Thursday, 23 June 2016

Paradise Lost

I haven't posted on this blog for a long time. No inspiration you see. But events in the past few years from 2014 onwards have created an unrest within me. A need to get things out, shout out the frustrations and indignation that I feel festering inside. These usually come out as discussions and debates with my wife, but tend to degenerate into arguments (heated) and unsatisfactory endings. (which have to be taken care of in the bedroom).

The wife thinks I take things personally and am of the mentality of my way or the highway, and as such am incapable of having a logical and unbiased discussion or debate. I initially dismissed the idea as absurd, since school I have striven to be liberal, equal towards all genders, castes, creeds etc., I couldn't have turned into a bigot surely. But, deeper introspection reveals the seeds are there and slowly but surely, I have started leaning more right than I would like to admit. Hence the post, get it all out, try to make sense of it and re-calibrate my needle to the good ol' position of centre, leaning right. This post may get very long and it may take me ages to complete and at some point of time I might decide to turn it into a series.

As a kid, my friend circle was diverse. Yes, I was a Brahmin, but it mattered not, we weren't rich, and I went to a convent school. Imagine, a family with strong RSS roots. My father did try to get me enrolled into a shakha, but I was too lazy...:) Anyway, I did not care that the guy who sat next to me was a lingayat, the guy whose 'tiffin' I shared was a Fernandes and that girl I had a crush on was a muslim. That was how it was. NONE of us cared. The first time I was introduced to the world of castes was when read it in the history books. But it was all a world of stories and things that happened in the past. No one went Sati anymore, there were no outcasts or lower castes etc. in my world. But it began to dawn on me that the world my parents had sought for me had no such barriers. As I grew up, I started seeing the walls, layer by layer, but we were young, hot blooded and weren't going to give up the girl of our dreams just because we were of different castes (tribute to a close friend and his wife, who did have to fight the caste barrier).

where is the country where no one cared about caste and religion.
why are we not discussing and taking care of the real issues.
why has the media gone so haywire and nuts?
what has happened to our politicians? 
Why won't we debate and discuss?
What are we doing as a community?
why is it suddenly a sin to be a practising Hindu in India?
why haven't we separated religion and state?

These and more questions keep bothering me. I grew up thinking it was us the village folk who really cared about castes and creed, that the urban population would have shed these shackles, that educated politicians would really think of this country as a whole, and not just their petty differences, egos, abyss like pockets and votes.

India is a such a land of opportunity and potential. And although I am not in India right now (so many will call my opinions here pointless), I do hope to come back and have the chance to live a happy and safe life with my family and kids, not worrying about rash drivers, whether I can trust the maid or the bus driver driving my kids to school, be satisfied that what my kids see on the news is real and not twisted junk, that their hard work gets them good grades and admissions to the colleges they deserve, that my wife is not passed over for a promotion cause she has kids, and the list goes on. I hope we come to our senses. Right now, it sure looks like paradise lost.


Saturday, 14 February 2015

The International Experience

I have been wanting to "pen" this one down for ages. I was simply worried that it might not be right or correct to write this post. But I could not move on either, hence the long delay since my last post almost 6 months ago.  Finally i have decided to write this post down, first I need to get it out of my system and second, unless I write this, I wont move on and I so want to post more.

It is said international experience changes a person. Exposure to other cultures and communities and people who live differently, in different environments makes one more mature. You see the wider scope of things, the problems other people face, their beliefs and perceptions.

But does this really happen? It did happen to me, I guess, I started counting my blessings for having been born and brought up in India and for being borne into a Hindu family. This was achieved after a lot of comparison between what we have in India and the conditions/ situations / environment faced by the people I was surrounded with. But then is the international experience supposed to make me compare lifestyles? It seems to imply a higher level of maturity, of understanding other people's points of view, becoming a person wiser in the ways of the world and what not. For me, it simply boiled down to a head to head comparison as I got a more and more exposed to the differences in my life in India and the life of the people I was surrounded by.

I felt sorry for the apparent lack of democracy and empowerment and the poverty of the people of Zimbabwe, a country which is rich in natural resources, but then so is the case with Jharkhand. But the rest of India lives a life of liberty and freedom pretty much. I felt envious of the Zimbabweans for the large tracts of empty land they have with no people to occupy it and I felt bad for the overcrowded cities of India with no room to expand.

