Monday, December 31, 2007


Benazir Bhutto has now been buried. In a certain way, the media coverage of that story is the perfect example of media coverage in general lately. While the concerns over Pakistan sliding down to civil war & the safety of the nuclear arsenal at it's disposal are genuine & have indeed received a good amount of attention, the assassination of Bhutto has also led to needless glorification of Benazir. Having said that, it is not necessarily impossible to find some critical stuff on her. See article by Dalrymple in Outlook.

Yet again, the fact that the half of the Nobel Peace Prize this year went to IPCC, & not to R. K. Pachauri (Chair of IPCC) received factually accurate but perhaps selective-in-importance reporting. IPCC has since vanished from the Indian mind.

International coverage, unless it involved India in a certain way - hopefully glorious - , continued in its by-the-way manner with Sarkozy's divorce getting as much space as the French Transport strike & probably a lot more than what Sarkozy had achieved since his election.

Yet between all of this whining & complaining, what really is sometimes not noticed as often is that the Indian media has just exploded & that while sensationalism/populist coverage may be something that mars its content, all of our media can cry hoarse against the government & actually thrive on it, & that if you tried just a little, it is not at all difficult to get through to more non-partisan & objective news.

And opinions - in Usha's blog. :)

Have a great 2008.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Labyrinths & lobsters - Fort Kochi

Tucked away between the Chinese fishing nets, the bustling Ernakulam town, & the now submerged Fort Immanuel lies the sleepy little town of Fort Kochi. Antara & I decided to pack our bags & a little carelessness weekend before last & spend a couple of days in this little town away from the clocks & responsibilities. Even in December first week, Fort Kochi was not the coolest of places, & a 20 minute walk is guaranteed to make you sweat. However, it made up for this slight inconvenience in the way of food, people & timelessness.

We stayed on Princess street at Mr. Walton's home stay. While it did appear a trifle pricey once we found out the tariff from other places, it was a still a great place to stay at. The rooms were neat & very modern in their furnishing. There was even a hint of little landscaping. However, at the center of our great stay at F Kochi was Mr. Walton himself. Mr Walton is a veritable teller of stories & experiences. He was also our de facto guide in F Kochi - charting out in minute detail where we should go, what we should see & where should we eat. He told us stories of the Negro spirits, of the occult explanations of the accidents on beach road, & a 40 minute history of Fort Kochi.

Walking south-east down Princess street, you hit more restaurants & tea shops than you could enjoy in two days time. However, in general, our experience was that the spicing of the curries was really subtle compared to what we had expected, & Mr. Walton later attributed this to the weather, the Anglo-Indian palette, & the European crowd which usually frequents these restaurants. Walking past these, you reach the Vasco house where Vasco De Gama stayed for a while, & then died. And then you hit the St. Francis church - a potuguese church built in the 16th century. Right beside the church, a football match was on with a fair sprinkling of fans glued to it & cricket, in a rare twist, was being played on the sidelines much as a surrogate sport.

You can get back to Chinese nets & walk west on the shore amidst ice-cream & the chana vendors, past the gunnery recovered from the now submerged Fort Immanuel & find a place to sit & watch the sun go down into the Arabian sea. Walking back into the town, make sure you buy some fresh catch of the day & take it along to a restaurant who will cook these for you. The restaurant we went to was Casa Linda & they did something really delicious with the lobster, the prawns & the Karimeens that we bought.

The other part of the town - Mattancherry - is where the Dutch palace, cemetery & the Jewish synagogue is. The cemetery again brings back thoughts of how we do not do a great job of preserving our history. The synagogue is a wonderful sight & continues to attract plentiful people from across the globe. The Dutch palace has some very erotic murals from Hindu mythology. The room though is not well-lit & the ASI while not doing a great job of preserving & restoration, has found wonderful ways to describe the erotica in very palatable terms. The teeming art bazaar in Mattancherry is a good place to look at some fine painting which are priced more or less by the size of the canvas. One of the shop owners said that Indians spend money on gold & land only & nobody buys art.

While in Fort Kochi, you must eat at Dal Roti. And you must walk the labyrinths of this centuries old town teeming with history, blood & folklore. You must buy some fish & have it cooked for you. And you must get rid of your watch.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Strangers in a strange land - II: The bus to Fussen

There are two castles that you cannot afford to miss if you happen to be in Bavaria. The Neuschwanstein (literally, the new rock of the swan) & Hohenschwangau (the lofty swan). So when Antara & I, having experienced these two castles & having managed to get drenched in the freezing rain, awaited the bus to Weiskirche at the foothills of the castles, it seemed to me that the very best of our day was already behind us. In many ways, that as not the case.

The bus ride to Wieskirche was rather event less except perhaps we were the only people on that bus who were going to weiskirche. So we got a little chatty with the driver only to find out how to get back to Fussen & the like. The sky was murky, & the church stood rather non-descriptively beneath it.

Those of you who have not seen the Weiskirche will draw little from my description, devoid as it will be of nuances of rococo. But what we saw was absolutely breath-taking & we lingered on for quite a while.

Waiting for the bus back, I had to quickly go relieve myself in the basement lavatory of the market outside the church. Upon arriving back on earth, I found that absolutes sheets of torrential rain were drenching everything around, & that my wife is nowhere to be seen. I decided to wait over a cigarette, & as I was puffing away, I managed to see the headlights of a bus flickering as if something incredibly urgent depended on it. Looking closer I saw my wife gesticulating wildly at me from inside the bus - she was holding it for me - so, grudgingly as always, I stubbed out the half-smoked stick & ran towards the bus.

