Sunday, April 29, 2012

Moving In To Our New Home!

What's life without milestones?
It is the quest for these milestones that makes life, for me.
Recently, or about 3 months back, Neeti and I crossed a milestone, an important one of our lives! We moved into our own house.
It wasn't easy as it sounds. We bought the place way back in 2007. We were promised completion by 2009 and were eagerly looking forward to moving in, into a place we could call our own!
But then plans get delayed. Here courtesy BMC, approvals for our building were getting delayed (probably palms weren't greased enough) and our anxiousness (on rising mortgage rates) was building by the day.
Finally we heaved a sigh of relief when got possession of our place in September 2011, two years late! The pleasure of getting the place was immense, perhaps as sweet as Mysore Pak (which had sweetened that significant moment).
But then another important thing had to be done. The bare shell had to be made habitable. We had done a lot of hardwork already. Neeti was very sure what she wanted. And thanks to her, we looked at various design options, suggested by the interiors team, of Anu and Prashant, and finalised the designs by the time we took possession.
In a few days after possession, the interiors team mobilised themselves at our new place starting work. The place was chaotic - lots of material, labour and dust all around - it hardly looked habitable.
By December, things looked in good shape.
We were scheduled to move in on an auspicious date in January. We wanted to have our family around with us on the momentous occasion. It was quite a pleasure organising tickets, accommodation and logistics for our families. I was too pleased that my sister, Neelima and her hubby, Maulik, were able to make it for the   gathering from the United States.
Neeti's extended family from Delhi also enthusiastically joined in. We are very greatful to everyone who joined in to bless us, coming from far and wide.
We had planned family dinners and a bit of sightseeing for everyone. Things worked pretty well.
For the D-Day, we had scheduled a family havan followed by lunch for which friends were invited. For the havan, we had called a Pandit from the Versova branch of Arya Samaj to preside over the ceremony. It was a simple havan, with family and close friends around to bless our home.
Next that followed was an authentic Punjabi lunch - makki ki roti, sarson ka saag, kadhai paneer, mixed vegetables and daal makhani, alongwith gulab jamuns for dessert. Thanks to care taken by Mr. Bhisht of Kailas Parbat and our precise specifications, the food turned out to be nice and absolutely authentic. And it was enjoyed by the Mumbai-ites, for whom the Gujju-ised version defined what Punjabi food is.
The instant relief we got was on parking woes. At the earlier place in Lokhandwala, a wily Gujju with a questionable reputation usurped our parking space and put us in a great deal of tension for over 6 months. Now we have no parking blues! Pray that God gives the Gujju some sense of ethics and culture. Surely, "Me, me and myself" is not a good attitude to live with.
Settling in took an awfully long time, since we could unpack only in the late evenings after work. On weekends, the slothful mass of mine would always come in for a lot of criticism from Neeti, as I was too lazy to unpack. But then it had to be done and it finally was, though with a delay!
Now we can sit on the window with a cup of tea and gaze into the endless greens of Aarey Milk Colony, hearing the sounds of silence, birds chirping, watching the mist lift as a new day dawns! Magical! Nice to be in a place we can call our own!
But we will miss the action of Lokhandwala. We are thankful to God for making our stay at Lokhandwala a memorable one. While at Lokhandwala, we grew a lot, life gave us a lot more than we thought we could achieve, we pray that whoever moves into our old abode also achieves a lot in life!
Crossing one milestone logically leads you to target the next one. And we are already on the job - targeting the next milestone!

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Up In The Air .... Part 6

Up In The Air is back with its sixth part. This part covers the approach to Mumbai, CSI Airport's Runway 14/32. The approach begins over the Madh Island and Gorai, and passes over Versova, Seven Bungalows, Lokhandwala, Juhu Circle to touch down over the Western Express Highway on to 14/32.
The runway 14/32 is not preferred by pilots because its shorter - just 2,925 metres as against the main runway, 09/27, which has a length of 3,445 metres. 14/32 lacks a parallel taxiway, slowing operations. Further, the Trombay hill lies straight on the path, if one chooses to take off from 14/32. Little wonder that airlines like Singapore Airlines avoids this runway like crazy.
On this occasion, I was returning to Mumbai from Jaipur in a Jet Airways Boeing 737. Mumbai, though quite chaotic is disorderly on the ground, looks quite from up above - peaceful and orderly!

