associated with it.  That's what I like to say.  But, heart of hearts, I have a deep regret that I don't have the wherewithals to understand the grammar and finer nuances.  I have always felt that to understand and produce good music, it requires the divine being's blessings.  If you are a bad student in academics, you can always improve by working hard.  If you have a good training as a kid in sports, you can be good in sports.  But, when it comes to music, it's just a binary, as far as vocal is concerned.  You either have it or don't.  You can improve your musical skills only if you have it in the first place.  I am not ashamed to say that I don't have even an iota of it.  But I definitely feel sad about it.

Anyway, my parents are here for a couple of months.  So, my wife and I decided to learn some Dasakams (ten verses) of the Narayaneeyam.  My mother learnt it for close to five years, thanks to my friend's mother, who served as an awesome teacher.  So, my mother was keen that we pick up at least a few Dasakams before she heads back.  Learning the divine verses of Narayaneeyam is no easy task.  It comprises of 100 Dasakams, and requires enormous effort and concentration to be able to recite properly.

So, my wife and I decided one day to start the learning process.  My mother started the first verse with a basic Raagam.  For a person who has absolutely no knowledge of music, it's very hard to pick the basic, let alone finer, nuances.

She said that before chanting the first verse of the first Dasakam, it is very important to start with the sixth verse and then continue till the end.

In my loud, hoarse voice, I repeated,

तत्ते प्रत्यग्रधाराधरललितकलायावलीकेलिकारं
लावण्यस्यैकसारं सुकृतिजनदृशां पूर्णपुण्यावतारम्।
लक्ष्मीनिश्शङ्कलीलानिलयनममृतस्यन्दसन्दोहमन्त:
सिञ्चत् सञ्चिन्तकानां वपुरनुकलये मारुतागारनाथ


My wife, midway through the rendering abruptly stopped.

"Amma, I can't learn like this", she said.

"Have some dedication and sincerity", I shot back.

"How can anybody learn any music with you in the picture?", she said.

"You have changed the Shruti at least three times within the first couple of lines.  How do you expect us to keep up with this? Even amma will find it difficult to teach us."

"What are you saying? We are just starting the first verse and already, you have so many comments? I will pick up as the class goes on", I said.

"Not as the class goes on, but as many classes go, you may pick up", she said.

"Amma, you teach me separately", both of us said simultaneously to my mother.

"It's just the first verse.  You will only improve as time goes on", she said.

Anyway, this continued for a few days before we finished the first Dasakam.  It is a slow process, but then, what's the hurry in the world.

Learning is always a difficult process.  Learning it right makes it all the more difficult.  But then, when it comes to the chanting of the divine verses, there's a huge difference between reciting and reciting them right.

For everything, there is a divine hand.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Matri-money

Arranged marriage is a funny business.  It takes a lot of patience and many frustration prone conversations before finding the best match.  It applies more to the parents in conversation, as the match candidates are hidden from the vicious barbs thrown at each other.  Even now, my parents recount some of the funny conversations they have had with the parents of potential brides.

It was quite a few years ago.  Tamil Matrimony and various other matrimonial websites had capitalized on the dot com boom to come up with not-so-easy to use websites.  It is a complicated process to find the potential match, even though from a distance, it looks as easy as a click of a button.  In reality, it is nowhere close.  These websites have come up with various payment options that deciphering them is as complicated as reading your mobile bill.

Of course, there is the inherent complication of figuring out who is a suitable match for you.  Then, you have to match the horoscopes on both sides (girl and the boy) before you can proceed further.

In the Tamil Iyer community, there are subcastes of subcastes of subcastes of subcastes and so on.  Honestly, it is the soup of a soup of a soup of a soup joke, only with real life use cases.

The profile would clearly say

"We are looking only for Thanjavur Vadama" (which means you have narrowed the search base to 0.0001% of the Tamil Iyer population).  It's not like the city is busting with Tamil Iyers and there are hundreds of them everywhere.

Anyway, whoever is familiar with the arranged marriage system will know the intricacies associated with such conversations.

Thinking about some of them, we had a hearty laugh.  But, at the same time, it was/is totally frustrating to fathom some of the questions.

My mother told me she was on the phone line with an elderly gentleman.

