Tuesday, November 22, 2005

An evening to myself

I had a comment from some anonymous jerk for my last post, asking for my address and wondering whether I was ready for safe sex or pre-marital sex and calling me a self-proclaimed successful woman. I deleted the comment and now I'm wishing I hadn't. He was exactly the kind of ignorant, half literate, completely uneducated, chauvinistic, morally depraved, self-righteous jerk who thinks the world of himself and nothing of others. It would have been highly amusing for others to see what a deluded and pathetic human being he was.

Another useless scandal

When are we Indians going to learn the difference between 'supporting premarital sex' and advocating 'safe sex'?
Everytime a poor soul makes a statement in support of safe sex, it is confused with support for pre-marital sex and a big hue and cry ensues. Maybe somewhere in our psyche we cannot accept successful women and find every damned reason to pull them down, and 'taint their reputation', Indian style.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Thoughts that occurred to me during todays class...

.....classroom time is probably the most common time for schoolboys to fondly and wishfully imagine sexual fantasies

.....if we were allowed to eat and drink during class at IIMB, the number of people sleeping in class will reduce drastically

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Back in Brussels

I came back to Brussels on 3rd October and it’s been lazy and pleasant since then. Have been occupied with the following:
Classes (please note that it isn’t in order of priority)
Arranging for and getting my Eurail pass
Planning my next trip to Scandinavia and putting aside dates for other countries
Reading Vanity Fair, playing poker, sleeping, eating, shopping

On a day when Ravi and I had nothing to do, we went to the Atomium. Now this is a totally useless structure and neither the Belgian authorities nor the tourists know what to make of it – so the authorities let it be anyway and the tourists visit it anyway. I’ve also discovered a way of getting free chocolates – I wandered into the chocolatiers in the lanes behind the Grand Palace – they gave me free samples thinking I was a potential customer.
Advice: This gives maximum satisfaction when you visit many shops in a row.

I also got lost a lot by generally wandering around the city. I got lost and accidentally landed up in front of the European parliament. I loved the environment – a dream place for me to work in. I walked around the Parliament and unknowingly entered a museum; luckily, entrance was free or I would have been in big trouble. And one fine day in a bus, a police officer hit on me!!! I also had amazing fun at the Erasmus party last week. Let me also shock my reader by informing them that there was a general strike last Friday in Brussels – it was a surprise and quite unexpected for us that there should be a strike in any country other than India but apparently, its quite common in Belgium.

We also invited a Spanish friend over for dinner one day and the next day 5 of our friends, exchange students from different countries. We think they enjoyed the food, though they found it extremely spicy. We all had a very good time together, though I think we went overboard, giving them classes about India. Well, I shall end here and add updates of my Scandinavia trip of the last week soon.

Hansel and Gretel

Now I know how poor Gretel felt in the fairy tale of Hansel and Gretel, for that is what happened to us today – we got lost. We were driving down to the town of Maatricht, to the south of Holland. We reached the town easily enough. It’s a very nice little place and very European – with many cobbled pavements, little bars and cafes with chairs on the pavement, a river running right through the city and many other such typical European features. To add to the authenticity, Maastricht is a contender for the title of being Holland’s oldest city.

We walked around the town centre and discovered that there was a shopping festival going on then. This put Navya and me into a state of great excitement but since it encited exactly the opposite reaction from Mihir, our next step was the Maastricht fort. What would have taken less than 30 mins took us a little less than 2 hour because, surprisingly, there were absolutely no directions to the fort and the route was so convoluted that the more than dozen people we asked inevitably got confused and mixed up their directions.

In fact, we took so many wrong turns and turned back and drove around in circles to such a great extent that I saw Mihir angry for the first time ever. To make things worse, by the time we actually reached the fort, it was closed. We then set out for the little German town of Aachen. We first took the wrong lane and after going quite a distance, had to turn back. We then missed a lane and had to go around in circles for a while. While I can understand how frustrating and annoying it must have been for Mihir, who was driving, the positive outcome was that we ended up driving a lot through the actual towns and villages instead of just the highways.

By the time we reached Aachen, its famous cathedral was closed. There was an opera about to start but it was too long and expensive for our taste. So we wandered around the little town. We seemed to run into an extraordinarily large number of mad men. We also encountered an equally extraordinary number of strange statues, none of which we could decipher. We finally wandered into a little chapel where a service was being conducted, completely in German – after a while, the entire congregation sang in German – it was so beautiful and so lovely – I think its an experience I’ll always remember.

We had dinner at a tiny pizzeria and when we walked back to the parking lot, were quite taken aback to see that the entrance was locked. While we debated over whether to spend the night at a youth hostel or by one of the many statues or a pub (Mihir’s suggestion, of course), we luckily discovered another gate to the parking lot.

We had an eventful drive back home – we were stopped by the police!! Since I checked lights, seatbelts, doors, windows, speed limits etc I knew we were in the right and it must have been some minor mistake – so I was more worried about the fine we had to pay than any other consequence. It turned out or lights were too bright – the police showed us how to dim them and let us off without any fine.

Just an observation: In keeping with their so called tradition of being very ‘open’, the Dutch have large windows and seldom close their curtains so all and sundry can know what’s going on inside the house. It also rains everyday in Holland though the outcome is some wonderful rainbows.

The North of Netherlands

We rented a car for the weekend and then drove down to a place called Den Helder, in the north of Holland. But first about the ride – the Dutch countryside is very picturesque with wide green expanses, many canals and windmills but NO tulips!! Unfortunately, this wasn’t the season for the famed tulips. I also saw the most picture perfect rainbow ever on this ride – straight out of a children’s story book. Incidentally, I saw a rainbow almost every single day of my stay in Holland.

One will see a lot of the famed windmills dotting the landscapes. Many of them are the modern windmills – extremely tall and thin and made of steel or concrete. The traditional Dutch windmills are far prettier and ore enchanting – they are stout and short very Dutch (but of course!!)

Well, we parked the car at Den Helder and then took a ferry to the island of Texel, to the north of Holland. It was a short ferry ride and we crossed the North Sea to reach the lush island. Now Texel is a small, highly vegetated (if there is such a word) island and is like a sober seaside resort in which mostly old couples settle down after they retire. It’s so small that there is only one bus line and it covers the entire island in about 30 minutes. It is not surprising that there isn’t much to do there, especially on a wekkend.We just walked to the beach. Much to my surprise, it wasn’t as clean as I expected it to be. This may be because the sand was very porous and resulted in the waves leaving behind large amounts of foam that took ages to get absorbed into the sand. None of us had seen anything so weird before. Since it was raining as usual and very cold by the beach, we had coffee at a cosy little restaurant by the sea and that warmed us up enough for us to walk around the town centre for a little while before catching the last ferry backto Den Helder and then driving back to Rotterdam, where I saw a nice movie called ‘A Thousand Acres’ before dozing off.

Holland Ahoy!!!

After three hectic days, I took a much needed break in sweet and simple old Brussels – for one day, before I set off for the Netherlands. Getting there took me less than two hours and an adventure. I had some work at Brussels Nord station so I set off quite early. First, I got off a few stops too early and had to take another bus. Well, I couldn’t get the work done and then took the wrong bus to the station. On top off it, I got off a few stops later than I should have and then walked in the wrong direction towards the station before finally turning around and reaching Brussels North station.

Unsurprisingly, the train left just 5 mins before I reached the station and I had to wait an hour for the next train. So when I finally and successfully reached my friends place in Rotterdam, I began to feel like I had accomplished something really big. My friends have a very comfortable, well-furnished and cosy apartment…..sigh!!!

Rotterdam had been completely bombed by the Germans during WWII and the gutsy Dutch built it back to make it look much modern and sophisticated. It is architecturally a very elegant city and is home to Europe’s first skyscraper. So we walked around the city and then took an hour long ferry along the Rotterdam Port. Apart from being a pleasant and enjoyable ride, we also learnt a lot about the port – it is the world’s second largest port and the first fully automated one and other such information which I am sure you guys aren’t interested in knowing.

We then went to the Centrum, which is, obviously, the central area of the city and had dinner there. We then went to the Euromast tower, which is supposedly one of Europe’s tallest buildings. The view from there is really beautiful but since it was very windy and raining I was more concerned about keeping warm. However, while walking down the stairs, I slipped and fell so that for the rest of my stay in the Netherlands, I was bound to wince everytime I sat down.

