Tuesday, May 29, 2007

New York - An again and again feeling!

Pic: Two square at Times Square

There are some places in the world, the aura of which can leave you gasping for breath. The layout of these cities are just breathtaking and the feeling of I want to see it again does not leave you at all. Paris, one of my favorite cities in the world, got that feeling instilled within me for two whole days a couple of years back. The city is still fresh in my mind and I would love to make a trip to Paris time and again. Now, it was the turn to visit New York, the financial capital of the United States. I would easily place New York in the same bracket as Paris. New York easily is the best place I have been so far, and there is no doubt that I will be visiting NY again and again. It is a place which will keep calling you and there is no choice but to bask in the beauty of Times Square.

Pic: New York Collage

Day Zero
I am not referring to a placement section of an IIT or an IIM. Day zero just happens to be the first day, when we all drove to Shubhika's place at New Jersey. It just so happened that Shubhika happened to be at NJ at the right time, and that was sufficient for me to plan a trip to NY for the memorial day weekend. Rama and Venkatesh(MM) drove in from Pittsburg while I(PM) drove from Boston, and again, Venka was bestowed with a perfect sense of timing. The whole point is, we were there to have fun! We all looked forward to get together yet again, and no prizes for guessing who was the most excited of the lot. It had to be the emotional freak Shubhika (my "sweetheart" if only I wore spectacles!). She was charged up looking forward to our arrival, and we had the good fortune of having lovely food cooked by her - Chole, Dal Makhani, Sev Puri, Roti and rice. Can things get better? I got to NJ earlier than the other two, and so they had the privilege of eating one sev puri each. No points for guessing who ate the remaining!

Pic: New York Collage

Day one
We had planned to start early the next day, and luckily, we were able to get ready by 11 am and catch the NJ transit to NY. It was a 45 min journey, and as we arrived at the NY Penn station, the hustle and bustle was clearly visible. The NY effect was beginning to strike us. As we stepped out of the station on Madison square, the look on our faces was telling. There were big buildings all around, and downtown NY, also known as Manhattan, had the tallest buildings in the world. We had never seen something like this before, and automatically, the four cameras were clicking at the speed of light. We took pictures of everything around us. Every spot was a photo spot. There was so much crowd in the area. As we entered the 42nd avenue, there was the pride of being in Times Square. This is totally a breathtaking area. By the way, the streets from 42nd to 47th street on seventh avenue is called as the Times Square, and this place is very famous for the digital advertisements and colourful banners adorning the buildings. NASDAQ has a banner here and the space is leased out to them at 2 million dollars a year. It is an image worth capturing! We took photographs from every possible angle. Actually, there are no words to describe this area. You really have to get into the place to get the real essence of Times Square. No photograph or video can do justice to the feeling of I was there. How can I disappoint Shubhika by not quoting this Aiyooo...This is so nice!

Pic: New York collage

After the Times Square wonder, we took the Subway(oops!!! Am I missing something here?) to Ground zero, the place where the World Trade Center towers were brought down to the ground on that unforgettable morning of 9/11. We saw the memorial with the timeline of events displayed, and the site was readying itself for the new towers to replace the fallen ones. We then found out that the Brooklyn bridge was at a walkable distance. The Brooklyn bridge is one of the oldest suspension bridges in the US and stretches over the East river.

Pic: Another pic at Times Square in front of NASDAQ

We headed back to the subway from the Brooklyn bridge, and we took the train to the Grand station. We were looking for pure vegetarian restaurants, and we zeroed in on Saravana Bhavan (thanks to me!). It was located in Lexington avenue, and the number of Indian restaurants between the 26th and 28th street left us stupefied. The guy who took the order had the most scornful face in the world and the dosas were terrible (the dosas had no salt and the sambar was terrible!). We vowed never to return to that place again at least for the quality of service.

Pic: Atop Brooklyn bridge

After the sad lunch, we headed to Empire state building. The queue was quite long for getting the tickets as well as to reach the top. The wait was not entirely bad as we were four of us and gossip is the best form of company for desis and that too for guys from Rolla. We slowly(actually quickly since we took the elevator) found our way to the top. The view from the top was breathtaking to say the least. The NY skyline was simply marvelous. The view of the Manhattan was filled with high rise buildings in all directions. The best part about the view was that we could see the lights slowly take over New York. Daylight slowly gave way to a lovely display of lights. We could catch a minute glimpse of Times square from the top. How can I forget some of the important things atop the Empire State building! We got a terrific view of St. Patrick's cathedral from the top, thanks to Shubhika! It goes like this Praveen, Praveen, can you see those two buildings. I sort of faintly said Yeah. In between those two buildings, can you see those two pillars. I rather skeptically said Yeah. That is St. Pat's cathedral. I was like Oh Wow, that is the most wonderful thing . What can you say about this girl! Thankfully, we took only one audio headset to learn about the surrounding buildings. One itself was disastrous and we were thinking of going in for four headsets. Thankfully, good sense prevailed and we saved 21$.

