Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Amerikano


As soon as the Air India Boeing took off from the Narita Airport Terminal-2, i  looked around for my co-passengers. In-spite of stressing for an aisle seat at the ticket counter, i was given a middle seat. My natural reflex to such a disappointment would have been the rising of the middle finger but i restrained myself from doing that. After all i was in a foreign country. Like all Indians who would not give two seconds before uttering an expletive or spitting while driving when in their home town but would behave like a well groomed school kid when visiting foreign country, i too did the 'Namaste' routine to the person doing his job at the other side of the ticket desk and moved on. Sometimes i feel we act so polite as if the success of diplomacy and external affairs ministry depended on our behavior.

As i was unfastening my seat belt after the take off, i heard a deep drawl in my left ear-
Do you like  Amerikano-asked the gentleman sitting on my left in the flight from Tokyo to New Delhi.
Hearing that accent, the stereotyping bug inside me was tripped and i instantly assumed that the person would be from Italy. But no , he said he was from Turkey.
I was busy putting the earphone jack in its socket, when he repeated the question again-Do you like Americano?
Do i like America?? Off course i do. Most of my countrymen and colleagues want to settle or work there to earn in dollars.
He nodded his head as if this reason for loving America was not enough.
He touched the tip of four fingers of this both hands with the thumb and asked very slowly-Amerikano-Do you liking Amerikano?
I said excuse me..American? you mean like American food? Burger, Onion rings ? Yeah we Indians love to eat them and KFC and MCDonald is practically my residence during weekends.
He nodded his head as if he was disgusted by my love for junk food.
No No. You like Americano..Ameri..kano? This time he was pointing to the display screen in front of his seat.
Aaah..I think you are asking about American movies like Hollywood? Yeah i like Hollywood movies and specifically watch only Hollywood movies while flying. The reason was most Indians i met in air would be watching Hollywood movies and i thought that was the accepted practice. Later one of my frequent flying colleague told me that he does not watch Bollywood or any other regional Indian movie while flying because he does not want to make his co-passengers air sick with those song-and-dance routines that are quintessential part of our movies.

Still there was no change in the annoying look of the Turkish gentleman.
No No..No Hollywood. Bollywood. Americano. Amer..Kano
I was perplexed to the point that i wanted to get up and go to the toilet. It's my natural reflex when i get confused. But the occupied sign on the toilet door kept me fixed in my seat. I looked out of the window trying to find any connection between the Indian movie industry and America.
There were some like the recent Life of Pi or two decades back the guilty pleasures of watching the Amritraj brother's produced B-Grade movies. Where do i start from?
Meanwhile the Japanese lady to my right who was listening intently to this conversation ordered a beer. Maybe she got a headache. Unfortunately she wanted an Asahi but only got a Foster.She smiled back to us as if saying do not disturb me with your ruckus.
I too was thinking to order a beer, but did not do so thinking what might happen if i get drunk. I would set a bad example of an Indian in air. So i ordered a coke instead. The Indian steward smiled as if he could read the thoughts in my mind.
While i was sipping the coke, the Turkish gentleman turned on the display and with very swift moves selected Hindi movies. He scrolled through umpteenth options and as soon as he saw Ishq, his face glowed like the fake glow we see in the get-fairer-skin commercials. He selected it and it started playing. He did not put the headphone on. While i was still figuring out why on earth would a Turkish guy watch a Hindi movie, Aamir Khan made his on-screen entry and the Turkish gentleman almost jumped in his seat and exclaimed-Amerikano..Amerkano...see this Amerikano.

Ok ok cool down. So you were talking about Aamir Khan. I was astonished and humbled at the same time. The Turkish gentleman told me that he has watched every movie of Aamir Khan and he is is favorite actor. He also talked at length about his recent role in Dhoom 3. All this had woken up the Japanese lady and she kept switching her focus between the movie and our discussion. She smiled and said one word-cute.