The next day was a lazy day. My friends had class so I accompanied them to college and sat in the library and surfed the internet. I got to chat with a lot of people I hadn’t been in touch with for a long time so I felt very good. We then went grocery shopping and by then it had started raining so heavily that we just came back home. We watched a Demi Moore-Bruce Willis thriller and a couple of travel shows on TV (yes, they even have English channels on their TV) and then I curled up in bed with a hilarious book called the ‘Undutchables’, which is an exaggerated caricature of Dutch living, attitudes and lifestyle.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

An Evening in Paris

We walked around the fashion street of Paris. The streets were filled with expensive stores – think of a designer and you would probably see that store on that street. Our heads reeled at the prices so we sensibly stopped looking at the prices and then started admiring the clothes, watches, shoes, accessories and whatnot with greater peace of mind. We even went to the Gallerie la Fayette, which is THE shopping mall in Paris though we didn’t do much except look around after going there.

We went to the National Opera, and stood in line for some cheap last minute tickets. Unfortunately, they were sold out just two places ahead of us. Though the guys running the show must have been relieved about that because we were the only ones in jeans and sneakers – the rest of the crowd was dressed in suits, skirts and fine dresses and adorned with gold watches and jewelry.

We then walked along the Champs Elysees, which, for a reason I still cannot comprehend, is the city’s most famous street. Apart from high pseud factor, there doesn’t seem anything to distinguish that street from others. The street leads to the Arc d Triomphe, which is a larger, grander version of the India Gate and serves the same purpose. It is an impressive building and we climbed up the close to 300 stairs to view how it felt to be in the centre of the world’s largest traffic roundabout – but after the view from the Eiffel Tower, every other view of a city by the night has been ruined.

One can imagine that our feet were swollen and our bodies dead by the time we got back to the youth hostel. Yet, we got up early the next morning and set off for the cheap shopping district. The first shop we went to had some very cheap and fashionable stuff – all of which were ‘Made in Bangaldesh’. After some more searching, we came across some reasonably priced stroes whose products were not made in Asia and I went on a spree till I started converting my purchases into Indian rupees.

We finally set back for the airport where our rented car was waiting for us. However, our pleasure at the thought of having mastered the Paris public transport system was ruined when we boarded the wrong train and had to get down, retrace our route to some distance and catch another train. Trust me, the system is quite complicated and just when you think you’ve got the hang of it, something like this happens. We did reach the airport, an hour late, and set out for Brussels, and after some amazing driving in heavy traffic and rain, we reached Brussels, returned the car and I went home and slept like a baby.

A couple of observations about the city:
Atleast half of the city’s population must be non-Caucasian.
All the buildings have that old European look, including the ones that have been built recently. You will hardly find any ugly glass and chrome structures. That’s what makes the city so beautiful
The Eiffel Tower is an extremely ugly structure which mars the city’s landscape by the day. At night, it is at the centre of the magic that is Paris.

All in all, I thought Paris was a crazy, chaotic, amazing, magnificent, charming and magical city. I loved it!!!

The Louvre and more

Our second day in Paris was quite a hectic day. We started off the day with a visit to the Cathedral of Notre Dame. It is the largest and most magnificent church I have been to in my life. However, a warning to tourists: Don’t bother to visit the treasury there, it is quite useless.

The Church was by the Seine so we bought tickets for a cruise on the Seine where we could get off at every tourist stop, visit the place and get back on to the next tourist spot again. We got off at the Jardin de Plantes and then discovered, much to our disappointment, that it was a zoo. We then got back onto the boat and got a view of the Royal Palace and the Hotel de Ville before finally getting off at the Louvre. Now imagine about 20-30 buildings, each the size of the Salarjung Museum, all interconnected to form a large rectangle – that is the largeness of the Louvre.

We didn’t have much time at the Louvre because it was closing much earlier than expected. And I decided I would rather spend my time going over a few sections of the museum thoroughly than running all over the place. My first stop was at the Mona Lisa (of course!!). I have ever understood why it is so famous and I still don’t. I haven’t found it mystical or enchanting in the least – for me, its just a nice painting, but then I’m not your average art critic!!!

I went through the section of Italian paintings and enjoyed them very much. I especially found the paintings of Paris Bordon very interesting. Now I know what it actually means when a painting is termed ‘erotic’. Some of the other paintings were also quite impressive. I then checked out the crown jewels of the royals in France and surrounding countries. The room in which they were kept was much more awe-inspiring, with the entire ceiling and walls painted or sculpted.

However, what I liked most at the Louvre were the Napolean apartments. For those of you who have visited the Gwalior palace, the apartments are the same concept, but on a much much grander scale. All the visitors to this section were gasping audibly as we entered from one room to another. To everyone who makes a visit to the Louvrre: don’t miss this!!! I then saw other objects of art and sculptures etc but didn’t know what to make out of them so the less said about them, the better.

Friday, September 30, 2005

Paris - It's just magic!!

Paris – It’s just magic!!

Well, I wont leave you’ll in suspense any longer about the trip to Paris. We thought it was almost going to be called off because there was some problem with the credit card credit limit when renting the car but we just took a car from a more expensive company and headed out to Paris from Brussels. We made the drive of about 300kms in a little over 4 hours, including 2 pitstops for fuel for ourselves. At a minimum speed of 80 and a maximum of 120, we were in the slowest lane most of the time.

The roads and the highway was, as expected, excellent. The drive was very smooth and the instructions on the boards very clearly given. There are pitstops every few kilometers. And just one toll gate. And the countryside was quite scenic – so all in all it was a good drive to the Charles de Gaulle airport.

We parked the car at the airport and took a train into the city. Sunil was staying with his friends and I had to call up my Mom because she was trying to arrange accommodation for us. We got of at the Nord station and our travails started. It took us more than 20mins to find a phone booth which accepted coins and not just cards. Then our money got stuck in the phone and none of the staff at the station were helpful about it. We gave up on the phones in the train and came out of the station to look for some other pay phone outside - and the first thing that struck me about Paris was that it was like a white Calcutta – very crowded, bustling with people and vehicles, motorcycles driving crazily about, cars approaching various roads from all side, pedestrians stopping cars and crossing roads, people everywhere – it was just crazy.

In all the havoc, it took us close to half an hour to find a place from where we could call. Then we got the number of a family friend who could arrange for our stay in a guest house in Paris and even take us around the city. At that, my hopes soared and my imagination ran away. But the man was in Nigeria and we couldn’t connect to his phone and after a very frustrating hour, we ended up at a rather expensive youth hostel, dumped our bags and headed for the Eiffel Tower.

Now Paris has a very efficient and initially very confusing public transportation system. Apart from the buses, they have trams (which we haven’t seen at all), metros and a subway line called the RER. While I shall not get into the intricacies and details, the problem with this is that the metros, RER as well as the Thalys and TGV trains between cities and countries all leave from the same station, though on different levels. So we spent quite a lot of our time in Paris getting lost in the stations and trying to figure out how to get from one level to another and finally on how to exit. Luckily, we took a pass which allows unlimited travel during the day so we could afford to get lost.

Well, the Eiffel Tower is much much better than I even expected it to be. We took a lift to the top floor and I was left gasping at the view. It is truly an amazing experience and worth every single cent spent on it. I strongly recommend to everyone who reads this to make a special effort to go to the top of the Eiffel Tower – it is an experience that cannot be missed. You actually catch your breath at the view in front of you. Neither photos nor words can describe how amazing and awesome and truly magical the experience at the Eiffel Tower was.

After we came down, I just wanted to sit down by the lawn in front of the tower and keep looking at it for a while. Mind you, I think the tower per se is a very ugly structure – it is the view and the way the tower is lit up that makes it so breathtakingly beautiful. I loved Paris by night. There is something about the way the city just pulsates with life in the night – it is completely different from the way the city is in the morning and it can charm the most hardened traveler. And yes, it is every bit as romantic as it is claimed to be, and then some.

After a good nights rest and a measly breakfast at the youth hostel, we set out for a long, hard day in Paris again. But I’m sleepy now so more about Paris in my next post.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

To Paris!!!