"Mama, ungathu ponnu profile parthen." (Sir, I saw your daughter's profile)

Even before my mother could finish the sentence, the elderly gentleman shot back I believe.

"Mami, own houseaa?" (No translation required as it is pretty evident)

"Illa mama, naanga rented houseladhan irukkom. (No sir, we live in a rented house)

"Mami, phone vechurngo, phone vechurngo..."(Madam, please put the phone down, please put the phone down...)

It was an abrupt end to the conversation.

My father narrated to me and my wife.

"I had a frustrating experience with one gentleman.  I spoke to him on the phone for almost ten minutes."

"Sir, ungathu ponnu profile parthen." (Sir, I saw your daughter's profile)

So, he replies

"Payyan enna panran." (What's the boy doing?)

My father gave a standard reply.

"Enna sambadhikkaran." (What's he earning?")

"Sir, even I don't know what he earns.  Even I have not asked him the question."

So, after a few back and forth questions which was entirely based on income and other monetary benefits, he supposedly said this

"Sir, enga ponnuku nethudhan marriage fix aachu.  Nichyadhartam aduththa maasam." (My daugher's marriage got fixed yesterday.  Her engagement is next month.)

My father said that he couldn't believe what he had just heard.  So, he told him,

"Sir, are you not happy with the alliance?"

The gentleman was peeved.  "How dare you ask me that?"

So, my father replied, "What else can I say? You have been asking all kinds of questions about my son for the last ten minutes and now you say the alliance has already been fixed.  Make sure you don't spoil the current alliance."

Some of them are even more insane.  One of the requests wanted an only son with property.  Even the "with property" tag, I can understand somewhat.  But, why the "only son"? I believe they did not want any issues with property disputes.  That's like planning for eons, not just the immediate future.

Arranged marriages are driven by what's best for the bride and the groom.  It has transformed from inquiring about each others life style and character to how much net worth is associated with the family.

I don't understand how a girl or boy can be happy if he or she has to depend on his/her family for property or income.  Ultimately, if a person is not capable of leading a happy life with his spouse, I am not sure what use all this wealth check is.

I firmly believe that everyone is going to earn enough money for a lifetime, and no one has to depend on ancestral property and money to lead his life.  If you have to live life off of somebody else's wealth, then I am not sure what is there to accomplish in life.   And don't get me wrong, accomplishment is not defined by how much wealth you accumulate.

Anyway, I wrote this blog post not because I wanted to reminisce those days.  My brother has entered the race to find a bride, and believe it or not, years have flown by, but the questions asked remain the same.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Thriving

The good and bad thing about life is that you meet different kinds of people; some making quite an impression on you.  That's one of the things I like about travel.  It's not just the experience of seeing new places, but meeting some fantastic people along the way that makes a big difference.  That doesn't mean day to day life doesn't fetch interesting encounters.  All along, you have interesting conversations, and once in a while, you look back and think twice about what the other person said, and that's when you realize that the conversation has made an impact on you.

Bay area is all about crazy entrepreneurs and insanely smart people that you come across almost on a daily basis.  And they talk about how they have had successful exits from previous startups and so on.  It's actually pretty inspiring.

I came across one of the guys who I don't even know why he still works.  Apart from a regular job, he has side projects, and talks about passionate ideas.   He has been a part of four startups, out of which he has had two successful exits.

This is how the conversation went.

"How many startups have you been a part of?", I asked.

"Four, but only two were successful", he said.

"So, what are you doing here? You should be at home, retired and spending time on your hobbies."

He smiled and said, "I can retire if I want to.  I will be able to survive for the rest of my life.  But, what's the point in such a life.  I want to thrive not just barely survive."

I thought about this statement.  You don't just want to do well in life.  You want to do really well in life, and lead the kind of life you want to lead.

Ultimately, it's one life, and you better have the allowance to do whatever you want to.

Some conversations just strike a chord, and for good.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Mandate for the man

"Abki baar, Modi Sarkaar"
Political parties are easy to understand.  They are the most opportunistic, self centered and egoistic people on the planet. So, alliances are created compromising on principles and values, just to make up the numbers.  And often, that results in a fragile political system, with everyone clinging on to each other fearing every instant as to who is going to let go.

