Saturday, June 28, 2014

Postcards from Thailand - Part II

Finally managing to take out that most precious commodity - time. And posting the sequel to Postcards from Pattaya

Bangkok - A city where the traditional and the modern intertwine

A 5.5 ton gold statute of Gautam Buddha. Majestic, grand and spiritual at the same time

Its Buddhist country and the temples are covered in beautiful murals all over

The knight protecting the Swarnabhumi airport

A depiction of the mythical Samudra Manthan - bang in the middle of the airport

Little orangutans announcing the start of a orangutan show. Notice that a little chimpanzee has also sneaked in at the end of the line

Depiction of the floating market

It started raining. And a peacock spread its feathers in welcome.

When you have awards like this, no wonder the country is neat and clean

Monday, June 23, 2014

Meru Cabs - Never Again

I had been booking with Meru Cabs for my intra-city travels specially where being in time was of primary importance. And their reliability had been the major factor in being a loyal customer for years now. In fact, even though the number of such services have multiplied, Meru has been the service of choice for me. Only when they haven't been able to confirm a booking request would I look for alternatives.

However, one incident in the past week has changed the entire perception. 

Had to take a flight in the morning. Keeping in mind the rush hour traffic and potential weather related exigencies, the cab was booked a day in advance. And was happy in the knowledge that the booking request had been confirmed via both sms and e-mail.

On the morning of the flight, at the fixed time, got ready to go but no cab came and neither was there any message. A little worried about missing the flight, I called up Meru. After being on hold for a few minutes, the message is conveyed that no cabs are available. And a cab "might" be arranged if someone becomes available. On being asked why was the booking confirmed, was told the slots were available at the time of booking. But now no cab is available. Now whatever this was supposed to mean. 

A furious me then took the luggage and walked over to the nearest taxi stand (some 0.5 km away) and managed to hail a black and yellow cab. A few minutes later got a call from one Meru driver but I just said no thanks. Given the half an hour delay in the drama, was lucky to reach the airport barely in time and managed to board my flight.

What really pissed me off, thought, was not the cab not turning up, but the fact that Meru Cabs made no effort in communicating the issue. And there was absolutely no apology from their side. Taking a customer for granted. The chief reason for taking a Meru had been reliability but they had failed completely in this regard. Hence have decided that will not be using the Meru services in the future. After all there are multiple operators in this business now.

Now I also needed to vent out my anger. So during my taxi ride to the airport, tweeted about it. Got a couple of responses that a Meru not turning up inspite of a "confirmed" booking is not an uncommon issue (though it happened to me for the first time). After some time got a reply from Meru Cares handle asking to for issue details. However, I had already resolved the issue and had also resolved never again to use Meru's services. And getting a standardized automated response from a bot doesn't actually help in any issue resolution.

So Good-bye Meru Cabs, you won't be taking me for a ride ever again.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

La Albiceleste

The 2014 World Cup Football begins today.

The Beautiful Game. Joga Bonito. Copa Mundial. Brazuca. Ole Ole Ole vs La La La. Fuleco - will be some of the terms in everyday parlance over the next month filled with sleepless nights.

There is a certain charm associated with the FIFA World Cup which probably no other sporting event bar the Olympics has. And it has a special attraction to the Indian sports fan too. India has never played in World Cup Finals and doesn't come close to qualifying for even the later stages of the Asian Qualifiers. Anyway, we as a nation are better at watching sports than playing any (with the exception of cricket).

So every 4 years, without being burdened by any sense of false patriotism, we adopt a team as our own. Most of us become Brazilians or Argentines, a few are Germans, and lesser numbers become Spaniards and Portugese. There maybe a few Dutch and English too lurking amongst us. But till date haven't come across any supporter of our fellow Asian or African teams.Though once the group stage is over any underdog still remaining standing gets our whole-hearted support (excepting when the underdog is playing against us i.e. Argentina/Brazil/Germany/Spain). 

