Friday, 31 December 2010

Maximum City

I like Mumbai. The hustle and bustle and everything else that it is associated with. I like the crowds. And the cacophony of noises that accompany them. It is a city unlike any other. Probably the only one in the world where I can eat from a roadside stall without the feeling of having being stared at. I like the apparent indifference and apathy. The fact that everyone here is so busy. I like the disorder and chaos and the challenges that they pose.

But most importantly, I like the fact that I can inadvertently bump into someone and not hear the sympathetic apologies. The fact that I can hide my handicap behind a pair of dark trendy shades and no one would be any wiser.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

30 second fiction

Six months back, as providence would have it, Aladdin's magic lamp was found by a lazy crocodile in a swamp in Botswana.

Wild life researchers studying the rapid decrease in gazelle population in Botswana were baffled to find that the gazelles had gotten a lot slower and a lot more thirsty over the last six months.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

When Murphy and I met. Face to Face.

06 November 2010.
10 00 hours,
Pearson International Airport,
Toronto, Canada.

The Plan:

12 hour direct flight from Toronto to Delhi.
Land in Delhi at 11 00 hrs on 07 November 2010.
Make the connecting flight to Bombay at 12 40 hrs.
Reach home by 17 00 hrs.
Go out for a quiet dinner and return in time to see Chelsea whip Liverpool.

What actually happened:

After the best week of my life in Cuba I was all ready to fly back to India to resume my studies after a well deserved vacation. I was saying my final goodbyes to my parents when my dad told me that if I would care to walk back a few metres and deposit the trolley in the designated area, I would get back 25 cents of the 2 dollars I paid for the trolley. So I walked backed and pushed the trolley past a red line as instructed and waited for my 25 cents. When I checked I found 2 25 cents coins lying in the collection box. I smiled and returned back with my new loot. Little did I know at that time that I had used up the last bit of my luck.

Half way through my flight.
Some point over the Atlantic.

I had adjusted the time in my watch to the Indian standard time. I knew I had to sleep in the flight else I would be badly jet lagged when I reached India. I was almost drifting into peaceful slumber, when the captain announced that we needed to fasten our seat belts as the plane was experiencing turbulent weather. And some turbulence it was. Never ever have I experienced turbulence of this kind. In fact it was so bad that at one point I was almost thrown off my seat. That frightened the hell out of me. For a moment I thought that that air ride would be my last. Sitting in the plane which was shivering like a naked eskimo in Alaska, I began to review my life. The good deeds. The bad deeds. They all flashed before my mind. It didn't take me too long to decide that this wasn't the best time to die. I promised myself that I would do all it takes to get out of this situation alive and for the first time I even located the life jacket in the plane.

But within half an hour, the situation was under control. The turbulence had ceased and so had my fears. I realised that there was no way I could get sleep and was resigned to the fact that I'd have to spend the next two days in Mumbai getting rid of my jet lag. I browsed through the in flight entertainment of Air India and decided to watch Badmaash Company. That was the best movie on offer. Half way into the movie, the captain makes an announcement that the flight would make a halt at Stockholm as one of the passengers was critical.

At once I knew that there was no way I would make the 12:40 connection at Delhi. Even if the Delhi flight was late by an hour I wouldn't manage to make it. The next flight to Mumbai was at five in the evening. I would have no option but to take that flight.

Stockholm, Sweden

We landed at Stockholm at some unearthly hour. The airport was absolutely deserted. But no sooner had the flight landed, did the paramedics come and take the patient to the nearest hospital. Apparently the 80 year old guy had had one drink too many and the turbulent weather had made him puke and he was feeling claustrophobic. All my sympathies towards him vanished. We were stuck in Sweden for another three hours. When the flight finally took off the captain announced that we were flying 2 hours behind schedule, which meant we would land in Delhi at around 13:15 hours. Considering that my connection was also an Air India flight, I still had some hope of making it. I crossed my fingers and continued watching the movie.

13 20 hours.
07 November, 2010.
Indira Gandhi International Airport,
Terminal 3,

As soon as the flight door opened, I ran out like a maniac and reached the transfer desk. They told me that my connecting flight had been delayed and I could still make it. I was issued fresh boarding cards and was told to proceed to Gate 19. Even though I was in such a hurry, I still managed to notice the stunning interiors of the new terminal. Once in the aircraft I thanked the stars and heaved a sigh of relief. I began reading Jeffrey Archer and waited for the flight to take off.

AI 181,
Delhi Airport.
16 00 hours

The passengers in the plane start making a fuss now. It has been five hours since they have been seated in the plane. They start shouting anti Air India slogans and about half the passengers left the aircraft and moved towards the gate. They started protesting there and managed to break a couple of glass doors in the terminal. The reason for the delay was the fact that the air space was shut because Obama had landed there. After the air space opened, there weren't enough staff at the airport to hand over the flight plan to the captain. My otherwise calm sister asked the air hostess as to why the passengers weren't informed that the delay was not Air India's fault. After all loyalty towards the national carrier runs in our veins. Finally the captain himself had to go and get the flight plan.