Most parties take the average voter for granted.  There is a point to that.  For a voter, it's very hard to switch loyalties.  Some of them have never voted for more than one party all their lives.  They believe in the legacy of the party, and feel a sense of wrongdoing when it comes to the crunch moment of switching loyalties.  So, every election is defined by swing votes from each constituency; percentage votes that can be swayed by the election campaigns.  During the 2014 elections, every vote cast felt like a swing vote, and maybe, has altered the course of Indian elections from now on, forever.

Elections 2014 - Modi wave
Elections in India is no easy task.  For such a diverse population, achieving a popular mandate is probably the hardest thing.  Caste and religion play a key role in garnering votes, and so each state votes a local party, which then enters into a coalition with Congress or BJP to secure the mandate to form the government at the center.  This convoluted process results in every Tom, Dick and Harry bargaining whatever he wants from the government, with the threat that if they don't get fulfilled, he will pull back support and bring down the government.  So, it's only a miracle that something of note gets done in the process.

When Narendra Modi, the biggest polarizing figure in Indian politics, was declared as the BJP candidate for the PM post in the country, it was the start of something that was never seen before in Indian politics.  Modi fought the elections in his typical inimitable style using the social media to his absolute advantage.  He was there everywhere - Facebook wall posts, regular tweets, revamped personal and party websites, direct messages, emails, TV, web advertising, web casting, 3D holograms and every other technological know how that one can think of.  It was in stark contrast to the chaotic and confused campaign led by the Congress.  Led is such a wrong word here because there was not a remote semblance of leadership and organization in the ranks.  Most of them in the party launched a tirade as to why they should not vote Modi into power.

Indian Elections 2014
Rahul Gandhi's interview with Arnab Goswami is now a bible for how not to make a clown out of yourself.  Some of his quotes are legendary.  There are websites now making tons of money in Adwords based on his speeches that are neither coherent nor meaningful.  It brings to question the kind of advisors that he has on his side.  Is he even getting the right kind of advice? When he entered the fray in 2009, he was a novice.  People thought that he would have learned at least something in the last five years.  He has reached a nadir in politics, and in his capacity, he made sure that Congress suffered the most humiliating defeat in their 150 year old history.  Congress now feels exactly like the way BJP was in 2009.  Lack of leadership in BJP was one of the reasons why most of the country thought that Congress was the most viable option in 2009.  How times have changed.  The country had so much hope from the young party cadres from the Congress - Gandhis, Scindhias, Pilots, Deoras and the Abdullahs.  What a bunch of jokers these guys have turned out to be.

Rahul and Sonia Gandhi in the backdrop, and that's where they'll be after the election results
Modi used all the chaos in the Congress ranks to launch perhaps the most effective election campaign in history.  It's kind of funny how the West perceives Indian politics.  Somehow, Congress has developed an image of being secular, when in stark contrast, it's vote garnering has always been on communal lines.  Before every election, they come out with "No Muslim votes should go to the BJP.  The BJP is communal."  Modi's election campaign was centered on development, jobs and economic reforms.  He did not even brandish a false image about himself.  He said that he follows the tenets of Hinduism and is proud to do so.   A religious man can be secular and there is no need to visit mosques and churches if he is a Hindu.  Modi brought that to the forefront without any inhibitions. In India, it requires a huge effort to align the different castes and sub-castes in Hinduism, and make them vote for a single party.  It's almost next to impossible.  So, if all these people have voted for a single man, the results indicate that the election was anything but communal.  It also shows what would happen if people from different castes and sub-castes of Hinduism collectively vote for a single party.  In the future, the Congress should be careful before they bring the communal card into play, as they have so often done in the past.

The NaMo wave in full swing
 The election results were stunning.  I watched the results with a group of friends well into the wee hours of the morning.  We were literally watching history.  The entire country was voting for a single man.  It was almost unanimous.  Whenever I discussed Indian politics with most of my friends, they had no doubts that they were voting for Modi and not the party.  He was everywhere.  His back room staff had planned out such an effective marketing strategy that it was impossible to overlook the good work that he had done for Gujarat.  People wanted to give him a chance, because his work was not gimmick.  He had a spectacular 14 year track record with Gujarat.  Modi's Presidential style of campaign was just too hot to handle for the Congress.  If you need further proof, check out his interview with Arnab.  It's in stark contrast to the one given by Rahul Gandhi.  His cogent thoughts and effective oratorical skills combined with sharp and witty replies automatically forces you to take his side.

