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

Sunday, February 09, 2014

The idea of success

There is always talk of success getting into your head.  But then, there is this fundamental question of what exactly is success.  It varies from people to people, and also, you have short term and long term successes.  Honestly, I have never pondered as to where I want to be twenty years from now or for that matter, even five years from now.  There is a goal lurking in somewhere, but I don't think about it day and night.  I want to live in the present, and that is perhaps as hard as not thinking about the future.  It's not easy.

You meet the person you like, you decide to spend the rest of your life together.  Then, there is children, education and what not.  These things happen over time.  As for wealth, anybody who works in any industry for thirty years is going to accumulate more than he or his family needs.  

There are ways to spend your life, and each is governed by his ambition and desire to do things that he thinks will impact his life in the long run.  There are few things in life that can match travel.  It teaches you a lot of things, and you walk away with experiences that can change you forever.  I can definitely say that I was a different person before I came to the United States.  The confidence of surviving in a place all alone with the bare minimum without the comforts of things back home, which you have taken for granted, is something to be experienced.  The transformation is well and truly worth it.  You meet different kinds of people in the process and you learn to appreciate different perspectives.  I want to travel as much as possible.  There are so many beautiful places in the world, and maybe, even a whole lifetime is not enough to explore them.  At least, for me, when I think about my life till date, the first thing that pops up in my head are the places that I have visited.

I was in the Church of Notre Dame in Paris.  It's a beautiful place.  I still remember the day clearly.  It was 3rd April, 2005.  A day earlier, Pope John Paul II had passed away.  The church was filled with people, and everyone was involved in prayers.  He meant so much to the people gathered there, and I could see a sea of emotions.  Somehow, I can never forget that when the Pope passed away, I was in Paris.  I don't know much about his successors with respect to dates, but this somehow stands out, because of the place and the setting.

And, that was also the year when Paris was bidding for the Olympics, which they eventually lost to London by a single vote.  There were posters all around the city about them being the Olympics candidate for 2012.

The fear of being chased by a bear cub in Alaska at the Harding trail, as also trying to avoid a grizzly bear on the Tundra Alpine trail are experiences that will stand out for the rest of my life.  These are just a couple of travel experiences, but it's easy to put a context to every experience.

So, for me, I'd say that I would like to see as many places as possible, and walk away with as many experiences.  They are well and truly worth it.

Anyway, last weekend, we had a team outing, and I was talking to a colleague.  I asked him,

"What are you going to do when you retire in a few years? Will you move out of the bay area?"

He said, "You know, Praveen.  My wife is from the south east Asia.  All her life, she has dreamt to lead a life in the Silicon Valley.  If we move out of Silicon Valley, it would mean that we didn't make it.  She is very ambitious, and we want to be way more successful in our retirement than during the working years.  So, for her, success is being successful at the bay area, and sustaining this lifestyle, which includes us traveling to different places every year."

I am not sure if I would see success the same way, save for the travel part.  But then, success means different things to different people.  And when you talk to different people and exchange views, it feels like magic, because it makes you think, and you always walk away with a thing or two to add to your thoughts.  For now, success to me is deviating from the routine and collecting experiences.

Also, success differs at different points in life.  So, maybe ten years down the line, when I write another blog post on the same topic, maybe I would have undergone a huge transformation, and my goals may get redefined. 

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Last year

I have been meaning to write for quite some time, but I never found the patience to find a subject.  Trivial happenings make for good discussion, and sometimes, the serious topics fizzle out.  And then I thought, I never think when writing a blog post.  It just happens.  In any case, the writing sucks.  So, I thought, at least, let me continue the habit of writing something and worry later about the wherewithals of submitting the post for a Booker or Pulitzer.

We saw a bunch of shows last year.  Newsroom was fantastic.  I liked the idealistic portrayal of the newsroom characters.  Aaron Sorkin brings the idealistic nerve in his characters to the fore with panache.  It makes for good viewing.  My wife tells me not to drool incessantly as soon as Olivia Munn comes on screen.  But then, she is awesome.  Yeah, even Olivia Munn is awesome.

Then, my wife queued up The Wire from the library.  When you get past the first few episodes, you begin to understand why President Obama loves the show, and why his favorite character is Omar.  The Wire is not about flamboyance, and the ending always fuels you into wondering why the makers didn't go for an alternate ending with better consequences.  As they say, reality bites.