Pic: Times Square at night

After the view from the top, we again headed back to Times square. The night life at Times Square can just not be described by words. It was brilliant, flashy, breathtaking and the adjectives can simply explode from my mouth. The digital advertisements just did not cease to leave us in awe and amazement. Shubhika was starving and it was really a sight to see her devour the pastry. By the time, we headed back home, we were tired like dogs! Only one thing was on our mind. Head back home and sleep like logs and that's what we did.

Pic: We with Liberty aunty

Day Two
Day two was planned for Liberty Island to see Liberty aunty. Again, we had to stay in the queue to take the ferry to the island. The ferry ride was really good with a nice breeze keeping us cool. The weather was ideal for such a trip. As we approached the island, it was a sight to see Liberty aunty with her hand pointed in a direction and standing on a foot. All of us took snaps with the aunty. After the Liberty island, we headed to the Ellis island (thanks to Rama). I really don't know why he wanted to see that place. As soon as we arrived at Ellis island, Venka got busy with his relatives and myself and Shubhika immediately stood in the line to take the ferry back. Rama was pretending as if he was really enjoying the place. That's Rama for you!

It was evening by the time we came back from Liberty island. We then headed to a vegan restaurant. Thanks to us, the carnivore Shubhika turned vegetarian except for her kababs in Times Square. The food at the vegan restaurant was totally different compared to the conventional kind of food. It was tasty though. After the food, again we headed to the same place. Times Square it was! How can we not see it again! But this time, we stopped clicking pictures. Obviously, we had got used to the place now! We went to Hard Rock where Rama got some souvenirs. I wanted to see some Swatch watches though Rama ended up buying a couple of them. We went to Hershey's store and stuffed ourselves with chocos to send it back home through Rama.

There was one important thing between day one and day two. I did something on day one which I did not do on day two!

Day Three
Day three we ended up getting up real late. We just went around NJ to the Indian area and the Menlo park mall. It was evening by the time we got ready to leave.

Pic: Hard Rock at Times Square

I have tried to condense the details as much as possible. It is not just the place that makes the difference. It is important to hang out with the right people. Four of us had awesome fun together. Actually, awesome fun is a big understatement. Four of us know each other so well that none of us had any inhibitions to talk anything or behave in the way we wanted. Who else can burp in restaurants after lunch or dinner or sip up the last drop of juice in the most noisy way (Thanks to me!).

It was a perfect way to end the weekend. We were sorry to be parting, but the point is, reunions are going to happen often in the future and we should be ready to part too! What a way to close out the long weekend! More trips are due in July.

The sad thing about a blog is that not all photos can be uploaded. So, here goes the link for the NY photos.

NY photos - The complete collection
New York I
New York II
New York III
New York IV

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

A la Swades...?

As I recover from the sadness of leaving Rolla to begin my job life at Boston, sitting in the lounge of the food court at the Charlotte airport, I got a wonderful forward from Prasad directing me to take a peek at the IBNlive article composed by Sandeep Verma, an analyst at Lehmann Brothers. I did not need this article to set me thinking but it kind of gave me an idea of what all the desis here in US are thinking about returning back home.

One of the common topics of discussion in any forum "Are you returning back to India for good or not?" generally gets a lot of heads thinking, at least if it doesn't get them rolling. Even a die hard American fan desi who would want to settle here will think twice when you ask him this question. It is not easy to say yes to that question even if you know it is a no. The American dream is such that everything is so undecided - you don't have any idea how you are going to fare in your GRE, no idea whether you can get an admit, absolutely no clue as to how you are going to garner the funds for higher education, and no idea whether you will get the F1 visa, no idea at all whether you will receive funding from a certain professor, no idea whether your thesis can get completed on time and more importantly you have no idea how to get a job secured. If all these things work fine, you have the biggest headache to comply - how in the world will you time your H1B quota with your thesis and graduation? All in all, hundreds of difficulties to comply with. Once all these things are done and you look back in time, you do not have it to quit all these things and head back home. Come on, all of us are materialistic. Nobody is doing anything for free. The world wants to make money. Everybody wants to get into the rosy side of life. The thorny side is filled with frugalities. How are you going to break it? Getting accustomed to this way of life gives you a lot of possibilities to think about a comfortable future. As a student in US, one cannot make a lot of money and it is not as comfortable as what people in India think inspite of having funding and all other benefits. The air is filled with innumerable tensions that can be comprehended only by a fellow student in US. I still haven't experienced the job life here.

