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30 Dec 2011

The End Of Another Year

The month of December has been rather exciting. There have been too many parties, too much food and far too many bottles. It culminated in two fabulous Christmas parties - one of Christmas Day and the other on Boxing Day. Then, everything went quiet. The silence was almost deafening. Two days of no real partying, no going out. In fact, the two days at work were stunningly quiet too. In reality, it was 3 work days before NYE but the third one did not count because it was an early pack-up and the first half might as well have been clearing out the desk for the long weekend coming up.

Things were quiet in terms of actual partying but there was a mad frenzy of planning going on for the next year. There were heaps of travel and events being lined up. Soon, there were one too many things in motion and I needed two month-a-page calendars to make the plans - one calendar listing the things we wanted to do, the other for plans that were locked in. As is wont to be when there are so many things happening at one place, there were overlaps of groups and dates. My mind was a madhouse to say the least. Adrenaline was running high. Very high. I could almost feel my feet just a bit above the ground.

In the melee that was on, I thought everyone had forgotten about NYE and it was going to be pretty much sitting at home, watching the Sydney fireworks, drinking by myself. Of course, there were some talks about the fireworks at South Bank but I have seen them last year and did not think I cared to do the same again.

Suddenly, on the third day, things picked up. Everything sprung to life! I woke up in the morning, assuming I would quietly chase away the old year and welcome the new one with nothing more than hugs & kisses from my family and close friends. By noon, I had found out that I was going to watching footy plus there were pre- and post-drinks on NYE. I had been "booked in". While they were at it, I had also been booked in for plans for the theatre event after NY. Whoa!! Hold it right there! One moment I was all over the place trying to work out plans and the next dates were blocked on my calendar. In a flash, I saw $$$ fly out of my bank account.

As I watched, I could see the first 5 months of my next year unfolding slowly. The mid-year plans were forming in the background.

If the world does not end, as some seem to think might do, it will be a great year to look forward to. Somewhere in the midst of the changing seasons and overbooked events, there will be time to read and write. There will be interesting work and kick-ass Krav Maga sessions. With luck, the year will turn out to be even better than the current one!

As I wind up, I feel the year slipping away. There is still a day and half to go but I am packing up at work. What I do now will be the last thing I do in the office. I am not sure what that last thing should be. I almost feel a sense of loss as the year wraps up. It has come sooner than I expected. I struggle to shut down my computer. It is that moment when the year is ending and the heart wants to hold on to that which has been, that which the heart already knows. For, who knows what the next year will bring? For, all that is certain is the hope for wonderful things. The promise to oneself, of great things to come and beautiful memories to build, before the coming year ends.

21 Dec 2011

Cricket At The Stadium

The excitement of watching cricket in the stadium is just fantastic. The adrenalin rush in a stadium far surpasses the feeling when you are watching a match on the television. The Brisbane Heat Vs Melbourne Stars match last night was no less.

Apparently, one of the highlights of the match was the presence of Shane Warne. He played for Victoria, which meant that the chances of them winning the match was higher. He is an international player and a class one at that! The other player who got mentioned, though not as much as Warnie, was Matthew Hayden. He played for the Brisbane Heat. So, I guess we were sort of even. There were some some others, atleast a few names in the Melbourne team - David Hussey, Cameron White, etc - that I recognized but Warnie, as he is fondly called, was the most popular. I did not know at the time but based on the publicity and the crowd going gaga, I figured that Hayden and Warnie were probably was back after some time. A quick peek at the Brisbane Times bulletin on the internet confirms that: "On the plus side, the return to the Gabba of Shane Warne and Matthew Hayden drew a record crowd of 29,241"

Victoria batted first and set a neat target of 178 for the locals. They played well. Towards the end, Brissie seemed to have had a rush of adrenalin and picked up a few wickets in the last handful of overs. The streak continued on as they struck a few fabulous shots across the boundary in the first few overs of their game. Hayden, unfortunately, left the pitch rather early. Soon afterwards, the temperature in the Brisbane team seemed to have gone down. No matter how much the announcer and the crowd tried to 'Fire It Up' for them, the Brisbane Heat could not score enough. Then they picked up again. Towards the end, it seemed to be more of a drive to win that they decided to pull up their socks. Which they did too. That and a few lucky breaks did it, for the team. Imagine a dropped catch, rolling off across the boundary faster than the fielder! It was amazing! The crowd could not stop cheering. The streaks of fire that went out every time the home team shot across the boundary or took a wicket (in the earlier half) went berserk at this point.

As Shane Warne came on board to bowl his first over, the crowd went crazy. The cheers for the Brisbane team switched to cries of "Warnie! Warnie!". In fact, after a while, it was more of a "Waaaarneeeeee, Waaaarneeeee", which sounded more creepy than anything. It was almost as if the appearance of Warnie caused people to forget their own teams for a bit! The cameras panning through the crowds found a man with "Sup Liz" at the back of his shirt. Yet another time, when the Kiss Cam was on, the last one turned out to be a rather big surprise. Liz Hurley kissing her neighbour (an older man she obviously knew). The crowd rang out when that happened.

The biggest distraction, of course, was the guy in a teal coloured costume. With his head in some sort of a strange flame-shape, the man must have been feeling hot as. That did not stop him one bit, as he somersaulted, did side and back flips continuously and walked around, mingling with the audience. Not for a moment did he stop, throughout the 3 hours of the match. Considering how much I struggle with my forward rolls (from crouch position, to boot), I cannot but be amazed at his ability to back flip in costume and with that giant-sized head!

Occasionally, the soft balls that people kept passing around and the Mexican wave (that is absolutely mandatory in any big gathering of that sort, in any country or culture), caused people to look away from the cricket match and participate in the event.

The biggest difference between the match I watched last night and the one I last watched was the crowd reaction. There were polite claps when the other team scored, polite claps when our team scored. Okay, there were a few screams and some general reaction when we scored but even the announcer on the radio, with all his excitement, was subdued in the recent event compared to my earlier experience. That one had people screaming, dancing, pumping fists in the air, yelling and just going whacko! Another huge difference was, of course, how open the ground felt. It took me a while to realize why. The big barriers that separate the stadium audience from the grounds were missing! Even a child could just jump across and land on the ground. No one did. Ah! The classic catches played by a couple of local cricket clubs for a cash prize was another new thing to me. It seemed like a rather fantastic idea!

In all, a great experience. The joy of being in a stadium, watching the match. Ah, it had been so long! The new and old experiences mixed in a lovely blend that resulted in an evening well-spent. Must do it again...

19 Dec 2011

Review: Dirty Picture

I watched a film last week. It has to be one of the most poorly made movies I have ever watched! Initially, I thought that direction and editing was bad. The picture was probably meant to be cheesy but in an attempt at making it cheesy in a funny way, the director had failed miserably. The film revolved around a girl (Reshma) who wanted to be an actress and ended up being an 'item girl', going by the name Silk. One of those that has flab hanging off everywhere and she shows it proudly. There is a stand-off between her and a director Abraham, who hates making such poor 'skin and flesh show' type of movies. In the end, they  make it seem like Abraham has won the battle, while Silk dies. Supposedly a case of 'the rise and fall of the actress' in some sort of a 'good prevails evil' theme. Epic fail! I felt as if the director could not decide whether he wanted to make her the victim or the vampire and kept changing his mind in the climax. So, he made her a vampire and then turned around with an anti-climax. He left a loose end with the love story angle between Silk and Abraham. Why? Where was that going, anyway? Why start something and not finish it?

The film was supposed to be based on a lot of things viz South Indian cinema, life of actress Vijaylakshmi a.k.a Silk Smitha, Rajnikanth (as the stereotypical South Indian actor), etc. While there may have been traces in there which allowed you to identify with those names, the film was still a farce. They used the name Silk and showed a paunchy actress in absurd clothes, displaying fat hanging from all sides (especially the centre) to mark Silk Smitha. The character based on Rajnikanth wore flashy clothes, was worshipped by all and did the bullet split act that is the most oft-repeated of all Rajnikanth jokes. The rest of the characters were scatters of this and that, to fill in the story. Even Abraham.