It was being driven by the same person who had brought us to the wieskirche. I went up to him to pay. He asked if we had paid once to get to the foothills of the castles & another time to get to weiskirche. To this, I said yes. He then refused to accept a ticket payment from us arguing that our payments had already exceeded the amount for a day-ticket. I generaly do not argue against not having to pay up, but all this niceness around did something to me & I pressed him for a payment. He simply refused each time mustering whatever English lay at his disposal.

Antara & I sat back & started looking out at the resplendent rain-washed roads, & the castles in the distance.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Strangers in a strange land - I: The train to Munich

Certainly, our budget for the Munich Holiday did not account for cloak room charges of 15 Euros per day for 5 days. So Antara, I & our eight pieces of luggage found ourselves with the task of somehow finding our way from the airport via a train ride to the Munich Hauptbahnhof & rolling from there to our hotel. It was not very difficult getting to the airport train station given the trolleys we had, but once we got there, there were no more machines to help us. It was down to strength. And strength had never been my strength. So it took what seemed like an eternity, & we must have gotten some help from the sympathetic people around - for I don't think we got all the bags into the train ourselves - to get everything on the train with me striking a fine balance between trying to stand & lending a helping leg & a helping hand to help two suitcases trying to stand.

So there we were, trying not look anybody in the eye. I finally figured out a way to arrange the suitcases & myself in a less dramatic posture. The group sitting around us consisted of two elderly gentlemen, one young woman, & two college-age boys. One of the elderlies who had been considering our state for sometime decided to break the silence & proceeded to make conversation. Now, my general experience in the US had been that not too many strangers asked very direct specific questions, they ask general questions & you're can fill in whatever details you wanted at your own judgment. This person obviously did not believe in that kind of a thing. He first wanted to know if we were students & proceeded to ask exactly what we did if we did not study, how long had been in the US, how long was our vacation in Munich - you know, stuff which produces simple, direct, truthful answers , not unlike a visa interview. Having established our credentials, he proceeded to share some of his own. He said that they were from MD, USA & are returning from a holiday in Kiev. They had a flight home in the evening & were going to Munich meanwhile.

At this point, he asked me the question I was avoiding to ask myself. He asked how in the world Antara & I proposed to take the luggage from the station to the hotel. I produced maps & directions pointing out that it was about 100 meters from the station & we might take a taxi or one person will do all the moving, say two pieces of luggage at a time, while the other stood at the station. He listened & gave me a the kind of look a headmaster gives a pupil from whom he expected better. He simply said that they'll walk with us with our luggage to our hotel. I tried to protest, but he was not really asking me if we could do what he said, he was telling me exactly what we would do.

The short walk was over soon. I carried the heaviest suitcase, he carried the second heaviest, the young boys carried 3 lighter cases between them & Antara just carried one. They quickly departed as soon as we had checked in, having shaken my hand firmly & not even exchanging names, leaving us to feel warm & grateful on a Sunny Monday Munich morning.


*This is a series on people I've met during my travels. Most of these encounters were short, but left lasting memories.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Clinton - esque

The thing about Hilary Clinton is that she seems to always take the side of the correct, while managing to be to as candid as possible with the usual dash of charisma, not to mention caution. Briefly, she is complex. While I think that it makes for a very well-rounded person, I think such a fine balancing act that she has to put on all the time makes her too complex to win an election.

Drew Westen
has written this very interesting book called "Political Brain: The role of emotion in deciding the fate of the nation" & it has some remarkable insights into the human decision-making model. Apparently, & rather sensibly (with the advantage of hindsight), it appears that evolutionarily the rational part of the brain developed way later than emotional part & Westen theorizes based on ample experimental data that our decision-making continues to be largely an emotional activity & rationality has little part to play in it.

This is precisely why economists like Manmohan Singh may fail at popular elections & folks like Narendra Modi & Lalu Yadav continue to be champions of the political game. Well, my intention is to not bracket Modi & Yadav in the same bracket because that's how I see them as politicians, but more because they have an element of identity with the masses (at least a good majority) & connect with them at levels beyond the intellectual.

Clinton would do well to do less balancing. Because the votes she is going to get out of folks who will value her for that kind of a thing are not nearly going to be enough.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

A Saturday bum

Well, I do not mean bum - the person, I mean bum - the personification. Like the sleeping beauty or the growing lust. Oh wait, that wasn't quite the correct example. Well, what I'm trying to arrive at is that this is as amazing a Saturday as you can hope to see, especially if you're in Ashburn, VA, & you have it all at your whim.

Things started off rather splendidly this morning over an Einstein brother's bagel. Spinach Florentine, for those of you who are sordid sticklers for detail. Wash that down with what seems like a gallon of coffee, & you have just the right amount of fidgety energy to take the longest route back home listening to Car Talk on NPR, as you meander your way through nameless trees turning fancy shades of red & its various hexadecimal variants on what is a spectacularly sunlit day with a light breeze blowing.

NPR, by the way, finished its Fall Campaign yesterday where they aimed at raising a million or so dollars from gullible suckers, though some of them are really rich, like me. Of course, I almost cried at their plea. I definitely sniffed audibly enough & contributed a mammoth sum of 5 dollars - striking a terrible balance between a troubled conscience & an empty pocket. Somehow, I don't think they announced my contribution on air, but I listen to NPR only when I'm in the car, & it is more than likely that I missed the announcement.

Well, it is still a beautiful Saturday. I wish you were here & we could go get some coffee. Or stroll through the rather deserted streets on this idyllic day. I'm feeling inspired today, & may do more in the way of contributing to a conversation than just staring.