Our discussion now shifted to Ghajni and Andaz Apna Apna and the comic timing of the actor. He said now they even get the Bollywood movies dubbed in Turkish. He told me he ran a take-away Turkish restaurant in Asakusa, Tokyo and watching Bollywood movies (specially of Aamir Khan) was his favorite past time. We were so engaged in the discussion, that we did not notice that the stewards had started serving food. I was about to open my packed food when the Turkish gentleman offered some of his food. He had specially ordered Turkish food for himself instead of the usual airline food- Doner(compressed chicken meat) filled in Pide bread and some kind of mustard sauce. It looked tempting and a welcoming change-specially after two weeks of eating only Udon. But before i could get my hands to this gastronomical delight, the experiences of travelling in Indian railways stopped me.
 Do not accept food from strangers. They might drug you and take your belongings. But then i reckoned, it will be difficult for this Turkish gentleman to get off the plane mid air, even if he was able to drug me and take my belongings. So i rejected those negative thoughts, took the food and savored every bite of  it.

Oddly enough, for the the rest of the journey all three of us watched Ishq in our respective displays.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

From womb to tomb - The story of an Indian girl

This is a story of a girl who starts her life from the mother’s womb. From there itself her journey begins. She takes birth in this beautiful world where for her own sight it is clean, sober and amazing. But the girl never knows that her life will always be under control by her father, grandfather, elder brother and so on. When she started growing up she faces many challenges in her life since school days to college and higher studies. Whenever and wherever she gets any hurdle to face such challenges her family stands besides her like pillars. A girl is always her parents’ angel and every parent grooms their children with their best efforts.  
Every girl has a different point of view to live their life and settle themselves in its own way. But in an Indian society if a girl thinks beyond her family’s expectations she is always forced to pull down all her aspirations. Every coin has two sides. Here the question raises that if a boy has rights to think about his career and desires independently then why a girl should always accept what her parents say. This is the agony of an Indian girl which carries on from her mother’s womb to the tomb.
The journey continues when the girl gets married. The same process repeats after marriage as well- only the characters change. Now she has to understand the new environment and love everyone in the new family and sometimes it is expected to love and care more than her own family. Perhaps she tries to tune herself in to the new environment and waits for her destiny to shine.
She always wants to fly in her own way but her wings  don’t support her to fly to her destination as from childhood there have been so many obstacles in her way that it won’t let her fly independently. Hence she is always waiting for a moment to smile with no worries, no terror, and no sorrows. All that she wants is total freedom from everything that entangles her since childhood.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
This article is written by a guest blogger Ms. Smita Chakraborty. She is a teacher by profession and likes to write blogs.


----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Naked Determination by Gisela Hausman: A review

I have to confess i am not a great fan of non fiction. I am a story guy. I like good stories. All those self help or self improvement literature brings out the lethargic guy inside me. As if my mind builds up a security parameter in which none of the words or sentences of such a book would ever be able to jump and come in while i go to a deep slumber. When i came across Gisela's book Naked Determination, the same inertia had gripped me initially. But as i went page after page, it felt like an incredible story. It contained life and times of Gisela Hausman as told by Gisela herself. Each of the chapters are like a leaf from her life tree. She isn't preaching or lecturing. She leaves it to your prerogative to draw out any lesson from each of those leaves. She could have written about great people and all the analysis of what made them great. But she deliberately avoids those cliches. Her life is rich and varied and it is from her life and rich experiences we can choose to learn life lessons if we wish to. It takes immense courage to put out one's own life for scrutiny by others. But she is honest with that and shares both her successes and failures. It's not only about her strengths but like all of us we can see her vulnerable side too through the depiction of loss of the loved ones-whether its death of her husband or ending of a relationship. This definitely connects her to the readers. From the book it is also clear that she is well traveled. She traveled to Russia, Mongolia and China during the iron curtain days and the chapters about those are good to read. The reason being these days we have the TLC, Natgeo and online travel guides which help us to plan for a foreign locale. However during the cold war era flow of information was restricted and it must have taken enormous amount of courage and a bit of craziness to visit those countries.The lessons she learnt on those trips are invaluable and i think that made the person she is today. Her insight on email writing is also very helpful in our daily lives. The language of the book is simple and style of writing is fluid which makes it a very good read. But above all this book reveals what an incredibly beautiful human being the author is.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Snackpack Jack

Jaikishen Gupta aka Jack (mostly addressed as such by his manager Tony Bhadraluchi in appreciative emails) always believed he learnt his lessons the hard way because most of his textbooks during school time were hardbound and not paperback. At this moment his desktop had a Visio document opened. He had immersed himself in the technical design it represented like a helpless pilgrim who had given all hopes of being rescued after realizing he was drowning in the mighty Ganges while trying to take a holy dip. Except in his world he had the outlook desktop email alert and the cell phone ringtone. Needless to say his untrammeled concentration was broken when an email alert popped up. It read-
HR-Vending Machine in the cafeteria.