As for me, always been a die-hard Argentina supporter (or at least since 1990 when I became aware of the existence of an event called World Cup football). Argentina were the defending champions and were lead by the legendary figure of Diego Maradona - a genius and yet the most flawed one ever. Enough reason to declare cent percent support to the men in White and Sky Blue. That year's bumpy journey ended via a penalty against the West Germans in the final. Since then its been a heart-breaking journey for any Argentina fan, not even making semis in five attempts. But my support loyalty to them has remained unwavered.

Inspite of the heartbreaks, and there have been many, there has been a certain thrill from supporting Argentina every time. The likes of Batistuta, Cannigia, Crepso, Sorin et al have always threatened to light up the tournament and take home the trophy yet somehow have never delivered. They have always given samples like this

The greatest team goal in the history of the tournament against Serbia & Montenegro in 2006 (Video)

Argentina are certainly amongst the strongest contenders for the championships just behind the hosts Brazil. And Lionel Messi would certainly want to etch his name amongst the footballing Gods with a victory. The squad has the deadliest attack force (as always) in Messi, Higuain & Aguero though weaker in defence (again as always). They certainly have the strength to carry them from a relatively easy group into the knock-outs from whereon it becomes a matter of performing on the 4 key days. Which this squad is certainly capable of.

Well, as always hoping for the success of the La Albiceleste. Although if they do lose there is always this song to take solace in (or cry along to) for all the fans.

Although given that after God even the Pope is now an Argentine, there is no reason for Argentina not to win. 

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Elections - Many Villains & A Few Heroes

The seemingly never-ending elections in India have finally come to an end. Well there is the small matter of counting of the votes, potentially some "horse-trading" and the actual government formation. 

The long drawn campaign and multi-phase voting has taken its own toll. The real issues corruption, price rise, good governance, development slowly took a back seat. Personalities took over almost as if this had become a presidential form of election when in reality the voters were voting for their local Members of Parliament who would then go on to elect the Prime Minister, a message which got lost in the hullabaloo of the elections.

Since the campaign changed into a personality driven one, the level of personal attacks also increased. And here the social media is the one which must take all the blame. Over-zealous & bigoted "bhakts" & "tards" twisted every single statement to suit their own agenda. And trigger-happy "followers" propagated all sorts of lies or rather their "version of truth". Photoshopped images, cartoons, out of context quotes were circulated. And as everyone thinks it is their duty to circulate without a basic fact check, the unthruths and rumors propagated further. Reminds me of the quote - "A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on" - Winston Churchill.

The list of villains is long - the politicians, bhakts and tards, their muscle & money suppliers, some biased officials, the media. All of them preying on the gullible voters to ensure that they get to power and keep growing their influence and bank balance. After all voters get swayed easily. No one I have interacted with (very limited set of friends, family and colleagues though) thinks about how their own life changed in the past five years (whether for good or bad) and factors that in as a parameter for voting for or against the incumbent government.

There are some real heroes in this story, but as is often the case, they remain unsung. Kudos and thanks to all the people working behind the scenes to ensure elections actually happen on the ground. The booth officials, magistrates, security forces and the vote counting teams, they are the real heroes of the elections. They are pulled out of their regular work to ensure voting happens in every nook and cranny of this vast country. And they are the ones to face the ire of unregistered voters, missing names, party agents, megalomaniac candidates and sometimes physical violence and terror attacks. They are the ones who deserve the true accolades from the public but do we hear anyone ever appreciate them.

So now as the dust settles around the elections, hopefully we will have a government, which will take strong decisions. Because another side-effect of this long-drawn process has been a complete paralysis on the policy front on account of a "model code of conduct" being in place. Well, all I can say about this code is that i have no idea of the model, but the conduct was bad all-around. 

As is said, elections are the Dance of Democracy. The dance has taken place. The show is over. Now lets back to the small business of life. After all it is you, who is responsible for your own life, the government is only a distant enabler.