Today is Mahanavami - pretty much the pinnacle of the Bengali cultural calendar which they celebrate by visiting more pooja-pandals than the assortment of Gods & Goddesses in Hinduism, in numbers for which we have no definitions. Of course, I'm talking about Calcutta. My wife, her mother, her brother & his wife, & my parents, being in Bangalore, lived it up by visiting about 4 of them & consuming sumptuous portions of "loochi-maangsho" thanking, I'm sure, the Goddess for her immense piety & supplies. Christ, as much as we all may be blessed by him - especially the socially backward castes in India - simply does not inspire the same hearty feeling of a household & hearth that Durga does with her four children & ten hands. My mum often says, without any of my own sacrilegious edge, that she cannot get us all that we want when we want because she is not ten-handed like the Goddess Durga.

Well, now all this blasphemy is in writing because I could not just tell you about it over a coffee or something.

It's all your bloody fault!

The motto

Do you remember the motto of your school? Well, you might if you think about it. For some reason, sitting here alone in the office on a gloomy & humid Friday, I started thinking back on my school days & finally landed upon the Wikipedia pages of my school. Exactly how I jumped from there to the the motto of Kendriya Vidyalayas, I've no clue. But I vividly recall the Hindi teacher in viith standard in distant Sambalpur, Orissa, explaining to a bunch of awkward, gawky sunburnt children (well, at least that's what the boys pretty much looked like) what the motto of the KVs meant. Here is the original Shloka:

"hiranmayena patrena

satyasyapihitam mukham

tat tvam pushann apavrinu

satya-dharmaya drishtaye"

As you may know, the motto part is just the third line. But it kind of distorts the context in which it makes more sense. This you can read here. I remember the teacher, a very humourous & knowledgeable gentleman who was absolutely against sparing the rod, put particular emphasis on "pushann" - the sustainer. He did so to underscore the importance of nurturing & nourishment in education & that this bringing out of inner talent (hiranmayena) is a rather slow process.

He went on to add that "dandaa maarke sar phodke pratibha bahar naheen aa saktee" though he hardly ever followed his own counsel.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Back in the States

Well, I'm back like a counterfeit coin. Hardly two months between leaving the Dulles airport & rebounding back to it.

Coming to the Virginia's high-tech corridor time & again has reduced coming here to an absolute non-event. That's not necessarily a bad thing because that invariably implies how smoothly I can now work with the system here. Of course, the wide roads help & my mammoth Mitsubishi Gallant is a trifle challenging to steer after the Maruti Zen.

It is slightly chilly early in the morning. I did not really break into a sweat after a 30-minute run at 5:30 in the morning. Well, 5:30 not so much because I'm a hard running fanatic (which I'd like to be) but more on the lines of inability to sleep having crashed at 9:30 last night.

Plenty of time on my hands, a great opportunity to read all that I haven't read. And may be, just may be, drink a wheat beer. Or two.


Monday, October 01, 2007

Rescuing Bismil

One of my most enduring memories of watching Rang De Basanti is the incredibly powerful rendition of "Sarfaroshi Kee Tamanna" by Laxman Pandey (Atul Kulkarni). It was a poem written by Ramprasad Bismil. I have not been able to find these lines in the audio CDs of the movie though the other part of the same poem is rendered equally powerfully by Aamir Khan (this time with accompanying music) later in the movie. The entire poem can be found here. The wiki website has works of many other renowned persons of Hindi literature, for those of you who are interested. For my own sake, however, here are the lines that Kulkarni delivers in his throbbing baritone with his eyes turning rather emotively-looking-faraway as he gets through the poem:

sarfaroshi kee tamanna ab hamaare dil mein hai
dekhna hai zor kitna baju-e-quatil mein hai

karta nahin kyoon doosra koochh baatcheet
dekhta hoon main jise woh chup teree mehfil mein hai

Ei shaheed-e-mulquo-millat main tere upar nisaar
ab teree himmat ka charcha gair kee mehfil mein hai

waqt aane de bata denge tujhe ei aasmaan
hum abhee se kya bataayein kya hamare dil mein hai

kheench kar laayee hai sabko qatl hone kee ummeed
aashiquon ka jamghat aaj koocha-e-quatil mein hai

#Aamir's rendition later in the movie

yoon khada maqtal mein quatil keh raha hai baar baar
kya tamanna-e-shahadat bhee kisi ke dil mein hai

- Ramprasad Bismil

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Power in a project

Recently, a colleague & a good friend of mine talked about the problems he is facing in his project, inter-team loss of credibility, poor communication, & the inability to keep the personal away from the professional. I did not really have too many words of advice for him at the time but since then, I've spent a little bit of my ghastly commute thinking on these issues. One of the problems of junior-mid level supervisors is the apparent lack of authority without any subsidizing of responsibility. Here are a few thoughts on how to handle the crisis of powerlessness.

The Project sponsor/boss: This is the person who actually has institutional power. You do not. But you need to be in his good books, prove that you're capable of handling your own team & that this frees his time up for other activities that need his attention. A good amount of confidence from your boss in you will surely influence what you mean to your team.

The power of knowledge: You're leading the team because you know more & have more experience. Make sure that this shows. Be careful so as not to discourage your team, & be extra careful not to slip into micro-managing problems that aren't supervisory. Establish your credentials & be available. Some managers detest any hands-on help, however; if you ask your team-members, they often look up to a manager who'll role up his sleeves & work with them.

The power of camaradrie: To whatever extent possible, be a friend to your team. If your team lunches together anyway, that's great. If not, do what you can to increase more social/personal interaction in your team. Remember that 'trust' is the intangible component of all delivery models. Throw a challenge to your team, & make sure you lose!

The power of humility: Often unexplored, but a manager/supervisor walking up to a team-member asking for help (& not demanding a task) is a great team-builder. This demonstrates the authority in a given matter of your team member over your own, & thus reduces his insecurity. In return, there'll be more acceptance of your say in the matters of the project.

General: If you need them to stay long hours on certain days, what will you do to make sure that they get the afternoon off when there isn't much happening? On a busy day, will you prepare the status report instead of your team member? Can you create responsibility-centers in your team so as to empower your team members? who are you growing to be you?