His eyes veneered the system tray of his workstation. The clock in it registered 4:17 in the PM. It was exactly 13 minutes to his tea time/snack time. Although there was no such time as per HR policy but most of his coworkers would take a snack break at this time. They would go out to the roadside vendors, smoke, drink tea with deep fried snacks (samosa, pakora, bhel etc) and gossip among themselves. Talking to the roadside vendors provided them the much needed local information in this era of globalization. While Jack avoided (or at least pretended to) eating outside due to his increasing weight and restrictive dietary regimen imposed by his wife, devouring the forbidden stuff was like a guilty pleasure. He would seldom eat during this unofficial break as he would go home and have tea with his wife in the evening but he would definitely take part in the discussions. In his monotonous world of meeting deadlines and long working hours it was like a life line that injected a dose of much needed change that recharged his life cells. But today something was different-he had not received the customary call from Abhik Goswami (fondly called Otirikto by friends as a tribute to the word 'overweight' in Bengali language). Although Otirikto's workstation was just in the adjacent bay, he would always call Jack's extension and in his husky voice remind Jack of his obligation towards snack time. Jack held the arms of his chair and gave slight push so that he could have just the right elevation to see what was happening in the adjacent bay. He saw Otirikto was sitting in his chair (crushing the chair would be more realistic description) and reading some article in Wikipedia. He leaped out of the position he was in leaving the chair to a squeak a bit in recoil. He patted Otirikto on the shoulder.Without turning back Otirikto said-Do you have some soiled 10 Rupee bills.Before Jack could sink in the information Otirikto swiveled his chair and got out of it like an expert ballet dancer. Now Otirikto's desktop was in line of sight of Jack and on it was a block diagram of a vending machine. Both of them started checking their wallets as if they were getting mugged. Out came a 10 Rupee bill from Jack's wallet which exactly met Otirikto's specification.  On it Gandhi had lost an arm of his iconic glasses and one of lions in the emblem had turned red as it may have absorbed some red color. Jack sincerely felt he should have emptied his pockets before the weekly washathon (yes he was the one doing weekend laundry) or had he received it from the vegetable vendor last Friday. Anyways they had got their candidate for testing and rushed to the cafeteria. Some of his colleagues were already there inserting bills and punching the row and column combination to their desired snack. The machine appeared like a transparent refrigerator which had a number pad. The rows inside it were stacked with snack packs of various makes. Jack and Otirikto had the same feel when they had seen the Nintendo machine for the first time. They zeroed in on a snack and Otirikto decoded its row column combination. Jack inserted the tip of his worn-out 10 Rupee bill so that the vending machine could swallow it. The machine swallowed the bill but after making a churning sound coughed it back. It was not accepting the bill. One of the colleagues said that the machine would only accept good bills. They smiled. Like an expert magician showing his trick Jack caressed the bill again inserted it. This time it accepted and he punched in the row and column position of their desired snack-a Bombay bhel. The machine made a clunky sound and from the matrix of products spitted out the Bombay bhel. Jack and Otirikto ate that at the blink of an eye. Otirikto then brought out his worn out bill which looked like coming straight out of a trauma center except it was cello taped instead of stitched. This time they had Jhalmuri (a Kolkata version of Bombay Bhel or is it the other way round?) They went back to their workstations contended. Jack went back to his Visio document. He did not realize how much time had passed until his cell phone rang a familiar ringtone. He picked up his cell phone (a Smartphone) and saw the picture of his wife and a text right below it that read-wife calling. With a swift motion he swiped his thumb first over her picture and then on the telephone icon. Tony would always say that apart from weekends the only time he is able to touch his girlfriend is on the touch screen of his Smartphone. This brought a hint of smile to his face. He picked up the call and his wife was sounding irate-

Where are you honey?
Where else? In the office-Jack replied.
Still in office? Its eight and I had prepared tea. If you were going to be late you could have called.

