Monday, December 31, 2012

Flawed Indian equality

"My parents would disapprove if I marry a boy from a different caste"

"He is dark. There are better looking men"

"She is a girl. She has to go back early, someone should drop her at home"

"That religion itself is like that" 

This is the world we live in. Indian notion of equality would put the very word to shame. Probably there should be a separate dictionary for Indians to interpret equality. For we as a society discriminate on the basis of race, color, sex, caste, religion, class and what not! It is this interpretation of equality and its attendant consequences that we are reaping day in and day out. When we are confronted with cases like the recent gang rape and death of a 23 year old girl, we act as if we are surprised. Are we really surprised? Sadly, we feign surprise for we know deep down that we are capable of such cruelty.

How many educated men accept dowry? How many educated men think their careers are more important than their partner's? How many educated parents give and accept dowry? How many educated parents expect a girl to leave her job after childbirth? How many educated families think a girl should be accountable for all her 24 hours? That she should give a hour by hour report? That she should not expose her body by going out without a duppata or wearing a t shirt? How many educated families think a girl should not drink or party because if she does, it would be difficult to find the right guy for her? How many guys have yardsticks against which they judge their girlfriends?

Equality and respect for the notion of equality begins at home and begins with our families and relatives. It depends on the books we read, friends we have, the attitudes and behavior of our relatives from which we learn as children, the movies we see, the songs we listen to and the communities we grow up in!

In India, many families still think that a girl child is a burden. They expect a girl to be obedient, silent, conservative, traditional, "homely" and what not! They expect girls to be a saraswati, a lakshmi or a durga. Yet they subscribe to songs that treat girls as nothing more than mere bodies and sex objects. Oh, the duplicity! They foist their stereotypes and expect their daughters to live up to them. They think a dark complexioned girl is difficult to marry off. They think that their communities would ostracize them if they let their wards marry into other communities. If only they know how to treat a girl as a human being! So, Where does that leave equality? In the dustbin...

Law is a deterrent only if discipline and apt behavior is practiced within the four walls of the families we grow up in. Gang rapes will continue to happen, girls will continue to die at child birth, husbands will continue to rape their wives, educated girls will continue to languish at home after marriage, men will continue to view women as pieces of meat, we will continue to have ladies compartments and ladies seats, we will continue to talk about women's empowerment and women's reservation, we will continue to think of dowry as entitlement and we will continue to practise this equality for we presumably know no other until the day we ourselves become change agents. Let today be that day!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Poor email etiquette

This is a topic that is pretty close to my heart. I sincerely believe that written communication says a lot about the professionalism and competency of an individual. So when I see shoddy, poorly drafted mails, my blood boils! After all, you either make or break with the impression you create with your communication!

Spellings -  Some people think words like informations and feedbacks actually exist. I request them to please run the spell checker. Similar to furnitures does not exist, informations too does not. Worse, a few talk about "2 informations"! God save them! 

Salutations - A "Good morning" is valid only in the mornings and the same applies to a "Good afternoon". If you are writing a mail that is addressed to people operating in a different timezone, please refrain from using salutations like this. 

Formatting - Beginning a sentence in lowercase, confusing , with . with ; and ending up with all sorts of possible wrong usage, frequently employing U, B or I, inter capitalization, half finished sentences, this list can go on...Avoid these mistakes and make others' lives bearable.

Commonly used phrases - "PFA" , "Please find the attachment", "OOO", "ASAP", "Hello together", "Hello both" and so many other equally funny, wrong, irrelevant phrases and abbreviations have seeped into the usage of some people. It would be better if one consciously weeds them out.

To and CC Fields - This is meant to be used very judiciously. If there are people who ought to take some action on the message one is sending, they ought to be in the 'To' field. Or this field should be used to include people with whom some information (that adds value) has to be shared. In Cc, one includes people who ought to be in the "know" but from whom no action is required. Without this basic knowledge, people misuse these fields and randomly include every tom, dick and harry in these fields. Before sending any mail, if only these men and women pause and recheck the recipients in these 2 fields!

Subject relevance- Some people have the habit of writing the email subject after drafting the mail. I don't advocate this because it is better to start composing a message after defining its boundary and scope. 

Writing for an audience - Before clicking 'send', many people hardly pause to check whether everyone marked in the to field would understand the message or not. Someone might need more details to grasp a message whereas somebody else might not. 

Paragraph size -  A mail in a professional context is not a poem and neither is it a fictional account of an interesting story.  So, if you are someone who is verbose, please break, structure and organize the information you intend to convey in logical parts.

Signatures - E mail signature is meant to convey one's role along with a standard sign off phrase. But I wonder why people again write their email address in their signatures. It is also not very prudent to have a 2 para signature that tells a recipient where they work, what the exact address is, what the mission statement and vision statement of their organization is! A few extremely polite people sign off with "Thanks and best regards". They would have drafted an escalation mail. Now, go figure out why they do it!

Out of Office messages - These messages sometimes start with "Thank you for your mail". I have never been able to figure out why someone should be thanked for sending me spam, junk, trash and rubbish! Or why should I thank someone without knowing any reason. If you are someone who starts your out of office message with a "Thank you for your mail", I beg you, please don't! One other point is about blindly copying the same out of office message for people within and outside one's organization. Another annoying observation is a set of options that people tick off. It reads something like "I am out of office"
    1.  On vacation
    2. On business travel
    3. In a workshop
    4. Blah
    5. Blah
Now who needs all these options? Why should someone be stressed to the point of being  forced to read through a long rubbish list like this?