The actors have all acted well. Vidya Balan is a great actress. You could see that in her performance of scenes where she brings out the difference between a 'cold' flat scene and a 'hot' steamy scene, performing the exact same thing but without the zing the first time. However, she is not a sexy actress. Sensuousness is not her thing. She has done her best but her act is not natural. Maybe they wanted it that way. Maybe Silk Smitha was the cheesy actress. If that was the case, she was a good fit. Naseeruddin Shah, as always, is another very good actor. He never fails to deliver. Emraan Hashmi has done very well too. Having only known him as the actor that kisses endlessly and takes off his clothes on screen, I had not quite seen his acting skills. He has fared well.

The choice of actors has been good, without question, but a lot of great actors cannot make a brilliant movie if the director and editor have not done a good job. There are some interesting props in the movie. The old rotor-dial phones where you dial a number and wait for the dial to set back into place before dialling the next, the long chords you stretch across rooms, the popular red Maruti 800, country streets, chai kada and country girl with stars in her eyes, are all good ideas. Only, it fell short in execution.

Yet, the movie is quite popular. Maybe it was good and was made to be the way it was. It made me feel like I had eaten a bucketful of KFC chicken by myself. There were good bits and yucky ones but in the end, I did not come out feeling good. If I had to slot the actual movie in either Silk's or Abraham's basket of films, as per the film, I would throw this in Silk's. They have used some of the so-called sexy shots too many times.  There weren't even great. While trying to say that the directors in the movie focussed on xyz thing, the director of the real movie has focussed on the xyz thing too. Dirty Picture feels dirty alright. Filthy. I have not been able to decide if it was popular because of what they show in the movie (cinemas filling up for the item girl Silk & her stuff) or because it was made exactly the way it was supposed to be. I would not watch it again. I am not sure if I would recommend it but I am not sure I would discourage anyone from watching it either. I guess I have not decided how I feel about the movie. Unpleasant is one word that comes to mind. How unpleasant, I'm not sure.

One thing is sure. They have used a great deal of cinematic liberty. Must have. If the actress was really all of that, it is no wonder she killed herself in the end. Did Silk Smitha commit suicide? I am not sure. I cannot be bothered googling it.

If I had never watched that movie, I might not have missed a thing. On second thoughts, maybe I would have not known what to write today. There's a thought!

9 Dec 2011

Of News & Virus

Bank rate cuts are old news now. The Big Four were in the line of fire while they 'reviewed' the RBA's decision to chop the interest rate by 25 basis points. Once the banks decided to fall in line and pass on the entire cut, the news went cold super fast.  If the banks, or even one of them, had with-held any part of the cut, the fire would still be raging. As they say, good news is no fun. 

Hundreds of emails are exchanged between people every hour of every day. Nobody bats an eyelid. Until there is one embarassing email. The most popular is one that frustrates somebody. Before the sender has moved his index finger from the mouse, after clicking on the send button (if you are a keyboard person like me, you would probably hit the Control+Enter keys), the email has travelled across half the world. In a world where social networking has a presence almost as big as the world wide web, the email has gone 'viral'. Today's joke is on Mike, who sent a rather desperate email to Lauren, after repeatedly failing to hear from her after their first date and his numerous attempts to get in touch with her. It is obvious from his email that Mike is probably upset and trying overly hard to keep a straight face as he write the email. In effect, it switches between being a statistical, analytical note to a desperate call to Lauren, to respond to him.

It is not known whether Lauren herself posted the note on the internet or someone she showed the email to, did. That is irrelevant anyway. It is exactly how a girl would respond to such an email. Share with her friends and be appalled at the nature of the letter. After a first date, that may or may not have gone well, if she had any doubts in her mind as to whether she wanted to see the guy again or not, that will now be removed from her mind. There is no way in hell that she will get in touch with this guy. She might altogether avoid being seen in the vicinity of where he lives and works. If there is a sliver of sorry feeling for the guy and she decides to call him, her friends will vehemently discourage her from doing it. In this case, the email has been made public. The more viral the email goes, the more it becomes a joke. She and her friends are probably laughing at the contents and the email's popularity by now. The seriousness of the note, if any, has altogether disappeared. It is now just another funny item on the internet that goes into Facebook's statistics as viral email or Twitter's as trending link.

Such emails are almost never forgotten. They seem to surface every now and then, when related discussions occur. I can only hope the name of the author in the email is fake. Well, considering that the person who posted the email on the internet has xxx-d out his phone number, it is safe to assume that they will not have revealed the true identity of the writer. 

There are not too many 'nice' things that go viral. What one man likes, another may not. Yet, the South Indian song Kolaveri-di went viral for weeks. Nearly every Indian who has a Facebook account posted the song on his/her profile or at the very least commented on, or liked, the link posted by someone. Last week, the original song stopped being posted but only to be replaced by various versions of 'Response to Kolaveri-di'. Of these, the Kolaveri-di sung and sweetly tweaked by Bollywood singer Sonu Nigam's son Nevaan Nigam was the most popular. This week, Indian cricketer Virender Sehwag's world record score in ODI, which has made big news is being dubbed as 'Kola-Viru-da' after his nickname Viru. It will be a while before Kolaveri-di will be replaced by something equally good.

Viral is now hip a word. At one point, viral and virus were bad things. Infections - whether physical or computers - that people shunned. English seems to be turning into a more complex language with the advent of the mingling of multiple cultures. A number of non-English foreign languages tend to use same words to mean different things, based on context. English was supposed to have been the simple language. The most difficult thing used to be the difference in pronunciation of words between the English English and the American English. Now, we have Aussie English, Jinglish (Japanese), Hinglish (Indian - Hindi) and a whole lot of other variations. This is in addition to the abbreviated SMS lingo, social networking lingo and then some. The modern English language is slowly incorporating 'acceptable' bits of all of this, as it embraces multi-culturism and turning into a slightly complicated language. It is all in good faith. Who am I to complain?

8 Dec 2011

Clickety Click

Taking photographs when the sun is up and shining bright, is probably the easiest. An automatic point-and-shoot camera is all a photographer needs and even the worst ones can manage a few good pictures. Most amateurs prefer a sunny day to say, a cloudy or rainy one, for this reason. I have discovered that all of this is bullshit. Mostly, if not entirely.

Sunlight means shadows. Partial shadows are usually bad news. There are a handful of good pictures where half of the photograph ends up darker than the other. Most of the time, you either want the picture in light or you want the entire object inside the shadow. Sometimes, sunlight can be harsh. This is not easily noticed in an automatic point-and-shoot because the camera adjusts its settings, as required. Auto settings, however, are limiting. They are pre-programmed to go one way or the other, or another. A reasonably decent photograph might still need editing to adjust colour and contrast if the light was too harsh for the automatic settings. A sunny day with few or no clouds means a boring skyline. In other words, pictures should exclude as much of the skyline as possible. If the landscape around the object is not interesting enough, taking a good picture becomes a challenge. In other words, bright sunlight is not necessarily a photographer’s best friend.

I’m no photographer, let alone a good one. I carry a semi-automatic camera that I have used in auto-mode for most of the time that I’ve had it. The only settings I’ve used are the macro mode, scenery mode (which does not seem to work the way I want, most of the time) and the pre-set timer. I read the manual once and fixed the settings when someone had stuffed around with my camera and messed up the scenery mode badly. By fixed, I mean that I changed a few things randomly and took pictures till they stopped looking like a sheet of white. Since then, I’ve never trusted myself to use the camera in scenery mode. A fear lurks in my mind that I might take a picture in the mode only to later find that it doesn’t look like the real image.
A couple of weekends ago, I learnt a few things about what my camera is capable of doing. Being a semi-automatic, there are limitations but I liked learning that I could be a better photographer than my camera’s auto mode. The discovery of being able to change the aperture and shutter speed has spoilt the automatic mode for good, for me. When I switch to auto, I wonder if the camera is using the most optimum settings for what I want to achieve. My mind goes back to numerous photographs I’ve taken in the past that I’ve had to delete once I get home and load them on to my computer. ISO, focus and composition are terms I have never had to think about when I take pictures. How naïve of me!