Saturday, May 03, 2014

Postcards from Pattaya

After quite a long hiatus, the travel section of the blog makes a return. This time bringing postcards  from Pattaya (Thailand). Its a coastal area, adjacent to the Gulf of Thailand, with lovely beaches and lots of water sports options. Being quite a small place can be easily be covered in a couple of days.

It is the land of the White Elephant, so such depictions were quite the norm.

The picture perfect Pattaya city beach-front. Although the construction activity and the cranes do spoil the view.

A structure on the beach

On the Beach Road

The Ripley's museum is one highlight of the city. Located in Royal Garden Plaza on the Beach Road. Pictured above is holographic representation of Robert Ripley himself talking about his life and works
Buddha image made of tiny bells

Little figures like this welcomed you wherever you went

Killing the English Language. Also probably the only 7 Star open air "reataurant"

Well, the signs clearly show what you must not do on the boat.

Overall a fun-filled place.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

'Tis Election Time, Folks

India is in the midst of its biggest festival - the general elections. And this time the battle is really dirty. Helped by the internet and social media, untruths, slanders, allegations all are floating around in this political cesspool. And a campaign which started on the planks of "development", "anti-corruption" & "empowerment" has now turned into slew of  "hate speeches", "communalism" and slander.

And in the midst of all this comes this awesome rap campaign video by Javed Jaffery.

One may not agree to his political leanings but the video sums up all the issues facing the country as well as anyone can. The issues are laid bare but again no solution to counter them is presented. Yet the video for all the negativity it shows does bring about a whiff of fresh air in this increasingly brutal and dirty campaign

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Encounters of the Weird Kind - Indian Currency

Travel - the best way of learning about this big bad world and its ways. Sharing with readers a "weird" experience that I had recently.

City - Bangkok. 
It was evening time and we were passing time in one of the shopping malls in the main market. While walking around a man stops us. He is accompanied by a lady and a kid. What follows is a pretty weird conversation.
Him: "Excuse me"
Me: "Yes"
Him: "Which place are you from"
Me: "India" [no alarms here]
Him: "Which part of India?"
Me: "Mumbai" [no alarm bells yet]
Him: "I am from Dubai.And would be visiting Mumbai soon. Can you tell me where I can buy sarees from?"
Me: [slightly confused but] "there are many such shops all over Mumbai"
Him: "Ok. What currency you use in India?"
Me: "Rupees" [now am curious on the way the conversation is steering]
Him: "So is it like the Pakistani Rupee or different?"
Me: "It is different" [Confusion deepens]
Him: "Can I see the currency?"
Me: "Don't have any at the moment" [which was the truth as only Thai Baht present at that time. But now alarm bells have started ringing]
Him: "Please check you may have some"
Me: [Slightly perturbed now]: "No i don't" [And am not going to take out my wallet here in front of you]
Him: "You must be having some. My friend told me that I needed to get dollars stamped to convert them to rupees and thats why I wanted to look at the currency"
Me: "I don't think so" [Now alarm bells became sirens]
Him: "I want to see the rupees"
Me: "Well I don't have any" [Situation becoming increasingly uncomfortable]
Him: "Its Ok & Thanks"
Me: "OK"
End of conversation. All this while neither the lady nor the kid said a word. And then both parties walked away. We tried to disappear as fast as possible from there.

Maybe it was nothing. Maybe it was just genuine curiosity on his part. Or maybe it was some scam which I managed to successfully avoid.
But I certainly was left perturbed by this almost desperation to see Indian Rupees in a foreign country.

Anyone else with a similar story?

Thursday, February 06, 2014

Winter Olympics without the Indian Flag

Our great sports administrators have finally done it. They have ensured that India is out of the Olympic movement. The corrupt and power-hungry nincompoops, heading the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) whose only interest in running the sports bodies is the money which they can make out of it,  have ensured that the Indian flag is not raised at the Winter Olympics being held in Sochi. 