Managing by email - Email is the most potent weapon in the hands of someone who does not know how to manage his team. He instructs all his team members to make sure that he is copied in all the mails they send so that he knows what is happening, who is doing what, who is working, who is not working, who is procrastinating, who is escalating and who is following up! Well, these managers are insecure individuals who don't know the meaning of the words accountability and trust. 

I am sure many of you would be able to add to this list. Please feel free to do so in the comments section.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Of dreams and dreams

It is a beautiful moonlit night. The road ahead is winding and I turn to look at either side, no, there is no companion. Just some faint voices carried forth by a weak wind that seems bereft of energy. I am alone and suddenly I feel a chill down my spine.

People drift in an out of my thoughts like ghosts in a badly edited movie. I try in vain to hold on to memories that merge with each other. The east coast road leads to Jayanagar 4th block and I lose my direction again.

From a low flying helicopter, I am watching my friends inside a train compartment. They start joking and singing loudly while I realize that I don't understand them anymore. It seems to be a ploy by them to isolate me.

I am walking the streets of a peaceful residential colony. My friend is carrying a short stick with which she draws patterns on the gravel path. She talks about happiness, childhood memories and pet dogs. I wish the walk never ends...

I am invited by a friend for dinner. I reach his flat and open the gate. As I reach the door, the sweet smell of Rasam wafts out through the open windows. I see him perched on a chair watching a movie. I wave, call and knock. There is no response. Has he turned deaf?

We have just completed discussing a case study in my hostel room. There are sudden showers and the next moment, I see guys jumping in the rain with gay abandon. Lights go off and the the merry making continues.

We are having breakfast at the office cafeteria. A friend laughs loudly and all eyes turn to our table...a senior manager walks past, then changes his mind and decides to join our table instead. I assume he wants to  feel young again!

I am faced with a decision. One road is well lit, broad and crowded with people. The other one is narrow, dark and from the looks of it ends at another crossing. I remember Robert Frost!

I am standing atop a snow clad mountain with icy cold winds blowing harsh all around me. My thoughts cease and I go blank for what seems like eternity. When it passes, I feel my mobile next to my pillow.

I am delighted to see my name in the by-line of an article. I read it over and over again. I navigate to Start->run->mspaint and select the rectangle to take a screenshot!

Either memories of happy times or agonizing teasers, dreams are what we are made of and what shape our future. They give wings to our fantasies, fears, reservations, ambitions, inhibitions and make our lives interesting. Sometimes, the meaning we fail to find in reality, we end up finding in our dreams. Perhaps, if one does not dream these strange dreams, one hasn't lived an eventful life.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Fun at Nimisha's Kitchen

Genuine warmheartedness and friendship - only the blessed get to experience. This past weekend, I felt blessed at Living Inn, Ludwigsburg. An invite for dinner turned out to be my most memorable evening in this German city...

On a cold Saturday afternoon, I started cycling toward Ludwigsburg. The cycling track cut across vast tracks of fields and I was lucky enough to spot two old gentlemen harvesting carrots while engaged in jovial banter. Unbeknown to them, I stopped my bike to take in this rare sight. How often does one get to observe a thing like this in a foreign land??? Oblivious to their surroundings, they continued to wriggle their arms in the mud...

Nimisha in her quintessential multilingual style had spelt the address as bhooka pahad, naalu, Ludwigsburg.  (For the benefit of the majority who won't get this, she had meant Hungerberg 4, Ludwigsburg) I reached to find an apartment complex set in the most beautiful of surroundings. The Neckar was meandering along in its trail close by and a narrow path next to the complex seemed to lead to the Ludwigsburg Castle. The apparition of the complex could have been straight out of some fairytale.

Rasam with rice
Arun had made rasam and rice and I don't think I had enjoyed the taste of rasam quite as much as I did that particular afternoon. The salty-sour-spicy syrup gave life to taste buds that I never knew existed! Abhilash relished the taste so much that he slurped with satisfaction!

Swans on the Neckar
After that simple tasty lunch, we set out to explore the surroundings. Guided by Arun, we walked the stretch along the Neckar trail. Swans graced the shore with a charm and elegance that only the proud and beautiful can produce with ease! With their slender necks, they looked for easy prey and a bespectacled old guy happily obliged by taking pleasure in feeding them. We experimented with different angles for some pictures. 

Back at the Living inn, Ashutosh and Nimisha were just finishing noodles. Soon enough, the cabinet was opened again...all sorts of spices in all possible packet sizes could be seen fighting for space. Out of boxes, Tupperware and hung from nooks, they were waiting to exude their aroma...We set out to work. (A correction is in order: Nimisha and Arun set out while Abhilash and Ashutosh lent them a helping hand. Useless me just loitered around clicking pictures!) Ashutosh set about making bhel poori; Abhilash busied himself with making the sweet popcorn spicy.  Nimisha made dough and Arun got the vegetables in order. 