NaMo frenzy
In fact, when Arnab asks Modi if he is a micro manager, Modi comes up with this brilliant reply.

"Are Bhai, mein kuch bhi nahi kartha (I don't do anything).  I believe in institutionalization of power.  I empower my Ministers completely.  We just have weekly meetings, we take decisions and move on.  I don't know why everyone credits me for Gujarat development.  I just do it with a team of able people.  The team does everything and we move on to the next task.  Luckily, with God's grace, I have always been blessed with good resource management skills.  I will continue to work with teams.  That's the only way to achieve large scale success."

Working in a large corporate organization, it's so easy to understand that explanation from Modi.  It's so important to work in teams, however brilliant you are individually.  And then, you immediately realize that there is a connect, and before you even know, you are 'Modified'.

India votes decisively
Five years ago, we used to have conversations.

"Dude, Modi is good.  But, he is such a polarizing figure that he will be a liability for the BJP.  It'll be hard for him to enter national politics."

Today, the conversation has taken a 180 degree turn.

"Modi is awesome.  We are voting only for the sake of Modi.  I hope the other leaders in the BJP do not turn out to be a liability for Modi."

Times have certainly changed.

This is the first time in 30 years that a single party has got a simple majority at the Center.  The BJP can form a government on its own.  They do not have to bow down to the whims and fancies of little known political parties.  Modi has defied his critics in spectacular fashion.  Media houses which were gunning for his head in the past have towed his line.  People who put him down are too stunned to react.  Modi, not the BJP, has received the mandate of the people.  If there is one person I would place my bets on to turn this country around, then he is the man from Gujarat who will be sworn in as the 14th 15th Prime Minister of the country on the 21st 26th of May 2014.  The country is definitely in for good times.

Note: All images taken for information purpose only and not for commercial use.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

The gradual fade

It's been close to ten years (nine to be exact) since I have been in the United States.  A lot of things have happened in the given timeframe.  Having never stayed outside home, I graduated from a tense, uptight character to a person with a relaxed and confident demeanor.  Staying in another country changes you completely.

At home, I have missed almost every possible festival, several marriages of friends and relatives, the big and small celebrations, walking down the streets of Malleswaram as and when I like, taking a stroll to the railway station and watching the trains pass by, and the little things of significance.  And sadly, I also missed the deaths of my paternal grandmother, maternal grandfather and my maternal uncle.  My maternal grandmother passed away during my Engineering.  These are people who cared for me.  These are people who never doubted even for a minute that I would be anything but successful in life.

I am the eldest in both the families.  So, my grandparents always had a soft corner for me.  My paternal grandmother, whom I addressed as Thangam paati (grandmother in Tamil), always took my side when my parents were ready to address my misdeeds.  The ancestral home in our village was always filled with visitors, and not once have I seen anybody walk out of the house without being fed.  There was no question of even being asked the question, "Will you dine at our place?".  It was just understood that if somebody came home, they were treated to a hearty meal.

My maternal grandmother, Seeta Paati, was another amazing individual, and I am fortunate to have shared some of the best moments in life with her.  In our village ancestral home, all the kids used to sit around her during dinner time, and she would serve us food (also called as nila sor) accompanied by a mythological narration.

Grandparents and grandchildren have a special relationship.  It is a natural bonding process that goes beyond anything that can be explained.  It's such a magical feeling to have someone care for you unconditionally.  For parents, it comes naturally, and for grandparents, it comes naturally and in abundance.  Grandparents never doubted you.  For them, you were always right.

Last year, during my India trip, my maternal uncle passed away.  He was a man of small requirements.  He led a frugal life.  He lived in dire difficulties.  Even when he had enough money, the difficult circumstances he faced before always reminded him to be more than wise with money.  He always advised me to be careful with money.  He used to get annoyed and upset with anybody, let alone his children, spending more than what was required.