18 10 hours.
IGI Airport runway,

Five and a half hours after its scheduled departure the flight took off. I was pretty sure that my second connecting flight at five thirty had also taken off before this one. I wondered whether I would even make it in time to watch the second half of the Chelsea Liverpool match.

20 20 hours.
Mumbai International Airport.

My sister and I were the only people left waiting for our baggage. Half an hour had passed and not one of my four bags had arrived. Finally the conveyor belt stopped moving. And we headed towards the lost luggage counter. With a lump down my throat I filled in the details and descriptions of my missing bags. Three hard case strollers which had my entire wardrobe and about 2% of my sister's wardrobe. And the fourth bag was a carton containing my 10 foot Christmas tree.

23 00 hours.
The Francis' residence

I reached home and immediately switched on the television. I had made it just in time to see the final score. Chelsea 0-2 Liverpool. I wasn't surprised one bit. It was that kinda day.

Monday, 8 November 2010

The Curious Case of the Cuban Currency

Most of the facts listed below have been picked up from my conversations with the locals and tour guides that I met with during my trip to Cuba. So I cannot vouch for their authenticity. But I managed to double check most of the facts, thanks to Google!

~ Cuba has two official currencies : the peso and the convertible peso, commonly known as local and tourist currency respectively. Luxury items and tourist items like souvenirs, rum, cigars, tour packages, boarding and lodging expenses are to be paid in the convertible peso. The local peso is used for groceries, provisions and other daily needs. The convertible peso came into existence because the Cuban government wanted a currency in Cuba which was stronger than the dollar and could be used by the tourists instead of the dollar. So one convertible peso is pegged at 1.08 USD irrespective of the current demand for the greenback. Cuba is also probably the only country in which the Canadian dollar is worth more than the American dollar!

~ The Republic of Cuba consists of several archipelagos and the island of Cuba is the largest island in one of the archipelagos.

~ Hurricanes are a common feature in Cuba and the island nation witnesses an average of two hurricanes every year. Which is why tall buildings are a rarity in Cuba. In the city of Matansas, there are just three buildings which are more than two storey high!

~ Matansas gets its name from the Spanish word for 'massacre'. In the 16th century some Spaniards wanted to cross the bay of Matansas (which obviously wasn't called that then). They asked some natives to help them cross the rivers. The natives had a grudge against the Spaniards because of the cruel way in which they treated them. So when the boats were midway, the natives turned them over. The Spaniards were dressed in metal armor and so all but three drowned immediately. The three who survived were found seven years later of which just one was mentally stable to recount the incident!

~ 50% of the total number of Cuban tourists are from Canada.

~ Healthcare is totally covered by the government including plastic surgery!

~ I spent an entire week in Cuba and visited four cities, but I never came across a single beggar. That is because every person in Cuba is given basic necessities like rice, oil, beans and the likes at a nominal rate 35 pesos every month, which works out to $1.50.

~ In the 16th century, Cuba was inhabited by around 100,000 natives. When the Spaniards invaded Cuba, they bought along diseases from Europe which led to an epidemic and within 50 years there were just 5,000 natives left.

~ Cuba's statue of liberty as can be seen alongside was erected in 1898 when Cubans got independence from the Spaniards. This independence was short lived though as in 1902 Cuba became a neo colony of the USA.

~ Cuba has 100% literacy. Education in Cuba is absolutely free and the Government sponsors everything from fees to stationery and school uniform. Education till the ninth grade is a must for every Cuban. If a parent fails to send his/her child to school, then the parent is imprisoned! After the ninth grade the Government on the basis of merit and taking into considering the preferences of the student, decides which student takes up what course during his pre university (10-12) and university (13-17,18) studies.

~ Cuban cigars are world famous. That should not come as a surprise considering the fact that most of the workers in the cigar industry are women. Cuba produces 150,000 cigars a day, most of which are exported to various countries other than the United States. If Cuba decides to export to the US, then America by itself would consume 60% of Cuba's cigars sending the price up by 35-40% for at least 2 years, by which time the supply curve can catch up with its demand counterpart.

~ Cuban citizens cannot leave the country unless they get special permission as well as a letter of invitation from a citizen of the country they intend to visit. This procedure is rather tedious and most Cubans have never seen what is on the other side of the immigration counter at their local airport.