Of course, the year belonged to the final season of Breaking Bad.  Generally, as you go deep into the new season of any series, it starts to fizzle out and you're almost begging for its end.  But, Breaking Bad breaks the myth of conventional story telling.  Brian Cranston and Aaron Paul are two amazing actors, and I just wonder why it took so long for Brian Cranston to pick up a Golden Globe.

Towards the end of the year, we started watching M.A.S.H, the series from the seventies.  The humor and word play associated with the show is like no other.  I am not sure if the popular sitcoms of today can rank anywhere close to the humor associated in M.A.S.H.

And as long as you have HBO, you can watch the random movies that pop up every now and then.  We watched Descendants yet again.  I think we would have watched it thrice(at least - because we watch it every time it's on TV) last year itself, apart from a couple of times the year before that.  George Clooney is an amazing actor.  The movie is set in Hawaii. There are subtle things in the movie that makes you bring the best from within yourself.  George Clooney's wife is in a coma after suffering a water accident.  The eldest daughter knows her mom has had an extra-marital affair.  She criticizes her in front of her younger sister.

So, her father quietens her with a quick retort.

"Alice, don't spoil your mom for Scotty."

Even though he knew his wife was having an affair, he didn't want to spoil the relationship between a mother and daughter.

My wife and I felt that was amazing.  It was subtle, yet the whole situation felt very profound.  It was beautiful.  He didn't want to influence the relationship in a negative way.

In the usual family circus, almost everybody is talking behind everybody's back.   Don't talk with him.  She did this.  He behaved rudely with me.  The blah, blah, blahs and nonsense are pounding constantly.

That felt like a big takeaway from the year.

As far as sports was concerned, Rafael Nadal had an amazing year.  He is certainly the greatest of all time.  Just the way he approaches the game, the amount of hard work, sincerity and dedication he puts into every single shot is a huge learning experience for people like us.  And on top of all that, he has always conducted himself with humility and grace.  French and US Open titles with a fantastic hard court season last year, after coming back from a long layoff; these things are possible only by Nadal.  If you substitute Rajinikanth playing the exact same shots like Nadal on a tennis court, people would have rubbished them as physics defying and impossible.  But, that's Nadal - mind blowing and defying all laws of physics on the tennis court.

And, Murray finally won the Wimbledon.  When Djokovic saved those three match points, I really thought Djokovic was on the verge of performing his Houdini act again.  But, not to be.

So, Sachin Tendulkar retired.  I wish he had done that right after the 2011 world cup.  I wish that hundredth hundred had not become an obsession.  All said and done, he is one of the greatest servants of Indian cricket.

It was great to see the Aussies win the Ashes against the English men 5 - 0.  What a whitewash!  England never had the aura to be called a great team.  The English team never had out-of-the-box thinkers.  It always felt like a team which was cramming everything, and then spitting them out on the day of the exam.  Totally bookish and boring team.

Anyway, the year is done and dusted.  I hope 2014 brings all the happiness, excitement and luck to all of us.  It's always fun looking forward and hoping for the best.

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.

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Rudram

As you already know, I hail from Malleswaram in Bangalore.  It's the area with the maximum TamBrahm population.  The Kanchi Kamakoti Mutt is very close to my house, and I was always filled with fascination when I entered the temple premises.  The Veda Pathashaala kids have a unique charm about themselves and it's quite interesting how they carry on with their daily lives with a sense of discipline and devotion.

As a kid, even as I went to college and work, I had the habit of going to the Mutt at least once a week.  My mother was much more regular than me.  The priest conducting the daily prayers and rituals was an epitome of perfect Vedic intonations.  There is something striking when somebody can recite the hymns with grace and authority.  The rendering, with the constant ebbs and flows, is easy to leave anyone in a state of trance.  It's pure bliss.

After a few visits, I knew pretty much everyone in the temple.  I approached the person in charge of the Mutt.

"Sir, I would like to learn Vedas", I said meekly.  I barely did Sandhyavandanam correctly and so I was not a subject matter expert when it came to these things.

"What do you want to learn exactly?",  he asked.