Overflying Gorai Creek!

And that's Versova!

All so familiar Seven Bungalows!

Just flew over Juhu Circle!
A few followers of blog wanted links to other editions of Up In The Air. Here they are:
Up In The Air .... Part 5
Up In The Air .... Part 4
Up In The Air .... Part 3
Up In The Air .... Part 2
Up In The Air .... Part 1

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Up In The Air .... Part 5

It was good while it lasted!
This part of Up In The Air is a requiem dedicated to the Kingfisher experience!
In March 2011, I traveled on a Kingfisher Airlines A320 from Mumbai to Trivadrum, enroute to Thirunelveli. 
It was a Kingfisher Red flight, or a diluted Kingfisher experience sans frills. But the aircraft they used was a Kingfisher First one, implying that it had business class seats. I noticed that and smartly web-checked in myself in the forward section!!!

The seats were comfortable and reclinable.

The British couple ahead of us were tourists travelling to Kerala. Since they had a British Airways codeshare tickets, they were served breakfast. That pissed off the rest of the passengers. Apartheid, Kingfisher style!

The red Kingfisher nacelles looked impressive as we began our descent into Trivandrum!

There was a big of a haze that day, but normally the approach to Trivandrum is breathtaking!

"A window of hope!" - that would be an apt caption for this photograph!

That's what makes Kerala God's Own Country - the greenery here is breathtaking!

The next day when I departed from Trivandrum, it was a very bright day! The sky was brilliantly blue. But take-offs are usually not that great for photography.

And back over Versova, Mumbai lining up for approach on Runway 14-32!

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Still, A Long Way to Go....

Another year has now passed by. 
As my birthday approached, I could not help but wonder how time flies. My mind raced at the speed of light (or faster, probably!) thinking of all that I wanted to achieve, what I had achieved and what I had failed to achieve!
It had been quite an eventful year for me and my loved ones. We had all gone through a lot together and had largely come out victorious and achieved a lot, with God's cherished Blessings. But to say that it had all been a cakewalk is a bit too much. There had been a few misses, which is again a part of the game of life!
I thought of my bucket list - the dreams that I have accumulated over the years and that thought made me real worried. I have still a lot, seriously, a lot more to do beyond the rigmarole of the daily 9-to-5, trying to make ends meet and keep up with time. 
I still have to learn French, a language that I find so sweet, a language that I seem to have an unknown bond with. 
I still need to go back to where I came from, my land of birth, Uganda, that I had left behind 31 years back. That made me a bit sad.  But then I thought - perhaps God is rightly delaying my visit to Uganda on purpose(?). I felt the same for Zambia, where I spent a good time during my formative years.
I still have to roam the world. There are places which are drawing me close like a magnet - the South Pacific islands - Fiji, Tonga and Tahiti, Israel, the Caucusus - Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia, Brazil, Bhutan, Tibet, South Africa and many, many more. 
I sometimes wonder what draws me to places like the South Pacific and Israel so very much. I really go speechless when I read about or see visuals of the  South Pacific. I feel so strongly for the struggle of the Jewish people. Is there a past-life connection that is drawing me, more strongly with each passing day, to the  South Pacific and Israel?
The world has so many beautiful and enchanting places to see - so many sights to soak in, the sounds of Nature, which are always so peaceful. There are so many things to do, so much food and drink to savour. 
But I wonder if it would be possible to see it all in one lifetime. 
The irony of life usually is that during the working years one is healthy and capable to do all this but has little time and money. And then as years pass by, one earns the money and has the time, but Nature conspires against you - health and capability fails. 
This thought made me a bit scared. Will I be ever able to tick off on at least half of my bucket list items? I am being reasonable here in negotiating with God!
Perhaps, the only way is to pray for loads of health, will power and loads of good luck to weave all the ambitions into one tiny little lifetime. 
That was what I prayed for as everyone around me celebrated my birthday! 