I felt belittled by the civic sense and driving of both Zimbabweans and the English, I have now nervous ticks about driving in India after getting used to such disciplined and rule-following driving in both these countries. I felt sorry for the Brits, where shopping is a nightmare and they don't have the concept of Maximum Retail Price which allows every store owner to set his/her own price on goods. That makes good market for superstores. But then again, its possible to return goods and get your money back in so many ways and so easily, we don't have that kind of trust in India.

I felt bitter in the British winter and was frustrated by the changing weather everyday; I really am not used to looking at the weekend forecast  to plan my day, in India I basically know if its going to rain or stay dry depending on the month. And understood completely why they long for the sunny beaches of Goa. I miss you so, Colva beach!!

I envy the quality of life the English have, with the nice public transport and the polite rule following population and beautiful countryside, how they work 35 hrs a week or how even a plumber can make enough to live comfortably or the extent of medical treatment covered by the extensive albeit strained National Health Service. I feel bad for the old people here who are left to fend for themselves but at the same time feel happy that there are charities and agencies which are working to provide them support. In India most parents still have connections and support from their kids but in case they don't we lack any kind of support infrastructure or systems.

Its is noteworthy how the British have preserved their old buildings and landmarks, parts of the cities and towns have been preserved well. they would rather move slowly or develop elsewhere rather than pull down old beautiful buildings. They even keep renovating the hundreds of years old buildings bit by bit, as a result of which they look new on the outside and are modern on the inside too. How many of our old buildings converted to government offices have gone to pot and later torn down to simply be replaced by concrete monstrosities? Then again, there hasn't been any kind of construction in Zimbabwe for the past 15 years.

I had made a list of comparative notes, but after writing just these few, I feel it was an unnecessary exercise, I know I want to go back, Goa will always be 'home'. Yet as I understand now, I know how things can go wrong and I know how 'good' things can be. I really hope the new regime makes it possible for all Indians living abroad to come back and with them bring all the good they have seen, heard and experienced and add it to the country's already better than most conditions. I guess that's what they mean by the International Experience.


Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Stranger in my own home

About a month and a half ago. I returned from Harare. My stint was over and there was no chance of me going back to Harare. At least not with the same employer.

It felt really wonderful to be back. Familiar sights, smells, roads, buildings etc. But a lot had changed. And I do not mean just the roads and buildings and the scenery, but myself.

Since 2009, I have consistently been staying away from home. Delhi, Shimla, Dehradun, Chandigarh, Bangalore and finally Harare. Coming home after such a long time for an extended stay is a unsettling experience.

As days went by I realised with great distraught that I had forgotten old haunts, shortcuts, roads, out of the way pubs and eateries. I was suddenly unaware of what to buy where and information did not come readily. It took a lot of prodding and head scratching to remember all of my accumulated knowledge of Goa. I had to travel many roads anew to rebuild the linkages in my head.

Does this happen to everyone? I mean its so embarrassing to have to ask directions in your own backyard. I knew most of Goa like the back of my hand and well, to not be that knowledgeable anymore is such a drag.

But its not only about places and directions etc. One tends to forget everyday stuff. Suddenly, I feel like a guest in my own home. I dont know the delivery schedules, I do not know the new postman or the new maid, do not know what soap we buy currently, am unaware of where dad now keeps his extra tools.

It is disturbing to the extent that one half of me wishes I had never left, while the other half wishes I had never returned.

It is really wonderful to be home. Havent had the chance to see the monsoon drench Goa in 5 years. Had not partaken of mom made home food in ages. But despite all of this and being surrounded by loved ones. I feel like a stranger in my own home.

Saturday, 29 March 2014

Illogical Humans!!

Some times I really wonder how Mr Spock survived in the Star trek Universe in the company of so many humans. I mean, human emotions and their driven actions must surely always be an irritant to Mr Spock. And considering the fact that he was part human, I am sure it must have been a daunting task to control that side from expressing the frustration, anger and indignation at illogical human behavior. What an irony!!

What makes me think of Spock here, is that I find myself increasingly in similar positions when concerns my fellow humans beings in my immediate surroundings these days. I am usually very calm and composed, avoiding conflict, unnecessary confrontation and that sort. This is due to the self awareness that I have a very short fuse and I am capable of serious stuff when enraged. But that is besides the point.

What irks me most is why people have to form an opinion about my personal life. I have colleagues, I never ask or bother to find out about their personal lives except for the occasional query regarding the general well being of their near and dear ones. I do not find it appealing to spend my personal time with the same bunch of people, with whom I have spent the whole day working. In fact I like to spend my personal time alone, reading if possible. But here the work load is so great, I usually spend it working.... alone.