Well, we went to the party on Thursday night at around 11pm and the music was quite bad and the people around had no enthusiasm either. Incidentally, during the party, there were some people passing out invites to another party the next week and a condom each (again). Well, by 1:30 we were heartily sick of the party and decided to go home but a couple of people were planning to go to a Salsa club and so Anuj, Ravi, Surbhi and I joined 6 other exchange students.

After we reached the tram stop, we realized that there were no night trams. We were told it wasn’t too far and we decided to walk. We walked for an hour and a half and it was past 3 by the time we reached the Salsa Club. The music was awesome and the place was quite nice but we were all so sleepy and tired after walking in the cold for so long that we didn’t stay on the dance floor for longer than 30 minutes. We came back to the bar and dozed off but the bartender woke me up and told me we weren’t allowed to sleep – and since we couldn’t go out till 5 (since that is when the public transport starts again), we danced desultorily till 5 and then fled to the metro station and it was well past 6am by the time I got to my bed.

On Friday, the 23rd, I got my white card – all of us except Surbhi have got our white cards so we are planning to drive down to Paris this Sunday morning and stay put there for about 3-4 days. But today has been quite boring – the net was down, there were no Express activities and we declined a party invitation because we thought we had a class and realized we didn’t after we went to the University. To top it all, Ravi is rather ill and there has been nothing to do all day except sleep and read and we were all quite low and bored.

But the guys cheered us up immensely by cooking a literal feast – aloo paratha, 2 kinds of raitha, 2 kinds of pickle. We gorged, then rented a Jude Law movie ‘Alfie’, which was quite arbit and thus, the day ended well. Today, Saturday, I had class from 9 to 3, then I washed clothes and had a bath and we are now planning to drive down to Paris tomorrow morning and return on Tuesday.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Lazy days are here again

20th September

I had an appointment at the Ixelles commune today morning. The lady at the commune made me part with 20 precious Euros but promised that I would get my white card in three days, on the 23rd. With this good news, I went back to the guys apartment where I helped with cooking our lunch, then surfed the internet for a while.

Today, the exchange students were invited for drinks with the faculty and so Surbhi and I dressed up for the place. But by the time we got ready and found the place, the Dean had already finished making his speech in both the English and French versions. So we just ate and drank and were standing around talking to each other for a while.

Then Ravi and I went with a couple of exchange students to a conference hosted by the university to commemorate the 25th Anniversary of the birth of the Polish solidarity movement. It was a prestigious movement – the former President, Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Poland, the former President of Lithuania and some Belgian minister sat on the dias and discussed Poland’s history and present. The discussion was mostly in Polish but the audience were all given headphones, which gave us all both French and English transalations.

I was quite lost in all the history they were discussing but luckily, the guy sitting next to me was a Polish student who had finished a degree in International Relations and was pursuing another in Political Science. He was amazingly well informed and passed onto me a lot of information on European history. It was a very interesting evening.

21st September

Like in the past couple of days, I got up late and went over to the guys apartment after a bath, helped with the cooking, surfed the internet and chatted and then went to International Trade class from 6pm to 9pm. The class was very interesting – the Prof cold called me (he probably noticed that I was daydreaming) but I managed to redeem myself well.

An Indian woman who is in my MBA class drove us around the city later in the night, after dinner. She took us to Brussels North, which was quite a shady area. We saw prostitutes posing like mannequins by each and every single window in that street, wearing hardly anything. They would smile every time a man passed by them and then get bored the minute he walked past them. It wasn’t really shocking because I knew what to expect – but it was really sad and depressing to think about how their lives must be. We then went to a pub, where some of the junta got drunk and entertained the rest of us. We went back home quite left and slept.

The same story today also – bathe, help with the cooking, chat, read - that’s what I did all day. Will be off to the weekly exchange party in a couple of mins. I’m expecting my white card tomorrow – my days will hopefully be more exciting from next week but as of now, I’m perfectly content with this lazy and laidback lifestyle.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

I loved Antwerp!!

18th September

Today was Car Free day in Brussels. It is not a rule or a law but the denizens of the city are encouraged to not use their cars today. So all public transport for the day is completely free within the city. I thought it was a nice concept and since this is done only once a year, it isn’t very inconvenient either.

We went to Antwerp today, by train. The train we went on today was just like the Ratnachal Express, and not very clean either. It was just a 35 minute journey but we had to get off 2 stations before Antwerp and take another train on the other side of the platform. Now this train was going to Amsterdam and since we could not understand the French and Dutch announcements in the train and were anxious that we might end up going to Holland without our passports or papers, we got down one station before Antwerp, in one of its suburbs, called Antwerp Berchem.

The good thing was that Antwerp is a small city and we could walk from Berchem to Antwerp Central in 20 minutes. We jokingly call Antwerp Belgium’s 2nd largest village, the largest being Brussels. The walk from Berchem to Antwerp Central was very interesting. For a 5min stretch we couldn’t see a soul on the road – we were grateful it was broad daylight and we had company because it was quite eerie. Then people started appearing straight out of a storybook – it was a Hebrew dominated area and the people must have just been coming out from the synagogue because everyone was very traditionally dressed – the women wore long black/grey skirts, long coats with white blouse inside and a skullcap, the men wore long top hats, ankle length black coats over a white vest and black trousers, the kids wore regular clothes but they all wore a skullcap.

We picked up some stuff at a traditional Hebrew bakery to keep us going, passed through the lane of diamond stores and finally reached Antwerp Central. After lunch at an Italian joint, we met Mihir, Navya and ID (my classmates at IIMB) and went about exploring the city.

Antwerp was surprisingly crowded and colourful. We went to a Cathedral, Belgium’s largest and finest. We then decided to visit Rubenshuis, the house of the famous Baroque artist Rueben. But we stopped to watch a road show and then what with the asking for directions as well as looking at a map, by the time we reached the place, it was closed.

So we walked to the Zuiderterras, which is like a pier or a promenade, along the sea. It was a lovely place and I sat along with Mihir, ID and Navya there for over an hour, eating chocolate biscuits and chatting, while the other guys left to explore town. The Belgium exchange junta let early but I stayed back to wander around the city with my 3 classmates and then went back to Brussels. I loved Antwerp, for its promenade, for its old buildings, for its quaint Hebrew area and generally the feel and atmosphere of the city.


19th September

I must say today was quite uneventful. We cooked dal, cabbage curry and rice for lunch, accompanied by yoghurt and pickle. We then went to a 3 hour class on International Trade. The best part of the class was the snack break where all of us had coffee, juice, water and coke and ate the chocolates and biscuits and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. Otherwise also, the class was good. We came back to the apartment, cooked some ready to eat meals for dinner, spent a couple of hours arguing whether or not to take a Eurail pass and then went to sleep.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Its festival time


17th September

We learnt today that it was 5 degrees yesterday. No wonder even the exchange students at the Crepe party yesterday said they felt cold! Anyways, I made my first trip to the Laundromat today. They charged me 3.3 euros for using a machine with 7kg volume. There was no one else at the Laundromat and I felt quite lost.

I spent quite a bit of time trying to figure out how to open the damn door of the machine and finally put my clothes into the machine and then couldn’t figure out where the washing powder would go in. I then tried inserting the coins into the slot but they wouldn’t be accepted. Finally, a man walked in and I thought ‘Ah!! my saviour’, but he had never used the machines before either. He had atleast seen them being used before and so he told me that I had to put the money into another machine, which would give me tokens, which I would have to put in the washing machine.

I finally got the thing running and the clothes took about 20mins to wash. They were rather damp but I didn’t want to pay separately for a dryer so I just got them back to my room and dried them there!! We then went to the guys apartment and together cooked a sumptuous lunch of ready to eat pav bhaji, dal and pickle.

We then went to the station, determined to spend the rest of the day out of Brussels. We met some ULB students there who were going to a town called Namur for the festival there. Namur is in the Wallonia region of Belgium and it was celebrating its 175th anniversary with a 3 day festival.

We went by train. The stations here are just like the Indian stations, only a lot cleaner. The trains are also a lot like the short distance Jan Shatabdi Express or the A/C chair car in Ratnachal Express, though again, a lot cleaner and with wider seats and larger windows. We looked out at the Belgian countryside through the 1 hour journey and marveled at how it was not very different from an Indian train ride…..