I fail to recall who began singing while I certainly remember Nimisha prodding Arun with Abhirami, Abhirami. In no time, Abhilash started his favorite Ghar se nikalte hi ; Ashutosh surprised everyone by playing his own rendition of Maa that got me a bit emotional. Nimisha, with her exuberance surpassed Shreya Goshal by firstly singing Pal pal and then striving to make every pal of the evening so beautiful for all of us. Sometimes I do wonder where this girl draws her energy and enthusiasm from...they seem to be from some perennial source! Arun mimicked actor Kamal Hassan from Dasavatharam to near perfection...

One for the group

When the clock neared 10, dinner was ready and we were ready to feast. Chairs materialized out of nowhere and that small kitchen expanded to accommodate the five of us. Abhilash did some running around before he could find a perfect spot for a timed click.  The smiles are all too evident. The Parathas and the brinjal curry tasted brilliant. Salad, curd and pickle complemented the menu perfectly.

Post lunch, flavored yoghurt and bananas made for a delectable dessert. What a memorable evening it turned out to that I would cherish and hold dear for a long long time!

Friday, September 28, 2012

On a pleasant autumn evening...

He anxiously took his seat in the row just behind the driver, hoping that, like all days, she would take the seat diagonally across from him in the adjacent row. Sometimes, human will is so powerful that whatever is willed becomes true. Perhaps, it was one such evening for him. He had never spoken to her and he was pretty sure that she did not even know his name. However, it did not seem to matter for him.

The bus started. Strong winds held the rain at bay. Dark clouds seemed to herald an earlier-than-usual sunset. Tree leaves were changing colors from one day to the next and in that weather, as the bus gathered speed and the winds kissed the leaves, he was transported to cloud nine! The harvest season was underway and nature was glowing with a prominent swagger perhaps with the premonition that the predicted harsh winter would soon take its own toll...

As he thought about the changing seasons, he happened to catch her eye. He had wanted to steal a gaze or two and be reconciled to it for the short journey's duration because he knew the power of those probing eyes...She met his eyes and held his gaze for what seemed like an eternity. Later he would realize that it must not have been more than 5 seconds. Yet, those large round black eyes and the smile playing on her lips left him acutely embarrassed as if someone had caught him with his pants down. She was smartly dressed in a heavy jacket and blue jeans. He couldn't help notice that her choice of ear rings had improved. She now had long blue ones that probably danced in tune with her every change in expression.

The Sun was suddenly out from behind the dark clouds and it looked like a rainbow might reveal itself...she wore her ear phones and turned her gaze to the window. However, every time he tried to turn to catch sight of her, she became aware as if it was a game. This only added to his embarrassment and he buried his face in his bag. He wished somebody would call him..wished earnestly for something to happen that would relieve him of this pleasurable torture...!

After what seemed like ages, his stop came and he got up. She did not spare him with a graceful exit. Instead, she locked her eyes with his. He got down and just then, a flock of birds alighted from their spot on a balcony and as the signal turned green, flew gracefully above the heads of the people crossing the road. Perhaps, they best exemplified the urgent flutter of his heartbeats at that moment!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Why I love traveling..!

It was around 10 AM on a Sunday morning in the city of Strasbourg. I was sitting near a souvenir shop in the neighborhood of Little France. One of the most beautiful neighborhoods I have ever had the fortune to be in...a slight drizzle made the view more romantic. I remember the scene in vivid detail because something was intensely pure and genuine about the emotion I felt at that point. I cannot name it but I'd not be exaggerating if I say, I felt completely aware and at the same time as light as a feather. I have experienced similar feelings while biking down the slopes of western ghats back home, while commuting by the coal field express from Dhanbad to Howrah and whilst walking along the marine drive in Bombay.

Whenever I pack my stuff and step out, I do so with an open mind and a spring in my step. When I travel alone, I seek to engage my fellow travelers in trivial conversations, for I have discovered over time that good people are omnipresent. Last weekend, I was lucky to have breakfast and coffee with a girl from Brazil. Having completed her advertising course in London, she was on a tour of Europe. We talked about social media, advertising mix, traveling alone and traveling in groups, multinational companies from Brazil, Indian mythology and entrepreneurship.It was probably just 30 minutes but then two strangers from two different continents meeting in a third continent and talking about certain topics close to their hearts...well, I suppose only traveling can make this possible!

The night before, I arrived at the hostel to find an eclectic crowd at the reception bar. Even though I was alone and I knew nobody in that crowd, the jovial manner was infectious. I smiled and greeted a couple of people and was greeted back with equal warmth. That very morning, my first one in a new city, a young Brit had guided me to the nearest metro station and had offered his mobile number so that I can call him if I lost my way. Many a time, this genuine goodness of spirit makes me recollect what F Dostoevsky famously remarked "I do not want to and I cannot believe that evil is man’s normal state"

Traveling also, by virtue of the experiences it provides, inculcates a heightened degree of sensitivity. An ability to accommodate fellow human beings in our happiness and sometimes, experiencing an irrational joy in the presence of a total stranger...thanks to traveling I have experienced this often. A few weeks back, I overheard a conversation between two guys on the way back from work whilst they were making plans for the weekend. One guy said, "Traveling is perhaps the only thing that makes you richer without increasing your bank balance" He was spot on!