Coming to the basic point of going to India or not, it is not an easy decision to make as it is offset by a lot of factors. But in due course of time, it would be a real challenge to head back home, and live with family and friends, instead of just experiencing the sample visit every year (I still haven't experienced this!). It would require a lot of determination and will to know when you have to draw the line and head back home. It is one thing to be emotional and patriotic, and it is totally a different thing to defy the pragmatics. I am not saying that I am not heading back home, but only time will tell when I will be doing it. The economy back in India is booming and the Indian rupee is narrowing on the gap with the dollar. It might be bitter for the working professionals in US, but it gives me a lot of pride to know that the Indian economy is making waves big time. There is no point in harping on the growing value of rupee just because you are working here, when you know that it is going to bring solace to millions of people back home. At the end of the day, I am willing to take the strengthening of the rupee.

An important piece of information that I would like to convey is that, the farther we get away from home, the further it strengthens the bonds with India. India is a unique, unexplainable feeling. You don't need anything motivational to head back home. Go to the world map and have a look at the map of India, and you can experience the tears swelling up your eyes urging you to head straight back! Some things can just not be written, it has to be experienced!

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Graduation and it's all over - Really!!!

Pic: Graduation!!!!

The feelings on 12th May, 2007 can just not be translated into words as I went on to the dais to shake hands with the chancellor and the dean in the presence of a host of dignitaries, and more importantly in the presence of some of the closest friends at Rolla. Yes! I am talking about the graduation ceremony at UMR, Rolla. Yadu and I have had a similar background with both of us having worked for a couple of years in the same company before doing our masters in Electrical and Computer Engineering, and having arrived at the same time, it was highly imperative that we leave together.

Pic: 1300, #7 - Rama, me, Venkatesh and Yadu

The graduation ceremony is certainly a once in a lifetime experience, and I just understood why this ceremony is so important in the United States. I have none of my family members in the United States and so, obviously, I look upon friends before taking any step in this big land. I, rather we, had the good fortune of having some of the closest guys around. Rama flew in from Pittsburg, Karthik Chandramouli (KC) from Sunnyvale, Shubhika from NJ and Abhi from Tulsa exclusively for our graduation ceremony. As people were pouring out of Rolla to various places, it was really good to see people coming from far off places to grace the occasion. It was just good to know that these guys were attaching so much importance to your progress in life. There was this amazing feeling of "Oh! They are here for us!", which is truly unbeatable to any other in life. Everybody also knew that this was going to be one of the few opportunities for all of us to be together. After this, there is this traumatic question of When are we going to meet next and more importantly where and how? It certainly can bring a nostalgic feeling to anyone around. So, here we got together to enjoy the last moments in Rolla and in style!

Pic: Castleman Hall, Leach Theater

The incoming people from the other states slowly clamored into Rolla, and slowly, the trickles just clogged the university town. Nobody had seen Rolla more crowded than what it was on Friday and Saturday (11 and 12 May, 2007). People were there all around and every house had about 10 occupants easily. Discussions and arguments were flying thick and fast. The other guys were catching up on the latest happenings in Rolla. If you are wondering how Rolla can generate so much gossip, ask the Indian community around, and you will go back with a plethora of information. Information gets churned here faster than the speed of light and I really mean it. Yadu was showing off his new found love, his new car, Mercedes Benz. It was a real beauty. All of us took turns to get into the driver's seat and fiddle around steering the car safely (obviously, otherwise he would have killed us!).

Pic: Dignitaries on Dais

Saturday morning started at almost noon, what with all of us sleeping at five or six in the morning after all the talks. We had a good lunch at the other Kannada hub whetting our appetite with spicy food (Thanks to Shankar for his pakodas and bajjis!). We had no idea how to put on our cloaks. So, we were assisted by Shubhika in wearing our gowns and hoods. Yadu and I had to reach the Leach Theater early compared to others. We were seated in alphabetical order. As we slowly made our way into the Castleman Hall, it was certainly a matter of pride to see so many people in the auditorium. The dignitaries were introduced and the Phd candidates were seated on the stage. The felicitation of the Phd candidates began after the chief guest gave a brilliant and motivating speech. It was now the turn of the masters candidates, and as I began my walk towards the stage, I could feel my heart beating faster (Don't know why!). I gave the card to the caller, and as my name was called out, it was an amazing feeling to shake hands with some of the important people at UMR, and more importantly to resounding cheer and applause. I will carry this feeling with me for the rest of my life, truly unforgettable. The speaker after the felicitation asked the parents of the candidates to stand up, and then asked all friends and relatives to stand up for an ovation. It was truly emotional to see the whole auditorium rise to the feet and it just went to show that there were so many people waiting to check on your progress in life. I was close to tears. After the felicitation, we gathered outside to take a lot of snaps with friends.