Here is how the events unfolded?
In December 2012 the IOC suspended IOA due to non adherence of rules and corruption charges. This came after Mr. Kalmadi (who had been earlier suspended on account of Commonwealth Games corruption charges) was reinstated as President of IOA. The IOC wanted fresh elections. Our useless sports administrators finally (reluctantly) agreed but the election date was set after the commencement of the Sochi Games. IOC then refused to lift the suspension. And hence IOA cannot participate in the Games.

A truly miserable state of affairs. All this sums up why we are where we are in the sporting world. Closer to the bottom inspite of having the second biggest population. It becomes worse when one sees countries like Zimbabwe (with bigger social problems) and Tonga (a tiny Pacific island with no winter to speak of) figuring in the list of participating countries while India does not. We always joked about India's poor performances quoting Baron Pierre de Coubertin's Olympic motto - "Participation is more important than winning". But this time the Indian flag is not even participating.

However every cloud has a silver lining. Although India cannot participate in the Games, Indian sports-persons can are still eligible to compete under the Olympic flag. Hence 3 Indian sports-persons are contesting the Games as Independent athletes.

To Shiva Keshavan, Nadeem Iqbal & Himashu Thakur, we Indians are proud of you. Even though the IOA may have let all of us down and you have to participate under the Olympic flag and not the Indian flag, you will still be representing the Indian Sports lovers. Best wishes to all of you.

These athletes have come up without any facilities or real aid from the IOA. If one wants to see how the challenges are winter sports participants face, check out this video of Shiva Keshavan training. There are  no luge facilities in India, so he simulates the competition arena on roads while facing extra obstacles like people, vehicles and animals. Hats off to the spirit.

So in a way it makes me happy that our athletes are participating in the Games but officials are not. The athletes get to compete while the officials don't get their foreign junket. As for the politicians running for the IOA top posts, I don't think that they would even be aware of an event like Winter Olympics.

I hope the government is ashamed (unlikely) and attempts a cleanup job of the IOA. Hopefully  the new IOA will have administrators chosen for their passion for sports and empathy for our sports-persons. Then the ban would have served its purpose. Hopefully the Indian flag comes back soon into the Olympic arena (Or is it too much to wish for?)

Saturday, February 01, 2014

MovieNotes: American Hustle

Movie: American Hustle
*ing: Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams, Jennifer Lawrence, Jeremy Renner
Director: David O Russell
Language: English
Genre: Biopic (based on true events), Crime

  • The Trailer releases, I check the star cast - I want to see this.
  • The Movie releases, the reviews come up - I have to see this.
  • The Award season begins - I have to definitely see this.

Ergo I saw the film.

Basic Premise
A pair of con artists are blackmailed into conducting a con operation on behalf of the government agencies. The end results are interesting to say the least.

After all, as the tagline itself says - "Everyone Hustles to Survive"

Movie Notes
  • "Some of this actually happened" - A fantastic opening credit to keep you further hooked, in the unlikely event of you not having already been hooked on.
  • Best Scene - Opening scenes  of a balding man spending time to strategically brush his hair to ensure that no spot is visible. Brilliantly enacted by Christian Bale.
  • The movie moves at its own pace. Like the opening shot, takes its time to describe the characters. The characters are carefully built up as the story picks them along. Sometimes the pace seems dreary but it also keeps a suspense of something big about to happen.
  • The patience for enduring the slow buildup is the reward in the form of the final twist in the tale. You feel that there is a twist in the game, yet when it came forth, you still got surprised. 
  • For different reasons the climax reminded me of (a) The Shawshank Redemption (for the buildup), and (b) the character of Sirius Black in Harry Potter (mentioned in passing in Book 1 and then going onto become a major character in Book 3)
  • Robert de Niro comes in for one scene. Yes, he is the Godfather.
  • Acting wise Jennifer Lawrence doesn't get much screen time but stands out  even in this cast.
  • One look at Christian Bale as Irving Rosenfeld and you would be hard pressed to imagine that this very same actor was playing the Batman barely two years back. Forget his acting (which is great, by the way) don't think there are many actors who make this much effort to get into the physique of the character.
  • Another movie which captures the 70s life style. For some reason I feel that the 70s had the most distinct look among all the decades gone by.
  • Most annoying part of the film - How do they keep mispronouncing "Sheikh" as "The sheekh". If I was the sheekh I would have stopped doing business with these fellows for just this very reason.
Rating - 9/10. The kind of film which slowly grows on you and then finally entraps you. Overall a great watch.