Sunday, April 15, 2012

You Are Special!

"A bird asked bee - 'You work so hard to make honey and people steal, don't you feel bad?'
The bee said 'I don't feel bad as they can never steal my art of making honey!'"
That was an interesting snippet that I came across recently.
It is true that making honey is unique to bee. The fact also is that each of us has some unique talent that is deeply ingrained and cannot be replicated by others.
That is the talent we need to search for within us and after we find it, we need to nurture it, without bothering about the obstacles in our way.
The ability to find one's talent and nurture it differentiates the gifted from the ordinary!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Be Enthusiastic, Be Alive!

"A person with enthusiasm is a powerful person. There is nothing as powerful as enthusiasm; nothing is impossible to an enthusiastic person" - Sanskrit Subhashita
I came across this interesting quotation on Facebook and think it has to be shared with all on Rajeev's World.
Enthusiasm perhaps gives the energy to move on despite the odds, it fuels the ambition, the mind and the soul.
Undoubtedly, enthusiasm is infectious. Living around enthusiastic people rubs off on you.
One person whom I can very well associate with infectious enthusiasm is Neeti. When I get out of bed grumpy, as the good rest comes to an end, Neeti wakes up with a beatific smile! Surely, that gives me some energy to start the day! Perhaps, enthusiasm is life itself!
I must say, "Be enthusiastic, be alive!"

Salutation of the Dawn!

"Look to this day:
For it is life, the very life of life.
In its brief course
Lie all the verities and realities of your existence.
The bliss of growth,
The glory of action,
The splendour of achievement
Are but experiences of time.
For yesterday is but a dream
And tomorrow is only a vision;
And today well-lived, makes
Yesterday a dream of happiness
And every tomorrow a vision of hope.
Look well therefore to this day;
Such is the salutation to the ever-new dawn!"
I received this poem penned by the Sanskrit poet, Kalidas, on my Blackberry Messenger today.
I felt these words are pure magic.
It is indeed true that today well spent is the foundation for tomorrow. Not only that, a day well spent gives immense inner-satisfaction and a peaceful sleep at night, laying the foundation for a brighter tomorrow.
What else does a man need, other than a little effort to make each day more meaningful?

Monday, April 9, 2012

Our Prayer!

Neeti and I celebrated the end of Navratras with a Kanjak ceremony. This ceremony involves inviting at least five pre-pubescent girls home, washing their feet and serving them food.
This ceremony is done in devotion to the Goddess, as pre-pubescent girls are considered Her embodiments.
We prefer calling girls from underprivileged sections. Usually, the cooks and cleaners help in this.
The breakfast menu is standard - atta halwa, dry black channas and puris.
This time our cleaner brought with her five chirpy girls, all about 7-8 years old. After washing their feet, Neeti and I served them breakfast. As they were eating, we asked them if they went to school.
"Yes, we do! We have an exam today."
"Are you well prepared?"
"Yes" came an emphatic response.
Then we asked what subjects they loved the most. Three said Marathi, one said Maths and the last one said Science.
The next logical question was on career choices. Two girls said they wanted to study to be doctors, one a teacher, one an engineer and one a pilot!
They all smiled when they said this and had a sparkle in their eyes! We were speechless and very impressed.
Just look at the hope and passion these girls have, despite their deprivations!
"May God bless these little girls with strength to do what they want to!", that was the only prayer Neeti and I had at that moment.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

One Day in Kolkata!

The end of the financial year brings with it a good amount of pressure at work. That was true this year too. Chance had it that I had to travel to Kolkata (Calcutta), the City of Joy on the 29th of March for some urgent work.
I took the 7.30AM Jet Airways flight from Mumbai. Knowing fully well that the landing approach to Kolkata's Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose Airport is very scenic, I chose seat 16A on the web-check-in.
The queues for the security check were unimaginably long, snaking all the way up to the check-in counters. Most of these passengers seemed to be chasing their financial year deadlines.
Our Boeing 737-700 was parked at a remote parking bay at Terminal 2. The drive to the remote parking bay took 20 minutes around the Vile Parle end of Runway 14-32. After boarding I was dismayed that my seat, 16A, didn't have a window. Seat 16F did, so did 17A and 18A. That meant I would miss the wonderful sights of green paddy fields and the lakes while landing. Choosing not to be disappointed, I picked up catching up on lost sleep - a two and a half hour flight is good for that.
At nearly 10AM, we landed at Kolkata. We docked up at the aerobridge. As we walked out of the aircraft, we were greeted by an overpowering acrid stench. It appeared that the staff had tried to turnaround the "situation" by overusing room freshener! The effect was disastrous. That was my welcome to Kolkata!