Jack had not realized it was that late. The ever eager enzymes of hunger had not interrupted his work as it would do usually. He apologized and said he was held up due to an impending work that needed to be finished on time. He sent an email to Tony and left for home.
*********************************************************************************
Near about six months  has passed since the introduction of the vending machine. In a special HR meeting held in the Company’s headquarters in Silicon Valley and presided over by the HR Director, Jack’s regional HR Manager presented a report on increase of employee productivity since the incorporation of the vending machine. Among various other things it said that
·  The concept of on premise vending machine was taken from a study conducted by a German university which stated that eating outside decreases work performance
·  Time spent by employee in productive work has gone up by x percentage as employees do not  out of the office premises frequently
·  Time spent on unproductive work like snacking and socializing has almost diminished as snacks are available inside office premises
·  Tasks are completed on time and before time because employees are going home late
The regional HR manager was congratulated by the HR director in presence of all other regional HR managers. The HR director said that this experiment would be considered a Kaizen and gradually implemented across all regional offices.
*********************************************************************************Jack has completely stopped going outside the office premises. He also does not go home early now for snacking with his wife. Initially his wife nagged about it but now she has stopped complaining. He has received numerous appreciation emails from Tony and most probably would be promoted. He could not even make it to hospital when his wife went for her first ultrasound. After that incident they do not talk much. Sometimes Jack would stand in front of the vending machine and stare it for minutes and in a fit of rage he would consider sabotaging the machine but the next minute he would calm down. How he can do such a thing when the only goal in his life(as with other Indians) was to keep himself employable-so that he could keep paying his bills, repay his home loan and try to secure a good future for the yet-to-arrive newest addition to his household.

Otirikto has gained few more pounds. In the current appraisal cycle he asked for a salary hike to the amount of 22 percent as he found most of his earned income was being spent on food. This was done after he conducted an independent investigation about his mounting food expense and found that he was being charged Rs 100 per Kilo for potato(the main ingredient of his home diet) by the grocery store as he had no knowledge about the actual market prices.

Tony broke up with his girlfriend. He came to India for an official visit and went for a team dinner (drinks included). After a few pegs of his favorite whisky he said that he finds the vending machine very mysterious. He thinks it’s not about the snacks it stores but the way it is operated and snacks delivered that makes people keep coming back to it-even when the hunger has subsided. He even thinks it can control mind.

As of now, HR has successfully installed the vending machine in all locations.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Friends with trees on heads

Some people say if you have belief, you can do things which are beyond the wildest imagination of human mind. However in my experience I found that if you have belief in your friendship you can even grow a tree on your head. Don't believe me..check out this snap:




I took this pic way back in monsoon of 2005 when we went to the backwaters of Kerela. On the left is Prem and right is Jayanto(for those who don't know). In a way i am also an innate part of this picture. Not because i clicked it but because Jayanto is wearing my T-Shirt. I think that's the way friendship is. It's so full of life that it grows on you without your realization. Just like that tree on Jayanto's head. 

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Finding Love | Epilogue | A dream

I am a dream. A recurring dream that Ragini experiences. Ever since she met Luv's friends, i have been   part of her sleeping experience-if not everyday but certainly periodic enough to qualify as recurring. Even on that Sunday when Luv went missing and she fell asleep holding their photo album in her arms, i moved into her sleep unannounced. Did i arrive on my own due to her agony or was i invited exclusively by the sedative effect of the curd rice she consumed. I am not a psychoanalyst and certainly as a dream i do not have the luxury of humans to read the most incisive book written on me ever-Interpretation of dreams- by Freud.
I open with the outdoors of a school. There is a reunion that is taking place. Guys in their mid thirties- some with their spouses and some with their kids and spouses are sitting inside a classroom. A teacher comes and everyone stands up to wish her. There is laughter and humor in the air. Some are bragging about their achievements in life. Ragini is sitting with Luv and next to them are sitting Ank, his wife and kid and Amir and his wife. She can also recognize Prabir the class topper and his family sitting ahead of them. Suddenly Luv stands up and excuses himself for going out of the class. Ragini looks towards people around her. Age has put a time stamp on these once young and restless people. They have put on weight and most have puffed eyes and receding hairlines. However its peculiar that most of them are looking outside the window. She turns to her left to see what others are so eagerly seeing. She sees Luv talking to a girl- a teenage girl wearing a school uniform. They are not aware that a class full of middle aged people are staring at them. She sees that Luv doesn't quite appear the same as he was just a few minutes ago when sitting next to her. He looks as if he came straight out of his school farewell photograph-a restless teenager who gives a damn about the world. She felt she is witnessing two people in a time warp-as if time had stopped for both of them.