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Love, friendship and separation - Different languages, universal themes

Some themes are universal, the themes of love, friendship and separation for example. I have been spending evenings in my apartment room seeing some exemplary cinema. I realized when I saw the brilliant collection of foreign language movies in the Stuttgart library that, this is one world - a world that is neither hollywood nor bollywood - that I had never experienced.  I took the plunge...

Mommo (Turkish)  -

A brother and sister, at a tender age come to terms with the harsh reality of their mother's death and their father's remarriage. They live with their grandfather and suffer the torment of their father cold-shouldering them and favoring their half-brother. Mommo is heartrending, beautiful and disturbing at the same time. 

They say, the purest form of love is unselfish where two people trust each other completely. Ahmet's love for Ayse in this Turkish movie is a fine example. He does everything in his capacity to make her feel happy and cared for. The poverty of the village, the bleak future staring at them and the unceasing slander machinery of the neighborhood seem to have little effect on the boy. His answers to many of his sister's innocent questions exhibit a maturity and sense of responsibility beyond his age.

Many times during the course of this one and half hour movie, I felt a lump in my throat. 

La lengua de las mariposas (Spanish)

This story takes place just before the onset of the civil war in Spain. Moncho is apprehensive about his first day at school but in no time begins a beautiful friendship with his teacher, Don Gregario. The two make for an unlikely couple. The boy’s intelligence and curiosity and the old man’s love for nature gel together and make for delightful viewing.

Moncho’s brother Andrés is smitten by a mysterious woman while his own father has an illicit daughter in the village. These sidetracks offer rich glimpses into the Spanish society of the age. 

Of special mention is the part in the movie when the teacher quotes the Spanish poet Antonio Machado from one of his sonnets, “A deserted bed, a cloudy mirror, and an empty heart” when the boy asks his teacher about his wife.

Äideistä parhain (Finnish)

Eero crosses over to Sweden against his will along with numerous other children during world war II. Separated from his mother and having lost his father to the brutalities of the war, he walks into a home only to be received by a frigid Swede in Signe Jönsson. The boy tries in vain to escape to Finland risking his life in the process. Fortunately, Hjalmar, Signe’s husband befriends him. 

With time, Eero understands why Signe often loses her temper. The portrayal of the relationship between the child and the transformed Signe is movie making at its best. Soon a time comes when the boy has to return to his biological mother, who, by then is grappling with guilt. 

This story, at its core is about separation. The two world wars did unimaginable damage to the fabric of the European society but they also shed light on what can only be termed the tenderness of the human spirit. Classic moviemaking!

Turkish, Finnish or Spanish, the language might be different, but certain themes are universal. Movies like these also impart cultural lessons and for that single reason alone, are worth taking an interest in!

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Reading experience unparalleled!

I am a die-hard fan of good libraries...the first reasonably good library I encountered was in my first year of college. The Madras Institute of Technology library in Chennai might not be the biggest and it is certainly not the most well maintained, yet, it had a special charm for me. I borrowed books almost every week but almost always, returned them untouched...the library was my abode during short breaks and the aircraft model opposite the entrance always reminded me of black and white images. 

Then, there was the British Council Library near the TVS bus stop on Mount road. There were days when I had spent more time there than at my college campus. If I got a 4 hour break between classes, I would catch a MTC bus, go to the library, browse through the collection and come back in time for the class....those days!! 

In Bangalore, I began to frequent Mylib. Located in the southern part of the city, it is a compact, well equipped library that lives up to its "neighborhood library" tag. Run by two wonderful and passionate people, am sure, it will branch out and expand soon..! You can read my post on it here.  Even at work, my love for libraries remained undiminished. The SRR campus library of Intel and the Koramangala library of Bosch, well, to me, they are special places!

Books & Media collection

Now, coming to the point of this post, I recently became a member of the Stuttgart city library. At a yearly membership fee of 15 EUR, one can borrow as many as 15 items at a time (books or media) and return them a month later. It has nearly 20 branches distributed throughout the city. Whilst I have been frequenting the branches at Feuerbach and zufenhausen, the latter mostly, today, I decided to visit the main branch at Mailänder Platz. 

Reading area for children
It is a massive structure, spread over 8 floors and boasting of jaw-dropping infrastructure! I have never in all my life seen such a rich collection on so many wide variety of subjects. Art, Culture, travel, business, management, information technology, literature, books for young children, music, dance, languages and media in almost every European language the collection is simply mind blowing! 

View from the one of the gallery halls
Infrastructure is ultra modern and tasteful. There is an entire floor of media and books dedicated to children on the second floor. It is a treat to the eyes to see such interiors....if only, we do even 10% this back in India!! A cafe at the 8th floor serves drinks, salad and pastries. Of special highlight are the gallery halls, located centrally in every floor starting from the 4th. 

I picked up 2 finnish, 1 french, 1 spanish and 1 turkish movie, a novel by JM Coetzee and an essay collection by Emerson....pure indulgence! 

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Rain drops on a summer morning...!

She lives in a street named Solitude alley. She is quite a dream...I like to think, I enjoy walking alongside her. Even such a thought puts a spring in my step and makes my imagination race...