I expected Kolkata would have undergone Poriborton under the Didi, but somethings cannot change, especially when talk of change is just in the air.
The ride to Church Street was smoother than I had expected - here Kolkata scored over Mumbai. I must admit, I had always found Kolkata (excluding the Esplanade, Park Street, Victoria Memorial area) very very filthy (Howrah is even worse). The stench was still there, actually made worse by the humidity. No Poriborton on this.
I reached the client's place at about 11AM. The business we had to conclude would have taken barely one-hour, but the efficiency of Kolkata office staff is legendary! Till about 1PM, the staff were still preparing the required documents!
At that point, I excused myself for lunch. I had done adequate research on an authentic Bengali vegetarian thali before hand on Google and validated my findings with my friend, Supratik, and his wife Sayantani! As expected, Supratik warned that I would have tough time eating vegetarian stuff in Kolkata, but I had little choice, as Navratras were on. That is the only time when I seriously turn vegetarian.
Supratik and Sayantani recommended Aaheli at The Peerless Inn for a vegetarian thali. At Aaheli, I was impressed by the decor that attempted to portray rural Bengal. And Manna Dey's rendition of Robindro Songeet gave Aaheli an authentic feel. I remember Aaheli had played host to contestants in one of the seasons of The Amazing Race. The contestants had to devour the head of a fish, alongwith the eye, which was found by most contestants as offensive.
My vegetarian thali came - it had rice crackers, lucchis (puris), moong daal, spinach and cauliflower, aloo poshto, baby jackfruit, chaina in cashew gravy, pulao, sweet rice, mishti doi and sondesh! Being in Kolkata and not having fish and mutton is sacrilege. Anything less than that is plain average. By that standard, my meal was average too.
Back at the client's place, they were still struggling with their paperwork. After waiting for another 30 minutes, my patience wore thin. I told them I had to leave if work was going to delayed further. Then they got into action with cries of "Ki korchi?" "Hobe!" "Ami korchi!"
After completing the paperwork, we proceeded to the client's other locations at Chowringhee and Netaji Subhash Road. Now at Chowringhee, I saw another typical symbol of Bengalis, or rather a symbol of Bengali masculinity. In the meeting room, all the officials were gaily puffing at their cigarettes, the room had that characteristic smell of stale smoke (they had been smoking for hours) and the ashtrays were running full. Isn't smoking officially banned indoors in Indian offices? But Poriborton in Kolkata is hard to come!
By that time, I had to take the hard call to change my flight from the 18.15 to the 21.05 red-eye flight.
At the Netaji Subhas Road office, we were assisted by Anglo-Indian staff, who were super-efficient. "Is efficiency ingrained in the DNA of some ethnic groups?" I wondered as we stepped out on to the road. There I saw a particularly reckless and notorious Marwari businessman stepping into his shiny big black Audi. This guy, like many other Marwari businessmen from Kolkata (Marwari businessmen elsewhere are a tone or two better), has the reputation of duping banks, but always manages to get away, which explained his flashy Audi and lifestyle.
The downfall of Kolkata was evident in the way the beautiful Victorian and Gothic structures of Chowringhee, Esplanade and Netaji Subhas Road are crumbling.
So what explains the downfall of Kolkata? Tri-factors, I concluded - Marxism, Bengali lethargy and Marwari megalomania! I would rather substitute Mamata-ism with Marxism, there is hardly any difference.
The final stop was the airport, but before that, I had to stop at KC Das for their legendary Roshogollas and Sondesh! A sweet end to a sour day in Kolkata!