Namur is a small place, but yesterday, it was full of people, sounds, smells and sights. It was just like the typical European festival we see in movies and pictures. There were people all over the streets, everyone singing and dancing, with faces painted, and wearing weird hats and masks. The streets were filled with stalls on either side selling food, drink, clothes, soft toys, jewellery and everything else under the sun. There were three different concerts taking place at the same time – rock, rap and blues (I think) so as you moved from one lane to the other, the crowd and music changed accordingly – the whole thing was a truly heady experience.

We went to the centuries old citadel of Namur. It is a lot like the Golconda Fort, with less of history – you walk a lot and there isn’t much to see except for a magnificent view. Well, we walked and waked and it got s cold as we walked further up that some of us took out our gloves. And there isn’t really much to see in the citadel – it is just like any other fort in India, only it has European architecture and grey stone. However, the view was truly magnificent – you could see the tiny, narrow river of Meuse running right in the middle of the town and the sloping red roofs of all the houses of the town and large green lands – it was very very scenic and very European.

Once we walked down the citadel, we wandered around the festive streets, checking out every stall without really buying anything, ate a little in as many stalls as we possibly could and generally wandered around the festive streets, taking in the atmosphere. We took a train back home early coz we were all cold.


Saturday, September 17, 2005

Crepes

16th September

I ate my breakfast as I went walking to the University today. I find it really fun the way these people eat and walk all over the place and I did that too today. I attended my first class today – it was supposed to be a course consisting of three 8 hour sessions and we had already missed one session but the Prof gave us permission to attend just the remaining classes and register for the remaining sessions. Well, these guys keep shifting the classroom all the time so by the time I ran around 4 buildings and found the classroom, I was 45 mins late but the Prof was not in the least bothered by it.

The session hardly lasted for 5 hours. Firstly, he gave us a 20min coffee break, and a little later, a 1 hour lunch break. Then he ended the class 2 hours early at 3:30!! Well, the course is rather simple and straight forward but I was rather surprised to find that my classmates found some of the simple exercises also quite difficult, especially considering all of them have work experience. It was a surprisingly multicultural class with people from all over Europe, a Assamese woman whose husband was working in Brussels and so one (and they are the regular students, not the exchange students). Because it was a small class with a lot of team exercises, the small classroom had a couple of tables and students sat in groups around each of the tables.

Later in the evening, we went to a Crepe party. A crepe is the traditional Belgian pancake and that was what all of us exchange students had for dinner. It is usually had with jam, honey, marmalade or chocolate cream. It was a good dinner, after which we all planned to go to a Salsa bar but since public transport stops at midnight and it was already quite late, we chucked the plan and went to the guys apartment to watch a movie. We changed about 5-6 CD’s but it was difficult to find a movie everybody liked and so we gave up on that too and went to sleep.

Friday, September 16, 2005

None whatsoever

15th September

The day started as usual. I had a breakfast of bread and jam and fruit juice at the guys apartment and then went to mine for washing clothes and a bath. All of us exchange students then met up in front of the University for a picnic. It wasn’t much of one – we all bought some sandwiches and went to this really scenic park with a little lake and all, settled down there in groups and ate the sandwiches. I again got to meet people from around the world, and they were all fascinated by India and wanted to know more about it.

The rain brought an abrupt end to the picnic and we all walked back to the apartment. Anuj and Sunil had classes, the other 3 slept and I was on the net chatting for quite a while. After a while, I got hungry and went out and ate an expensive pastry. That didn’t do and so I went to the supermarket and bought some chocolate milk and chips. The supermarkets are no different from the ones in India, except that you put your stuff into the covers on your own here.

We then went for a traditional dinner at the University cafeteria. It was just fries and some vegetables, nothing very different. We then sat there talking for about 3 hours before the party started. There was loud music and lots of dancing. None of us enjoyed the music much so we were just standing around till the DJ suddenly started playing a Punjabi song. We all just stared shocked at each other for a split second and then broke into very enthusiastic dancing from then on till late night and then I went back and slept in my apartment.

The last two days have been amazing in terms of meeting people from all over the world and learning about their country and their culture and telling them about ours and making friends from different countries. It was a lot of fun and a great experience. I was most impressed by the Poles because they seemed very warm and friendly. It is quite pleasant to see how much the Europeans know about India and how fascinated they are by our country and its traditions.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

And today...

14th September

We again went to Panos for breakfast and it was as good as always. We also had reason to rejoice because the guys apartment got electricity today. I then went to my room to wash clothes and have a bath. Surbhi also moved in to the room today. We then went back to the guys apartment to find a lunch of rice, dal and pickle, the first 2 cooked by Ravi, waiting for us. It was well made and we had a very filling lunch. Those who didn’t help with the cooking, washed up.

We then went to this game organized by the Express Association, to which we had registered yesterday. It was some arbit treasure hunt around the city and after the initial stops, most of us stopped participating in the game and concentrated on getting to know each other. In fact, the main goal of the game was for us exchange students to get to know each other. It was very interesting and I met people from different countries – an Afghan girl from Canada who had lived in India for a couple of months as an Afghan refugee when she was a child, a refugee from Bosnia who was now living in Sweden, a Spanish girl who could sing ‘tujhe dekha to yeh…’ and understand a little hindi, a girl from Portugal who was perpetually late and many other interesting people from Polad, Finland, Germany, Italy, Scotland, Canada etc.

It was great fun. The people were extremely interested when they learnt that I was from India and they would ask a lot of questions. Luckily, I didn’t get any of the Do you travel by elephant’ type questions. They were totally fascinated by the concept of arranged marriages and asked a lot of questions regarding that. They also thought we were pulling their leg when we told them that in India, you could have as many glasses of water as you wanted in a restaurant for free!!

The game was to be followed by a marathon of visiting some of the most popular bars in the city. Ravi and I dropped out and came back to the apartment. I have been on the computer since then, chatting with my Mom and a couple of friends and typing this mail. Ravi went to the supermarket meanwhile and got us some groceries. We had another home cooked meal of soup, rice and pickle for dinner now. The others haven’t come in yet so we Ravi and I are planning to watch a movie or play cards.
And something really strange about Belgium that I forgot to mention is that international calls are cheaper than local calls!! An international call cots between 15-20 cents a minute whereas a local call costs 30 cents a min!!

So that’s all for now. My next post will come soon.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Bonjour - for lack of a better title

13th September

We thought we would go to a class today morning but we got up late and by the time we had breakfast at Panos and found the classroom, the class was over! I then went to my room to have a bath and wash some clothes. The others joined in a little later and we made our first home cooked meal of maggi for lunch.

We then went to the university for an introduction meeting for all the exchange students. The meeting was extremely boring, but after the meeting we signed up for the Express Association and got a couple of freebies – 3 chocolate bars, a pack of coffee powder, a pepsi, some discount vouchers, guide books – and get this, a condom!!!

We had nothing to do so we just took our usual Bus no. 71 and got off at the last stop. We went to a restaurant which was rather expensive and ordered the cheapest stuff there – pizzas. Though the prices were high, the food was very tasty and very filling so we came out of the place as satisfies customers. We then wandered around the place till we ended up in a rather seedy area which had stores selling exclusively porn movies, sex toys etc. I must say it was a rather interesting experience.

Monday, September 12, 2005

I'm catching up

We discovered this breakfast place just down the road from the guys’ apartment. Its called Panos and has a mind-blowing range of croissant, doughnuts, √©clairs and what not. It was just awesome!! We then went to the town hall for our residence permit, then to the police station in our commune for verification and since this place has only 2 pin plugs, we went to almost a dozen stores in search of an adapter and finally found one!

We then went to meet the academic coordinator at the University. The good news is that thee is no minimum requirement of courses that needs to be taken. I can take just one course and get away with it. Moreover, there are no attendance rules at the university either.

Then Ravi and I decided we were not going to have any fries or pitas or pizzas and went to a Vietnamese restaurant. It was rather expensive but we both shared a 15 Euros menu which served us a 4 course meal of soup and salad, starter, rice and curry and dessert. We were quite full by the time we were done. We were in a major dilemma because we were not sure what the appropriate tip would be and we solved the problem by coming out of the place without tipping the lady at all.