Still, people have a weird affinity to explore other people's personal lives, speculate and discuss and form opinions and theories, and all that in the absence of the person whose private life is in question. Why do we need this. Work done, go and have fun, watch TV, relax, read, talk to your folks etc. Even when you sit down and discuss, there are a million things neutral and impersonal that could be discussed. No one discusses anything of importance, and give me stares when I explain why a spider's legs curl up when it dies. We have five engineers in the house, it takes one scientist to fix a malfunctioning toilet flush. Grown men are unable to wash their own underwear and I have to put my foot down about some ground rules. Grown men are unable to wash their own plates when the maid is on leave.

What makes a person so callous about the little things that add discipine, dignity and elegance to life. I wonder, is it the society to blame? Is poor parenting to blame? or is a person by himself/herself to blame? 

And while I am sitting here complaining about why people have to form an opinion about my personal life, I am doing the same. I guess we humans are all illogical to an extent.

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

A holiday in Zimbabwe

Its been roughly seven months since I arrived here in Zimbabwe. Most of it has been spent working 15-18 hours a day giving rise to complaints and accusations of me ignoring my family, the wife etc. even leading to a time when my wife refused to communicate with me.

While many a married man may find that a pleasant thought, I for one very much like my wife talking to me, because that makes sure I don't have to say anything, which is just as well since I usually don't have anything much to say or talk about these days except work.

But it was all worth it. All the hard work, long hours and ignoring the family paid off finally when it came to cashing in my chips. The wife and me went on a holiday!!

But planning and putting together the holiday was by itself a daunting task. You see, while I am in Harare, Zimbabwe, the wife is in Oxford, UK, also working also constrained by the fact the since she'd just joined in August 2013, there could be a problem getting leave. But all went well and she got the leave.

The next challenge was whether or not a yellow fever vaccination was required, since the shortest (and the cheapest) route for the wife to come to Harare and then return was via any of the African airlines or British Airways. British airways, like the Indian airlines was beyond the farthest reaches of my imagination in terms of pricing. Of the affordable ones, Egyptair was immediately screened considering the situation in Cairo. Kenya was out since I was not aware of the current status of the Nairobi airport, which left us with Addis Ababd or the middle east, We chose Addis Ababa. But I digress, the real issue was the yellow fever vaccination requirement for the UK and try as I might, I could not find a single decent and proper reference to whether we require the vaccination to safely enter the UK after a visit to Addis and Harare.

India has a fairly clearly defined policy. You either have the yellow fever vaccination when entering the country from Africa or spend 7 days in quarantine. A particular document on yellow fever vaccination by the World Health Organisation mentions all the policies different countries have on yellow fever and has the aforementioned information in the column next to India. But when one goes down the list all the way to UK, the document simply says no policy. That's kinda disappointing, considering how terribly systematic and organised the British are. Since one document discovered through Google is not sufficient proof, I went to the UK embassy to find out straight from the horse's mouth or the visa department. Well they seemed to be pretty confident of the fact that the vaccine wasn't required.

In the meanwhile 2 things had happened. First; 10 days had passed since we had last identified the route and second; the airlines had hiked prices by almost 40 to 50%. 

The reason for this downright foulplay by the airlines was due to the fact that the wife was planning to visit around Christmas, which is major holiday in UK as well as Zimbabwe, I cannot and will not say about other countries just for the fact that I haven't been there to witness Christmas time. (Note to self - Write a separate blog post on Christmas in Zimbabwe). Anyway, the tickets had become costlier and the yellow fever vaccination cost us more than time.

Then there was the Zimbabwean visa. Multiple trips to the visa office in Harare, an invitation letter, copies of my temporary employment permit, passport, proof of residence, wife's photos, etc. two visits to London (where the wife was completely smitten by the museum of natural history (why oh Why did i marry a scientist)) and some 50 odd pounds later, the wife was the proud owner of a double entry visa for Zim.

Ah, yes, the ticket. I forget about that. That's another interesting story by itself. Ethiopian airlines allows online booking of tickets. I did just that, worked out 200 US Dollars cheaper than the real thing. But then there is a catch, a weird rule that states that the credit card holder whose card has been used to book tickets needs to be present at the airport or be a traveler. Weird, really weird. Thank god for small mercies for there was a way out. I had to go to a nearest office and verify my personal details and the credit card used to book the tickets. I only had to do it three times, but the ticket was booked, confirmed and the wife was all ready to come.