Pic: That's me!

Pic: There goes Yadu!

That evening, about a gang of 20 of us went to the only vegetarian restaurant Gokul in St. Louis. The treat was sponsored by Yadu. It was fun to hang around with the group! The next day, everyone was busy getting ready to fly to their respective places. The trickle turned into a downpour with the whole of Rolla getting evacuated in record time. Sunday evening gave a very strange uneasy feeling for all of us who stayed back in Rolla. It was difficult to see Rolla isolated without people. Rolla without UMR is truly unthinkable and unimaginable and all of us were immersed in an unknown sea of grief. Every one of the guys who went back had this feeling too. Rama and Karthik knew that we would never be staying together in Rolla again. What a life we have had over the last two years. The fun times had to be transported to other destinations when we meet in the future. Yadu looted the house and went back with the same emotional feeling. All of us when we spoke in the evening over phone realised how much of a void our separation had caused. Shubhika, as usual was teary eyed, and that was the only difference between her and the rest of us. We could just place our emotions in check.

Pic: We at Gokul

Pic: Lucky Yadu

Rolla is a place to be when there are people, and when people are leaving, Rolla can be as cruel. It is not easy not to get sentimental or emotional about the place you love so much. I still can hear Rama's voice ringing in my ears "Man, as soon as I saw the lights of St. Louis from above, I could sense that I know this place well. I got the feeling of hometown". Such is the impact of Rolla and it is not everyday that we get a chance to make good friends in life. I will be heading to Boston with a very nostalgic feeling and remembering some of the greatest moments that we lived out in the last two years. These last two years have left an everlasting impression in each and every one of us.

Click here to view the video link of the graduation ceremony
Click here to view the photos of the graduation ceremony

Saturday, May 05, 2007

SPB - The best of many generations

Talk of South Indian cinema, and immediately you have some vintage names ripping through your mind. In terms of music, you have MS. Viswanathan and Ilayaraja making gigantic waves in Tamil cinema and the first instance of singer who can leave you craving for more is none other than our very own and dynamic S. P. Balasubramaniam (popularly known as SPB). SPB is one of a kind singer who has added so much versatility to the vocal world. Be it a Tamil, Telugu, Kannada or Malayalam movie, you couldn't find the songs not having SPB lend his voice to it. That was the case in late seventies, extending to the eighties and well throughout the nineties, and the best part is, he still continues today for selective compositions in the same way. He is a music director's delight and his well defined voice modulation is truly unbeatable. There is so much life to the song when sung by SPB.

SPB made his mark in Tamil cinema when MGR was looking for a fresh voice. It was way back in the early seventies. After that, there was no looking back for one of the best singers in Indian cinema. He has led his voice to almost every big as well as not so well known actor in South India. He has sung well over 50000 songs over a span of three decades, and his voice today is as good as what it was twenty years back. His latest song in Rajinikanth acted ARR composed Sivaji is strikingly popular with the masses. He is so ideally suited to Rajini that it becomes very difficult to make somebody else sing for him. The best part about SPB is he can sing for any of the actors without any difficulty. He might not have got that recognition in Hindi cinema and the reason just beats me as Salman Khan at one point of time wanted only SPB to sing for him. He was very much underutilised in Bollywood for unfathomable reasons. His combination with music maestro Ilayaraja was a golden period of Tamil cinema. Both of them churned out innumerable hits encompassing a wide variety of songs. The combination was just too good. Today when you hear certain singers from the North making a complete mess out of the pronunciations, it is too refreshing to get a chance to hear a song rendered by SPB with perfect pronunciation and dialect. SPB has mastered the four South Indian languages with absolute perfection. For a person without any classical training, it is a wonder to see him come up with such perfect rendition.

SPB is an era by himself. He cannot be compared to any of the singers of today's generation. Nobody can control the South like the way he has done for the last thirty years. There will certainly be an influx of new singers, but the legacy left behind by SPB will be there for many many generations to come.