Having a digital camera means I can take a few hundred pictures to come home and edit or trash as I please. I can delete pictures on the camera, to make more space, if I need to. When I think back to the days we bought a ‘roll’ for the camera before going on a holiday, I wonder how we did it. I would buy 1 roll (if I could convince mum/dad, we would get 2), which came in sizes of 25 pictures or 32, and try to fit out entire holiday into that. The worst part was waiting till the roll was completely used up, before we could take it to the studio for developing. This usually happened with the second roll. After scrimping and trying to save for the best pictures, you inevitably end up with an unfinished roll. Then, it was a few days of waiting – sometimes as long as a fortnight or more – during which we would hope that the pictures were not shaken or distorted. We had the option of selecting ALL or GOOD on the order form, to indicate whether we wanted all the photos or the good prints only. I always worried that if I marked GOOD, the photographer might not print something that is important to me if he regards it as poor print.

The digital cameras improved photography without improving anybody’s skills by much. It provided the option of taking a number of pictures and selecting the best of the lot. A number of pictures mean various compositions. Somewhere among those hundreds of pictures, there will be a few that followed the rule of third and we end up with a pleasing image. That is how some of us with automatic cameras can still manage to click a few shots that our friends can ‘Like’ on Facebook and drool over. Over time, if the count of pictures with the ‘Like’ increases, we feel like we’re good photographers. Or atleast we attempt to become better ones, to keep the ‘Like’ going.

So, really, Facebook makes us better photographers. Eh? Of course I’m kidding! I’m just a wanderer, lacking photography skills, trying to write a piece on photography. It appears that I have wandered along a couple of roads with the writing too. When the realization of that hits, I know it’s time to put the cap back on the pen!

7 Dec 2011

All About Look And Feel

Appearance is important. That is one of the most important lessons I have learnt since arriving here. I have noticed how, all around me, people are so keen on appearances. In my note a couple of days ago, I mentioned a performance at a community school event, where the teacher was showing the children what to do so they look good on stage. That is just one of many examples. It is not a bad thing, except that too much of it, like anything else, can be unpleasant. In a work environment, more often than lot, it tends to lead to the guy who talks the most and works the least getting a bigger share of the bonus. Unfortunate as it is, that is the truth. The survival of the fittest. In this case, to be fit is to be able to show oneself as able. The actual ability does not count as much. I am sure it counts for something but it is the appearance that matters the most.

I do not know if it has always mattered this much to me or if it is one of the many things I have imbibed since being part of the culture here but I realized that sometimes appearance is rather important to me. Maybe it is human nature. I mean, we all love to eat food that 'looks good', right? What is that they say about restaurants using red and black colours in their logos because that makes people hungry and want to go into the restaurant. There is some science to it but I cannot remember much of that now.

Anyway, moving on to what I am really on about...

After having looked at Christmas greetings at a few card stores and not being entirely satisfied with either the cards or the price, I ventured into the big Post Office in the CBD the other day. I sort of loved going to the post office once in a while. Not only was it convenient but it had a good feel to it. Convenient because all I really had to do was stand in line and the guy at the counter gave me the right envelope, with the right value of stamps. Sometimes, he even took it off of me and saved me the wee hassle of dropping it in the box. The good feel came from the various bits and stuff they sold. The PO was not just a postal service office but a little store that sold stationery, gift cards, greeting cards and a range of little things that one could shop for in a hurry. I have found their Christmas cards better and cheaper than most card shops, especially when I have had to buy in bulk.

So, I walked into the post office the other day and I was taken aback. I looked around me and walked out the door to make sure I had entered the right place! I entered again, into this big room that looked flash with shiny red and white counters set up on one side and a shelf full of envelopes on the wall across the counters. There were a few self-service kiosks on the left. That was it. What happened to all the stuff they were selling? What happened to the warm, friendly feel of the place? I did not like it one bit. I walked around, trying to find Christmas cards and finally realized that they were not selling any. In fact, they did not seem to be selling anything other than the envelopes I saw on the wall. The counters looked so new and bright, they were almost intimidating. It felt more like a bank and less like the friendly post office I frequented. Oh well, for a new-comer, it might be this fancy postal office space but I hated it. .

The cute little free muffins they were giving away, with the symbol of the post office in icing, tasted good but it did nothing to salvage my broken heart. From a warm postal exchange where I sent stuff to my family and friends, it had changed into an office space where I would go to pay bills. That is what it seemed like.

When a colleague of mine mentioned visiting the post office the other day, I knew she had not been there in a while. If she had, she would have definitely said something about the change. So, I warned her. When I met her today, she said, "You were right! The place is so sterile now". Sterile. Yes, that one word describes it. It is going to be a while before I go back in there. There is a little shop closer to my work place which is a smaller branch of the post office. I went there to get my Christmas cards that afternoon and found it still intact. It looked just liked it always had. It was smaller but it had the same feel as the older version of the post office. It made me feel better. That is the place I am going to be visiting for my future needs. I hope they do not modify the structure of the little branches at least.

Yeah, appearance does make a big difference. Doesn't it?

3 Dec 2011

Too Much Of A Good Thing

As I kid, I remember coming home from a day of play and telling my mum about it. I used to tell her about the friends I made and the fun I had with the friends I already have. That still happens. It seemed like the most natural thing to me, until now. I go out, make my friends, come home and tell my parents about them. What is unusual about that? Right? 

I have been hanging about with a few friends with kids, lately. Incidentally, all of them have 1 boy each, aged between 4 to 8 years old. It has been interesting to see how each one raises their kid. Differently. Some of them are admirable, some make you wonder if you ought to give them a piece of advice. I don't anyway. I do not have kids, I do not even know how to handle little boys. I am the last person that should be advising someone on how to raise their offspring. I am pretty sure they would feel the same way, if I made an attempt to supply them with my words of wisdom. So, I keep quiet and observe in the background. Sometimes I grit my teeth, suck in a deep breath and turn my head away to stop myself from being a know-it-all. There was a little voice that had been nagging me for a while. I just did not know what it was about, until this morning. One of the said friends put up a Facebook status about being proud of her son for getting ready by himself in anticipation of meeting his friend. 

Off late, a number of my friends on Facebook seem to have had babies and my wall is inundated with screaming mums proud of anything their little ones do - from burping to pooping to proud mums who can change nappies. It's been driving me nuts. So much so that I've considered un-friending the whole bunch at some point or the other. Who knows if I might turn into one of them at some point? I'm not that now and I'm mildly annoyed that I have to put up with those updates constantly! Coming back to the friend whose son was getting ready to meet his friend. I realized that these parents seem to plan their weekends around their kids. I mean, I knew that before and I have found it overbearing at times, even though I could understand that they had to do things their children would enjoy too. What hit me today was the knowledge that they were, in effect, planning how their young ones should spend their time. They would make plans and expect the little fellas to get excited about it. Of course they know what the kids want and they know what is good for the kids, so it is not wrong. Only, sometimes it can stretch too far. 

When I went out to play, the most my mum did was to make sure I was wearing shoes and she knew where I was headed. I would play with my friends, in the playground, in the park, side-alleys... I could play whatever I wanted. I would come home muddied, scratched and dirtied, mum would help me wash up. I made my own friends, I played whatever game we chose. I was free to live out my childhood discovering things and doing fun stuff. These kids have their parents chart out their day. The parents decide how much fun they can have. Their friends are the ones their parents will go out with. That is, their parents' friends' children. "If mum decides to take me to Seaworld today, that is my fun day". No doubt it is fun. Only, they have never stopped to think if that is what they want to do today. Mum and dad don't ask either. Even if they did, the young fella probably wouldn't say no because he probably doesn't know his options or that he has any. 

Somehow, this whole thing feels so sad. The kids have never gone out to play without either the parents or their teachers chaperoning them. They probably won't until they grow into teenagers, when suddenly their new-found freedom is going to emerge from the inside in a burst. I may be wrong about that. Still, I liked the idea of just going out to play with my friends, without my parents watching over me and making sure I play right.  