~ In Cuba, it is compulsory for everyone to work till retirement age, which is 60 if you're female and 65 if you're male.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

2 Parts to Hindus, 1 part to Muslims

This was the headline in the Times of India the day the Ayodhya verdict was out. One would expect the country's largest English daily to be a little bit more responsible while reporting such a sensitive issue, but that wasn't to be. TOI has reduced itself to yet another gossip daily and I am sure many disgruntled readers like me have switched to better papers like Mint and the Hindu. Just to make my point more clear, the headline that Mint carried was 'Ayodhya Verdict - Justice Delivered after a 61 year wait'.

If any of you haven't yet read about the verdict, here is a gist of it.

The three-judge bench - comprising Justice S U Khan, Justice Sudhir Agarwal and Justice D V Sharma - ruled in a majority judgment 2:1, that there be a three-way division of the disputed land - one-third for the Sunni Waqf Board, one-third for the Nirmohi Akhara and one-third to the party for 'Ram Lalla'.

To me this entire High Court appeal was meaningless. Cause irrespective of what the verdict would be, one party or the other would appeal to the Supreme Court and we would have this entire media circus all over again. So the only thing that this verdict had to achieve was to give us a result which wasn't biased to such an extent that the country would see yet another bout of communal riots. That was all that was expected of this judgment and it did precisely that. By diving the land into three parts and handing over one part to each of the three parties, the verdict was a sensible one.

Some of my friends on Facebook had their status messages saying 'build a school there' or 'build a hospital there'. I'm sure they have very little clue of how the judicial system works!

I personally was of the feeling that only the Sunni Waqf Board would challenge the verdict. But apparently all the parties are keen on appealing to the Supreme Court. Which once again proves my point about this High Court verdict being useless.

On the eve of the verdict the tension in the atmosphere was palpable. But I was pretty sure that there wouldn't be any major violence in any part of India. The fact that the BJP has failed to win the previous two elections even after using the Ayodhya temple as the main point in its political agenda tells me that the Ayodhya issue is a non issue amongst most of us Indians.

Monday, 29 March 2010


It was almost dawn by the time she returned home.

She went about doing what had by now become a well rehearsed procedure.

First she closed the door ever so gently, so as to not wake up her husband. She then tip toed to the bathroom. Switched on the light. Carefully examined her reflection in the mirror. It told the story of one of her happier nights. Her clothes were badly crumpled. Her lip stick and eye liner smudged.

She had just finished preparing breakfast when the doorbell rang. She hurried into her bedroom, kissed her husband on his cheek and woke him up.

He was to go on an overnight trekking trip. His boyfriend was waiting at the door.

Monday, 22 March 2010

Pointless Trivia

During my preparation for these interviews, I came across a lot of facts which I wasn't aware of. Not that they are of any great use, but they make interesting reading. So here goes:

- Jamshedpur is the only city in India without a municipality. The responsibility for its conservation and maintenance is entirely assumed by Tata Steel.

- IBM initially manufactured coffee machines.

- The original design for the Indian national flag that Gandhi was presented with included two colours. Red for Hindus and green for the Muslims. In the center was a traditional spinning wheel, symbolising Gandhi's goal of making Indians self reliant by fabricating their own cloth. The design was then modified to include a white stripe in the center for other religious communities and as a background for the wheel. Later, to avoid sectarian associations with the colour scheme, saffron, white and green was chosen to represent sacrifice and courage, peace and truth and faith and chivalry, respectively.

- Zimbabwe is the only country in the world with six official currencies: Botswana pula, British pound, Euro, South African rand, United States dollar and Zimbabwean dollar.

- The capital of Sri Lanka is Sri Jayawardenepura Kotte and not Colombo.

- Nokia started off as a company manufacturing toilet paper.

- Monopsony is the peculiar market condition in which you have a single buyer and multiple sellers. An example could be where the government is the only buyer of various health care schemes.

- The Times of India headquarters are at Delhi and not Mumbai.

- Chennai is known as the 'Detroit of India' as it manufactures 60% of India's automobiles.

- Aurangabad is the beer capital of India.

- Canada is thrice the size of India with twice the population of Mumbai.

- Blog is actually a contraction for the term 'web log'.

- The Mumbai airport is the third busiest in Asia after Singapore and Bangkok.

- Thailand is the only Asian country to never be colonized.

- It is impossible to scratch the sole of your foot whilst holding your breath.

Quote for the day: "When faced with two choices, simply toss a coin. It works not because it settles the question for you, but because, in that brief moment when the coin is in the air, you know what your heart secretly hopes for."

Post Script: I made the last trivia bit up. Hope you fell for it ;)

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

My Last B School Interview

The location: Xaviers College, Mumbai.