Anyway, this week, my parents called me and said that a close relative passed away.  He was in the eighties.

"Dei, Visaalam mama passed away yesterday", she said.

He was called as Visaalam mama, because his wife was named Visaalam.  So, somehow, we tagged mami's name to mama.  Mami passed away last year.  Both of them were fantastic well wishers of our family.  Visaalam mama was an engineer in his days.  He also developed keen interest in the Vedas and Astrology.  My parents always consulted him when they needed to pick a date for auspicious activities at home.

Even, when I had to book my Visa date for the very first time before I was to embark to the United States, we went to him.

He checked his almanac, did a few calculations and told us, "Book your date on the 20th of June.  It is a very auspicious day."

I don't know the extent of auspiciousness in the date.  All that I know even today is he had my best interests in his heart.  That was more than enough to inspire confidence in me.

He was very interested in Sanskrit.  He used to advise me about the little nuances of doing the Sandhyavandanam right.  Once at home, I was performing Sandhyavandanam with a dhoti and in my laziness, failed to remove my shirt and drape the Angavastram around my upper part of the body.  He waited till I finished, and made sure that I never repeat the mistake again, and explained why it was not the right way to perform my daily prayers.

I don't know how it makes a difference, but ever since, I have followed his advice.

I have missed a lot of things in the last few years, but nothing has caused me more grief than seeing people go.  People literally fade from your life.  People who have seen you rise from nothing simply vanish one fine day.  And then, life goes on as it's meant to.

After my wedding, I was talking to my father.  I was looking at the wedding album.  I told him how different the album was compared to my parents' time.  The texture, the color and the finish were completely different.  It was rich and attractive.

He smiled at me.  With a lot of pain and agony in his voice, he told me this.

"Praveen, you know what.  I never open our wedding album to see the wedding photos."

I was curious, "Why father?"

"When you look at the group photo and see all the people standing around you, you will notice that these people will gradually fade one after the other."

He concluded.

"After many years, it feels like your mother and I are standing alone in some of those photos."

Monday, April 14, 2014

The general elections

Nothing grips a nation like general elections.  There is constant buzz and chatter all around, with each person supporting a leader of his choice; arguments and tensions rising galore.  While in school, I used to spend my summer holidays in Tamil Nadu.  In front of our village home was a huge maidaan, where leaders of all parties would deliver their speeches (of course on different days).  So, I have had the chance to see Jayalalitha, Karunanidhi, Vaiko, Ramadoss and the others from close quarters.  I wouldn't understand most of the things they said, but the crowd and chatter before the speech was riveting.

Anyway, I always wanted to vote during the elections.  And you weren't able to do that until the age of 18.  But, by the time, I got myself registered as a voter and all the verifications were done, another election went by.  So, in 2004, I was very much excited when I was cleared to vote.  I was very clear that I wanted to support one particular party in the state, and the polar opposite at the center.  So, I made sure I knew the difference between Legislative Assembly and Lok Sabha ballots.  Even as I entered my school to vote, I asked the people, "Are you sure this is Assembly ballot?"  It was like me going to a restaurant and double checking if I was eating vegetarian food - "No meat right?"

I exercised my vote, and came out.  A few days later, I was chatting with a non-friend (this guy is definitely not my friend, but if I meet him at a public place, I would smile at him) who was studying at the IISc.

"Did you vote?", I asked him.

He said, "Yes, of course."

"I want Vajpayee at the Center and SM Krishna at the state level", he said.

And then, he proceeded.

"That's the reason why I voted for BJP at the assembly and Congress at the Center."

"What a fool!", I muttered to myself.

Here was a guy, who was an engineering graduate, studying at the IISc, and not knowing the difference between Assembly and Lok Sabha elections.  I wondered how the population who knew neither to read or write knew what they were doing.

But, now, as I follow the elections, I can see the trend emerge.  People know very clearly who to vote for at the center and at the state.  The difference is clearly conspicuous on the day of the results.  In 2009, it was clear.

I still remember the 2004 elections.  Maybe it was the first time I voted or maybe the results were like that.  The BJP were the favorites to win the poll, but somehow, thanks to the horribly executed "India Shining" campaign, were routed in the elections.  The anti-incumbency factor had left a bad taste with the people.