We then shifted my baggage from the guys apartment to my room, and I settled in the stuff and had a nice, warm bath. We then took a bus to the Grand Palace. This is a square surrounded by 4 imposing buildings. While the most impressive building is now used as a tow hall or some other government building, another building has been converted into a museum. The other 2 buildings have now been let out for use by restaurants and stores. For those who can afford it, it is quite an experience dining in an old palace.

The Grand Palace is THE tourist attraction of Brussels and was teeming with students when we went there. It was extremely beautiful because it is so well lit and is quite a romantic place. In fact, there were a few couples here and there just hugging each other in the middle of the square or kissing and it wasn’t corny at all, but rather nice.

We again had a pita-fries kind of meal in one the alleys behind the Grand Palace. The waiter was quite a charming guy who spoke to us in the few Hindi words he had picked up and told us he would give us a discount the next time we came back to his snack bar with the latest Bollywood songs!!!

Belgium is very famous for its waffles and the back alleys today were filled with the smells of freshly baked waffles. I bought a waffle with banana and chocolate cream and it was truly delicious. I also did my first bit of shopping there by buying a few boxes of the famous Belgian chocolates. I promptly put them in the suitcase so that I would not be tempted to open them up now itself. And after the gifts I bought with my first salary, this was the next best feeling I got on buying gifts for someone else.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Another Day in Brussels

11th September

We went to the guys apartment in the morning by taxi. The taxis here are very expensive and very fast. I have never been driven so fast in a car before, even on a highway. We are staying in two apartments – one for the guys and a room with attached kitchen for us girls, both of which are 5 minutes apart. Both of them are a 5 minute walk from the university. The area is very nice and is filled with students. The guys’ apartment has a super market right opposite and quite a lot of snack bars, restaurants and stores while our apartment has the cheapest internet and phone booth just across the street.


We walked to the university Рit was nice, but not too great. Some of their classes are held in these big auditoriums with a few students scattered all over the seats, doing whatever they pleased. Anyways, we had lunch on our way back to the apartment and then walked down to an area called Flagey. It was a very nice walk and we passed through 2 little ponds and a big church on our way there. We then went to this place called Café Belga, which is a big place with seats on the pavement, and then went and signed our contracts for renting out our apartments.

I had my first Haagen Daaz icecream today. It was good but nothing special so it was quite a let down. We then went to a place for dinner – we had something called a pita. A pita is usually fries and some vegetables or meat which is stuffed in a roti (to make a roll) or it is stuffed in a big bun.

Well, that was how our day ended. It was interesting to note that the pedestrians are given the most importance here. People cross the street even when there is a red light, and all the vehicles stop for the pedestrian. Brussels is a small city – it is about the size of Vizag. So there are no long distance journeys and you can reach from one end to the other in a maximum of 20 minutes. And you can go from any one place to another on public transport for 1.5 Euros.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

On Exchange

10th September

My First International Flight
Alitalia from Mumbai to Brussels. After the usual baggage check in and collecting the boarding pass, we cleared the immigration counter, then the security check. I hate having to wait in the security hold area. Luckily, we didn’t have to do that this time. They sent us right in to the plane. The plane was no different from other big domestic flights. We got bad seats – the very last row, right next to the restrooms! And they gave us the middle seats, four in a row.

The flight per se wasn’t so bad. I ate some snacks (they served Indian), and then watched a movie. I was kind of sleepy but I wasn’t going to miss my first in-flight movie. It was a romantic comedy starring Drew Barrymore and some guy who plays the role of a Red Sox fanatic. It was a sweet movie, good time pass. Then, I slept for a little over 3 hours and was woken up for breakfast. It was a very heavy breakfast and I ate fully, deciding to make the best use of it to fill my stomach till my next in-flight meal.

Milan Airport
We landed at Milan at 6:05 Milan time (9:40 IST). The transit area had a lot of designer wear stores – Gucci, Mont Blanc, Hermes, Versace are a few that come to my mind right now. We went to the duty free store and their cosmetics section had more stuff than I had ever seen before in my life. However, I’m not a very enthusiastic window shopper when I have to carry a heavy backpack and a laptop. So I really didn’t look around much but made better use of my time by using the restroom to brush and wash.

I generally don’t like firangs much, looks wise. But here at the Milan airport, many of the women here are real head turners. They are extremely well dressed and have good figures. I noticed that many of these Italian women have strikingly red hair. And the difference between the Europeans and the Americans is stark. The Americans are inevitably dressed in jeans or shorts, a tee and sneakers and carry a backpack. The Europeans are extremely well dressed – even those wearing jeans or Capri somehow manage to look very elegant, maybe because of their accessories – they wear smart heels and carry these small little briefcases and overall, they are quite impressive.

I need to get over this habit of converting everything into Indian rupees and getting put off by the prices. I was told that the purchasing power parity factor is 5 so I should be multiplying the prices by 5 to see how much a similar product would cost in India. That makes things a lot better. But I prefer gasping at all the prices and making sure I don’t spend too much. But now I truly understand what it means to be in a developing country…J

I spent the last 15 minutes trying to figure out how to make international calls with a credit card. When I finally figured that out, Mom’s number was busy!! I decided it would be best to call her once we reach Brussels and settle into the hostel there. It is now 9:15 am at Milan and we are waiting for the call for security check for our flight to Brussels. I’ll call from Brussels, after settling into the hostel. So my next post will be from Belgium.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

A Hectic Week


I'm typing this on the train on the way from Vizag to Hyderabad. I brought the laptop so I could work on it on the train. I slept through half the journey, read a book, played cards etc on the journey and did exatly one hour of work!!!
The last week has been so very hectic!! It started on Saturday afternoon with a class which lasted almost 4hours. Then I sat down to get some work done. At midnigt, Shruti, Shilpa and Shravanthi came down to campus from Mysore. We spent all night chatting and folling around and got about 3 hours of sleep. The next day they left for shopping and I spent the morning doing a little work and joined them at the station in the afternoon from where all of us proceeded to Kuppam. We ate, walked around her campus, went for dinner, came back and chatted and fooled around as usual. We got no sleep at all.
On monday morning, we stared back for Blore. I went straight to campus while the girls went shopping and then Shrav and Shil went back to their campus while Shruti came to mine.I spent all of Monday, including a nightout, and half of Tuesday working on the ACS project, leaving poor Shruti to fend for herself.
Soon after the submission on Tuesday evening, I packed and rushed to the airport to catch my flight to Mumbai. Mom met me at the airport and we stayed at some family friends place. Went to the Consulate the next day, met the visa officer and got my visa done!!! Finally!! Hallelujah!!! Then went to see Mom's bank at Flora Fountain, did a lil bit of shopping at Fashion Street and caught a local back to Andehri where our family frens stay, had lunch and caught a flight back to Bangalore.
Though I didn't get to see much of Mumbai, what lil I did see gave me the impression of it being extremely dirty. I have seen dirtier cities but its just that I did't expect Mumbai to be dirty, thought it would be more like Delhi. The buildings in Mumbai are also so very grimy.And finally the crowds - these were my impressions of Mumbai. And yeah, the airport has become like a bus stand. With runaways getting repaired and the inclement weather, most arriving and departing flights are getting delayed. Result: No place to sit in the airport and you have people settling dow on the floor!!! It gave the impression of a pseud-looking bus stand!
Well,I came back to Blore on Wednesday night, got some work done,attended a class and started on the train to Vizag on Thursday afternoon. I reached on Friday aftenoon, got dressed and went to the Ramya's wedding (her picture). I got back home at 6am on Saturday afternoon and slept till the arrival of Jeshnav. Then we dropped Samee off at the station, went to the beach and went to another wedding that night. Sunday was spent packing stuff from home to take to Belgium, short visits home from friends etc.
I received the good news that my visa has been granted. It is for a period of 3mnths and only for Belgium. I have to get it extended for another 20 days once I reach Brussels and then I will get a white card which will let me travel to other Schengen countries and Switzerland!!
That's about it for now. All the lights are switched off so I better shut down the laptop now. I'll hopefully be able to meet Swetha in Hyderabad tommorrow.
P.S: Yes, I did get to meet Swetha in Hyderbad, though only for 5mins as she could make it just as my train was about to leave. I spent the day in Hyderabad just lazing about - it felt good!!