The preparation:

7 days. Topics include Copenhagen climate summit, Kyoto protocol, Indo US nuclear deal, Nuclear situation in India, Beijing Washington conflicts, infrastrcture in India, Woman's bill, Origin of Woman's day, definition of every possible stock market term, monetary policy, fiscal policy, RBI, fundamental rights, Lok Sabha, Rajya Sabha, BAFTA awards, Oscars, everything about Jamshedpur, Mumbai, India, Canada, France, capitals of 70 countries, currencies of 50 countires, head of states of 25 countries, all 35 districts of Maharshtra, industries in Maharashtra, Bandra Worli Haj Ali sea link, Mumbai Metro, rivers of India, Indian geography, all economic statistics, everything about the Tatas, significance of US flag, Indian flag, 13 colonies of US, Naxal Maoist ideology, communism, socialism, capitalism, life of Mao, Lenin, Stalin, Keynesian economics, booker prize winners, left wing politics, Edward De Bono, C K Prahlad, Navratnas, Chipko movement, IPCC climate controversies, IT industry, my college, Air India, Jesuits, XLRI alumni, their blogs, blogging, ballroom dancing, travelling.

Things asked in the interview: None of the above.

Panelist 1: Supriya Kumar De (was busy reading DNA throughout the interview. I didn't even see his face)

Panelist 2: Abhijit Gangopadhya (legend has it that this person knows more than Google. Today I had first hand experience.)

Panelist 3: Rajeev Sharma (Was reading the Times of India)

Me: May I sit sir?

P2: Chair is in front of you. We are here to take your interview. Who gives an interview standing. Sit down. (That pretty much set the tone for the interview)

P2: So Shon or is it Shron or Shawan?

Me: Sir, it is Shawn. Rhyme it with pawn.

P2: So you resigned from your job?

Me: Yes sir. I decided that I wanted to do MBA this year. I am very clear in my mind that I want to do an MBA. So I didn't see any point hanging around in the technical field. Then told him about an ethical dilemma I faced in TCS and why I resigned 3 months earlier than planned. (XLRI hai boss. They value such stuff) Also told him why I wanted to do an MBA

P2: Oh so I don't think you need XLRI. You have already done so well managing things.

Me: Sir what I did was on a small scale. XLRI will give me the confidence and credentials to do it on a larger scale. It will polish me. There is so much I don't know yet and need to learn (He proved this statement to be true. Read on)

P2: We don't have any polishing machines in XLRI, do we? (Looks at the guys busy reading their papers)

P1, P3: (in unison) No

Me: Sir, it was a metaphor.

P2: So, 87 percent in 10th, 88 in 12th, 79 in computer science engineering. Somaiya to XLRI! That is some jump you are trying to make eh *evil smile* Father works in Air India ha. Tell me about the restructuring of Air India.

Me: I start of with how Air India started making losses. 15 seconds and I am cut.

P2: No no, tell me which units of Air India have been removed.

Me: Sir the cargo unit and the repair, maintenance and operation (RMO) unit.

P2: So what will happen of those units then?

Me: Sir they were removed because they were loss making units and so in order to reduce the loss of Air India balance sheet they were removed from Air India.

P2: So what will happen to the workers then?

Me: Sir it is a governement company so they cannot shut it down without notice. Employees will have to be phased out.

P2: When will all that happen? RMO isn't vital to an airline you know that?

Me: Sir, I haven't had the time to discuss that with my father. Just read it in the newspapers yesterday.

P2: Common sense. Use it. Anyways which company manufactures airplanes?

Me: Boeing.

P2: Where is the industry located?

Me: I don't know sir.

P2: When an airplane is sent for repair where does it go?

Me: Sir airplanes are kept in a hanger. (He doesn't seem satisfied)

P2: Tell me some union laws.

Me: Sir I am very certain in my mind that I don't want to do an HR course and that is why I didn't apply for the XLRI HR course even though it is the best in Asia Pacific.

P2: But you want to be a manager no? Manager should know all this. Tell me some unions in India.

Me: Sir I dont know.

P2: Ok. Why do you need a union?

Me: Sir to tackle worker grievances, to know their wants and needs. Some gyaan.

P2: So are unions good?

Me: It depends. Like everything in life, this too has its good points and bad points. When the twist the arm of the management unfairly then it is bad. Then mentioned some good points.

P2: Will you encourage a union when you become a manger?

Me: Sir if you have few workers then there isnt a need for a union. You can address the workers on a one to one basis. But if they are a huge number of workers, then a union is the only way out.

P2: Have you been to a factory?

Me: No sir.

P2: Industrial visit?

Me: Yes sir. Had gone to Jaipur and seen a mug manufacturing unit.

P2: Oh I know what you guys do on an industrial visit. You people just have fun. Anyways what did you learn?

Me: Sir, I observed that the workers were very diligent and meticulous.

P2: Indian wokers? I have always heard they are lazy.

Me: It could be that the fact that we college students were visiting them made them work hard, cause they knew they were being keenly observed. But that is the impression I took home.

P2: What are Scandinavian countries?

Me: (Aah! The GK part...aa beta, I'm ready) Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Finland.