Today morning, as I was walking past Solitude alley, I caught her at the window. She had just removed the blinds and her face glowed as the rising sun met its match. She looked dressed up and ready. Next moment, perhaps, she would have turned to the mirror and fastened the last strand of unruly hair firmly behind her ears.

I continued my walk to the Rathaus bus stop. The driver is a young chap. He wears his shades no matter what the weather is and he drives with such concentration that I often wonder if he is on a tightrope walk. His face lacks any expression and he saves his gaze only for the road ahead. Anyways, I am dithering from the subject....

I turned back just in case, destiny for once decided to be friends with me! To my utter disbelief, there she was, sauntering down the solitude alley...can you imagine silence whispering in your ear? If you find it difficult, perhaps, you should listen to the sound of the first rain drop that hits the ground on a pleasant summer morning. It is not loud enough to be noisy but it qualifies for a sweet whisper...I strained my ears, yes, it was beginning to drizzle.

Our dream did not have an umbrella and neither did she care. She lifted her head slowly and looked up - a movement that appeared to me choreographed to perfection. Just then, a drop caressed her eyelid. She batted her eyelashes, a gesture that can look only sensuous on her.

She began to walk briskly whilst a miracle was underway. The rain drops seemed to single her out. They were gentle on her. It became a spectacle in no time. Right in front of me, the heavens were blessing the dream.

As she stepped inside the bus shelter, the spell was broken. The heavens ceased shedding tears and the sun peeped again emerging from the thin clouds.

Monday, June 4, 2012

A puff to the good old days!

Fiery Elias entering the platform at Korntal
A Puff to the good old days – well, thinking of a name for this post was tough, adjectives to choose from were many! Finally, decided on this one because of the faces I remember from the ride – There was this old gentleman for example, bespectacled and pale; he sat looking wistful, but with a slight hint of a smile on his face. Never once did I see him move during the entire length of the ride; he was admiring the landscape but it was something more than that – Yearning? Nostalgia? I know not. What I did realize was, some events by sheer dint of circumstances bring back good times…this ride certainly did! 

Chugging along

The ride is organized by the by the GES on the first Sunday of every month from Korntal till Weissach in the Stuttgart region. Thanks to the efforts of the society, tourists and natives alike get to experience a rich flavour from the past. We boarded the first service of the day at 9.05 AM from Korntal. A schedule of all the services with the travel fare is available here. The stretch spanning 25 kms takes 1 hour by the train. 

A charming machine

The chugging of the engine was a black and white melody, the whistles and the steam it breathed out while evoking many a movie scene also had a soothing effect. Perhaps, it made us all long for a world where things moved slowly and surely, nerves were less frayed, people were more content with whatever little they had and grittiness of character was given its due. 

There were scores of kids with their grandfathers and grandmothers. The way two generations -which seem to have little in common at first sight – connected made for quite a sight! It was drizzling all through the brief journey till Weissach adding to the beauty of the landscape. People leaned on the rails between carriages clicking pictures, smoking or cuddling their children. One hour went by in a jiffy and we were in Weissach. 

Carriages at the rear
It took nearly 40 minutes before we were all set for the return journey. We had a peep into the engine and people from this charming town gathered around the train to click more pictures. On the way back, the carriages were more silent. Perhaps, nobody wants good things to come to an end!

Saturday, May 26, 2012

This can be the best time of your life!

"Time flies by when you are having a bit of fun", remarked a member of the band 'Peter Jones and the lazy bandits' when there was only 5 minutes left for their performance to end for the evening at the Ludwigsburg street music festival. The band then went on to play a beautiful song.  
'Peter Jones and the lazy bandits'

The lyrics go like this > 

What´s the sense in looking back,
When looking back can be so hard?
Nothing there that you can change,
Can only change the one you are.

Time and time again we´ve learnt,
Tomorrow holds the golden key,
The key to open every door,
Keep the faith and you will see.

This can be the best time,
This can be the best time of your life,
This can be the best time,
This can be the best time of your life.

So you´re older now, my friend,
But I can see the child inside,
Give the child some room to play in,
Let him rest when he gets tired.

And don´t forget when times are hard,
And gloomy skies are all you see,
There´s a plan within the plan,
Tomorrow holds the golden key.

This can be the best time,
This can be the best time of your life,
This can be the best time,
This can be the best time of your life.
This can be the best time,
This can be the best time of your life,
This can be the best time,
This can be the best time of your life.

So what´s the sense in looking back,
When looking back can be so hard?
Nothing there that you can change,
Can only change the one you are...

  It was 10 o clock on a beautiful summer evening at the Blooming Baroque in Ludwigsburg where the yearly street music festival is held. The first day of the festival this year, the garden was teeming with families, kids, couples and the elderly, all immersed in their own worlds listening to some of the soul stirring music on offer. This song stirred something in me and I was spellbound until it ended...!

A few bands at the Ludwigsburg street music festival

Earlier in the evening, as I was waiting in the queue to get a ticket, a gentleman came up to me and asked if I have a ticket. A little bewildered, I replied in the negative. He then proceeded to tell me that he has an extra ticket and I can get lucky. Lucky, I did get. To be part of a festival that is renowned for attracting good bands from all over Europe, year on year was indeed some fortune! 