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Indian Army: Caesar's Wife Must Be Above Suspicion

It's bizarre to say the least. All that talk of the Indian Army attempting a coup on January 16, 2012.
We don't subscribe to the Indian Express at home, and we didn't learn of this incident early in the morning. On reaching office, I went in straight for a meeting. In the course of the meeting at about 12 noon, I got a few Twitter updates talking of a coup attempt. I was shocked - a coup attempt in India? Have we lost it? My first impression from the Twitter updates was that it was actually happening at that moment.
Since I could not slip out of the meeting, I frantically sent a few messages to check what was going on. I received messages from friends and family that there was no coup attempt ongoing at that moment. It was a troop movement, way back in January, which was overblown, by the Indian Express, into the bizarrest of rumours, of a coup attempt, without calling it a coup attempt.
In the evening I caught up with the news on television. Retired army officers were on the air clearing all suspicions. The Indian Army is a million-strong professional force. It is an army that has time and again adhered by the mandate set forth by the political leadership, even in precarious situations. This is only army from the developing world that had set highest standards of non-interference in politics which is admirable. Venerable Generals of the Army like Field Marshal Maneckshaw, Field Marshal Cariappa, General Sundarji, Lieutenant General JFR Jacob and a lot of others have respected that Lakshman Rekha. And for their dignified public conduct as well as the hardwork the Army has done, they have earned immense goodwill and respect from common Indians.

Any person who has lived in or around a garrison town would know that army movements are usual. Growing up in the small town of Jagadhri, which is nestled between Ambala Cantonment and Roorkee Cantonment, I have witnessed movements of army convoys having at least 100 vehicles - trucks, jeeps, APCs, artillery gun trailers and what not. These conveys used to pass Jagadhri at least twice a month and had become a part of our lives. It always used to be a treat to watch the convoys pass, seeing our brave men in uniform waving and smiling at kids, who used to throng the roadside.
So movement of troops from Hissar towards Delhi to test mobilisation preparedness in foggy conditions is a plausible argument. Let's accept it that the Army has to function in an autonomous fashion. If they were to be make every decision on routine exercises after bureaucratic assent, it would be disastrous. Not only is bureaucracy stupid and sloth-like, but is also prone to embarrassing leaks, and would give our enemies a smooth walkover.
Now making all kind of insinuations at an army full of brave motivated fighters is unfair to say the least, for we enjoy our freedom because of them. The Indian Army has always stood up to their reputation and done whatever was required to defend our homeland. Given their stellar track record and immense respect and goodwill that our army has deservingly earnt, suspecting their basic intent is not only criminal but also lowers our guard. Shouldn't Caeser's wife be above suspicion?
The political and civil establishment needs to mend its ways, so does the Indian Express. The people have already had enough and this news of a coup in the making is disastrous and symptomatic of how ridiculous and churlish our system can get.

The establishment must realise that if the Indian Army were to actually decide to takeover, they would not need units from Hissar - the units stationed at Delhi would be sufficient. The file-pushing IAS bureaucrats and pot-bellied politicians would not be able to do jack shit about it. And if it happens, there are decent chances that they would get public support.
Let's not even tread this path. Instead let's clean up our system, not doubt the Indian Army and give them all the support they need to defend our homeland, for Caesar's wife is and must always be above suspicion!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Cafés or Psycho-Observatories?