The Congress had emerged as the single largest party.  I was sitting at home not even wanting to watch TV.  It's not that I hate the Congress, but I couldn't imagine an Italian born ruling the country.  Call me what you want, I wanted somebody from India to be the Prime Minister of the country.

My father came back from work earlier than usual.  He told me, "I just cannot concentrate on work.  I am so terribly disappointed."

I went out to meet my colony friends.  Everybody had a look of disappointment.  Clearly, nothing else was a matter of conversation.  Nobody at home even felt like eating anything that day.

I wondered if everyone was so disappointed, how did the Congress ever manage to win the elections.  Then, I remembered people like my non-friend, who did not know what he was voting for.

It was not until Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam, the then President of India, prevented Sonia Gandhi from accepting the Prime Minstership position that the whole nation felt relieved.  It was hailed as a sacrifice, but it didn't matter what it was.   

Sunday, March 09, 2014

New Zealand and Bora Bora

If I have to just put one picture to represent our entire trip, this would be it - Roy's peak, Wanaka
Whenever I think about travel, my thoughts take me back in time.  Almost ten years ago, I was in Germany as a part of work assignment.  I was roping in a few folks who could accompany me on a weekend trip to Paris.

I asked one of them, "Dude, let's go to Paris.  It's just an overnight journey by bus."

He replied, "No, I don't want to go."

I was taken aback.  So, I asked him again, "Are you sure?"

"Yes.  What is there in Paris? I have already seen it on TV."

I have not seen him ever since.

Anyway, luckily, my wife and I don't have such interesting conversations.  We simply decide and go.

New Zealand has been on our agenda for a very long time.  Ever since I watched the 1992 world cup diligently getting up at 5 in the morning, I have been fascinated with Australasia.  I have never seen the Indian stadia with so much greenery, and there was an instant liking to the place.

And, ever since we heard about Bora Bora from a mutual friend, my wife has not been interested in any other island.  Thanks to Google, you really get to know how beautiful a place is.

"What about Hawaii?"

"What about Moorea?"

My wife was firm in her response.  "No, I just want to go to Bora Bora."

Once you get such a firm response, you have no choice but to adhere to it.

So, to placate both our interests, we decided that we'll travel to New Zealand and Bora Bora.

Anyway, after several days of planning and tugging it out, we landed in Auckland.  It was the the last day of the second test, the day McCullum hit a triple hundred and everyone was going gaga over it.  I had Sky Sports on for a few minutes.

"How can you watch cricket on vacation?", my wife asked.

"Isn't that the best time to watch cricket?", I wanted to say.  But, in marriage, you want to say a lot of things, but you never end up saying them.

Anyway, New Zealand is a breathtaking place.  When we visited Alaska a couple of years ago, we thought that Alaska had raised the bar to such a level that it would be very difficult for us to experience the same thrill and happiness when visiting other places.  But, New Zealand just tore all doubts to pieces.  It was simply mind blowing.

The Shire - Matamata

Which hobbit lives here? - Matamata

Matamata, the place where Lord of the Rings set, The Shire, is set was simply brilliant.  We hiked fantastic peaks.  The Tongarira Alpine Crossing was magnificent.  It was beautiful to see Mt. Doom.  Southern New Zealand is infinitely beautiful.  Queenstown is a place anyone will fall in love with.  The backdrop of mountains, the beautiful lake and the way the city guides itself along the lake makes for lovely viewing.

Mt. Doom

The lakes - the different shades of blue is something that can never be written about.  It has to be seen.  No photo or video can do any justice.

Anyway, I decided to hike Roy's peak at Wanaka in Southern New Zealand.  It has an elevation of 5200 ft and the one way distance is 6 km or about 3 to 4 miles.  If the same elevation extends for 10 or 15 km, then at least it's manageable.  When you have such an elevation for small distances, it can be excruciating.

On the way to Roy's peak

I had a Garmin Fenix, and after what I thought was several minutes, I looked at the watch and I saw that only ten minutes had passed.  I had another three hours to continue with the same intensity to the top.  I pride myself on being a good hiker, but this sucked every drop of blood and sweat out of me.  I had to dig into my deepest reserves to extract every possible juice to sustain my ascent.  Maybe that's also because I hadn't had a good breakfast or lunch, and I had also done the Hooker Valley Track at Mt. Cook, and had driven for about three hours to reach Wanaka from Mt. Cook.  Maybe it was a culmination of several factors, but, it was just brutal.