People moved in the vast garden area listening to one band and then the other. Many families let the kids play around. When a young boy casually climbed one of the stages and tried to grab a microphone (perhaps to accompany the lone singer and performer on stage then), the crowd was amused...Certainly, one memorable evening!

Check out the website of the band  'Peter Jones and the lazy bandits' here.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Zugspitze - Journey to the top of Germany!

No extent of imagination can prepare someone when reality strikes! Consumption of so many movies, songs and documentaries showing landscapes covered in snow as far as the camera lens could capture- yet, when one confronts reality, it is always different. Imagine yourself closing your eyelid on pure white - yes, that "movable fold of skin and muscle", when it opens and closes on pure white, can you imagine that? If you find yourself struggling, you should travel to Zugspitze!

Sometimes, in surrendering oneself completely to the simple joys of life, one gets to live life to the fullest. It is like sipping cool lemonade during a pleasant evening by the beach side with your favorite book beside! Can anyone plan for such an evening? To some extent, one can answer yes, but really? No way! However, this Saturday, in choosing to relish every moment of the day with my fellow travel companions, I experienced something special! No wonder, Shailesh remarked, "Siva is cool today, you ask him to get down from a train, he gets down, you ask him to hop back on, he is OK with that too, no questions..." :-)

A small group of 5 - myself, Shailesh and his wife, Suhas and Vaishnavi - went to Zugspitze, the highest peak in Germany. We started early on Saturday morning, our connections being Stuttgart Hauptbahnhof -> Ulm Hbf  -> München-Pasing -> Garmisch-Partenkirchen starting at 7 from Stuttgart and reaching Garmisch-Partenkirchen at 12PM.

View from the train windows..

Snow capped mountains in the distance

In the first connection till Ulm, the majority of the compartment was occupied by Indians and one could hear bits and pieces of all languages - Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Hindi to name a few I can tell the difference between. With a clear weather, the view outside the window varied only in the degrees of beauty from being just positive to the truly superlative! At München-Pasing, while others grabbed coffee, I peered into the news stands and tried to make sense of the headlines in Deutsch.

Cyclists enjoying a ride..

We alighted at Garmisch-Partenkirchen on time and in our eagerness to get "tourist information" missed the 12.15 Bahn. With an hour to kill, we speculated whether such a long journey to reach until there would be worth it if we don't get to spend quality time at the peak - We'd laugh about it later in the day! At 1.15 PM, we were in the train that chugged its way up. We narrowly missed going back to Garmisch-Partenkirchen in an otherwise empty train when, oblivious to us, people were alighting to switch trains to go on to Eibsee.

At Eibsee, we took the Eibsee cable car to get to the peak. As the car with its swaying rhythm made its way up, the views were a feast for the eyes. As we moved up, the lake slowly came into view and became a large dot of beautiful blue surrounded by greenery all around - it looked like a blue giant was sleeping peacefully flanked on all sides by protective cover. On the other side, we could see the sides of shorter peaks with a spattering of pure white here and there.
View from the peak
Snow Panorama

At the peak, the views only got better. One could behold stunning vistas of snow. In no time, we were taking aims at each other with balls of snow. Since I was always with the camera, I escaped :-) In the distance, a dog was rolling over and over in the snow. It was so delighted and enjoyed itself for a complete 2 minutes until there was some pressure on the leash. We took a cable car from the peak to the glacier below. Minutes later, Shailesh scanned the copy of the map he was holding and quizzically spoke aloud, "Yeh glacier ko inhone yahan kyun rakha hai". That had us in splits...
Our small group

We walked, jumped, hopped and sauntered. Vaishnavi even built a snowman with the help of Suhas. Lying down in the snow, albeit briefly was bliss. Probably, there is no lighter, softer and whiter canopy! At one point, I looked around and found nobody...the silence was all pervasive, in that moment, my memory raced and I remembered another such moment nearly a year and a half back that was equally magical! Beaches or snow covered mountains - nature, when splendidly beautiful, has the same effect perhaps.

Tikka Puri at that height tasted awesome! Close to 4 o clock, we went to the open air restaurant for a drink and then proceeded to the waiting cogwheel train (Zahnradbahn) which took us until Garmisch-Partenkirchen directly. Perhaps, if we had left a little earlier, we could have spent some time at the lake in Eibsee. But then, we had had our share of fun and good, it did not really matter.

During the journey back, we had our share of excitement when we suddenly found that the connection we were sitting in would not go to Ulm. Thanks to Vaishnavi's memory, we however realized, we can still make it to Stuttgart for the night :D Until München-Pasing, it had been an amusing journey to see three hyper excited kids playing with a sportive guy who laughingly indulged their every whim. In the train to Aalen, we played Antaakshari - old songs ruled the roost.

At 12 AM sharp, I was back in the hotel room at Ludwigsburg with a lot of happy memories of the day. To feel close to nature and to take a sojourn in its lap is perhaps, the closest mankind can come to experiencing life in heaven while still being on earth!

For those more interested, this link is a wealth of information

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Ludwigsburg - A beautiful piece of Württemberg's rich history

There are towns that are materially rich and there are scores of such towns and then, there are towns that are materially and culturally rich. Ludwigsburg is certainly one such town in south west Germany, part of the state of Baden-Württemberg. Tradition, history, art and technology converge beautifully in this state to make it a perfect cultural mosaic. 