P2: Name some Scandinavian companies in India? (He goes back to what he likes best! Industries!)

Me: Nokia is in Finland so Nokia would be one.

P2: Where is the Nokia factory in India?

Me: No idea sir.

P2: What are multi national companies? (He repeated this 4 times because I couldn't hear what he said)

Me: Companies which have offices in multiple countries.

P2: So if I just have offices in foreign countries it will do?

Me: No sir, they should be production of some sort or some deliverables. Gave an example of TCS (seemed satisfied)

P2: What is RBI and IDBI. Gimme the difference.

Me: I explain about RBI and monetary policy. He cuts me again

P2: What is IDBI?

Me: Don't know sir

P2: Have you heard of it?

Me: Yes sir as a commercial bank but I dont have much idea.

P2: Industrial Development Bank of India.

Me: Alright.

P2: What is differential rate of interest?

Me: Sir when a bank gives a loan and the rate of interest isn't fixed.

P2: Don't give me all this ok! If you don't know say you don't know. It is interest given to social causes.

Me: Sir my last five answers have been don't know. This I thought you meant the flexible loan rate of banks!

P2: What is FMCG?

Me: Fast moving consumer goods.

P2: Why the name?

Me: Sir consumer goods because the consumer uses them and fast because they are consumed at a rapid pace.

P2: Name some FMCG companies.

Me: HUL and Procter and Gamble.

P2: Where is HUL based?

Me: Holland.

P2: Where is Procter and Gamble based?

Me: Don't know sir.

P2: Name some more FMCG companies?

Me: Don't know sir.

P2: Name some HUL products?

Me: Sir rin. It was in the news because of its tiff with Tide manufatcured by Procter and Gamble.

P2: (Cuts me again) Name some HUL products from the food industry.

Me: Don't know sir.

P2: HUL manufactures Walls ice cream. You eat ice cream no?

Me: Yes sir.

P2: What is the percentage of air in ice cream?

Me: *I smile. yaar bahut ho gaya. yeh koi question hota hai kya? This is the final nail in the coffin question. The choke slam!*

He smiles back. I didn't know he knew how to smile.

P3: (wakes up) Anything else you would like to tell us beta?

Me: Spoke about ballroom dancing, travelling, blogging, word games. About my article being published on rediff. Me turning down the offer to work for them. Bahut bola.

(Come on cross question!)

P2: So your passion is dance and writing this blog and word puzzles. And travel. Any other passion?

Me: No sir.

P3: Okay. Thank you.

Me: Thank you.

Musings: Not the best of interviews. But I don't know why I have the feeling I will make it! God willing! Never at any point did I lose it. Kept my cool and kept smiling. The high point of the day was the Xaviers crowd! Wow! I feel like a dork wasting four years in barren Somaiya.


18:06, March 26, 2010:

After checking and then re checking three more times. I haven't made it. To sum it all up in one word. Gutted!

Sunday, 28 February 2010

The Battle Within

I knew it deep within, it had to be Arts. Math equations and chem reactions were never gonna be your forte, said my heart.
I told my heart to shut up.

My heart told me it was time to switch. The binary world I had to ditch.
I told my heart to shut up.

This time my heart was real loud. It told me I shouldn't follow the crowd.
I told my heart to shut up.

Then my mind pitched in.
I don't think you should settle for less.
But what another year holds is anybody's guess.
So I told my mind to shut up.

Monday, 22 February 2010

A Hot, Humid Day

"That's a very cute kid you have", I said to the twenty-ish something very good looking female sitting besides me, with an adorable toddler on her lap. All kids are cute. The compliment was meant for her. And I think she knew it too. I was on my way to office. A typical Chennai day. Hot, humid, energy sapping. I decided to take the air conditioned bus to work. A luxury I afford myself every once in a while.

That got us talking. From the Chennai weather to the IT industry to my entrepreneurship plans, we discussed it all. She was smarter than what I expected her to be. I kept wondering as to why she must have gotten married so early. With intelligence like hers she would have been successful in any field. Then why choose "home-making"? It took a lot of effort to not ask her why. I mean, after all I'm Indian. I'm expected to ask personal questions.

Deep into our conversation, my cell phone started ringing. 'Ringa ringa ringa' from Slumdog Millionaire. I had read an article about how a person's ringtone speaks volumes about the person. I cut the call. She continued talking. It was obvious she hadn't read the article.

"Why did you cut the call? Do I make that good a conversationist?"

I blushed.

"You do. I don't know why, but there is something wrong with me. I just can't get myself to talk on the phone. Phonophobia is the fashionable term for it."

"That explains why you haven't asked for my number yet."

I blushed. For a second time in about a minute. I like confident girls. She was right. I think I'm the only guy who'd rather have the e mail address than the phone number.