This is a hard question.  I knew Vedas encompass everything, and there was no way that I could have handed out a list.  The list is endless.  On the contrary, I didn't even know what it comprised of.  So, if I had to fill the list, it would have contained maybe two bullet points.  I was in a predicament.  I wanted to give him a decent enough response that did not make me look like as if I did not know anything.

I used to go to the Asthika Samaj (again, located close to my apartment in Malleswaram) for the Pradosham.  There, I used to be fascinated by the folks reciting Rudram.  I always dreamt that I should be able to recite like them one day.

So, the first thing that came to my head was Rudram.

"R-U-D-R-A-M", I said.

"That's what I want to learn."

He looked calmly at me.

"Okay, good.  At least, you know what you want to learn.  Come tomorrow at 4."

That was a Sunday evening.  Monday at 4 sounded vague.  I was working at that time.  There was no way in the world I could get home by 4.

"Sir, I will be at work tomorrow.  4 is too early", I said.

"Exactly! Who goes to work so early in the morning?", he asked.

That's when I realized that he was referring to AM and not PM.

"That works perfectly", I said.

I mean that doesn't work in any way.  But, I did not want to lose the chance of learning Vedas from an experienced practitioner.

"Okay, I will see you tomorrow", he said and walked off.

I came home and told my mother about the plans.  My father who was listening to all this from the adjacent room immediately gave a premonition.

"There is no chance that this guy is going to get up that early.  Don't keep the alarm and waste all our sleep."

I immediately opposed.  One of the primary things that a son always does is to oppose his father before towing the line like a good boy.  Ultimately, it's the father who always wins.

"No father.  I am going to get up early in the morning.  I am destined to learn the Vedas.  This is a great opportunity.  Who lives so close to the Shankar Mutt and gets a chance to learn Rudram.  Why don't you also join?"

It felt like a perfect pitch.

"Do whatever you want but don't wake the household."

I went to bed early that night.  When I got up the next day, it was 7 in the morning.  Immediately, I sprang from the bed.  I asked my mother, "Why didn't you wake me up?"

"Even the Lord himself can't wake you up, when you are asleep", my mother said.  I knew what that meant.  I did not make any further attempt to break the shackles and ask for early morning Vedic learning.  It just was not feasible.

Similarly, two years ago, I was in the Shiva temple in the Bay Area on one of the Pradosham days.  There, there was this gentleman, who was reciting Rudram in the most vibrant way.  It was enchanting.  I also approached him and told him I like to learn from him.

He told me, "You are most welcome.  I chant every morning at 5.  You can come for the chanting, and once that is done, I can teach you at 6."

I took his address and phone number.  Unfortunately, the same fate as of almost ten years ago prevailed.  I still had a hard time getting up from the comfort of the bed in the wee hours of the morning.

Then, subsequently, at the beginning of the year, he told me that he plans to conduct weekly lessons at 5 in the evening every Saturday.  That definitely felt like a perfect proposition.  It was as though the Gods were finally at peace with me.  I felt that this was the "perfectly perfect" opportunity.

I went every week eagerly.  I just wanted to learn Rudram.  Only after talking to him did I realize that Rudram had two parts - Namakam and Chamakam.  I made a sincere attempt.  I can say with some amount of conviction that I am in the right direction to recite the Namakam and Chamakam.  Of course, I can never say with confidence that I am chanting it right.  It comes with many hours of practice and I have just got started.  But, the feeling of looking at the Namakam page of Mantra Pushpam and reciting the verse is a fantastic feeling.

Bay Area has been awesome and there have been a lot of benefits in the move from Kansas to California.  But, even if all the other benefits are nullified, the very fact that I got a chance to learn Rudram far outweighs everything else.

Being close to the Shankar Mutt in Bangalore, I always felt that I was "this" close to learning Rudram and other Vedic chants.  But, it took me a period of another ten years and a distance of ten thousand miles to finally fulfill my wishes of getting a chance to learn the Vedic Chants.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Beijing

The Great Wall

China is a fascinating country.  The fact that it is the most populous country in the world with the communist regime keeping a check on every citizen's fundamental rights is something that I have not experienced in India or the United States.  Though, with all the dangers that behold the world, no country can safely say that it does not monitor its citizens.