Landing in the town of Ludwigsburg after a scenic journey by the ICE Deutsche Bahn from Frankfurt Flughafen (airport) till Stuttgart on a pleasant Saturday evening - well, perhaps, it was the best way for my Deutschland journey to begin! The ICE whizzed past vast lush green swathes interspersed with huge factories.  

Situated about 20 kms from the Stuttgart Hauptbahnhof (Central Rail Station), Ludwigsburg can best be described as a quaint little town. I immediately fell in love with it! 

The little homework I had done before the travel helped on Sunday morning. I made up my mind to head straight to the Schloss Ludwigsburg (Ludwigsburg Palace). A detailed map at the entrance to the palace gave some hint of the treasures inside. I purchased a combi ticket (costs 16 Euros) that would permit me to see the palaces, museums and the blooming baroque. 

Schloss Ludwigsburg

"To a baroque architect, a building was to some extent a large kind of sculpture", says this elaborately informative piece. If one sees the Ludwigsburg palace, one would too readily agree. Such splendor, extravagance and opulence! Our guide for the tour of the Residenzschloss, a burly and cheerful gentleman recounted the history of the palace and alongside that account, the fascinating history of Württemberg undulated itself. The lineage spans France, UK and Russia with each country's art enriching the palace over a long period.

Began as a "hunting lodge" under the duke Eberhard Ludwig, the palace is now one of Germany's oldest and largest intact baroque structures. With 452 rooms, it was certainly not small and the guided tour covered 73 of those rooms. Rich tapestries of silver and deep red yarn, intricate embroideries and mahogany furniture were some highlights. The symmetrical queen's and king's staircase, assembly rooms, study rooms, libraries, conference rooms, waiting rooms, servant rooms, toilet rooms and bedrooms - we covered them one after the other. 

Of special mention should be the palace theatre, the oldest preserved palace theatre in Europe. I couldn't believe my ears when our guide remarked that, in those days, what happened on stage was inconsequential compared to the opportunity theatre provided for the audience to move around, flaunt power and network! 

Fashion Museum

Ceramic Museum

The museums housed in the palace area - including the Fashion, Ceramic and theatre museums - are worth a stroll around for a complete understanding of the heydays of the dukedom. The "Blühende Barock" (Blossoming baroque) garden, thanks to King Friedrich is awe inspiring! I concluded the day after a visit to Favorite Schloss which is surrounded by another vast garden!

The blossoming Baroque

A view from one of the palace rooms

The Favorite Schloss

Sunday, April 22, 2012

An evening that is the stuff of dreams..!

"Many times, we think that the people around us are very focused and determined, that they know what they want from their lives...but you never know what goes on in their minds, behind the scenes..." - Sanmoy.  Calm, composed and with a certain gravitas that commands attention, Sanmoy couldn't have said it better. It must have been around midnight and we (myself, Abhilash and Sanmoy) were chatting about the future that was looking hazy. 

The heat was unrelenting even at that late hour and the leaves on the coconut trees lining the street barely moved...some memories are very closely associated with smells, sights and sounds. This memory, am sure, years later, when rekindled, would flash in the mind's eye along with the thin silhouettes of the three of us on the wall, under a cloudy, humid and starless night. 

Earlier in the evening, we shopped for vegetables and made Chilli Paneer and rice. The conversation veered around life at XLRI, Bengal politics, history and cricket. The oil on the stove simmered even as I got a bong's version of left politics. By the time Abhilash joined us, dinner was ready. We decided to step out for a walk. The streets of BTM at that evening hour were buzzing with youth, in stark contrast to Jayanagar that sleeps early. Sipping piping hot ginger tea, we talked about different cultures, relationships...not all of it was serious, especially, the description of the happenings in the house opposite Sanmoy's!

Later, in the terrace, we revisited our college days, the best days of our lives that we'd perhaps not experience again. Talking in this vein with friends without any inhibition left me with pangs of nostalgia! It also made me realize that, no matter, how old I am, there will be people around me with whom I can open up and experience a beautiful freedom. 

When we came back to the room, Sanmoy started strumming his guitar whilst Abhi guessed the songs...For once, I was transported back in time to those wonderful evenings at Great Lakes when Deb used to play and sing Bengali songs. The creativity of Bongs - hats off! Sanmoy was very humble when he said, he is just an amateur...wish Abhi had got his violin for the evening. It was 2.30 AM by the time we hit the sack. It was an evening that is truly the stuff of dreams...beautiful, peaceful and relaxing...! Sanmoy and Abhilash,  thank you so much!

Monday, April 16, 2012

Moonlight Carnival

If you can see only vileness in humanity, take a long cycle ride in the hinterlands, in rural India; experience its idyllic setting where beauty thrives. This is not the beauty of glitz and glamour; this is real beauty juxtaposed with squalor and has no trace of superficiality about it. 

Riders getting ready

The ride was special and named aptly – Moonlight carnival. We started the ride at 2.30 AM from Kollegal. The bus ride to Kollegal (situated 145 kms from Bangalore) took us a little more than 3 hours. In the moonlight, aided by conventional and miner’s torches, we set about getting the bikes ready for the ride. Having been part of 4 rides organized by CAM (Cycling and more) the team was extremely helpful and Manohar, our organizer for this particular ride can be easily named Mr. Cool. 