Wednesday, September 05, 2007


Toronto, or may be Canada in general, is spoken about easier by the way it differs from America & not so much if you try to talk about it in isolation. At least, going to Toronto after about 10 months of living in the USA, that was the way I looked at it.

My first impression upon entering Canada was that Google map directions were not so darned easy to follow anymore. And that's not really about a change to the metric system; it is about traffic pattern. Now the very fact that we were not really lost is testimony to the fact that while the patterns aren't exactly the same as in America, these aren't impossible to follow - but just that extra bit difficult in the middle of the night - with no prior knowledge of what to expect in terms of road signs & traffic patterns. I still do not know if a right turn is free as it is in Ashburn, VA - and, likely, most of the US - but I took that liberty anyway.

Secondly, I was happy to find a fine non-chain coffee shop next to the hotel we stayed at. Sure, you'll find the McDonald s & the Starbucks, but why go to Toronto & get something that you get at home. The portions were handsome without being enormous, & the breakfast menu rather delectable.

Now, Ontario is the Canada's English speaking province. So we faced no problems at all in asking directions & such, though we had to to-&-fro a bit trying to get to the metro station next day. Again, that's because traffic patterns were different.

The metro is rather straight forward & runs in a U sort of a loop through downtown Toronto. With the US dollar losing ground, we experienced that our American dollars were treated as Canadian dollars, though American currency was more valuable. If you paid American cash, you'd get Canadian change back as if you'd paid Canadian dollars. The metro station had gone to the extent of putting up a notice to this effect to stop answering any further questioning from incredulous tourists. I maintain that it was at least nice of them to accept American dollars - just as Canadian dollars are accepted (at least in toll-booths in New York coming from Canada) - & the fact is that nobody really stopped us from getting Canadian dollars before entering Canada. Bad planning, price paid.

Toronto probably is to Canada what New York is to America. However, that's really for the sake of analogy & has little practical implications. That's not to say that there is nothing really to see in Toronto. On the contrary, it has a lively theater, music & art cinema culture - which is great in itself, but in the way of architecture, museums, monuments & other such touristy attractions, Toronto is really no match. But what really is admirable, I felt at the time, is the fact that reading Toronto's history one gets a distinct sense of effort & will by the government & the locals to raise the bar on what Toronto really means. The art & culture scene is an example of the intent behind Toronto's development. It wasn't very good always, it is rather nice now - & there is a distinct element of pride involved as Toronto tries to match up with its bigger, glossier North American counterparts. And Toronto exemplifies why Canada is a 'mixing bowl' & the USA is a 'melting pot'.

Well, the rainy Saturday finally came around to lunch hour & it was at Le Papillion that we found our most memorable moments of Toronto. Of course, an entire bottle of good, lush, full-bodied red wine did help mellow even more the whole Mediterranean setting of the restaurant painted in a beautiful pastel shade of yellow & the criss-crosses of light & dark blue of the table cloth. Pâté Michelle was about the best appetizer that I've eaten in a while, & the lamb chops served in a wonderfully fragrant sauce did nothing to take away the feeling of being absolved!

Yes, we also took a boat ride on the Lake Ontario. And my perfectly planned dinner plans were all spoiled when we figured that the only place in town that served Venison, as far as my research was concerned, was a restaurant inside The Hilton & did not feature a single entrée that was less than 40 Canadian dollars. So, we had a rather nondescript Italian dinner & after missing the train once , by the way being extra-polite & giving way to others, we were all on our way back to the Hotel.

Day II was Niagara falls all over. For those of you who've not seen the horse-shoe falls, its difficult to describe the power of all that water hurling itself down in a neat semi-circle with such a force that it creates a towering mist forever, & standing at a distance on the front of the horse-shoe falls, you cannot see it's middle portion thanks to gigantic column of mist. Of course, you just have to take the 'Maid of the mist' ferry & wearing a plastic-gown over your self, sail down to right in the middle of the horse-shoe falls. And whatever notions you have of 'personal space' - especially if you're from the USA - will absolutely evaporate in the jostle for space & a good shot of the awe-inspiring falls.

I liked my time in Canada. There was hardly any interaction with Canadians; however, I seem to believe that it'd be a great place to live in if you can wrestle the long winters. It is a country of peace, & is relatively prosperous. It has incredibly picturesque up north, & has a lively & cultured ways of live in the southern provinces. And it is very easy to go there.

July 13th, 14th & 15th, 2007

Monday, September 03, 2007

Come on now

Or as they say in English, on Television, & in newspapers "Chak de!" Its everywhere; ubiquitous & refusing to go away. Cricket, football (the recent Nehru cup), hockey (the Asia cup & the Indian team's laudable performances) - there are just two words that we have to talk about all of this. Wikipedia has an entry on the film "Chak de, India" & the literal translation of this phrase is "Come on, India". Or, as I was told, it is more representative of the spirit of the Nike punchline, "just do it".

There are some people who are not all wrapped up in this monosyllabic, all-encompassing, charged up message that seems to describe everything from a Tendulkar ton (hasn't happened lately) to a 9% Q1 GDP growth; these are the CPM. Nothing ever makes them happy. In fact, it is far easier to say what the CPM are against than it is to say what they are for. They are against "operationalizing" the nuclear deal with a detailed understanding of exactly what it entails, they're against the the communal BJP, & they're against pulling out of the government, as they're against joining it. After a while, it reads like something of a corollary of the famous Holmes axiom "When you've factored in all that you're against , whatever remains, however improbable, must be what you stand for".

What remains though, unfortunately, is underdevelopment. Stability, yes but no industries. Or nothing at least to reckon with.