Exploring other cultures and understanding their day to day lifestyle is a great aspect of travel.  Anyway, I was on a one week business trip to China and my trip was filled with interesting experiences.

Day 0 - Vegetarian
The start could not have been worse.  As I got into the flight, I realized that I did not mention about my dietary requirements at the time of booking.  So, I asked the stewardess if there was any option of me getting a vegetarian meal.

She asked me,  "Have you mentioned it at the time of booking?"

I said, "No"

"Then sorry.  We don't bring vegetarian meals unless specified."

Anyway, for one of the meals, the stewardess said that there is vegetarian option and I can have it.

"Are you sure there's no meat?", I asked.

"Of course.  It's only quiche."

As I took the lid off the bowl, I noticed a beef patty lurking in the corner."

There went my vegetarian option.

Dal Makhani and Rice
But, when I checked into the hotel, I was surprised to find Dal Makhani as one of the options for dinner.  I gladly ordered that and went into a three hour sleep before jet lag set in.

Day 1 - The tryst with the strangers


Smog, not fog
I drew the blinds aside, and saw a very cloudy morning.  It was in stark contrast to the massive heat of the previous day.  I quickly got ready and headed out to catch the shuttle bus to the satellite office, and that, after a heavy breakfast.  There was a lot of traffic on the streets and people were crossing the roads in exactly the same manner as it was done in India.  It was pretty haphazard.

Just like India

Waiting for the bus
After we completed the official activities of the day, my colleague and I decided to take the Subway to the Tian'anmen Square station.  As we reached the Square and as I was clicking some photographs, I was interrupted by a stranger.  They were very friendly.  We said we were here for the first time.  They said they were students and that they were in Beijing on a short tour.  The conversation went on for some time.

Tian'anmen


"Since you guys are anyway hanging out here, why don't we take a small walk around the place?"

We didn't see the harm in it.  And as we walked on the small street adjacent to the Square, we came across a tea shop.

They said, "OK, we are going to have some tea and then move on.  Why don't you guys join us?"
I was in no mood for tea, but then, we agreed to get in.

They ordered tea, and some beer for my colleague.

We continued talking.

I was already in a hurry to leave.  I mean, I didn't want to spend the little time I had in a tea shop.  In spite of my badgering, they ordered some red wine.  It was supposedly a 1994 Cabernet.  I politely declined.

After some time, when they saw that I really wanted to leave, they asked the waitress to bring the bill.  My colleague volunteered to pay the cheque using his card.  We saw it was about 298 RMB (50 USD).    Then, the waitress came back after some time and said, "The card's not going through.  We need cash."

It was only then that we saw that the bill was not 298 RMB but 2980 RMB.  We almost freaked out.  500 USD for tea, beer and wine.  We immediately knew it was a scam.  We argued with them for about 45 minutes, and finally ended up paying 100 USD and walked out.

It was foolish on our part, but a lesson well learnt for a few dollars.

When I came back to the US, I narrated this to my friend who has been to China multiple times.  He told me that it was very common and that he had told me about this after his first visit.  He told me that he had mentioned it on his blog as well.

Maybe I had forgotten.  But, now I will never forget this incident.

Day 2 - Pure Lotus
What an exotic restaurant

Four of us in the evening decided to have a hearty meal.  So, we decided to take a visit to a pure vegetarian place (Pure Lotus) thanks to my boss's insistence.  We had to take two subways to reach the place.  It did take a little bit of hunting to get to the place.  We had to take a deviation on the main road to go through a narrow alley to reach the place.  As we reached the entrance, a person holding a huge lamp guided us to the hotel.  From there, the owner took us inside and after walking a few meters, took us to a waiting area.  The place was truly exotic.  It was modeled on the theme of caves found near the Silk Road(or Route) in Chengdu and has some kind of historic significance.

This was fantastic

Trip Advisor calls this as a classy restaurant in the region.  When we told the waitress if the food is really good here, she just said,

"We don't claim anything.  It's just that everybody who comes here says the food is good."

Modesty, we thought.

Anyway, we soon got to the dining area after a wait time of about 30 minutes.  The food was truly exotic and so was the price.  It was really expensive.  The food was good too.

Exotic

We ate heartily, and walked back two and a half miles back to the hotel.  On the way back, we admired the tall structures and wondered how China had transformed itself in the last twenty years.