Everyone would do it but would not want to admit it - eavesdropping on conversations and observe psychology-in-action in a café!
I can confess I do that too when the conversations and situations in question are interesting(!) and audible!
About two weeks back, Neeti and I dropped by at Aromas, Powai after grocery shopping at Haiko.
A few moments after we entered Aromas, a typical Punjabi-looking, decent family entered - middle aged man, his wife, a 20-something son and daughter, alongwith another woman, who presumably was an aunt of the kids. The young lad was quite smart, his sister was the chirpy kinds.
As soon as they entered, from our vantage point we could observe what all they were doing. They got two tables combined - obviously more people were joining in, the young lad nervously flipped through the menu card. In all his nervousness he snapped at his sister, who slouched sulking thereafter.
Then Neeti said it - she was ready to bet that this family was here to meet the lad's prospective match.
Our Assam teas and jalapeno nuggets were served.
As we started noisily chomping on the nuggets, a middle aged, sari-clad lady made her entry with her lissome daughter, wearing make-up and high-heels. They either seemed to be Maharashtrian or UPites. The duo headed towards the table seating the lad and his family. They all stood up and welcomed the duo. In true bahu style, the eager-to-impress girl did the traditional paer choona - she touched the feet of the lad's parents!
Neeti was spot on! This was "the meeting" to decide the prospective match!
The girl strategically seated herself next to the lad's mom and aunt, forcing smiles while talking. The poor guy was reduced to coordinating with the waiters! Obviously, this wasn't a classical arranged match! It had to be a love-match, with the prospective couple, or rather the girl "selling the idea of their relationship" to the parents! Had it been an arranged match, the prospective couple would have sat besides each other. The girl was busy, busy trying to make conversation with her mother-in-law to be. I just couldn't help imagine how this "sales-pitch" could in all probability turn into a mother-in-law and daughter-in-law cold-war in a few months!
And then were done with our Assam tea and jalapeno nuggets, we paid the bills and rushed back to salvage whatever was left of the weekend.
A few days later after we visited Aromas, we stopped by at Costa's, Lokhandwala.
Now Lokhandwala being the hub of the burgeoning television industry, it is very easy to spot soap stars. And where there are stars, there are wannabes too!
Make a visit to any of the cafés in Lokhandwala and you're sure to see a scriptwriter on a laptop discussing the plot with a producer, wannabes on a rendezvous with an agent, most of whom would unwittingly land up on the casting couch and some lovey-dovey couple cootchie-cooing in a corner. Invariably, for all these people, a cup of coffee lasts hours, seriously. I sometimes wonder if their passion keeps the coffee warm?
On this occasion at Costa's there was a quintessential Malyalam with a heavy accent, presumably with a film industry fixer trying to make an appointment with some Bollywood bigwig at Juhu.
On another occasion we sat next to girls. One of them, as we gathered from their conversation, was recently engaged. And she was gushing effervescently over her beau!
These cafés are the places, where you would realise how urban growth has crowded out spaces for young lovers. As a matter of consideration towards their plight, it appears the cafés allow them to sit there undisturbed for hours as emotions between the lovers shift faster than anyone can ever imagine.
It is said that social media is transforming the society fast, but cafés in urban India like Costa, Café Coffee World, Barista and others are also heralding a slow social transforming of how we interact.
As for Neeti and me, its that cup of warm Assam tea that does the magic, invigorating us to move on!

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Out of the Closet?

Some of us speculated about this for long - that the Indian armed forces are defending us with low degree of preparedness.
In a perverse way, I am glad that the leaks of General VK Singh's letter to the Prime Minister has brought these issues "out of the closet", out into the public domain.
It is a well known fact that for ages now India's foreign policy and consequently defence strategy has been caught in NAMesque time warp. While the collapse of India's time-tested backstop, USSR, pushed India unwillingly into the arms of the United States, threat perceptions especially relating to build-up of forces on the Indo-Tibetan border remained practically unassessed.
That is still true today.
Part of problem lies in the fact that the rigid politician and the impractical babu in the Ministry of Defence decides what is a threat and what is not. Sadly, the view of the soldier on what is a threat and what isn't is rarely recognised by the political establishment. Isn't the soldier on the front well aware of what is required? How many of us feel the pain that the soldier goes through as he heads towards the icy frontier? I have seen this first hand at Nubra Valley, Ladakh as soldiers headed towards Siachen and stopped to make that one last call home before the mobile signal ran out.
These brave men are driven by their passion and love for the nation. Do we respect that emotion? Do we equip them appropriately to defend us?
General Singh's anguish is right! Will the babus and the politicians really understand now that the issue is out of the closet?
Perhaps public pressure may force them to react.
But then we need to draw the line. As our war hero, General JFR Jacob said yesterday, sensitive matters like these cannot and should be discussed in public for long and beyond a fine line, as it could threaten security. The press should be restrained on reporting these matters.
As long as that restraint is maintained by the media, I would be happy that issues on Indian defence remain out of the closet.
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