Saturday, July 23, 2005

The World's Greatest Nation

I was talking to a friend of mine and he was justifying the war on Iraq. His logic was that after 9/11, the US needed to prove its strength and get back at its attackers, the Al Qaeda. Sounds fair. Except that there is no Al Qaeda in Iraq. The few militants in Iraq who were being sponsored by Al Qaeda were actually against Saddam's government.
The Baath regime has not committed any act of terrorism against the US since 1993. What the US has done is gone and created terrorism in Iraq. Maybe 8% of militants in Iraq are foreign jihadis. Most of the 25,000 guerillas in pre-war Iraq were Iraqi Sunni Arabs who opposed any form foreign military occupation. By going in to Iraq, the US has successfully converted them into terrorists.
So now they have 'liberated' Iraq. And what happens then? Churches, mosques, hospitals are bombed. Abductions, raids and deaths become a way of life. About 50% of the student and working population in Iraq was female under Saddam's regime. Now women do not venture out without two male armed escorts. Women could dress as they pleased in Iraq, within the restrictions of a conservative society. Now wearing a 'hijab' or headscarf has become a compulsion. A burkha is preferred.A woman whose brother and father were killed by Saddam claimed that conditions were much better before the war.
Iraq used to follow a secular Iraqi law. After the American occupation, a proposal was put forth that Iraq come under Sharia law, which is very biased against wome. Sharia law allows temporary marriages, marriage of minor girls etc. So basically America is helping Iraq become everything they claimed it to be.
The 'spoils' of the war go to America - Haliburton more so than the others. Iraqis are out of work. Do Iraqi companies get to participate in the reconstruction of their own country?No way - they aren't educated enough for that. Of course not -they are barbarians, aren't they? Not civlised like the Americans and Brits at Abu Ghraib.
Over 40 children died in firing between American troops and 'insurgents' in Iraq. It is terrorsim when bombs explode in the US or the UK but it is 'liberation when the same happens in Iraq. A civilian in Iraq is anyone who is not Iraqi.
Many people in the American prisoners are from normal families who were unfairly detained. They are sexually abused, raped, forced to eat pork. The Q'uran is trashed in front of them. It is sickening. I find it difficult to believe that 'humans' could actually do things like this to fellow human beings. But oh wait, for the Americans, Iraqia aren't fellow human beings. And of course, the Americans are scared, they are under a lot of stress and they are putting their lives in great danger to liberate another country...how selfless....and so these little excuses must be understood and pardoned.
'There isn't any other nation in the world that would treat people who were determined to kill Americans the way we're treating these people' said Cheney. Well, the Germans did give them some close competition.
And just when you think things cant get worse, the Americans go ahead and elect Iraq. Well, maybe it was too mcuh to expect of that nation to not elect him.And they deserve him after all. The only thing that enrages me about his reelection is that Iraq doe snot deserve Bush. The hundreds of children killed for committing the crime of being born in Iraq, they dont deserve Bush.
The next time any of you speak up in support of Bush, stop for a moment and think how you would feel if you were in Iraq. Living without electricity, gasoline or water, listening to explosions around you everday, worrying about missing relatives and friends, worried that your house will be raided one day, worried that some female member in your family could be raped any day, being a prisoner in your own home. How would you feel if a loved on stepped out of the house one day, neevr to return, blown up in one of the many explosions rocking the country? What did they do to have to live like that?
After crippling a nation with more than a decade of sanctions, the US goes and cuts off its limbs. We watch. We all call America 'The land of opportunitites'. Its the country where dreams turn to reality. Its a country where the life of its citizens is so precious that for 3000 Americans killed in Iraq, over 100,000 of the locals are killed. But of course, didn't you know that an American life is much more valuable than that of a person of any other nationality?
Yes I know, no one said it was a fair world.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Summers



When people ask me how my summers have been I inevitably reply ‘My summer project was awful but my summer was awesome’. And then I subject my victim to an hour long monologue on what exactly went wrong with my summer project. Well, I was working for the Training & Development team of my summers company and this team was called the Learning team. And my project was on ‘How to create value for Learning’!! As is obvious, there was nothing much I could do about such a project.

And my guide and manager was the head of the India Learning Team. He was a bigshot and a busy man so it was difficult for him to find time for me. And I myself did not make my requirements clear to him and did not seek him out aggressively. So the fault was both ways and the end result was that I went about the project in a very careless manner, not going to office for days, not doing much, my guide not bothered – there was absolutely no learning in it.

Well, I would have liked to do some work during my summer internship but the fact that I didnt have to go to office for everyday from 9 to 5 meant I could do so much more and thats what made my summers so much fun. I must however add that the company I did my summers in was really great and would be a good place to work in.

Well, so what else did I do in those 2 months? I ate out every single day. And tried to go to as many restaurants as possible. So I’m now a kind of expert on Bangalore eateries. I landed up at some amazing places and at some totally forgettable places. While we mostly looked at the right side of the menu when choosing a restaurant, we did try out a couple of different and interesting places too. We went to midnight buffets, weekend brunch buffest, midnight dinner at Empire, terrace restaurants for dinner, a tiny place where we got exotic south indian food...hmm,lots of amazing places.

Then books of course. Though I did not read too many books, I got to read an interesting selection. The best of the lot is William Dalrymple’s ‘White Mughals’ which I loved and have dedicated an entire post to. Then there was Frank McCourts ‘Angela’s Ashes’ which I did not care too much for. Anita Desai’s ‘Baumgartner’s Bombay’ which was also just okay. Khushwant Singh’s ‘Truth, Love and a little Malice’ – I didn’t like the book at all – it would have been fun if he was malicious but he is just very petty, is critical of everyone except himself and his writing is nothing exceptional. Then Jumpa Lahiri’s ‘Interpreter of Maladies’ which was a very interesting and exceptionally well written set of stories. Sudha Murthy’s ‘Wise and Other Wise’ – a book of short stories- simple, warm and thought provoking. I read a couple of old William stories,Asterix, Calvin and Hobbes and P G Wodehouse for a few laughs- my family finds this very frustrating because I laugh out when I am reading something funny and when it is one of these books, I become quite hysterical and end up falling off the bed laughing or getting a stomach ache coz I laughed too much and cant take it anymore!!! Well, I am right now reading a book called ‘The Ugly American’ and it was all in all a good summer for reading (though not comparable at all to the number of books I used to read during summer vacations in school and college but then the kind of books I read then were also like that) and it got me to use the IIMB library for the first time after coming here.

Saw lots of movies too...some in PVR, some in my room - Hindi, Telugu and English. And went to a couple of plays at Ranga Shankara – I got to see a really good play called ‘A Heap of Broken Images’ directed by Girish Karnad and a brilliant protagonist. Then a stand up comedy called ‘Mr.Funny Man’ which was decent and a really long and painful play called ‘Madness.

Did a lot of other stuff. I went to the International Dance Festival conducted by Alliance Francaise. Got lost quite often in the city. Travelled to Coorg, Kushal Nagar (which has a very impressive Buddhist monastery) and Mysore in a day. My sister was here for two weeks and that just added up to the fun factor. We would watch Scrubs/Friends/Joey/That 70’s Show and play cards till 6am and then sleep till late afternoon after which it was time to get up and go out. Ramya was here for a weekend so I took her out shopping. And then did a lot of shopping of my own for myself and my family with my money.