The CPM is the last-party standing in the way of a mass-hysteria of Chak De India. They're not going away without a fight. How dare you replace all the fancy "isms", ethics & revolutionary stuff? The common man must remain so. Always.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007


So we're back in Bangalore, & we're setting ourselves up with a rental flat & the assorted arrangements you need to make to live. Now, do not get me wrong, I know that what I'm going to talk about may not be an issue that affects all of India, or at least there are other, bigger problems which other Indians live with & I don't; at the same time, we're really facing energy crisis for fueling/sustaining our economic growth.

So what really is the bandwidth that your ISP provides for your home internet connection? Can you believe that Sify actually qualifies a 128 Kbps connection as Broadband , when the Government of India, rather lamely I must admit, defines a broadband connection to be at least 256 Kbps? Lamely beacuse, 256 Kbps is NOT broadband. Broadband is enough bandwidth to make a telephone call over the internet with no lags of any kind, enough bandwidth to view media-rich web sites as if they were all text. Internationally, anything less than 2 Mbps is not broadband.

I'm really struggling with getting a ISP to provide me good service at J P Nagar. I called Sify & they never called back. BSNL, I'm told, provide relatively hassle-free connections, but they take two-months. Reliance does provide broadband with speeds "upto" 2000 Kbps, though just about everybody I talked to advised me to avoid Reliance. And Airtel does not have service in the J P Nagar area.

And all this in Bangalore.


Monday, August 27, 2007


After almost a year of living in a spacious American suburb of Washington DC, Munich, at first, looked incredibly homelike with its sheer density of population & the consequent premium you pay for space. I do not say this in a negative way; indeed, our stay in Munich was one of our most wonderful vacations ever, I say this only to draw underline the difference between what a city has come to mean to me & our rather peaceful & rustic ways of life in Ashburn.

August 6th to August 10th, 2007

Our Hotel:
Our room in Hotel Dolomite, the culmination of my search for an affordable hotel in Munich, turned out to be a cubicle with two 2x5&1/2 beds & a Television set & a rather small but modern & well-equipped bathroom. It was mighty difficult to walk in the room without tripping over something. However, it was a very short-walk from the Hauptbahnhoff, or the Central station, & this proved to be a great help to our mobility in Germany. At 55 Euros per day, this wasn't very bad at all for the number of hours we actually spent in the room, mostly asleep.
See this website for booking.

Traveling around:
Depending on your length of stay & the extent of travel, it is advisable to buy rail passes. There are plentiful kinds available depending on how many are traveling & for how long you intend to travel. The best place to book this, if you're in the US, is this. Make sure to check the normal ticket prices before you buy so you can be sure that buying a pass will save you money. The website for all your rail travel related information is this. A rail pass is valid for all transports on Deutsche Bahn, including U-Bahns (underground/metro/subway system within Munich), the S-Bahn (Train system for suburbs of Munich) the trams, the Inter city expresses & anything else that has the DB logo. The DB system is your best bet for traveling in Bavaria.

What to see:
The best thing to do is to pick up a lonely planet & read it. Munich has more stuff to be seen than we could manage in two days, but expect a lot of churches & palaces each one rendered in a particular style of Architecture. Baroque & Rococo appear many times in their classical as well as south German varieties. Munich should draw plentiful Architecture tourists. That apart, you should explore the narrow cobbled streets of the Altstadt & be sure to pay a visit to one of the many Beer gardens in Munich. We went to the Hofbrauhaus & guzzled down beer by the liter. Yes, by the liter. If you're a wimp, you can buy half-liter sizes for certain brews [radler, for example, which is lager beer & lemonade that comes in 0.51 liter size], but not all. Visit the Olympic museum & the BMW museum which are close to each other. Walk the Viktualienmarkt & ogle at the varied selection of cheese & meat. Go to Dachau & see what a concentration camp was like & marvel at the ruthlessness of supremely planned tyrannies, reflect again on what one man can do to another, & how trivial, perhaps, your own problems really are. The list of museums too is endless.

What to eat:
Pigs, simply. They come camouflaged as sausages usually served with sauerkraut [which is really pickled cabbage] & some kind of dressing - say, mustard. But you have no clue as to how many finger-licking different ways this rather simple arrangement is served in until you actually get there. Look up wikipedia for more details, I was too busy eating to notice the rather longish names of these dishes. But make sure you eat the Munich variety - the white sausage. And look like a local by drowning it all with a wheat beer. Roasted Pork knuckles is a Bavarian local pig-thing to eat. Its rather meaty & not quite as bony or cartilegy as it sounds. The restaurant we frequented did not even have chicken on its list, but if you're a Vegetarian, you should find plentiful things to eat at other places - none of which I actually went to. Turkish food is also big in Munich with Doner Kebabs available just about everywhere. We also wanted to try out the Baklava, but the turks had already eaten it all. There are plentiful Chinese places & we also spotted an Indian one which we walked past, rather rapidly. At the Hauptbahnhoff & throughout Germany there are many cafes to snack. I took a liking to the cappuccino & usually devoured a nice little croissant for breakfast. Antara chose apples, strangely.


With our hotel & rail passes already paid for, our daily expenses were not too terrible, especially with my increasing liking of something porcine on a platter. In a full-fledged sit-down restaurant, an entre will cost you at least 9 Euros - & the portions are good for one. A typical breakfast for two typically cost us about 10-12 Euros & a liter of beer about 4 to 6 Euros depending on what you're drinking. Both the Doner Kebabs & Chinese restaurants are cheaper than this & if you're fine with eating out of hot-dog stalls - thats even better. The bulk of the expenses for us, outside gluttony, were museum tickets. On the average, we spent about 70 - 90 Euros a day, not including hotel & the rail pass. We mostly transacted with cash, though we had no difficulty using the American Express.