I was like a kid asking every guy coming down from the top.

"How far is it to the top?"

"Another two and a half hours", they would say without blinking an eyelid.

"What?", I would shriek, and then continue.

They would also add, "But, the view from the top is something to die for."

That I knew, because, even before the trip, my wife said, "Praveen, you have to climb this peak.  The view from the top is breathtaking."

She very clearly spent time along the lakefront and explored the city during the evening while I was sweating it out at Roy's peak.

And then, I climbed the top.  It was equivalent to attaining Nirvana.  I had never felt so happy.  Normally, I don't drink too much water.  But, here, I had exhausted two bottles.  I felt exactly like the way Dhanush felt in Mariyaan.

Mt. Cook
The view from the top is something that I'll never forget.  It was like a wallpaper in real life.  The blue skies without a cloud, the lake glazed by different hues of blue, the hills and the city made for sensational viewing.  I just sat there alone at the top in the evening, with two or three drops of water in the bottle and wondered whether I could really, completely take in this moment.

Anyway, after I got back, we went to an Indian restaurant, The Spice Room, and gobbled up everything.  I ate like I had never eaten in ten years.  When you work like that, you don't feel like wasting even a morsel.  It was the best Indian food we had had in New Zealand.
At the Kepler Track - Mt. Cook

Fergburger - We had the bun laden
Queenstown is known as the adventure capital of the world.  I contemplated for a few minutes as to whether I wanted to do the Kawarau Bungy (43 m) or the Nevis Bungy (134 m).  The Nevis Bungy is conducted on a private land and the round trip takes 4 hours from the city.  In the interest of saving time, I picked the former.

Gondola view from the top - Queenstown
The Kawarau is the oldest bungy in the world.  It has a scenic backdrop of the Kawarau gorge.  As I saw one after the other do the bungy jump, I was overcome with fear and thrill.

As the guys at the top prepared me for the jump, one of them asked me to go to the very edge of the bridge.  That's when you have all the negative thoughts creeping in your head.

"Why do I have to pay $200 and get this self inflicted agony?", I thought.

The thrill and the adrenaline rush are fine, but when you see the depth from the edge of the bridge, it makes you think for a second.  But, there was no turning back after I had told my wife, "I am a warrior.  I am going to do it."

Anyway, I didn't flinch a bit, and just jumped on the count of three.  After the initial euphoria, it was just about following the motions.  But, it was just a classic case of wanting to do it and doing it.  Some things are just inexplicable and as I said earlier, no words or picture can do justice.  That feeling when standing at the edge of the bridge is indescribable.



We also took a shotover jet ride, which was good fun.

Just two hours from Queenstown, the drive to Glenorchy is simple stunning.  There is a place called Paradise, which is really like paradise, thanks to the breathtaking scenery.

We had also been to this place called Milford Sound.  The drive from Te Anau to Milford is something to die for.  I have not seen such fantastic beauty.  At Te Anau iSite, we spoke to one of the Park Rangers, Sally, who I thought was really cool (or hot) or whatever.

"Everything in New Zealand is awesome."

To which, she replied,

"Wait till you get on the route from Te Anau to Milford Sound.  It takes awesomeness to a new level."

And true to her word, the drive from Te Anau to Milford was simply outstanding.  Nature had showered all her gifts on one place.  There was rain in the air.  And on a rainy day, the area is surrounded by several waterfalls.  It makes for breathtaking viewing.  As soon as you reach Milford Sound, you actually take a cruise to go deeper.  If you visit New Zealand, you have to visit Milford Sound.

Drive from Queenstown to Te Anau
For us, the train ride from Anchorage to Seward was the best we have ever seen.  On the same scale, you have a different kind of setting with breathtaking parallel, when you drive from Te Anau to Milford.  The overflowing waterfalls from the mountains in all directions is just a sight to behold.