Previously on MovieNotes - Rush

Monday, January 27, 2014

Rahul Speaks To Arnab

27th January, 2014.
Venue - Times Now 
On one corner - Arnab Goswami known to kachha chabaaoing politicians for dinner daily (Avijit Mukherjee, Meenakshi Lekhi et al will testify)
On the second corner - Rahul Gandhi

So live blogging a political interview. After all जंगल में चुनाव आने वाले हैं. So blog heading to some political frontiers now. Random thoughts which come into my mind while watching the same
  • 1st impression - Rahul Gandhi sounds like a very nervous engineering student trying to remember random theorems and formulae while being grilled by the whole bunch of sadist professors. Also resorting to the same old trick. Answer what you know, need not be the right answer.
  • Why is the interview being held in 3rd person? Arnab - "what does Mr. Rahul Gandhi have to say about...." Rahul - "Rahul Gandhi thinks... Rahul Gandhi wants to do...." Highly annoying.
  • Arnab is giving him space to speak. I am amused, not surprised. Arnab is trapping him. And he is walking into the well laid trap. In India you don't talk 2002 Gujarat and expect not to be roasted for 1984 Sikh riots.
  • Mr. Gandhi can go on and on about his grand mother and father and their sacrifice. But where is his opinion?
  • Sorry Mr. Gandhi every riot is a crime. And there is no distinction between any for the brutality and criminality. "Govt. of Gujarat was abetting the riots"- Ok NaMo fans... A-A-K-R-A-M-A-N. 
  • "I was not involved in the 1984 riots" - Well thank you for clarifying your innocence
  • He is sounding worse and worse with every passing minute. DISASTER Alert
  • See Mr. Goswami, this is what happens when you let people speak. They provide better entertainment. Brilliantly conducted interview Sir.
  • Questions are being asked asked. Answers are being given. But the connection seems to have missing. Reminding me more and more of the grand vivas during the engineering days.
  • Arnab defending press. "The press does not rule the country". And Rahul jumping back on his words.
  • RTI, RTI, RTI. We passed Lokpal bill. All questions lead to an RTI. Irony Alert - From a representative of the party leading the government faced with Himalayan scale corruption charges.
  • Theme of the interview - "We have to change... We have to do...We want to bring in young people..." but where were you for the past ten years? You can't pretend to be opposing the system which you are heading?
  • "I still have faith in the prime minister" - WOW, Good to hear that
  • "Giving haircuts to the bald". Arnab G changes the metaphor. of course he can do what he wants.
  • "Congress is a very powerful organisation... it needs to undergo some transformation" - Frankly I am scared of this power
  • "I am absolutely against the concept of dynasty" -  Irony killed itself
  • I am actually beginning to feel sorry for Rahul Gandhi now. The same pity I feel when I see Suresh Raina trying to face a bouncer.
  • RG trying to smile his way out of trouble. Worked for Joe Root, whose "cute" smile prevented Mitchell Johnson from sledging him. [Aside - England still got hammered in the Ashes]
  • RG's thoughts - Arnab is asking questions which are out of syllabus
  • RG - "Maybe you find me strange". AG - "I don't find you strange" - Hilarious
  • How many "one last question" were asked.
  • Positives for RG -  Credit him for gutsing it out. Sounds sincere but not the leader who will give me my Civics textbook India.
Final comment. Arnab brilliant but Rahul Gandhi disappointed. Social media rejoicing 

P.S. waiting for more such interviews.