Like I said, I have so much more unseen in Munich & yet it was one of my best vacations ever. Just about everybody speaks English & the information centers are incredibly helpful. Travel & site-seeing is so organized that it is almost impossible to get lost. The food, as you may have figured, is drool-worthy & the sights are jaw-dropping. There is plenty of history & there are the BMWs. It rained a bit during our stay, & that was probably the only dampener during our stay there. Go to Bavaria, if you get a chance, & bring back remembrances of a lifetime!


Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Of all the Presidents

Now, with the presidential elections over a year away, & public memory being typically short (Whatever happened to the outrage over Saddam's execution?) it is very difficult for anybody to hazard a guess as to who would be the next US President.

However, how can you really resist a political position? :) Well, the fact is you probably cannot. The CNN & YouTube debate today was quite outstanding both in terms of the variety of topics that were talked about as well as manner in which the questions were framed. In different areas of the country, there were different reactions to who really won the day, & though, it appeared to me, the media experts took the safe position of rallying behind Clinton, the New Hampshire focus group put her in the 4th position behind Obama, Biden & such.

So beyond what I know & believe about each candidate, I really wish it is Obama who emerges a winner just to prove my own philosophy that History has a way of favouring the improbable. So much for political acumen.

Clinton is doing pretty well herself, but ever so often she answers as the fore-runner. While media experts constantly call this 'showing leadership', I think that it is a bit uncalled for.

I like Richardson & find him fairly precise as well as detail-oriented, someone who draws well from the past without necessarily coming across as blowing his horn. But then again, I might have thought differently if he was the fore-runner. Also, if ever there is a compromise in the future, 7 richardson decides to join either Obama or Clinton as the vice-Presidential candidate, i think that'd really make a winning pair.

I feel sorry for John Edwards. He has constantly tried to take on the front-runners with little success, & even in the way of stirring up controversy, he has done little resorting as he does to often-repeated rhetorical stances.

I guess we'll see.


Tuesday, July 17, 2007


Obviously, you've encountered that expression before. And probably with an alarming regularity. But no, I'm not writing this to accentuate the difference between types of English, spoken or rolled.

I got into this conversation with a colleague over lunch & talked about gun control, & the state of creationism & the religious right here in the US - you know, the kind of juicy "isms" that make me salivate.

We had many commonalities in our opinions though these were borne out of different experiences;well, I should say that Joe's were experiences that involved real people & mine were accumulated from print & electronic media. What did you expect anyway?

The course of the conversation led JB & me to talk about how religious texts need to be examined in the social context of their origin. I was tactless enough to throw in how all religions really had tribal, pagan origins & assorted ramifications. This, though, isn't correct of all religions, particularly of Jainism, & Buddhism.

The two further extrapolations I had in mind coming from this thread were that pagan, tribal societies had hard, well-defined,value systems (if you're not with us, you're against us etc), & that ambivalence/intellectual honesty is really a modern thing - particularly characteristic, in the US at least, of the generation X - another topic of conversation with JB.

And then I read this.

I was wrong. Again. The rigveda, for a document that predates most known bodies of knowledge, actually is ambivalent about the creation of the universe. Yes, the Vedas talk about Gods before the "trinity" culture became mainstream Hinduism. But even so, for a book that old, if that wasn't ambivalence & intellectual honesty, then.... whatever (ambivalence etc)


Tuesday, July 03, 2007

The subcontinental

Invariably, it appears that when Americans are thinking of India, they're really thinking of Chicken Tikka Masala. Or, Tandoori chicken. And some of them think, I'm told, that the Tandoori chicken , owing to its crimson complexion, must be very hot. I've been asked if we eat Tandoori Chicken everyday. I did not have the heart to tell the person that my resources back home are too limited to build out a Tandoor at home. So, I said something to the effect of "Oh no, just on Sundays or some such special occasions!"

Then, one time, I had to explain this whole thing about how usually in a family with both a daughter & son, customarily the daughter gets married first. This led to many hypothetical questions about many-children-families & the associated ramifications about age differences & the like.

And then, making sense of arranged marriage was about the hardest thing to do. Admittedly, it works & has worked for a while & there are possibly good cultural reasons for it. My problem was actually more about explaining the set up process in the process of which I, perhaps injudiciously, mentioned the word "pageant"... needless to say; I could not rescue my explanations from that point onwards.

Americans think of Indian food, Indian traditions & Indian IT.

Indians, to the contrary, think of the Punjabi Tandoor, the Tamil Pongal, the Bangalore IT scene, the power corridors of Delhi, the ever-prospering Gujaratis & do not think at all of the North-Eastern states.

The whole, it appears, could not be farther, in our hearts & minds, from the parts.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

American discoveries - NPR

NPR is one of the more refreshing surprises in a country where politics, world affairs, religion, trade, foreign policy & such generate little conversation. Or, so has been my limited experience. To start with, my feeling was that, particularly in today's times, Americans will find most of these topics embarrassing, & they're just being guarded in my presence. My slow but increasing familiarity with the American people now make me think that they have no qualms about telling a good story, whether replete with or bereft of embarrassing nuances. In fact, unequivocally, Americans love to talk.

And so there is NPR. Personally, at a broad level, what I find really engaging about NPR is its complete lack of regionalism. Though American, & always covering what is happening in the US, the station does not miss out on anything of any significance on the world stage & generates ample quality discussions about even non-standard news content like science & technology. The quality of the moderators in all NPR discussions is exemplary, & the degree of its audience's engagement is usually intense.

NPR is my cup of morning tea. Sometimes, I wish my 10 minute commute to office was longer.

You can find your local NPR station here.

Monday, June 11, 2007

American discoveries - Microbrews

The world experienced through the World Wide Web is a place of diminishing wonders. Especially in the IT industry, there is no dearth of people who have experienced this country in many ways over varying degrees of time span & directness of experience. I've been to this country thrice before, & yet, it is this time, now that I've spent months living in this country, that I've discovered aspects of it that nobody ever told me about or I previously had no knowledge of.