"Yeah. And and the sad part is that there will be like a thousand Pooja Shahs on facebook. How am I ever gonna find you?", I teased.

My stop has come. I get up to leave. I wave at the kid. And at her.

"By the way, this is my nephew Siddharth. And ya, another thing. There may be loads of Pooja Shahs on Facebook, but I am sure there won't be many Shawn Francis's."

And I blushed yet again.

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Happy Valentine's Day

Ithaca, New York.
February 14, 2010.

She took a long, deep breath before dialing his number. There was a time when she could do that without even looking at the keypad. Not any more. It had been exactly a year since she had cut off all ties with him. Since she had been forced to, rather. To imagine that someone she cared for more than herself would cheat on her. That all his promises were as hollow as him.

"Raj, I need to tell you something"

He couldn't believe his ears. Every single day he had waited for her to call. And to imagine that she would call him today, of all the days. How hard he had tried to get in touch with her. To tell her that it was all a big misunderstanding. That she like always had just jumped to her own conclusion. But unlike before, this time she never gave him another chance.

"Hi. How are you? Listen I need to clarify. You just left without even.."

"That's not why I called up. Remember the vaccines I had to take before leaving for the US? I think one of them must have been infected. I'm so sorry Raj."

It felt like something exploded in his head. All of a sudden everything started making sense. Him losing weight. Him catching the flu so easily. Everything made sense.

February 15, 2010.

Sipping her coffee, she anxiously scanned through the paper. Until she finally found what she was looking for. In one corner of the newspaper. 'Budding enterpreneur ends his life', it said. For the first time in a year, she smiled. She had worked it out perfectly. Revenge is a dish best served cold.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

40 Sleepless Hours

Warning: Long post

Sunday, 31st January 2010.

05: 00 - I check the time. Thirty minutes to go. I had kept the alarm for five thirty. But I don't know what it is with my body clock. I always wake up half an hour earlier. I have a long day ahead of me. An important day.

06: 00 - Fried eggs! Oh how I missed them in Chennai.

06: 45 - I catch the Volvo for Pune. A lot of people mention Volvo as if it is the next best thing to a stretch limo. All it has is tinted glasses and cushioned seats. And cushioned seats mean little to obese guys who already have more than enough padding on their rear.

07: 45 - I try to strike a conversation with the guy sitting next to me. He is reading a book on black holes written by Stephen Hawking. I ask him a few basic questions. He answers in Greek.

07: 47 - He goes and sits on the vacant seat on the other side of the aisle. I get the message.

09: 45 - I just begin to doze off when the bus driver wakes me up and asks me if I want to pee. The next stop will be directly at Pune. Thanks, but no thanks.

Pune, Maharashta.

11: 00 - I finally arrive at my destination. I get off and catch a rickshaw to Symbiosis. Pune is pretty unimpressive. It looks like something stuck in transition. Not yet a city and no more a town.

11: 15 - I arrive at the old campus and start talking with two fellow aspirants, Alok and Abhishek. We discuss a lot of stuff including

Abhishek - I hate these reservations. I mean people with a score of 70 also get through just because their forefathers were ill treated.

Me - Yeah, it should be done away with. If anything, they should have reservations for the economically backward.

Alok nods his head gravely.

11: 30 - We sit in the college bus which will drive us from the old campus to the new one. It is a scenic and bumpy forty minute ride. The new campus is situated atop a hill and is really beautiful with a spectacular view of the entire city or town or whatever. Alok and I sit together. We get talking again.

Shawn - So Alok the general knowledge section was real tough. And by the way, what is your score?

Alok - 72.

That was the last of my interactions with Alok. I felt like jumping out of the bus.

12: 45 - We are all seated in the auditorium. The selection process will begin at 14 00 hours. We are divided into groups of 12 each. There is a girl from Jammu in my group. Gosh! There is something about Kashmiri girls. I go weak in the knees every time I see one. I don't know if fairies exist but if they do, this girl came pretty close to looking like one. That's why the Jammu and Kashmir migrant quota is one reservation I don't oppose :)

My group had one more girl from West Bengal. The rest of us were all from the IT industry.

13: 25 - We are shown a presentation on why Symbiosis is God's answer to all our problems.

14: 00 - We had our group discussion first up. It was a case study in which we had to list down the actions we would take and the things we would save if the factory we owned caught fire. It lasted 15 minutes.

14: 25 - We then had our psychometric test. We had to answer 32 questions in 3 minutes and choose a figure from amongst a circle, square, triangle and the letter Z. I don't know what inference they draw but I chose a square because it's area is the easiest to calculate *geeky smile*

14: 29 - Next up was the group task. 11 of us had to stand on 2 bricks for 15 whole seconds. When you consider the fact that we were nine full grown guys and two girls, one of whom was wearing a sari, this task was as possible as Burkino Faso overtaking India in terms of population.