I went to a friend's son's school the other day, to watch his performance. Before his son went on stage, a group of tiny-tots performed a little song and dance routine. When we did that in school, we would practice for days on end and then perform on stage. Sometimes we remembered all the moves and did the right thing. Sometimes we forgot. Some of us were born stars, some of us were nervous. Whatever it was, we did what we did. On this occasion, I saw a teacher kneeling in front of the stage and doing the moves that the children were copying. All eyes on the stage, were on her. I'm sure they have practised before. It looked good that all the children seemed to be able to do the moves, some well, some not so well. It saddened me, however, that they were all watching the teacher and copying her. There is too much emphasis on the end product looking good, rather than letting the children free to do what they have practised, on stage, as well as they can remember it. There is not enough emphasis on the children actually knowing what they were doing. No tests, just keep reading your books. No exams till the age of 10. Maybe I got the age wrong but that is not the point. How sad is that they refuse to tell children about failure?

A colleague with 3 boys between the ages of 5 to 15 once said to me that the system was ridiculous. No matter how badly they performed, they were told that they were good, so as to not hurt them. Even bad news was sugar-coated. He said it was pathetic that they had to soften the blow and hide the children from the concept of failure. This is not real life, he insisted. I could not help but agree with him.

In my growing years, I have met parents who have swung the other way and put too much pressure on their children to do well, emphasised far too much on failure. That is another extreme. Even so, I think I would rather know that I could do better when I haven't done well than watch a teacher perform and copy her steps, step off the stage to be told I was amazing and live the lie.

17 Nov 2011

A Poor & Forced Attempt At Recounting My Day

Alert: Poor attempt at writing today. Too many distractions, mentally drained and not well-fed - those are my excuses.

My multi-tasking skills were put to test today. The morning started off pretty simple. I didn't have to pack my lunch box or get my Krav gear in order. All I had to do was shower, grab my bag, my keys and take the train to arrive at work in time. I spent my free 3 hours reading a book. Ah, it was lovely. I knew I could've gone for a run but lying on the couch with a cuppa, reading a sweet Scottish romance novel was more enjoyable.

The book was intriguing (read: the knight without his shining armour was really sexy and the poor maid was finally falling in love with him), so once again I found myself running for the train at the last minute. Yet again, the train arrived seconds after I did. Lucky two days in a row. Howzzat! I arrived at work, hoping to sign in and duck out to grab a quick brekkie at maccas before I started my day. It was a slow day, by the looks of the way it started, and weekend was almost here. 

The moment I stepped in at work, fifty things landed on me at once! Missed calls on my landline, a missing person at the desk next to me and too many emails in the team mailbox. This was going to be a fun day. Not! I could feel it in my bones, even before I switched over from my mailbox to the team's common inbox. From the issues I had been trying to resolve yesterday to the work items to be implemented next week and everything in between (which included a sever production problem), there was a load of work to be done and no other team member. Well, not a worry. How long has it been since I've run on adrenalin? I shook with excitement. This should be good, I think, as I start mentally assigning priorities to the tasks at hand. Tackle them one at a time and all should be well. That's the me of recent times, multi-tasking go to hell. Well, that's what seems to work here. We have all the spare time in the world.

This was not one of those days. My multi-tasking skills were being tested. Bring it on! I'm the queen of multi-tasking. I started working on task 1, when I saw an email that I had to address right away. Re-shuffle priorities. Write email and back to task 1, which was sort of running in the background partly. While I'm doing 1 & 2, someone related to task 3 drops by for an update. Shuffle shuffle. The priorities were clear, that couldn't be changed except they were now 1a, 1b and 1c. Juggle juggle juggle. More people, more emails, phone calls and IMs, it was non-stop.  When finally, I took a moment out to make my own phone call to check on some instructions, my bird had flown the nest. Fortunately, it was headed my way, so I had to wait for it to find it's way back and I was all set.

Multi-tasking can either be simple or complicated, depending on the situation. If I made my priority list & started juggling my tasks in such a manner that I operated on one while I was waiting on the other, it works marvellously. Try aligning my priorities with someone else's and hell happens to my multi-tasking abilities. To complicate it further, chuck a few more people with their own priority lists into the mush. Make sure there are a couple of jokers in there and a dick or three. Get a little adventurous. Bring in managers banging the table and co-workers with secret recipes they won't share. All set.

That's how it was nearly 3 'O' clock before I managed to find my way into the kitchen and stick my lunch box in the microwave. I snuck out to check on something while the food warmed and only remembered the stuff in the oven a good hour later. I had to warm the food again. Shit happens. This time, I waited by the oven. By 5:30, I had eaten and managed to take a loo break. A lot of work had gotten done today. All loose ends were tied. I had crossed off every single item on my tasks and some sub-items that added themselves to the list. I had wiped clean every crumb of work from my table top and was ready to head home. 

The plan for the evening was to spend it in exactly the same way as the morning. Which meant that I had to finish my writing before I left work. So here I am. I managed my last 2 days without any distractions. Today, there have been a few. Multi-tasking never works when I'm writing, so this one's going to be a shit piece. At least I wrote. I'm drained. Maybe I'll buy myself a McFlurry on the way home. I should try something different today but I am drained. My brain cannot process any more data. Thinking is beyond me. Tomorrow will be better. If not, there is always alcohol. 

16 Nov 2011

Failed Lists

When you wake up in the morning and know you have 4 hours to go before the day actually starts, it is supposed to feel good. At 5.10AM this morning, I woke up feeling hungry. A coffee, that's what I needed. Once I've had that cuppa, I would go for a run and then make a list of other things I could do to kill the four hours. The rest of the day would go smoothly, till 5PM, when it was time for some Krav Maga groin kicks. Kick on home after that, pie for dinner and a well-deserved sleep. 

Yes, that would have been nice. What happened instead was that the coffee stretched on for 3 out of the 4 hours, during which I didn't achieve any of the things I mentioned above. I think I checked some emails, watched a few videos, mucked about sniffing into other people's lives on Facebook and checked if my pay had been debited into my bank account. I was on my last $5 last night, when I went to buy a spicy chicken cashew rice that cost me $8.50, so I was on -$3.50 as of this morning. Soon, I was running around the house like a headless chook, packing my lunch, stuffing all sorts of things I might need for the martial arts class in the evening and wondering if I needed just a shower or I had not brushed my teeth yet. In the end, I decided to brush (just in case) and shower. 

I grabbed everything nearest to the door, hoping that it was all the stuff I need to get to work and back home, and ran to the train station fervently hoping that my train was late by however minutes it would take me to get to the train station. I was only halfway to the station, when a train passed by. It was a train in the other direction. Phew! Holding my breath, I ran, knowing fully well that I had missed the last train that would take me to work in time before the morning meeting. As I entered, I heard a train pull in. Yes! My train was late, by 3 minutes. Exactly how late I was to arrive at the train station! What are the odds of that happening? Forgetting my manners, I swiped my card on the machine, even as a young man was staring at the screen after he had swiped his, probably trying to figure out the balance on his card. Then some more running. I was ready to roll down the ramp, if that's what it took to get in that train. Luckily, the QR representative was one of the nicer guys that waits for hapless morning runners with hair flying and shabby clothes, so he waited until I entered the train.  

Normally, I would read a book and most people around me wouldn't even notice. I hadn't noticed anyone notice me to date. Today, I pulled out a book and the nosey old lady sitting in front of me was slyly checking out the title. Damn you, woman! Nobody looks when I'm reading a Lee Child or Paulo Coelho or Matthew Connelly. One of those times, I decide to pick up a short cheesy romance novel in order to tear through a couple of books quickly and make up my reading target for this year and she notices. She smirks. Yeah sure, like you've never read one of those before! That did it. No reading in the train today. The journey seemed endlessly long and I was getting late.

I made it to the meeting - late by 3 minutes - but it started 3 minutes later, so I was in time. What are the chances of that happening twice in the same morning?! Somehow the rest of the day has continued to be a roller coaster ride. I make a list and nothing gets done. I thrash about and hit the mark on one random shot taken in desperation. 

In continuation of the day's trend of things on the list not getting crossed, I missed my Krav classes for the second time this week and I'm kicking myself right now. It would have been better to kick groin and pummel chests in class but this is what I chose. There was no good reason. I just wasn't upto it. 

For the rest of the day, this is the plan. Go home. Read. Eat. Sleep. Can't go wrong there now, can I? I sure hope not!

15 Nov 2011

Stand-Off With A Lizard

I have seen him roam the backyard a number of times. He arrives at the beginning of spring and stays through to summer. I have no idea what he does during the rains. Maybe I should be more observant. He has never been in the patio as far as I have known, but my paranoia forces me to leave the patio door closed. Just in case.