*********************************************************************************
I would like to thank Ankur for being the inspiration and source behind this story.
*********************************************************************************

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Finding Love | Chapter-5 | The invoice of love


Love is a strange thing. More i think about the events that unfolded on that Sunday, the more i am convinced about the strangeness of love. Luv always said that love is around us- we just need to see it. He would be holding my hand and talking to me while walking across the crowded Brigade road but still he would be looking around. He would usually speak in metaphors and i was a women of literals.It was difficult for me to relate to what he said. But then i was in love.

I had planned for a beautiful Sunday afternoon in Luv's company. First a two course meal-lemon rice followed by lots of curd rice and then watching the most successful movie ever in my vernacular language. Although till that time he was not completely conversant in my native language but for him language was a non determinant in a relationship. On the day he proposed me sitting on a drop vehicle at the end of a night shift, he said that love only understands one language and that language is the language of heart. I thought he was talking about the acoustical patterns we hear while using a stethoscope on a person's chest but he made it clear that he meant emotional connection. So with my expectations soaring high  i called him a day before that fateful Sunday. But my hopes were shattered when he told me his schedule was already set for the next day. He was invited by his friends Ank and Amir for a lunch. If ever anything annoyed me more than non vegetarian food was Luv's friend circle. He along with his friends were part of the great human migration from north India to Bangalore that took place during the early stages of  the IT bubble. Before Luv introduced me to them my understanding of north Indians was that geographically they lived north of Vindhya mountain ranges and spoke Punjabi. However to my utter amazement it turned out that his friends were from various parts of India like West Bengal, Assam and even Kerala . Their parents had emigrated to central India during the socialist era to get into government jobs as there was a scarcity of skilled labor in those parts. And like past repeating itself, these immigrant population was again migrating to Bangalore to overcrowd our streets. They would make lewd jokes and swear openly with utter disregard of the neighbourhood. But what annoyed me most that they would make fun of Luv. Specially the two cousin brothers -Deepu and Jeetu who would spare no expenses in ridiculing him. I do not why Luv S Chauhan who belonged to a respected Rajput family would take crap from such people. Each time we went to meet his friends, he would do a lot of explaining later to  make me understand that they don not mean anything seriously. Also in his circle was JJ who due to no particular reason always competed with Luv. Then there was Amir who was obnoxious and tried hard to appear smart. Ank was the one who was most intelligent among the pack and i conversed with him more often than others. Every time these guys would get together they would indulge in drinking and smoking and making fun of each other.
Due to all these reasons I was enraged at the idea of Luv spending an entire Sunday with this company instead of being with me. This resulted in a heated altercation over the phone followed by heinous name calling and stereotyping . I told him i would never call him again and ended the call. I thought he would call me in the evening or at night but he did not. Next morning i could not take it anymore and decided to call him. His phone was unreachable. I redialed his number repeatedly in the hope that it would connect once but it did not. I called up Ank thinking maybe Luv was with them as he was supposed to be according to his schedule. But when Ank said he was not there yet, i was alarmed. Did he went somewhere due to the fight we had yesterday? Did something bad happened to him on the way? Is he purposely doing this to make me feel miserable. I wanted to find Luv but did not want to tell these guys about our fight yesterday as it would make our pair a constant source of amusement for them for the next two months. In an emotional voice i said that i feared something bad could have happened to Luv. My appeal worked and Ank and Amir launched a manhunt. I was being updated timely regarding the pursuit by the duo. I opened the photo album and kept looking at pictures of us and thinking how could i have avoided the fight. The curd rice that i had prepared for consumption by both of us was entirely consumed by me and due to its soothing effects i  do not remember when i fell asleep, still holding the album  in my hands. My slumber was broken by the monotonic ringtone of my Nokia phone. It was Luv. I grabbed it and instantly broke into tears.

Where were you?
What happened? Why are you crying?
Where were you? I was so frightened. I am sorry and i promise not to fight with you again.
Well honey i was coming to meet you for breakfast-to sort out our differences.But my bike broke down midway and i had to go to a mechanic where the carrier signal was not available.
Please dont ever do that again. I was so terrified at the prospect of loosing you. We kept searching for you everywhere.
Dont worry dear. I love you and i forgive you for the fight we had. Why were you looking for me all over the city? I am always with you. Love is always inside us. We just need to look within.