14: 45 - Now that we are done with our group task, we are served snacks. I'm starving. But all we get is idlis! After eating 30 idlis a week in Chennai, that was the last thing I expected to see there.

14: 55 - I start talking to the other female in our group. Her name is Ankita. The J & K girl looks snooty. I don't blame her. With looks like that she can afford to walk with her 'I'm too good for you' attitude.

Ankita - So Shawn, what do you plan to specialize in?

Me - If the panel asks me this then it would be a 'I will have a look at the subjects and then take a call' but between you and me I think I'd go for finance even though I like what an HR does.

Ankita - That is so bad. Haven't you watched 3 idiots? You should do what you like.

Me - I haven't watch the film (Yes, I haven't *loser*) and finance pays way better, so I'd opt for finance.

Ankita - Naah, I think you should re examine your decision. I would only do what I like.

Me - You are a girl.

Ankita - Excuse me. I take offence. Stop being biased. Tell me who is the leader of the opposition? Isn't she a woman. Who is the speaker? Isn't she a woman. (Frankly, I had no clue who our speaker is, but I presumed she was from the feminine species)

Me - My apologies Ankita!

I don't know why I said that. I still stand by the fact that in the Indian society girls enjoy a lot more freedom than guys when it comes to choosing a career. They can become teachers, journos, artists and no one could care less. And besides if they consider themselves equal then why push for the 50% reservation in Parliament (and in Chennai buses).

Ankita - Apology accepted.

16 : 15 - After a long wait finally I am called for my personal interview. There were three panelists.

P1 - Looked like a guy from the industry. Was young and was busy with his laptop the entire time. I doubt he noticed me in the entire interview.
P2 - Senior finance faculty. Looked grim the entire time.
P3 - Another young guy. Probably from the industry as well.

Me (knocks at the half open door) - May I come in Sir?

P2 (with a 'it would be hard to conduct an interview with you at the door' expression) - Yes.

P2 (in anticipation of my 'May I sit') - Sit down. So Shawn, coming straight to the point. Why MBA?

Me - I explain. Try to sound as different as possible from the scores of other IT engineers.

P2 - Hmm. What are your goals?

Me - I start with my short term goals. Then long term. Then very long term.

P2 - You mentioned indispensible. I don't think anyone in the corporate world is indispensible. Companies always have a Plan B. So you might want to look at that and probably change it.

Me (with rapt attention) - Alright Sir.

P2 - Thanks Shawn. All the very best.

(What? That's it? I mean I flew all the way from Chennai. Then drove from Mumbai. And all I get is 7 minutes of your time!)

16: 22 - I come out and ask the next guy to go in. I decide to wait for him cause he had got his car along. I was too cheap to take a cab to the station.

16: 30 - We walk towards the car. He was asked the same two questions.

17: 45 - I catch a cab back to Mumbai. My flight at ten has been cancelled. I now have to catch the flight at one in the morning. I decide to catch some sleep. But that is impossible with the driver playing some cheesy remixes.

20: 50 - I arrive at the domestic terminal. I go to the cafeteria and eat some great chicken biryani. Since breakfast I didn't eat anything except for the idlis.

22: 00 - I arrive at the domestic terminal only to know that I have to catch the flight from the internation terminal 6 kms away. International terminal for a Mumbai - Chennai flight!

23: 45 - I'm done with all the formalities. Waiting at the gate. Departure is at 01: 00 hrs. I doze off.

Gate 5,
Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport, Mumbai.

1st, February, 2010.

01: 15 - I wake up. Damn! How could I be so careless. I had almost missed my flight to Canada when I had last dozed off in an airport. I rush to the counter.

Me - Madam, the flight to Chennai.

She - I'm very sorry Sir.

Me (hysterical) - Oh no! How could I do this? I have an evaluation at work tomorrow. I'm dead. I'm fired. I'm jobless. *sob sob*

She - Sir, I meant I am sorry because the flight is delayed by an hour due to a technical snag. The new departure time is 02 00 hrs.

It was a good thing she was sitting behind the counter. Cause if she was in front of me I would have hugged her! Air India to my rescue again. I just love the airline.

02: 3o - The plane takes off.

04: 00 - I land in Chennai. The airport cab charges me 350 bucks for a 10 km ride. Daylight robbery.

04: 20 - I reach home. My doorbell isn't working. I don't have any charge left in my cell. And none of my room mates get up before 6! I sit on the terrace and stare at the stars. And wonder what wrong I ever did to go through all this. I have a thousand odd mosquitoes to keep me company.

06: 00 -I am finally allowed to enter my own house.

06: 45 - I leave for work.

09: 00 - I have my evaluation. I manage to get through.

16: 00 - Reach home and watch Paa. Decent movie with a highly melodramatic climax.