Milford Sound
Anyway, after we completed the New Zealand leg of the tour, we headed for Bora Bora.  As soon as we saw the place, we understood why Bora Bora is ranked way so higher than any of its island counterparts.  They say it's the most photogenic place on the planet. Bora Bora is worth every bit of the hype it gets.  It's simply incredible.

I am just glad my wife taught me swimming, for, without that I would not have enjoyed the place as much as I did.

We went on an eco tour on one of the days.  Standing with the sharks and sting rays at knee height water, as also snorkeling with them at a height of 30 ft is an experience that will be cherished forever.  When you go to these places, it is so important to enjoy the aquatic beauty by snorkeling or scuba diving.  I didn't have the guts to scuba dive, but snorkeling was something that was definitely enjoyable and manageable.  We saw beautiful coral gardens with shoals of fishes in different colors.  During the eco tour, I had some difficulty in understanding how to use the snorkeling equipment and I felt that I couldn't do full justice to the coral gardens.

Black tip sharks - Bora Bora
Aquatic life - Bora Bora
So, for the next couple of days, my wife and I kayaked from the island to a nearby spot where the corals were.  We then snorkeled from that point to the coral gardens, wading through depths of 20 or 30 ft.  We were initially apprehensive, but after a point, we got used to the snorkeling equipment and it felt like a cycling gear.  We were glad we were able to see the aquatic life.

Different shade of blue, and more fishes - Bora Bora
The water in Bora Bora is so pristine with so many shades of blue and green that it is no surprise why people fall in love with the place.  The island is surrounded by a lagoon and a barrier reef.  The overwater bungalow in which we resided made it easy to jump out of our hotel rooms into the water.  The water in the ocean is warmer than the indoor pools in California.

Motu Island - Bora Bora
The best part about visiting new places is meeting amazing new people.  We met a Swiss family in Bora Bora, and they said they loved traveling.  They in fact had "kovalam" in their email id, and when we asked them, said that that was the first place they visited as a couple.  They had been to India many times.  We met a Danish couple who said that they like the fact that in Europe, unlike in America, they get 6 weeks of paid vacation time per year.  They were very friendly and they too shared their India trip experience.  We also met a guy from Germany, who was on budget travel and said, "I don't know what I am going to do once I get back.  But, I love traveling."

The several over water bungalows on Motu - Bora Bora
Even in New Zealand, we met a lot of folks from Germany.  Most of them had been there for about 2 or three months.  We also felt that that's the best way to travel.  That's the only way of doing justice to a place like New Zealand.  It gives you ample time to soak as much as possible from the place.

Sunset view from Point De Vu
We want to see as many places in the world as possible.  So, hopefully, they just don't remain once in a lifetime experiences.  We would love to visit New Zealand again.  We would love to visit Bora Bora again.  But, only after we finish all the other places on our list.  It's a huge list, but we don't mind doing the whole thing twice.

Anyway, our itinerary was like this.

Day 0
Arrive in Auckland and see surrounding areas

Day 1
Matamata (Lord of the Rings - The Shire) and Rotorua (Geo-thermal park)

Day 2
Tongarira Alpine Crossing hike and Taupo

Day 3
Flight from Auckland to Queenstown.  Spend the evening in Queenstown city.  Have Fergburgers.  They are awesome.

Day 4
Queenstown to Te Anau - Kepler valley track hike

Day 5
Milford Sound - Simply breathtaking.  Stay in Queenstown

Day 6
Mt. Cook - Hooker Valley track.  View of Mt. Cook is stunning.

Day 7
Wanaka - Roy's peak (possibly the toughest day hike in New Zealand)

Day 8
Queenstown - all the adventure activities

Day 9
Queenstown to Glenorchy to Paradise - Breathtaking scenic drive

Day 10
Flight to Tahiti - Bora Bora

Day 11
Arrive at Bora Bora

Day 12
Eco Tour

Day 13
Snorkeling

Day 14
Snorkeling - spending as much time as possible in water

Life is beautiful - Bora Bora


Day 15
Arrive in SJC - Home sweet home! Coming back to the Bay Area is also an awesome feeling.  When we told people that we hail from San Francisco Bay Area, the reaction was almost instantaneous, "It's in the list of places we want to see."

Total number of flights during the trip = 10
Memories = unlimited