Day 3 - Peking Duck
On day 3 evening, the local folks took us to a fancy traditional Chinese restaurant.  It happened to be one of the good places for the famous Beijing ducks.  As soon as I saw the ducks at the entrance, I realized it's going to be hard for a vegetarian.  I ended up getting some fruits coated in sugar, sweet potatoes, some spinach and fried rice.  I am the sort of guy who would ask "No meat right?" even in a vegetarian restaurant.  So, I had a hard time explaining to them that I need food not cooked in animal fat, no meat and no fish.  All the usual blah blahs.

The place was crowded on a weekday.  And the Beijing traffic was so intense that we had to wait in the traffic for about 45 minutes just to get to this place during peak hour.

I also told my colleagues that I am taking a one day tour to Great Wall the next day.  They were like, "Did you research properly? Don't be too adventurous."

At the restaurant
Day 4 - The Great Wall and Usain Bolt

The Great Wall
I had booked a one day tour as mentioned previously to the Great Wall and Ming's tomb.  I was to be picked up at the hotel at 7 in the morning.  The Great Wall is a magnificent structure.  No wonder the Mongols couldn't enter China.  We went to the old Badaling section of the wall, where it's less crowded.  The new area is more like a traffic jam swarmed with people.  The climb to the top was excruciatingly tough.  I pride myself to be a good hiker but this was elevation at its worst.  The Fitbit which I had indicated that it was equivalent to climbing 150 floors.  The view from the top was beautiful.
The new Usain Bolt
We then went to Ming's tomb, and on the way back dropped me at the Olympic stadium.  The Beijing 2008 Olympics is one of the best games till date thanks to the mammoth effort put forth by the Chinese.  I was really happy to see the Bird's Nest, the place where Usain Bolt shot to the 100 and 200 m World Record.  I couldn't stay up till late to see the lights.  I headed straight to Silk Market after that to see all the fake items of the big name products in the US.  I went to a shop and the lady handed out a Louis Vuitton catalog book and asked me to pick any bag I wanted from the list.  The fake produce is truly rampant.

Silk Market
Beijing International Airport
I got back to the hotel, had a fantastic swim, and retired for the night.  I had my flight the following morning.

It was an eventful trip, and just like any travel, I had experiences only to gain. 

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The social syndrome

My friend told me that he never blocks any of his friends on his Facebook news feed because that's the way he gets maximum fun on Facebook.

"It's a great way to pass time.  Most of the guys I barely know.  Half of them are jokers."

But, I somehow don't have the time for most of the nonsense that goes in the name of updates.  I don't even have a dedicated Facebook app on my mobile phone.  I just use the People Hub to get updates of people who are there in my phone book contacts.  Otherwise, I just don't care.  Most of the important updates in my friends' lives still come via emails or phone calls.

Anyway, last week, we had been to the Sunnyvale Hindu temple.  After the renovation work, it's all the more beautiful.  And as is the norm, we met someone we knew.  As I said earlier, you just have to step out of the house, and you'll meet someone you know.

We exchanged pleasantries.

I knew he was in the bay area.

Then, he told me, "I did not know you were in the bay area."

"Oh, surprising! Are we not connected on LinkedIn? I always keep my profile updated", I said.

"I see.  I am not very active on any social network", he said.

Anyway, we chatted for a few minutes and decided to catch up sometime later.

We walked towards the car, and I passed on a few details to my wife about her new acquaintance.

Immediately, she called up her friend.

"Hey, you remember yesterday, we were talking about a guy who had posted pictures of him carrying his wife on Facebook? "

"Isn't he the guy who had also altered the Kolaveri lyrics to include some cheesy lines about his wife on Facebook?", the voice on the other line added.

"Yes, it's the same guy."

"Imagine the sheer coincidence.  We just met him today."

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Meetups

Meetups can be predictable, and also, totally unpredictable and unexpected.  In the Bay Area, we meet people consistently without a planned agenda.  Sometimes, we go to a restaurant and it just doesn't feel right, "How come we haven't met anyone today? What's wrong?"

We have really had strange encounters.

I had gone to the nearest Indian restaurant with my colleague.  Nowadays, I don't even act surprised when I see someone I know.  It's become a part of life.  I just greet and move on.