In the last couple of weeks, I've occasionally left the security screen to the patio open. I had not seen him in a while and even if he was around, he would never come in. There was a chance that the turkey might get cheeky but she is noisy. I would hear her if she tried to force an entry. It seemed alright. I am right there, after all.

Note: I must admit here I do not really know the gender of the lizard or the turkey. I am making a random assumption, without any basis or reason.

Today, I forgot to close the door after I arranged the patio furniture outside. I was sitting at the dining table, deeply engrossed in what I was doing, when I heard a soft clang against the railing outside. Normally, I would ignore it. I hear sounds in the backyard all the time, with the dragon, the turkey, lorikeets, miners, crows, possums and anything else that cares to drop by. This morning, I looked up from my writing and saw a part of something where the steps end. I had just swept the floor, so I got up to check on it. It was a large lizard staring at the door. I only assume that by his body position, of course. He might have been staring at anything. I instinctively dived to the door and slid it shut. I could not resist the temptation of taking a picture, so I came back with my camera, opened the door slightly and started clicking. I blocked the screen-door with my body and had one hand ready to slam the door, in case he made a sudden movement. I know for a fact that he can move fast. I have seen him. At close quarters, I saw that he had firm feet and a reasonably strong body. If he clung to me, freeing myself off him would not be easy. Add to that, creepy. I have no idea what his defence mechanism is, so I chose to be wary. Sharp claws? Poisonous spit? Sting in the tongue? Teeth? He might be harmless, for the most part, but something tells me he is carnivorous.

Eastern Water Dragon, Brisbane, Queensland
I do not know if he stopped when he saw me or he was doing his thing of stopping and staring at the new environment he was going to explore. I have seen him stare at trees for a really long time, so I would not be surprised if that is what he was doing. Anyway, I know he saw me. He backed up just a little bit when I slid the door and stood there. It was not so much a backing out in fear as it was in defence. He did not crawl away. He moved his body back, just a little bit, with his eyes still on me. The body still faced me. His crimson coloured chest was now facing me, his four feet placing the body in a braced position. At first, he was just a lizard strolling by, with most of the body closer to the ground. Now, he was now ready to retaliate if I posed a threat. If I did nothing to surprise him, he would not harm me, I realized. This is something I have noticed among a few Australian backyard animals. The possums, for example, may not jump at you when you approach them but they do not run away either. They stop and watch you. If you attack, they will retaliate. You leave them alone; they wait and watch till the danger, that is you, has passed. No premature moves that could harm them. No leaving the battlefield with their tails under their bums. Sensible and assertive, aye mate?

I stood there, observing him through my lenses for a bit and then without them. His head turned back and forth a few times. He has got round eyes at the sides of his face. I am not sure if he needs to turn his head sideways to see me or he sees me when he is looking straight at me. I am inclined to believe the latter because his body was positioned facing me. He tilted his head towards the source of noise when an aeroplane flew by. His eyes seemed to be looking up, in the direction of the sound. So, I am going to assume that he sees when he's looking straight. Once, he turned his head sideways and closed his eyes. I had not noticed he had eyelids but the light coloured skin on his face seems to extend over the eyes, acting like eyelids. I do not know any better, so I presumed that he must be listening intently to something, like we humans do at times.

After a few minutes, I decided that he was not going to make any moves while I watched. He kept his eyes and ears open to sounds around him. His head moved side to side and upwards, every now and then. He was watching me and going about his business of looking out for whatever it is that he looks out for, at the same time. Talk about multi-tasking! Maybe he is a she, after all. It was apparent that he would not approach me but he would not turn his back and leave until I did. I shut the door and came back in. I watched him from my chair at the table, looking up from my writing now and then. A couple of minutes after I came back in, he turn around and went back to the backyard. He had ventured into a new space, decided that he did not want to go further and gone back to his usual hunting grounds.

I have never seen him on the patio. I cannot help wondering if he came in today, because he saw the doors open. How did he notice that? Obviously his vision is good, if he saw that from the ground in the backyard. The good vision is not surprising because I have seen him look out for birds (maybe something else, I am not sure) on trees, from the ground, and gone after them. I am intrigued now. Did he see the open door? Did that mean anything to him? Did he see a new opportunity to explore? Was that a coincidence? Has he been up here before? He has left me with lots of questions I now need answers to.

12 Nov 2011

Came Here To Write But Ended Up Whinging Instead

I am so over strangers telling me what to do with my life, through the stupid monitors I peer into twenty million times a day! 

My Gmail crashed 5 times during an email that might have otherwise finished in 5 minutes. The Chrome help page says I should disable my anti-virus and do a few things before I turn it back on, to fix the issue. I'll be damned if I stay connected to the vast world of viruses and malware out there, without protection!

Facebook thinks I need more friends. So, I have these random strangers flung at me each time I go to the Wall for my news feed. Off late, they even show me events that my friends are attending, with an option to RSVP. I nearly RSVP'd, in the affirmative, to one before I realized it was a private party!

I logged into Blogger to write about something. My memory fails me now. I got distracted into ranting because there was this on top of the home page

You should occasionally check the comments in your spam inbox. 

Sure, why not? Why don't you also tell me what to wear today and whether I should have eggs for breakfast this morning? I don't care for spam and if I ever find out you're putting valid comments into my Spam folder, I will come after you!

I'm told by Shelfari that I haven't read enough books this year. Yes, I know I haven't been reading much! Where do I find the time to read? I mean, seriously, between work and social life, I barely manage to read a few lines on my commute. On nights that I'm drunk, only 1 trip on the train allows for reading because the return trip is a fight to stay awake long enough to get off at the right train station!

Twitter's been nagging me to check out their 'Activity' tab where I can view tweets & re-tweets from my followers and those that I follow. What else is Twitter if it is not that? Aren't I already doing that? Stop creating different views of the same thing! More importantly, stop haranguing me to check them out!

I could go on but what is the point? I've lost a brilliant idea to write a blog. The moment of creativity has flown, thanks to the interference from the monsters of the Internet-world. Even my coffee has turned cold. It's just one of those days... 

9 Nov 2011

Moving Houses

Moving houses can be a daunting task. When you’re in a different country, away from family and friends, even the modern technologies of developed countries do not make the task any more fun.

Two of my friends were in various stages of the moving process. One family has been looking for a house in various suburbs, without any luck. I cannot help but wonder why someone would be rejected for tenancy but they have been unlucky enough to experience that. The other family found their dream home within weeks of starting their search. Last Sunday was going to be their big move day. The husband decided that, between him and the wife, they would be able to manage just fine. They booked a trailer and a tri-wheel climbing hand trolley with wheels for the day. A couple of us friends decided to help them, in spite of protests that they would be able to manage by themselves.

I was picked up from my unit at 10 in the morning and we headed to Kennards to pick up the rentals. The first hurdle was getting the agency to accept a non-Aussie driving license as id and providing acceptable identification documents to supplement it. We had to drive home to bring some of the required documents. One of the guys at the store helped join the trailer to the car. Driving the trailer was supposed to be fairly simple, as long as you took long turns at the corners. Yeah sure, until you started to reverse! The trailer moved in the exact opposite direction of the car, swinging by the hinge. Considering how tricky parking a car in the reverse can get (for some of us, it is!), attempting that with a trailer was a near-impossible task. Eventually, we decided to leave the car + trailer parked across the street so we did not have to reverse park.

The boxes and some of the reasonably heavy stuff were easy to manage. The tri-wheel hand trolley was a marvel, in so far as bringing the washing machine, drier and some furniture were concerned. The refrigerator gave the guys a hard time but we eventually managed it all. Three trips and the move was complete, save for the little bits and pieces that they were going to move the next day. In some ways, it was fun. We reminisced about the times we have all had to move in the past. The new house was, obviously, a much nicer place than the old. We walked around, exploring the complex and sharing excitement over the various facilities it accorded.