I reckon we can safely say that Americans love beer. Whether in college, or in a corporate get-together, beer is consumed heartily. Microbrews, however, give a whole new meaning to the rather commonplace understanding that beer is a barley based alcoholic beverage which comes bottled from faraway places.

In the Microbreweries that I've been to, beer is a seasonal drink continuously in flux. There is the ale, & there is the lager. There are the stout beers, & there are the crisp & bright yellow of the weizen beers. Microbreweries are one of the most popular places to socialize, & of the many ways to spend a great evening with friends.

So the next time you're in the US, make sure that you visit your local microbrewery. And if your local brewery brews the Hefeweizen, take my word & place an order. A great place to drink the Hefeweizen in Washington DC is Gordon Biersch. If Nazi Germany had a misplaced sense of superiority, it might have sprung from the quality of their own Bavarian brew.

Monday, April 30, 2007


I was recently quoted as remarking " The only good use of time is one which involves alcohol & meat". Now, I myself would raise a few eyebrows - if such a thing was possible - at such a sweeping generalization, particularly because it does not consider sports or sex.

Why be a foodie? Why not eat for a better metabolism than for gustation? Why count calories & why confuse prime ribs with animal rights?

To answer such questions of immense consequence & to document our experiences through our taste buds, Antara & I have started a blog together. Of course, my own contribution to this togetherness is a photograph that features on the blog - which I'm trying to get removed. My role in this endeavour, I hope, will continue to be 'advisory' - which means no real work -; so while you're at liberty to criticize the posts & the content, you may do so with no threat of any reprisals from me.

Salivaah is then the culmination of about five seconds of thinking. To be completely honest with you, my interest in food begins primarily at the dining table & not too much earlier. However, I've been known, in my time, to do strange things to eggs. Hopefully, I'll put something up soon.

So there you are. A food blog primarily by Antara, with me hanging in there somewhere, somewhat obscurely. Just the way I like it...

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Courting rituals

Of the many different ways of experiencing the US, I had the misfortune of indulging its judiciary. To those of you who may be secretly unleashing toothy smiles picturing me at the gaols, I'm sorry to say that nothing quite as interesting happened. I did not get jailed, & outside of my careless yawning while I was being made to promise something I did not want to promise, you can call the whole thing fairly innocuous. Even boring.

It all started on February 18th. We were driving to DC & a green light turned yellow - as they often do when you're about to miss a bus or train. While some people, sometimes labeled "normal", may experience an urge to slow down, I had the exact opposite exhortation. I sped & got to the intersection just after the light had turned red. Which was all fine for people around here are incredibly nice. However, there was one slight glitch. Or, a cop.

The officer chased me down & had me cornered, thanks to some prudence of my own - though kind of late -, before the next signal. He checked my India Driving license, & not my passport. He listened to what i had to say, including my precise narration of the Virginia law which allows me to drive for six month's without a local license - provided I have my home country license. He disappeared for what felt like a decade. Presently, in the next decade, he surfaced with a ticket for violating a steady red light. All according to plan, you may think. And you'll be wrong. Again.

He then produced a second ticket, just as I was about to roll the window up & drive away. This one, he said, was for driving without license. Or a local license. My encore performance of State Driving law rendition seemed to have fallen on deaf ears or, at the very least, ears that do not listen very well. However, as a gesture of whatever he thought it was a gesture of, he told me that the judge will probably let me go if I did get a local license before my court hearing. Nice as ever, he did wish me a good night & a safe drive home.

Exactly how I went about procuring my local license, a story in itself, is another story. In summary, as I drove to the court today, I had my local license, my India license, my visa papers, & probably my marriage certificate as well. It was easy enough getting there, & after little searching I was seated in the courtroom awaiting the Justice.

I soon learnt that Justice was on his way & goes by the name "Buttery"! Well, if there is one name a Judge should not have, it is buttery. I mean, imagine the ordeal. Can Buttery be greased, etc? Well, there I was musing on these funny lines when he called my name - rather well, mind you -, & I was facing him trying to not laugh or some such thing.

Well, it turned out that Justice Buttery was an incredibly nice chap; he ignored my yawning, & kept me there for precisely 5 minutes. The case was over before it had begun. I was found "Not Guilty"

And what better way to celebrate than to say a boo to another yellow light on the way back. Only this time, it hadn't turned red.

Friday, March 09, 2007

To Die For - III

Recently, a gentleman mailed me about campaigning to redeem Hinduism from the clutches of rising Islamic clout - the protection it gets from apologists, the secularists, & the government in the name of welfare. As always, when somebody asks me to actually do something, I begin to shift my weight uncomfortably knowing that this'll require me to make up my mind about the issues, & the mind is the last thing I like made up.

I pointed out that I'm an atheist & feel uncomfortable campaigning for purely religious issues; however, I understood that his position was really against political manifestations of religious protectionisms prevalent in our country primarily as a means of electoral strategy. And some forms of these protections & allowances are outrageous & I'm against these just as I'm against reservations in jobs & graduate schools while maintaining that the scope of education should be improved so that it enables people enough so that reservations are not needed.

At the same time, the increasing clout of political Islam is certainly obvious & dangerous to the extent it stems from Wahabism, is reactionary, is exclusive & is intolerant, & this will continue to be the case as long as there is Saudi money flowing into Mecca & being dissipated to the rest of the Muslim world preaching Wahabism.

So that is my limited knowledge on the subject. I know next to nothing about Hinduism. I do not know even how to define a Hindu. I know that people have killed in the name of religion for centuries & we're the only species capable of killing or giving up our own lives for an idea.