Anyway, we both picked our stuff and were having our food at the table.  Suddenly, I see someone walk up front, order his food and walk back to his table.  I immediately told my colleague, "I think I know him.  He resembles a guy who was in Boston, but what is he doing here? I don't even know whether it's the same guy."

My colleague told me to go talk to him if I was so confused.  

I figured I would rather go talk to him, than wonder the rest of the day whether I should have talked to him or not.  After all, if he wasn't the guy who I thought him to be, it's not like he was going to throw the plate of food and abuse me or something.  I mean what's the worst that could happen, right?

So, I went up to him, sat in front of him, and said "Hello".

It was the same person who I thought he was.

"Ennada, Praveen!", he said.  "Great to see you.  How are you doing?"

"Good, good"

 "I knew you were in the bay area, because I saw your post about India Cash and Carry, Sunnyvale.  I told Nithya that you should be somewhere around here.  I moved to the bay area a few months ago."

And, obviously, with the kids, they had to be in Cupertino (school, education, you see).

That was coincidental to the highest degree.

Anyway, last week we had my friend's parents visiting us.  They told us they had been to Muir Woods.

Mami said, "There are so many Indians here.  You know what happened? I met my school class mate in Muir Woods."

"We were talking about the area we had lived in Madras, and suddenly, after some time, we realized we were class mates", she continued.

My wife and I burst out laughing.  "In Bay Area, you always meet someone you know."

Saturday, June 08, 2013

The food challenge

From Wikipedia, an oxymoron is a figure of speech that combines contradictory terms.  I don't need a Wikipedia to get this basic information.  I learnt this in my primary school.  But, life throws many such explanations on a day to day basis and still sometimes, you make the same mistakes again and again.

My wife and I are foodies.  My wife always complains that I eat and she puts on calories.  Yeah, yeah, yeah! I watch my weight.  And, definitely, that's not my problem.  But, when it's not your problem, and it's her problem, it means there is a problem.  No question about that.

Sample the many such scenarios on a day to day basis.

We go to Sprouts (it's an awesome place in Sunnyvale).  You get all kinds of fresh fruits and vegetables.  And, you also have a section where you have the best chocolates, nuggets, almond coated dark chocolates, walnut coated chocolates, and a wide variety of stuffed chocolates with whatever nuts and resins you know.  It's like paradise.  I generally hate grocery shopping, but love going to Sprouts.  So, I go to the chocolates section, stuff different kinds of chocolate coated nuts in different bags and move on to the next section.  There, I see Wasabi beans, groundnuts, corn and other stuff that if you eat, would increase your cholesterol.    Again, I put them all in separate bags.  And then, I go to the confectionaries.  Biscuits, cookies and pies find their way into the shopping cart.

Till now, life is awesome.  Everything's good.

My wife, who is shopping for vegetables and groceries in other aisles, walks towards me and sees the shopping cart filled with all the dangerous stuff.

"Praveen, please, we are not going to take all this."

"You don't eat.  I want to try them at least."

"Once you buy, you never eat these items.  Ultimately, I am the one who is going to consume all this."

"No, no.  I will definitely eat.  Don't worry."

A week passes after these items find their way into the snack cabinet at home.

"Where are the chocolates? Can you pass me the almond coated dark chocolate?" I say in all earnestness.

"It got over two days ago.  I have been begging you to eat.  You never listened to me."

Begging? Really? I wonder.

"Okay, get me any chocolate."

"The chocolates are over.  You can eat the pumpkin pie if you want.  I didn't like it so much anyway."

I make a fuss about how I am obsessed with chocolates, and I just don't get to eat anything at home.

This is where things take a turn for the worse.

"I told you not to buy those chocolates.  See what's happening.  You don't eat the chocolates.  I end up eating them and not able to keep a count of my calories.  It's all your fault."

Wow! In the first place, I have not eaten anything.  And, above that, I have to put up with the tornado of scoldings.  It's really really hard being a husband.

Anyway, somehow, we make peace.  I apologize for my fault.  The point is I don't even know that I am at fault.  I apologize to myself for apologizing to her.

It's a different day.

We go to the Indian store.  We buy a packet of ready to eat Bhel Puri mix from Haldirams.  If you haven't tried that, I can tell you it's awesome.  I don't have to fear buying this item, since I am officially in charge of making Bhel Puri at home.