The best part of day activities like this one, apart from the beer and pizza, are the aches and stains that remain at the end of the day, to speak of the hard work that has been put in. One of our friends, who was baby-sitting the couple’s kid, invited us over for dinner that night. Thank God for that! We exploded a few party poppers, listened to the stories of the kids’ days and chattered incessantly over a delicious South Indian dinner of peas fried rice, chicken curry and beer. Every one of us slept soundly that night. Either tired from the day’s hard work, from handling two hyperactive five-year old boys or, in the case of the boys, from playing all day long, we all had our reasons. 

Of course, the act of physically moving stuff we friends helped with, was only half the job done. The arduous task of packing and unpacking still remained to be done. The excitement of moving and the thrill of starting over should take care of any pain points in that area. I bet having a 5-year old helper makes a difference too!

I cannot wait to see their house once it has been set up. They have the loveliest balcony, huge and perfectly suited for a barbecue or a dinner-and-drinks party. Which, I bet, they will have. I need to make sure I have a free night on my calendar when that happens.

30 Oct 2011

Manly Halloween Festival

As a compulsive list person, it is apparent that one of the first things I do in any new environment, is make a list. I arrived in Australia last year and settled myself in. Then I made a list. A list of things that would go on my pseudo-bucket list. Let me call it the wish tree. I don't really have a name for it. Maybe I'll think up one soon. 

One of the things on the list was to do a Halloween thing. I suppose it broadly meant getting out and about, dressed in costume. I did not have a real plan. Maybe I wanted to go pub crawling. Maybe I wanted to go trick-and-treat-ing. I don't know. Nothing happened last year, except it remained on the list. This year, a friend suggested checking out the Manly Halloween Festival. I was pretty sure it was kids stuff and not sure I was that desperate. In the end, I did go. Not in costume, of course. Just loose trousers and a tee. The curiosity of the what might be in the parade enabled the trip. It turned out be much more fun that I had expected. 

We arrived there early enough to see the cars being prepared for the Street Parade in the evening. Up and close enough to examine some of them. A number of makeshit stalls, in the form of little tents, lined the main street. They had everything from bits for costumes to toys and candies. The best thing about parades, of course, is that the roads are closed to traffic. Well, maybe not the best but I like walking on the street without having to look left and right for speeding cars. People dressed in garbs of red, black and other bizzare colours strolled along the road, trying to look as creepy as possible. The abuse of colours was apparent, as is wont in any Halloween event. While the adults stuck to their dark sides, the kids dressed up in costumes ranging from vampires to superheroes. There was also the odd angel, princess or warrior, among some kids. Mushy parents, I suppose. 

We picked one side of the road and cruised through the stalls, as you do at such events, knowing fully well that we had no intention of buying anything. The sellers watched, quietly assessing whether you were just a passerby or a potential buyer. They seem to ignore you while you're looking but suddenly spring to life the moment you pick up one of their wares and show the slightest consideration of loosening your purse strings. We easily moved on from shops that sold generic stuff not related to Halloween. We stopped longer at the ones that had wigs, capes and other things that would be useless after that day. There were expensive stuff ($25 wigs! Really?) and there were the Chinese stuff ($5 wig anyone?). 

When we started off, little K was wearing a little mask and a tiger cap with antenna sticking out of his head. As we waited for the parade later that evening, my mate wore a B&W tribal wig with blood dripping off her vampire mouth. In my bright red wig, horns and vampire face paint, the Halloween item on my list was ready to be crossed off. K had the full face of a vampire, complete with the freaky expressions he was putting on. My mate's husband was our personal photographer, as husbands seem to end up most of the time.

The games spread over the festival campus were amazing. I wanted to be a kid myself, so I could try some of that stuff. The stage at one end of the road invited enthusiasts to take a free fencing lesson. You could walk around all afternoon and find something amusing at every turn. In true Aussie style, one family of witches, wizards and weirdos had a barbie set up near the beach (Aussie slang. barbie => barbecue). Beach, food, music and all things crazy. Halloween festival alright. 

The parade started in the evening. When you've spent an afternoon in a crowd filled with the creepiest and whackiest costumes, a street parade fails to ignite your senses much unless there was something different. Scores and scores of creeps walked the streets, failing to impress. Then the cars drove by. Ah! Creativity unleashed and gone berserk. It was freak-a-bulous! There may be some who think all that blood and violence freely roaming the parade would have a negative influence on the children. Get a life! This was fun. 

Maybe next year, I'll get a full costume and go pub crawling. Or trick-and-treating. In any case, Halloween is marked as done on my wish tree. 

29 Oct 2011

When The Queen Was Here

Queen Elizabeth II was in Brisbane on what was being touted as possibly her last tour to Australia. Nobody said why they thought it was her last tour. I cannot help but wonder if anyone realized it sounded like she was going to die. Somehow even thinking that seems blasphemous. 

From the news stand, I gleaned information that she is the only reigning monarch from The Royal Family to visit Australia and in her 16 visits to this continent, she has visited all the states. She was coming to Brisbane to pay her respects to the flood-ravaged areas and affected people. 

Thousands of Brisbanites assembled at various points on both sides of the Brisbane River, starting from Brett's Wharf to South Bank, to get a glimpse of the Queen (and more, if possible). When I arrived at SouthBank Parklands, the place was jam-packed. I do not remember seeing this many people in Brisbane even at the famous Riverfire or the glorious Ekka! Jostling crowds? What's that? Do we have that many people in Brissie? Nyah! Turns out we do. It was easy to see what the newsreaders mean when they talk about the pull the Queen has.

What I should have expected, but had not, was the number of old people present on the day. Some of them could barely walk but they were there, waiting for Her Majesty, in the blistering heat of the Sunshine State's summer sun. They were in such awe of the Royal family! A number of kids in fancy dresses, with flowers, cards and gifts for the Queen, waited patiently for her with their parents. The excitement in the air was almost tangible. I heard one parent saying they had been waiting in the same spot for 4 hours! That's one thing that never fails to fascinate me about the people here. They wait for hours, camping with their families, for a 15 - 20 minute event. Don't they have to be elsewhere, doing other things? 

Each time a boat came close to the pontoon, the crowd held their breath. A happy old man to my left was giving a running commentary to the ladies around him. Every time he said the Royal Boat had arrived and he was wrong, the grannies chided him for the slip-up. It was like watching a movie shot at a different time period. A young man with a bevy of ladies on his arm, while he regaled them with his army stories. 

When the police boats arrived, we knew she was going to be here any moment. Click, flash, hands flew up  all around me. The ones at the back of the crowd were hoping to capture something on their cameras to take back home, even if a direct visual was hard to get. The announcer from the news channel that was running a continuous update on her trip said the Queen had been up on her feet waving at people throughout the boat-ride. At her age, it was an amazing thing. The crowd went crazy. 

Finally, the ferry carrying the Royal entourage arrived at the South Bank Cultural Centre pontoon and stopped. More hands in the air, more flashes.

"There she is, in red!". "No, that's Anna Bligh". "Oh look, Anna is wearing a hat!" "The Queen is in green, next to Anna". "I can see the Prince". "Where, where? I don't see anything" "They're on the top deck. Anna is wearing a red hat, the Queen is in green". This last was from our old friend, the commentator.

I stood tip-toe on my 2 inch heels and strained my eyes. It was hard to spot them. The man in front of me, with 2 little girls, had got an eyeful and bend down to let the others behind him get a view. I saw two figures - one in red and one in pale green - standing side by side on the top deck! There seemed to be some men in suits but it was hard to tell who they were. Well, I got my glimpse! By then I had clicked a few randoms on my camera and was hoping that I'd managed to get them in at least one of my frames. Here is what I got.

Ha ha ha! No, that's a picture from one of the newspapers online. Here's what I really got from my camera. If you peer hard enough, you might see 2 little spots in green & red. That's them alright. 

I am not even sure why I went there. In India we do not go ga-ga over The Royal Family, like they do here in the Australia. It was a sort of a historic moment and I suppose I wanted to be a part of it. Even if it meant being one of a hundred thousand specks in the dust. It was not like most of us had a hope in hell of actually getting to see her. In the end, all I got was a glimpse of someone or something in a spearmint green coat and hat that was apparently the Queen. The Queensland Premier Anna Bligh was more easily spotted in her scarlet suit & matching hat. There were a couple of men dressed up in guardsmen outfit, who might have been the Queen's men or fancy dressed men in the crowd. It was hard to tell. It would be a shame not to mention the Duke of Edinburgh but he did not exactly make the headlines or do anything unusual to note. Not even one of his famous gaffes that day. There was a loud roar from the crowd as they got off the ferry and walked down the aisle at SouthBank Parklands. As she walked down the pathway, the noise moved with her and hands flew up, holding cameras, iPhones and SLRs. When she passed a certain spot, the crowd disintegrated in a trice. 