I think that reform, neither propaganda nor protective laws, is the answer. And it has to come from within. It is at these times we can look back & appreciate why the Renaissance was an event of such colossal importance.

It is time for heroes.

Monday, February 19, 2007

The moralist

One of the interesting points of view, or theories - fairly explicable, in Dawkin's The God Delusion is how morality, more than anything else, could be seen as a function of time. Of course, a more interesting study dedicated to understanding morality across geographies, cultures & other factors can be found in Moral Minds. However, it was interesting for me to note how what we currently view as morally impermissible acts were, in the time they were mainstream, not really examined from a moral perspective & were just viewed as social or political instruments.

A good case in point is hunting. Hunting has its roots in survival. It was important as a means of survival - both as the source of food & the ability to kill a predator. Later, this was an exercise in pleasure, a hobby or a pastime. At the time, I'm sure, nobody examined seriously the moral implications of killing another animal for fun. Later still, we discovered ecological reasons for maintaining the fauna & giving it a chance to survive & flourish - this again, was not a moral choice but more of long-term commitment to the well-being of the planet in general. Then we had laws against the wanton killing of endangered species.

Usha's post about animals for amusement is one example of seeing things hitherto unseen from a moral perspective. A circus traditionally is wonderful, it is entertaining & fills us with awe, or makes us laugh or aims to attend some such end. If dogs can be trained to sniff drugs, elephants should be able to kick a football - & the questions of morality alone had not crossed my mind. At the same time, the methods & the general condition of animals are important though I did not see monstrosity alone whenever I went to a circus.

The questions that Usha raises are legitimate, however. But my point is not about what she asks. My point is ultimately about looking at issues from a moral perspective where historically it has been absent.

I think that it is important to understand this evolution of morality & appreciate its context. The term "barbaric" is sometimes used very loosely in our histories. Imagine that tag being applied to us if the world turns completely vegetarian in the year 2050.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

The atheist

My reading phase has entered some kind of pattern. Over the last one year, I've read at least 3 books on atheism. Well, that's not really true. We can say that these books, while only some of them are blatantly atheistic, primarily suggest, at the very least, a total lack of any conceivable reason or cause behind a continuation of belief in religions.

But my own transition towards a public denial of a supernatural God did not need these books. When I was in my early-twenties, I used to say I was an agnostic, without so much of a clue as to what that was supposed to mean, meaning that I do not care what you believe in as long as what you believe is something you don't want my participation in. So you could be a Hindu, Muslim or Christian, but what I really wanted to know was if you could be relied on for a smoke & a tea.

At the time, 9/11 was still fresh, the London bombings had not happened, & while there was considerable history of religious riots in India, I had no concrete idea of things & why they are the way they are.

Whatever has happened between those early years of this decade till now - & that includes both domestic & international incidents, & my own ways of thinking & understanding the world - has transformed me from the nonchalant apologist I pretended to be - I was always a non-believer, really - to someone who sees religions as totally useless & religiosity as downright vile.

Nevertheless, my wonder at how people can & do walk the middle-path so convincingly remains. I also think that the middle-path is a more complex experience.

Yet, I just don't think that these are questions of complexity anymore than performance-enhancing drugs make a case for general well-being.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Racy thoughts

So why so much on the issue of race & gender? All people are a product of their geography, if you're to believe my oversimplified summary of Jared Diamond's book. Well, while at a macro-level Diamond's book is very well argued, I'm not sure what to make of it if we try to extrapolate or bend. For example, I perceive that while over time geographic factors might have been the most regulatory, as Diamond seems to argue, I find it difficult to believe that all groups of men will have evolved the same way in identical conditions - kind of a corollary to Diamond's thesis. However, that's a thought-experiment I cannot conduct.

Besides, that question cannot be raised. Simply because there were no different groups of men. There are men who have been differentiated because of their environments. So currently there are societies that are differentiated from other societies not because of their intrinsic intelligence but that's just as important as the fact that these differences exist. While Diamond's book shows a case for how societies came to be the way they are, it certainly does not say that all societies/people are, by any means, equal in the present day world.

But somewhere along the line, I seem to feel that we live or try to live in denial of this simple fact. The egalitarian approach is merely a noble approach; it does not reflect reality. In fact, the egalitarian approach is actually in conflict with the innate human desire to categorize & classify.

Using race, ethnicity or gender to classify & categorize may just be full of biases & prejudices, & it can be ugly when it receives political or wide societal sanction - but it is terribly foolish to negate these influences altogether from all that is of any importance. Our biological identity - where we are all equal - is not our strongest sense of identity after all.

All men are created equal. Nope. All men were created equal.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

And you are?

One of our pillars of identity is what we eat. In fact, what we eat can be so parochial in nature is that if you try to arrive at the idea of a nation based on food habits – as is possible in a foreign land – the whole analysis is practically useless in the way of categorization but does harbour serious possibilities as farce.

So, say for example, some tourist has been, just by chance, to an Andhra - style restaurant & has had a sumptuous thali, complete with that fiery Rasam. It is just incredibly funny to think Rasam & rice could then in her mind, oblivious to vastness & the consequent variety of our country, become some thing like an Indian dish – devoured with smacking relish across our vast country, with eulogies emanating from the deep recesses of devourer’s guttural abyss.

While I personally love a well made pongal the kind you get in Chennai more often than you do in Bangalore, the pregnant silence that make its presence felt when I voice this opinion in a group of people who belong to the north of the Vindhyas makes me want to dive into a suitcase & pull the top tight & securely.

Bengalis are fish-eaters. That’s banana oil, you know. Give them something piscine you’ve scooped up from a sea & regardless of the content of your bookshelf, or your political point of view, they’ll brand you as loutish tykes unworthy of their society.

What is eaten in Mandya is, then, eaten only in Mandya.