21: 00 - Finally after 40 long hours, I sleep.

Quote for the day: How important it is in life, not to be strong....but to feel strong.

Question of the day: Do Chinese people get English sayings tattooed on their bodies?

Monday, 25 January 2010

The 22nd 24th

A year older and a lot wiser, the phonophobic that I am, I still wasn't able to receive calls on my birthday. But then genuises are allowed to be whimsical at times :)

Happy birthday to me!

Quote for the day: "As far as I'm concerned, I prefer silent vice to ostentatious virtue." Albert Einstein

Question of the day:
Why do doctors leave the room when you change? They're going to see you naked anyway.

Thursday, 14 January 2010

Happy Pongal

I'm not quite sure as to why Pongal is celebrated. Different people give me different reasons. But Wiki says that it is the beginning of the harvest festival. And Wiki is never wrong. There is a festive atmosphere all around. The usually grim and serious neighbours of mine actually do know how to laugh. But I am not smiling. No sir. Pongal signifies the start of days getting longer than nights. And in Chennai that is scary. It means that the droplets of sweat on my forehead will be replaced by bucketloads of sweat all over. I won't be able to wear the same shirt twice to work without washing it. I will have to bathe daily. Probably even buy myself a deodrant. Scary prospects.

I finally got myself an internet connection. So I promise to be more regular. I never knew it would take so long. But getting an internet and cable connection in Chennai is harder than getting a green card. The cable operators here don't understand a word of English or Hindi. That is strange considering that half the channels they sell are in those languages. And to anyone who doesn't speak in Tamil they quote twice the rates.

One month in Chennai and I have learnt just one Tamil word. Nanri, which means Thank you. But yesterday I learnt my very first lesson, which will go a long way in making my stay in Chennai a little more peaceful.

Lesson #1: You shouldn't keep your windows open at night.

I always wondered why none of the locals kept their windows open. I thought it was because of the fear of robbers. None of the buildings here have watchmen. The street dogs double up as security guards. Anyways coming back to my open window story, by the time I woke up in the morning I had mosquito bites all over. Even my face wasn't spared. I thought I'd need blood transfusion considering the amount of blood I had lost. I thought I would join a gym here to keep fit, but swatting the mosquitoes everyday before I go to sleep is exercise enough.

Quote for the day: "The only man who behaved sensibly was my tailor; he took my measurement anew every time he saw me, while all the rest went on with their old measurements and expected them to fit me." -- George Bernard Shaw.

By the way here are some rangoli pics from my neighbourhood. Hope you like them.

Saturday, 2 January 2010

Enhanced - Part 2

She: Isn't it strange that men and women come together, and try to live together, when they can't even speak the same language?

Me: Huh?

She: Exactly! That's exactly what I mean!

Me: I don't get it.

Friday, 1 January 2010

Christmas on the Streets of Chennai

~ My dad works in the airline industry, which is why I have traveled to many parts of the world. And thanks to globalisation, technology and everything else, I've never felt like a tourist barring a few exceptions like Italy and China. However, Chennai made me feel like one. Chennai could very well have been part of Sri Lanka or Burkina Faso for all I care. I couldn't identify with the people there. Nor could I relate to their styles of dressing, talking or for that matter, eating. They don't even speak the same language as me. But the people there are really sweet and genuine. And that somehow makes up for the rest.

~ Initially the plan was to learn to speak a few basic sentences. But that proved tough. So I thought I'd learn to write instead as Tamil and Sanskrit have some similarities. However, the Tamil script is even more confusing. It looks like an assorted set of jalebis gone wrong. Don't you think so? So I have finally resorted to sign language. Little did I know that the long hours of dumb charades that I played when I was little would come of such great use.

~ When it comes to reservation, Tamil Nadu is a step ahead of even our own educational institutes. In buses, half of the seats are reserved for women. Another four seats for elderly people. Two seats for expectant mothers. And one seat for the conductor! I'm still waiting for the day when I can put my butt prints on one of Chennai's local bus seats. Which is why traveling to work is the most challenging part of my job. Shell scripting and working on non graphical user interface based operating systems seem mundane in comparison.

~ The people in Chennai take their education very seriously. And are mighty proud of it too. On the name plate of each house is displayed a mini resume. This contains the degrees the person has acquired, the company he/she has worked in and other noteworthy achievements. Which is why the name plates seem more like tiny hoardings. Something like,

Chandrashekar Balakrishnan,
IIT Madras, Civil Engineer (B. Tech),
University of Washington (M. Tech),
Deloitte Consultancy.

is not uncommon to see on the nameplate of a house.

Post Script: Merry Christmas and a very happy New Year, dear blog readers :)

Question of the day: How do 'Do not walk on grass' signs get there?

Christmas Quote for the day: Santa Claus has the right idea. Visit people once a year.