It had been an hour in the sun and I had seen all I could. As I made my way back, I saw a woman sitting on her husband's shoulders trying to get a better view. Cameramen from news channels trying to capture the excitement for their audience were thrusting mikes at her for a commentary on what she was seeing. When they left, I asked her if she saw the Queen and she said she didn't. Well, she got her 15 seconds of fame while the poor husband was straining under her weight. Someone yelled that the Royal entourage was in the QPAC building and everyone turned in that direction. Sure enough, we could see unmistakable green and red figures surrounded by black suits, through the glass windows. 

By now, I was hot and hungry. It would have been impossible to try to catch my friend who was somewhere among the thousands. I messaged her that I was heading back, quickly waved at the construction workers peeking through the different levels of their building (lucky bastards got a good view without leaving their workplace) and took off.

As I weaved through the crowd, conversations floated into my ears. A group of teenagers were excited that they had seen a red hat, green had and squealed when one girl announced that she had seen Prince Charles. Of course, she meant Phillip but who cares, she saw him! An middle-aged woman was telling her friend that some people had fainted from the heat. An old man holding his wife's hand was making his way through prams and people, yelling "woman with a baby, woman with a baby". His wife might have been a "baby" to him but he didn't look like a woman to anyone. The Victoria Bridge was filled with barely moving people. The 3-minute walk across it took me 15 but I finally made it. Not before I heard one last comment from 2 young women - "Next time, we should get here at 7 in the morning, with blankets and deck chairs, so we can get a good view". I almost felt ashamed for wondering if it was worth coming this time. 

22 Oct 2011

I Am Free

There is nothing like lying on the grass, by the river, under a mildly cloudy sky, with the sun peeking ever so often. Twenty minutes of napping in a continuum of time and space like this is more relaxing than 5 hours of night sleep under the covers in the comfort of the bedroom. Warm and soothing.

The occasional drone of the helicopters, the squawking gulls, crowing birds and speeding boats are music in the backdrop. Not disturbing, merely aiding a thought-free, dreamless sleep. The dull, monotonous sound of distant traffic is almost the noise of water in the sea. The background noise that colours deafening silence and makes it bearable. 

So I sat there. Enjoying the feeling of being alone, the quiet, the peace. Understanding what the word relax means. 

I watched the colony of gulls and the lone Lewin's Rail strut about on their delicate feet. I wondered how such soft, light creatures weathered the bad elements of Nature. 

Watching them fly, it struck me that freedom didn't just mean the joy of spreading your wings and taking flight in a direction of your choice. It was embracing the gentle nudge of the wind, without clinging to it. It was also being alone, unattached. Living in the world without strings. Floating about freely. There may be others that come and go. You may be in a school or herd or colony. When you fly, you fly alone. 

To be free, you need to embrace and enjoy that solitude. 

And with that, I headed out to the markets. To meet new people, see the different wares they had on show and bring home pieces of the rest of the world, to enjoy in my lonely space. 

19 Oct 2011

Cut To Chase

The book started off well and the author managed to keep it up for a little bit. Soon, he started to lose me. He began to repeat himself here and there, cloaking the same points in a different garb. How about cutting to the chase, Stuart? He does not seem to have a focal point for the book either. 'Stay on the course’ he says but does he? It’s not clear till the end whether this book is intended for general life or projects or leaders – neither the audience nor the context is apparent. So much for ‘know your audience’, ‘announce your conclusions first’, etc.
Reading the chapter headings is quicker than reading the whole book as they pretty much convey most of the message. If you insist on reading the book, I would suggest a quick skim. It isn't terrible but it's isn't good either. I came out at the other end feeling a little like I could have made better use of my time. 
I’ve noted down almost all of the points here (removed a few too-obvious duplicates) and added notes on the right, where it could be interpreted in different ways or needed some clarity. This is a long read but it’s way lesser than reading the whole book. The post is worth one read. Don’t forget to make a note of your take-away points.
Speed Up
Cut to the Chase: And 99 Other Rules to Liberate Yourself and Gain Back the Gift of Time
By Stuart R. Levine
  • Cut to the chase                        Approach everything from your next phone call to the next 5 yrs of your career with clarity & focus. Know what’s important & what’s not
  • Just Start                              Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power & magic in it – Goethe
  • Get in early & go home on time
  • I got it                                        When you’ve understood what someone’s saying, let them know & get on with it
  • The first 20 minutes                    Plan plan plan. Get organized
  • You’re killing me                       When someone doesn’t get your “I got it” & keeps talking
  • Get over it                             Acknowledge what happened and let it go. Learn what you can from it & move on
  • It’s not always about you
  • What’s keeping you up at night? Make a note, write it down & get to it the next day
  • Don’t hide your passion         Let the enthusiasm show
  • Start with an end in mind               Know what you want before you start
  • Focus on one thing at a time
  • Organize yourself first
  • Assumptions kill
  • Think in bullets
  • Trust your gut
  • Predict how long things will take
  • Tailor your message to your audience
  • What’s been going better lately – and why       Analyse your successes just like your mistakes
  • Explode out of the blocks               A good start is half the race. Start the morning off right. Do something to energize yourself
  • Every second counts
  • Know how things really get done
  • Build momentum
  • Make sure your handoffs (handovers) are clean
  • Bag consensus                   Involve key players and come to a consensus. Complete consensus if often impossible – before asking anyone for their input, decide how to decide
  • Break through silos
  • Appeal to their enlightened self-interest
  • Measure twice, cut once
  • Close the loop                          When a colleague introduces you to a new contact, tell your colleague when you’ve reached out to the new person & after you’ve connected, tell them how it went
  • Call an audible                         Anticipate change before it happens and react immediately
  • Beat change to the punch                Carl Jung once said, “If there’s a fear of falling, the only safety consists in deliberately jumping”
  • To speed up, slow down          Make a note every time you circle back to fix something. Review the ‘To Do’ list & highlight anything that looks like a redo. Get it right next time & every time
  • Teach people how to use your time
  • Treat others’ time as you would your own        People don’t mind giving their time if they feel it’s valued and helpful.
  • Know what’s being asked of you
  • If you want something, ask for it       The more specific you are, the faster you’ll get it
  • Tell them if the baby is ugly          
  • Cut to the chase without drawing blood
  • Make sure everyone has the map 
  • Tell them what’s on the test            Telling people how they will be measured will help them focus on the most important things.
  • Know your work style – and theirs
  • Clear the air                           Even if the dynamic between you and your colleague drifts back to “normal,” the unspoken frustration will affect your relationships, and potentially your work.
  • Create a ‘no loiteing’ zone
  • You can’t please everyone
  • Know when you’re not needed
  • Count noses                             Even if you’re not able to win everyone’s support, you should atleast know where everyone stands
  • Stay on the course
  • Don’t grandstand                        Don’t dominate conversations. Write your thoughts down & chose the best time to share them. Never cut off people. Talk less, listen more
  • Stay in touch                           With the technology, people, etc
  • Master the graceful exit                Recognize when it’s all been said
  • Look at the big picture
  • Know your weaknesses but play to your strengths
  • Think 3 moves ahead
  • Know when you’re stuck          With work, in your career, anywhere. Recognize when things aren’t moving forward
  • Make opportunity happen
  • Delegate
  • Life is a negotiation                   Define what matters most and be willing to lose the rest
  • Know when to wait & when not to
  • If you need a drummer, hire a drummer   Get the right person to do the right job (I interpreted the title initially, as get help if you need to)
  • Don’t be afraid to hire people you’re going to lose
  • Decide what not to do                   i.e. Prioritize
  • Addition by subtraction         Lose the people who take far more from your life than contribute or minimize their impact on it
  • Use pictures, highlighters              Highlight what’s important, don’t ramble on
  • On it. Pending. Done
  • Start with a punchline                  Give your conclusions before launching into a detailed explanation. It tells your audience why they should pay attention & what to look for. Don’t make them guess
  • Weed out your reading pile              You can’t do your job well if you don’t know what’s happening in your company, your industry, in the world. Read everything you need – develop a technique
  • TMI (Too Much Information)              There is such a thing
  • Good enough is good enough              Striving for perfection when “good enough is good enough” is a waste of time. Accept your imperfection. Do great work, inspite of it
  • Your time is your life                  Figure out what’s important in your life. Don’t be afraid to pull back from the things that aren’t
  • Cut down on the fire drills             Define the steps you’ll need to take to reach your goal. Then stick to them
  • When you hear something once, pay attention. When you hear it twice, act
  • Procrastination takes years off your life. Don’t confuse activity with accomplishment
  • Sweat the small stuff                   When you cut to the chase, don’t forget the small details
  • Don’t let a difficult person dominate your life
  • Renew yourself everyday         “A person should hear a little music, read a little poetry, and see a fine picture every day in order that worldly cares may not obliterate the sense of the beautiful which God has implanted in the human soul” – Goethe
  • Turn the page                           When you leave your work, leave the work behind