If I can play a trick on William Wordsworth’s famous lines – 

Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive,
But to be young was very heaven!

And make it read, 

Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive,
But to be cycling was very heaven!

I’d certainly not be lying! 

The pleasant breeze and the silence of the night were a perfect invitation. Unlike rides that start during the day, where most riders like to speed off in the beginning, in this case, hardly anyone bothered with speed. We were more than happy to engage in the cyclist version of saunter. Our destination was the Forest rest house at the foot of the BR hills in Bylore, 45 kms away. 

I started the ride alongside Nandini and listened to her experiences in NCBS (National Centre for Biological Sciences) as a research associate. It was a different world for me – biological research, fruit flies, state aids for research etc. Soon, Sandeep, Harsha and Rohan joined and briefly we were a group. In the darkness, except for the occasional stray dog, our own conversations and the rattle of the wheels against the road were the only sounds to break the silence. Sometimes a torch from an early riser would sweep to scan us…

The colors of sunrise

It is not that we have not been on night rides in the countryside. The difference here was the physical effort we exerted and the absence of the ugly engine noise. Indeed, cycles come closest to being nature friendly modes of transportation! At dawn break, I caught up with Neeraj, Kaavya and Megha just ahead of a dusty and stone-laden track of road. The sun was up before we realized – so sudden it was that the whole thing struck me as an anticlimax. The few minutes before sunrise were the best part as the last vestiges of darkness were swept off gently and the sky was bathed in soft glows of orange and blue. 

At Odeyara Palya, we alighted to have tea. When we resumed, the villages on either side of the road sprang to life. We confronted idling men, busy women and pleasantly surprised children. The sunlight revealed swathes of green and reddish-brown vegetation. At 7.30 AM, we reached our destination for the morning. 

Bylore Forest Rest House

Breakfast was simple and hot. While some riders took turns to freshen up, some others went to sleep. I took a quick 2 hour nap in a tent. Even as the sun steadily traversed an arc from the east, the heat was not unbearable. A game of cards was in progress and briefly I sat next to the group. By lunch time, almost everyone had taken bath. Lunch was hot sambar rice with cabbage, pickle and curd. After lunch, we lay down on mats in the shade…to do nothing, think nothing and look forward to nothing is a pleasure in itself.

The Monastery

At 4 PM, we started the ride towards Dzogchen monastery, off Odeyara Palya. The approach road was just about motor able and can do with some restoration! The Dhondenling Tibetan Settlement is a world in itself. Young women on bikes, kids beaming with the classic Tibetan smile, genial looks on old men and women – the picturesque settlement had all the traces of one that is coming out a time warp. Young monks in the monastery played with gay abandon and cherubic innocence is how I can describe their smiles. One wished the monastery was open though! 

Riding back alone to the forest house, I met a curious girl who thought I am a foreigner. She demanded amusingly what my business was. When I said, we have no business apart from cycling, her pleasantly surprised expression had me in splits of laughter. The confidence with which she spoke in English and later switched to chaste Hindi was ironical since we were in rural Karnataka. I wonder whether this is because of feature rich mobile phones or satellite television!!

I spent the hours before dinner gazing at the stars and the moon through the dense foliage of a large tree. I recommend this as an exercise to come to terms with the insignificance of our lives – so negligible and pale as part of the cosmos, we often overestimate our own relevance and indulge in comical pursuits. After all, a grain in a haystack! Paradoxically, this realization bestows the power to love our fellow human beings. This love makes us powerful and strong, not weak and spineless because there is just awareness here; not attachment.  

Day 2  Morning

Day 2 – we rose early to have coffee and a light breakfast. The sun had just risen when we started the ride. There was no human habitation on either side of the road – it was just endless stretch of mountains interspersed with sparse greenery as far as the eye could see. 

We were a small group of 5 until Garemalam, border town between Tamilnadu and Karnataka. The undulating roads were smooth and easy to ride on. I felt an intense urge to freeze the moment. Mankind should invent something that makes this possible – to wrap all the enablers of a particular moment (such as this), add some preservative and bottle them up together in a container. Whenever one wants, one should just uncork the bottle and be able to relive the memory in all its vividness again! 

Bike salute

The ride from Garemalam till Arepalayam was mostly a descent. At a particular bend in the road, we stopped for rest. It was time for bike salute and we took umpteen numbers of snaps here. After Arepalayam, we took a sharp right to take the road to Hasanur. Being a national highway, there were lot of KSRTC and TNSTC buses plying on this one. At Punajanur gate, Megha’s cycle got punctured and the guys led by Mr. Fixit alias Venkatesh sweated it out before we resumed. It proved to be a welcome break. 

We reached the endpoint for the ride shortly before noon. Our Mr. Cool was swamped with all kinds of gadgetry when he offered to click group pictures! During the initial few hours of the short return journey, most of us took a short nap. Around 5 PM after a stop for coconut water, we started dumb charades. With some quirky names and equally quirky acts, we couldn’t have laughed more. Pavan’s act for Melina would easily take the icing here! 

At 6.15 PM, I alighted at Jayanagar – with a single step, I was back in the harsh world of reality.