It was a summer of pure joy and happiness. Even the weather seemed to do all it could to make it perfect – it was sunny mostly, and only occasionally hot and it would rain ever so often. I’m always going to cherish this summer because with it comes the awareness that this might just be the last long vacation I am going to have in quite a while. And sine that is a thought I do not want to dwell upon, I shall sign off here.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Rape in India

In a recent rape case, the judge decided to postpone his verdict by a day so that the victim could consider the marriage proposal. Fortunately, the victim in question, a nurse at a Delhi hospital, had the courage to say no and insist on the punishment of the rapist. How does marriage to the rapist make the rape a right? And what would the judge do if the victim was already married? It is incredibly absurd. Agreed, in India, the woman who is raped is ostracised by society, and the object of much sexual harrasment at work, and yes, she definitely has very minimal chances of ever getting married. But is marriage to a beast a better fate? The rapist would probably be the kind who would abuse her - just makes things better for her, doesnt it?
The way rape cases are treated in India - the very injustice of it rankles so much. In one rape case a policeman said that sometimes the victim 'deserved' to be raped because she dressed improperly!!!!! Firstly, in a large number of rapes in the country, the victims are poor - they can hardly be expected to wear fashionable skimpy clothes. And while I am all for women taking necessary precautions, how can anyone shift the blame on the behaviour of the victim? Whatever be the 'character' of the victim, it is no excuse for the blame to be shifted to her. Nothing, absolutely nothing can make a rape acceptable.
Take the case of the infamous Suryanelli sex scandal. A 16 year old girl was kidnapped and detained for 40 days during which time more than 30 men raped her!! She claimed that they tied her hands behind her back and loaded her with drugs and alchohol so that she would not be able to resist. She was finally abandoned only when she became too ill to serve their purpose. This case led to wide spread outrage in Kerala leading to the setting up of a special court which convicted 36 of the 42 accused.
You would think that was the end of it. No- an appeal went to the high court which acquitted 35 of the 36 accused!The judges looked at the girls past behaviours - wasting away Rs.450 her father had given her for hostel fees, then pawning her ornaments - implied that she was not a 'normal innocent' child! And then the judges felt that the girl had not tried to escape, that she had not seemed to resist the men enough - all these meant that she was a willing partner to sex - and so acquitted the men. What is wrong with those two judges?? Havent they heard what the girl said about how she was tortured? Cant they understand something so basic that just because she as unable to resist does not mean that she was a willing partner to it?
And it is cases like this which make the women hesitate to even report a rape. A confidence that because they are women born in a society such as ours, justice would be denied. Because in our society, a woman who has been raped is never the victim - she has always brought it on herself. Because it is the victim who is abused, it is the victim who is ostracised and who has to live in shame and fear for the rest of her life for having brought out her problem in public - while the rapist in all probability is living free, even free of guilt.
I do not understand nor would even attempt to understand how any man could abuse another person like that. What kind of mental perversity could lead to such behaviour is beyond my contemplation. But I have tried and failed to understand why we let such beasts go scot free. It is because of the shockingly low conviction rate in rape cases that men still go on commiting such heinous crimes...with the confidence that they can get away with it.
A 80 year olf woman was raped in Delhi last month. A 16 year old girl was raped by her school principal, another minor in Mumbai was raped by a policeman. And the story which always makes me shudder - the rape of a mentally retarded girl by a man on a Mumbai train. Not that one rape is worse/better than another. But what kind of animal would behave like this? How could one stoop to such brutality?
India desperately needs to tighten it rape laws. A string of rape convictions might atleast serve as a deterrent. And there is an increasing need for NGO's or other support groups - the victims need help, financial, healthcare, emotional support etc - and there is hardly any of it available to them. Organisations which can provide such support to the victims are necessary for them to be able to get their life back to normalcy and find acceptance in society.

Monday, May 23, 2005

History...

Havent been well for the past ten days...a bad cold, sore throat and now cough...so apart from the fact that I havent had icecream in 10 days, I havent done much except sleep and eat. I finished this amazing book I was reading...William Dalrymple's'White Mughals'. A fantastic book- while the crux of the story is how the British Resident in Hyderabad falls in love with the grandaughter of an important Hyderabadi noble and the consequences of his actions-the book deals with the much wider issue of theEnglish coming to India and adapting to the culture of India.
There are some fascinating stories...of an Englishman in Delhi who had 13 wives, another Englishman who hadbecome so Indianised that he was referred to as'Hindoo Stuart', another Englishman who wrote that the sari was the sexiest garb in the world and strongly recommended that women even in the western world wear it if they were to stand the competition given by Indian women...little tidbits about life in India in the 18th century. The amalgamation of Indian and English culture makes for gripping reading.
The book also gives us sudden and small insights into the intrigue surrounding deccani politics of that time...mostly between the Hyderabad of the Nizams, the Maratha Confedaracy centred at Pune and Tipu's Mysore.And the French-British struggle for control over the deccan through these. This is the only book I everread on the period after the Golden Era of the Mughal period (which effectively ended with the death ofAurangzeb) and before the First War of Independence in1857.

And it is interesting to observe life during those times. While the British were certainly working on gaining control over India, they hadnt yet introduced any of the harsher measures either in civillian life or in the military which was later the cause of much antagonism. The denizens of the country hardly seemed to look upon the British as their rulers- in fact, they considered the Indian princes to be their rulers and the British played the part of protector by signing deals with the princes where the British would provide an army to the prince in exchange for part of the revenues etc. By having complete control over the internal and external protection of these Indian states,the British certainly had control over the country itself but this control wasindirect.

A lot of Englishmen madeban effort to learn some Indian language or the other-they studied Indian scholarly texts and were quiteimpressed by them - a good example in case would beWarren Hastings. While the atmosphere was certainly one of suspicion and plotting, at that stage the British was still not considered the common enemy and this allowed a great degree of mingling between the English and the Indians- resulting not only in a whole league ofAnglo-Indians but also a refreshing culture ofadjustments and quaint mixed traditions.

While reading the book, I kept stopping at crucial points to indulge myself in 'what if...' conjectures.Imagine this - Arthur Wellesley would not have become the Duke of Wellington if his older brother had decided to send him into the diplomatic service instead of letting him continue in the military. More interesting - the French and not the British would have ruled India if the Napolean had not been defeated(it is now known that he was in active communication with Tipu about throwing the British out of India).And if that had been the case, how would it have affected our freedom struggle, our date of Independence and how would French rule have changed the face of India as we know it now...

Im now quite determined to read up more on history. I have for quite a while been looking for a book that gives a British perspective of the Indian struggle for independence. Since we studied the Indian struggle for Independence only in the 10th Std. & that too under the relatively less censured ICSE syllabus, our history textbook did not leave us with the impression that all Indians were heroes and all Englishmen were eveil. Sure, it did convey that message but certainly not that everything was black and white - the textbook admitted that there was scope for grey too. So it let me think about the other perspective - in English history textbooks, are Indians depicted as ungrateful wrethches or uncivilised brabarians who were civilised by the British only to against them. It would be interesting to see how the British explain actions which must now seem quite harsh and unjust to them to their future generations
But we see history always plays out this way - when one country takes advantage of another for its ownbenefit, irrespective of whatever harm it might cause to that country, it will always find ways to justify its actions. It happened then with England and India,its happening now with the US and Iraq or the US andAfghanistan. And these are only 3 examples but history is replete with many such incidents. And then when I look back, I dont see India ever doing that. Maybe itis too weak for it. But I think it is actually becauseIndians are generally laidback, easygoing people who are to a large extent content with what they have....or the other perspective, too lazy to want to achieve more.Whatever be the reason, I guess it is still one thing we can be proud of.

Oh well.....I only wanted to say I read a brilliantbook - the author managed to seemingly effortlessly merge history and literature to create a masterpiece.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Old friends and book ends