9 Jul 2011

Ceylon Inn - Not 'Ceylon', Not 'Inn'

A dear friend of mine, who I stayed with during one of my travels,
introduced me to Sri Lankan cuisine. One dinner was all it took to get
me hooked. Hops and curries! Coconut Sambol. Finger-licking yummy.
I've been craving for Sri Lankan food ever since.

There is a great degree of similarity between Sri Lankan and South
Indian cuisine. It is a fine line, so it's easy to confuse one with
the other. The difference is easier to spot in the curries more easily
than any other dish. Sri Lankan curries have a distinctive flavour
that is simply not Indian. I cannot think of a way of describing the
subtle difference, you must try it to know what I mean.

Standing at a traffic light last week, when I went grocery shopping,
my eyes fell upon a brightly lit sign that read "Ceylon Inn". After
days of wandering in search of a Sri Lankan restaurant, imagine my
excitement to find one at walking distance from where I live! Shopping
and all other plans were immediately postponed as I headed straight to
the restaurant. I already had an idea of what I was going to order.
Hops and sambol, for sure. "Must try a new curry", I thought, as I
restlessly waited for the lights to turn green.

The ambience of the restaurant was warm. Not too harshly lit nor dark.
Once we were seated (my husband was with me) and ordered our drinks, I
quickly moved to the curries section of the menu. For the first 10
seconds, I told myself that the dishes with Indian names were merely
due to the similarity between the two cuisines. Then I thought it
might be possible that the restaurant catered to both cuisines. After
browsing through the entire menu twice and finding neither hops nor
sambol, I looked desperately for anything that did not sound Indian.
The only thing "Ceylon" was a signature dish of the restaurant which,
for all I know, was called Ceylon-something as in Ceylon Inn the
restaurant rather than Ceylon the country/cuisine. To say we were
disappointed is an understatement.

My husband wanted to leave but my stomach was growling and we had
ordered our drinks. It was too late. We shared a garlic naan, plain
paratha and a chicken dish. For our second course, we chose lamb
biryani. The food was good. My husband is not a big fan of the lamb
but he enjoyed the biryani, even had some of the lamb pieces in it.
The only paratha they had was not the stuffed variety you find in
Indian. For a second, I wondered if this was a Sri Lankan restaurant
after all. Maybe not the traditional kind. Maybe it was tailored for
the Aussie crowd.

Who am I kidding? It was an Indian restaurant with a name that was a
complete misnomer!

The restaurant was not too crowded but more than half the tables were
occupied. The staff was courteous. We didn't have to wait too long for
our food. Although we enjoyed the food, the dinner left us
unsatisfied. The kind of wanting that remains when you are looking for
something specific and have to settle for something else that is
equally good but not what you had in mind. A slight sense of feeling
cheated slipped in.

Tipping the waiters is not mandatory in the Aussie culture. It's
optional. In this instance, we felt like we owed them a tip. A funny
sense of obligation for not completely enjoying the experience despite
the fact that they did their best. So we did. I guess you could say it
scrubbed a bit of the guilt off me and I don't feel bad saying I'm
never going back there again. I would recommend it if someone asked me
for an Indian restaurant in the area. However, I don't think I can
ever enjoy a meal there. It's always going to remind me of the night I
went looking for Sri Lankan and was served Indian.

18 May 2011

Aankhon Ki Masti

Movie: Umrao Jaan
Singer: Asha Bhosle

In aankhon ki masti ke, aah aah aah aah
In aankhon ki masti ke mastaane hazaaron hain
Mastaane hazaaron hain
In aankhon se vaabasta
In aankhon se vaabasta afsaane hazaaron hain
Afsaane hazaaron hain
In aankhon ki masti ke
Ek tum hi nahin tanha, aah aah
Ek tum hi nahin tanha ulfat mein meri rusva
Ulfat mein meri rusva
Is shaher mein tum jaise
Is shaher mein tum jaise deewaane hazaaron hain
Deewaane hazaaron hain
In aankhon ki masti ke mastaane hazaaron hain
In aankhon ki masti ke, aah aah aah
Ek sirf humi mai ko, ek sirf humi
Ek sirf humi mai ko aankhon se pilaate hain
Aankhon se pilaate hain
Kehne ko to duniya mein
Kehne ko to duniya mein maikhaane hazaaron hain
Maikhaane hazaaron hain
In aankhon ki masti ke mastaane hazaaron hain
In aankhon ki masti ke
Is shamm-e-faroza ko, aah aah
Is shamm-e-faroza ko aandhi se darraate ho
Aandhi se darraate ho
Is shamm-e-faroza ke
Is shamm-e-faroza ke parvaane hazaaron hain
Parvaane hazaaron hain
In aankhon ki masti ke mastaane hazaaron hain
In aankhon se vaabasta afsaane hazaaron hain
Afsaane hazaaron hain
In aankhon ki masti ke

9 May 2011

Wander & Wonder

What do you like to do when you are in a new place? Are you there as a traveller or a tourist? A tourist is there for pleasure and just that. The experience is what life has inevitably thrown at the tourist. A traveller, on the other hand, is there first for the experience - the reason for arrival may be any, even not self-induced. A tourist fits into the realm of a definition of a traveller but not the other way round.

Having heard one too many times about quiet holidays and stinky crowds, I was quite surprised to meet a vacationer who loved to see cities - the bigger the better. It cleared a mental block, the myth that everyone on holiday is running from city life. He insisted that cities did not necessarily mean crowds. He visited places during the off-season, thereby avoiding the swarm. 

As I trawl through scores of travelogues, I notice the subtle differences in preferences. From a broad view of classifying travellers as tourists and travellers, then further as those who like to do touristy things or not or a bit of both, now I find that the list can be endless. The choices available to a traveller are far too many and permutations of those selections belie any earlier belief that one travelogue can cater to all. 

Why did you make the trip? How did you make the trip? What kind of places do you like to stay at? What do you like to see and do? Who do you like to go with? Do you like it planned or spur-of-the-moment? Long or short duration? How do you like to commute once there? How do you plan your budget? 

Give it a shot, try answering those questions. You will realize that for each question you answered, there are a subset of questions that follow. As those are answered, there are further subsets. You tick off multiple answers, for the sake of flexibility, and find yourself presented with a subset for the areas shaded with multiple colours (picture Venn Diagrams). What's more? That was not even the exhaustive list of questions, merely the ones off the top of my head.

As this realization struck, another questions jumped out at me. How do travel-writers write those guides that get so popular, without being too generic? Turns out that rule #1 of travel writing is finding different angles. Apparently, you should be able to find atleast 20 that are unique and worthy. Then you pick your best few angles and write a few pieces. Some sell, some don't. And you thought travel writing was easy? All you had to do was vomit your trip details on a page and clap the dust off your palms? There is an eye-opener.

All this is just what I have gleamed in 10 months and 4 countries of travelling. A little voice in my head says to me that there will be a lot more clearing mental blocks and sponging off dark spots before I am able to absorb enough to give some back. Disheartening but challenging. As the Aussies say, I will "see how I go".