Bhel Puri slot falls on a Saturday or Sunday evening when both of us are sitting on the couch watching something on Netflix.

"Okay, let me go make some Bhel Puri", I say.  "Do you want to eat some?", I ask with sincerity oozing out.

"No, no.  I am fine.  Don't bother.  Just finish making the Bhel fast and let's continue watching the series."

I cut the onions, tomatoes, green chillies, ginger and some cucumbers in a finely chopped manner.  When I say finely chopped manner, I actually mean it.  It's that fine.  I mix everything in a bowl.  I mix the contents from the packet as well, and transfer the Bhel from the bowl to the plate.

I bring the plate and sit next to my wife.

"XBox  Play", I shout out aloud and all set to continue with Arrested Development.

Suddenly, I can find my wife nudging me.

"I too will have one spoon of the Behl."

"What?" I shriek out.

"Why are you shrieking as though I have killed you? I am just asking for one table spoon of what you have made."

"I just asked you fifteen minutes ago.  If you had said yes, I would have made a whole plate for you."

Then follows a series of back and forth comments.  It ultimately ends with

"After all, it's just Bhel."

It's hard to part with something when you have made up your mind that you are going to eat the complete quantity.  No point explaining this to her.

"Okay, eat whatever you want.  I am sorry."

There it goes again.

"Don't repeat this.  It's after all Bhel."

I nod and once again, apologize to her and to myself.

I wonder when I'm going to unravel the mysteries of life.    

Thursday, May 30, 2013

The tryst with spelling

Spelling and grammar form the two pillars of any language.  The fact that there is a Scripps National Spelling Bee challenge to test the outrageous abilities of young kids only highlights the fact that the language with all its abbreviations and short cuts, still relies heavily on the correct spellings and pronunciations.  The advent of several portable devices has given rise to a situation where people think that the colloquial usage of certain words is now not an aberration, but the norm.

I do have a smartphone just like any other spoilt human being today.  I text people, though not as frequently as the teens of today.  The main usage of my smartphone is to guzzle news reports and feeds, and of course check my email and reply with not-so-long emails.  For the longer emails, I revert to my laptop with keyboard support.

I cringe when I see messages like this.

ill c u tmrw cos i m bz at prty tnite

got 2 do my wrk tday. can u snd me ur notes

There is absolutely no explanation to some of these words.  Why would anyone write tnite instead of tonight? The puritans would consider tonite to be unacceptable, but tnite! Less said the better.  Tonite feels blessed.

Why prty and not party? I mean what in the world is stopping the person from adding an extra letter in "a".  It's not like he is runing out of time.  If a person can type such messages, I am not sure if he is doing anything useful in his life.

Anyway, I am not that bad in spellings.  That's what I thought.

There is another extreme though.  The kids who take part in the Scripps Spelling Bee challenge every year can put the best of minds to shame.  For a lesser mortal like me, it's like getting whipped and thrashed, as I end up watching in awe and admiration at the talent that these young kids possess.  It's totally humbling.

My wife and I try to catch up on the Scripps Spelling Bee challenge every year.  We have our own games as the actual challenge unfolds.

I would say, "let me take a guess at this word", and give my version of the spelling.  The end result would be such that the difference would be like the distance between North Pole and South Pole.

My wife would guffaw, and point out why she did not even try the word in the first place.  Some words are so outlandish that you don't even have the heart to try the spelling.  There is no way you can get them right.

Even though Arvind Mahankuli, this year's winner got it right with K-N-A-I-D-E-L, it was the way he spelt this word that was spellbinding.

D-E-H-N-S-T-U-F-E

Wow! If he can get that, he can get anything.  To get each word right means so much preparation goes into it.  And I don't even want to talk about how I spelt that word.  It's more than embarrassing.  But then, at least, I tried.

Kids today are street smart.  They have instant access to everything.  Some of them know how best to use technology to their advantage, and not just while away their time on social networking websites.

Again, it's a humbling experience to see these kids excel without a trace of fear.  For me, as a kid, it took some time for me to realize that it was not "ruf".  The harder part was convincing the other kids of my age after I learnt the actual spelling.  Times have changed and so have a lot of other things.