I went to Hyderabad last weekend. And I have decided to finally make productive use of office hours by reporting on the events of those 3 days - of trying to please everybody and trying to spend enough time with eveyone. I now know how heroes of Telugu movies feel when the 3 or 4 heriones keep pulling him in all directions. And add to it an overwhelming feeling of somnolence and the unbearable heat in Hyderabad...well, that gives you an idea about how the trip went, doesnt it?
Well, it wasnt really that bad as I got to meet up with a lot of friends who I would'nt be meeting again in a very long time. Now all my friends are at a very crucial stage in their lives. Shruti, Shilpa and most of my other friends who are passing out of engineering colleges this year are taking up jobs in IT companies across the country (rather mostly Hyderabad and Bangalore). A few like Sunil are taking up GRE. Then those who have studied with me in college seem to have spent the past year in a vacuum. Trisha and Swetha are working in a call centre. Lalith leaving for Delhi for Civils preparation.Kiran training for the military. Ravi has set up a consultancy with 7 others. Abhishek taking up a course in journalism. Pramod and Nikhil doing MBA's.
Everyone is now moving on, finding a direction. That proverbial fork in the road stage of life where everyone has to make a decision about where they want to go and what they want to do in life. And so it was like old times when we sat on the grass at our usual 'adda' on Necklace Road last Sunday night. We started off with the usual dirty jokes and double entendres for a long while. And then we discussed issues we were facing. One friend spoke about her troubled relationship. Lalith about his feelings on going to Delhi, Kiran about his experiences in training - somewhere down the line, we had shifted to serious talk, problems - something we never did before when we met up at Necklace Road.
And then, we started talking of college days. Its been just a year since I passed out but it already seems so long and that warm nice feeling one gets when one thinks of pleasant memories accompanied by a twinge of sorrow that one can never get them back - thats the feeling I get of my three years at Hyderabad. We went on a 'remember when...' trip that night and it made us laugh like crazy. There was a sense of smallness about the world then - for most of my friends Hyderabad was the world. And there was also a sense which can be interpreted either as being carefree or irresponsible - most didnt have any concrete plan for the future- everyone dreamt of making it big but few knew how they were going to go about doing it. And in this one year we had shed our judgemental selfs - I noticed that all of us were more willing to give a person a chance before forming an opinion on him. We didnt pass comments on every person who had the misfortune to pass by us. And we had better things to talk about than the latest controversy in college - and trust me, we had more than enough of them.
There was also this urgency to having fun- we wanted to spend as much time as possible together, we wanted to stay out for as long as possible - it was as if we had a very limited span of time together and we wanted to make the best use of it. It drove our families crazy and we got into a lot of trouble for this madness. We also so wanted to be 'cool' and 'in' - we'd walk the walk and talk the talk, so to speak. We would buy and wear everything which was considered 'in'. From glass bangles to short handle bags to extra large flare faded jeans to belts to periparallels to lucknawi kurtis- all these became the rage when I was in college. And my friends and I faithfully bought them and wore them.
It also feels good that we know each other so well, even the small things. That Swetha likes anything blue, that I get mad when someone litters the place, that Lallu becomes real silent when he is hungry
It felt good to relive those memories - a kind of assurance that however far we might move on, there will always be time to catch up with old friends and laugh.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Hardly the breadwinner

Today is a day that will stand out in the annals of histoy.I received my first salary today - Rs.8000 for the 20 days I worked at IBM. I cant help a small grin. A few hours of effort from me for 20 days is worth Rs.8000 to someone. It certainly makes me feel good about myself. I want to call up home and tell them. But there is also a little anger because I'm not being reimbursed for my airfare from Vizag to Bangalore after being told I would be and because I am being made to spend a lot from my own pocket for travelling between the offices. Its like expecting a 3.3 types in CSP and ending up with a 3.02!
Speaking of which, I got 3.02 in CSP. I am a little disappointed because I have done well in the midterm and endterm. So I must have lost out in the project (of course!!) & CP. But I'm still pretty happy that I have a 3+ so I dont want to crib too much about it. I have done decently this term so just hoping I get a decent grade.
Well, other events in the day are pretty much uneventful, if you dont count the fact that I bought a chocolate milkshake at the office cafeteria and got a scratch card for it. On scratching the card, I got a free samosa!!Well, there is this guy I met at a learning lab I attended. I spoke to him a little later for feedback. He now has my phone number and is beginning to become a pain. He called a couple of days ago to ask me something about IIMB. Today he messaged and when I didnt reply called me to tell me that we were both sitting in the same office today (talk about the weather). I have a strong feeling he is hitting on me and I have no idea how to tell him im not interested. The problems working women face!!
By the way, my stipend is in the form of a DD drawn on Deutsche Bank which says account payee only! What the hell am I supposed to do?? I desperately want to leave office, encash the DD, book my tickets to Hyderabad for tomorrow and go shopping. But alas and alack!! I bunked office yesterday and my manager knows it. He is here in the same office as I am today so I intend to sit for as long as he is in the office or 6pm, whichever is earlier ( I have a grim foreboding that it is going to be 6pm). Well, I need to submit a presentation of everything I have done so far. I'm really at a loss as to what to do because all I have done so far is meet a lot of people and collect information. And even these notes are with a colleague who said she would get them tomorrow. So I'm a wee bit worried that my fraudgiri would be revealed to one and all.
Well,thats all for now. My work beckons me (yeah right!!). There is this terrible feeling of lassitude which I am experiencing currently which simple does not allow me to do any work at all.

Saturday, April 30, 2005

Yesterday, for some reason, I was suddenly reminded of my grandfather's barber. He would come every alternate Sunday to give my grandad a haircut and a shave. There was this ledge in the front yard - just enough to seat 2 people crosslegged and high (for quite a number of years I would have to clamber up that ledge).
He would arrive sharp at 7am and without even announcing his arrival at the house go straight to the ledge. He would first seat himself and put his bag in front of him. He would then spread a small black cloth in front of him and carefully take his instruments out of the bag and put them on the cloth. These generally included a knife, scissors, a small mirror and some other stuff which I dont remember.
Then my grandfather would come and sit opposite the barber. And the process would begin - a haircut and a shave. Most of the time, it was done in total silence - once in a while, my grandad would say a word or two, as if to break the silence. The barber would reply when required of him and then get back to his work. Though the same barber came every other Sunday for many years, I never knew his name. Unlike in a lot of short stories, he never made friends with the wide eyed child in the house who would come running as soon as he entered the yard and sit staring at him till he left.
Yet I was fascinated by this ritual. Indeed, it was my long cherished dream to have a haircut by the barber. I would imagine how it would be to have a haircut the way my grandfather did. It was something I looked upon with awe and even a little fear because, for some reason, I imagined that if I wasnt careful the barber would cut my ear!!It was a cause of great grief to me that my mother never let my hair under the barber's scissors.
Well, the end of the story is that after my grandparents shifted to Duvvada, I never saw the barber again and completely forgot about him. And suddenly, yesterday, I was reminded of him.

Friday, April 15, 2005

A woman at work

Well, I got back to Bangalore this Sunday. An update:
10th Sunday:
Flew Deccan Air from Vizag to Bangalore...I believe this deserves special mention because my company is paying for my flight. So here is the first flight I have earned for myself!! Lunch at Wok and Gill. Dinner at Transit followed by 'Socha Na Tha' at PVR. The 1st half of the movie was fun...the 2nd half was like a typical Hindi movie though. The campus looks so so good and has a fresh, clean, green look. It rained an hour after I landed on campus. Actually, the fact that there is hardly anyone here and the weather...the campus reminds of howit was when I first came here for my IIMB interview. I fell in love with this place...and I felt bad about going to IIMA instead (and this before giving any nterviews!!). Its so very beautiful here.
11th Monday:
The day of joining...and I was late!!! Luckily, the security sign up process took so long for the 26 internees that no one noticed. Then a couple of video's of IBM followed by a long speech by the VP HR. This was my biggest challenge...how not to sleep at the workplace. IIMB students wer e13...the remaining were from IIMA,IIMC and XLRI. 11 of us in the HR dept. We were given 4 hours of presentations. I got back at 7 and went to Induss for dinner.

12th Tuesday:
I spent just an hour at the office meeting my project guide...hes quite a big shot in the IBM HR dept. He must be in his late forties and a rather serious guy. He said I could choose my own work hours and work place or even work from the hostel if I was more comfortable with that!! Shopping at Commercial Street for a couple of formal shirts and then lunch with GV at Adiga's. Went skating in the evening. The 1st time im using inline skates...was good fun. Pankaj was coming from Delhi so we went to to the airport and then to Empire Hotel for dinner.

13th Wednesday:
A typical day from 9 to 6 which I spent meeting people from the HR Learning team in order to understand the 'dynamics of the issue'. Gave my spectacles and watch for repair and then gorged on panipuri followed by cake fudge at Corner House. Naomi had just come back from France and got some wine with her. So ordered in from Guru Gardens and laid out the spread at the H block terrace. I did try the wine but was too full to eat anything. Howevre, it was a fun evening.
14th Thursday:
I was attending a training session but had to come back in the middle coz of a problem with the lens.I planned to go back to office in 2hrs but I didnt. Just didnt do a thing the whole day. Finally went for dinner to Guru Gardens with Pankaj and Naomi. Felt like icecream so we found a Barista at Koramangala.
15th Friday:
Went to work at 12:45, met my project guide, ate lunch, made a couple of official calls, met a colleague at work and am now back on campus. Im going back to office to attend a conference call. I can do it from any phone I want to but might as well go to office and use the office phone than blow up more money than I already am for food.

Well, lots of thoughts on how it feels to have finished off with a year at IIMB. things I plan to do during the summer, how it feels to be working. Will definitely write on them and update more regularly. But for now, I got to run.