I will not go into the details of how I managed to pass the one month in anticipation of the wife's arrival or how I managed to wrap up all work possible before the wife's arrival. I am jumping (finally to the holiday)

The plan was to go to Victoria Falls, a well known tourist place. I figured, if I am to spend a holiday and the anniversary in Zimbabwe, might as well as go to Vic falls. I got special permission to use the company vehicle. Its a small Honda Fit, a nice family vehicle with an automatic transmission bought second hand by the office for local use.

Victoria falls is roughly 700 kms from Harare, but I was reluctant to travel by bus and flight was too expensive. By road, with a personal vehicle was the only viable option, but then again just the two of us all alone is also risky.

Zimbabwe is not a very populous country, its 12 million odd population is very thinly spread with large tracts of land uninhabited or scarcely inhabited. When travelling by road, this usually results in large stretches of road being devoid of any and all traffic, people or animals of any kind. (I actually drove at a constant 140-145 even touching 160 at times.) This makes travelling alone or without sufficient company a tad dangerous.

Now, I have a colleague here who has the luxury of living in Zimbabwe with his wife. The idea was that us two couples would go to Victoria falls together. That would make for interesting company and we wont be alone travelling to Vic falls.

But the problem was that my colleague stays in Masvingo, and he did not get the permission to use office vehicle for his visit to Victoria falls. Also he does not have a valid licence, of any kind. My Indian license is pretty much accepted by the cops here and although I am frequently pulled over and asked for my driving license, the Indian license I have seems to suffice. (I guess the cops know that if I can drive in India and survive for this long, I can be trusted to drive safely in Zimbabwe).

Back to the topic, the friend lives in Masvingo, I needed to pick him up and drive to Vic falls, which makes it an extra 300 kms. I was very sceptical about driving 1000 plus kms in a single stretch so I decided to halt overnight at Masvingo. the four of us had a cookout and grilled some sausages and pork chops. It was fun.

We set out for Vic falls the next day. the journey was largely uneventful except for the last 60 kms where our fuel low light was on and there was not a petrol station in sight. But out little car made it to Victoria Falls and we heaved a sigh of relief after we topped up the tank.

After a well deserved rest and good sleep, we set out to explore the falls. We went right up to the Zimbabwe - Zambia border where we entered the rain forest bordering the falls which is a protected area. We walked along its entire length being constantly awed by its grandeur and also drenched by the mist rising up due to the impact of the water. it was fun. The water wasn't at its best due to the dry season, but it was good since some rain had already taken place. Some photos:








Half a day was gone. The plans for the afternoon included an elephant ride, an evening safari and then a open air dinner.

The elephant ride was a bit different from India. But we managed to see a real full grown lion and hear him too. The elephant ride lasted for an hour almost after which every one had cramps in their legs. The organizers then allowed us to pet and feed the pachyderms. The mahouts / handlers were rewarding them with bits of processed food containing soy, some grain etc. To me it looked like the poor things were addicted to it.

Then came the evening safari. We had a very enthusiastic ranger /guide and he knew his way about. But the wife was clearly the star of the evening. I have never seen someone so excited and positively besides themselves with glee. The wife firing questions left right and center. Kinda reminded me of Sheldon in a train museum. She was so immersed into the safari, she even managed to trump the ranger in spotting animals in the bush, and that's not easy. Eventually we managed to see a black rhino, some zebras, a giraffe, hippos, kudu, impala etc before night time.

Coming back in the dark was an even better experience with the open jeep and the cool night air and the absolute absence of any and all light except the headlights of the car.

The day ended with a buffet with other tourists who had signed up and then a ride home to the hotel. That was just end of day 1.

Day 2 saw us get up at the crack of dawn to be picked up by another company which is actually working towards rehabilitation of lions and use the lions as a special attraction to raise funds.

The idea was to have an hour long walk with the lions, interact with them and have some fun. There were two lionesses, not yet full grown, but large enough. And we were walking behind them mostly, petting them when they sat down and had a good morning walk in general. It was good, plus the information we got about the conservation programme made it worthwhile.

the wife was absolutely thrilled about the whole experience, I was afraid she might want one, and for the briefest moments I was lost in imagining a future where we have a pet lion or a lioness......never mind.

The afternoon was pretty much free, but we had booked an adventure activity. The bridge between the Zimbabwe and Zambian borders is a place for much adventure sports. There's bungee jumping, swinging over the gorge and then there is the zip line. A line across the gorge to which paid tourists are strapped and sent across. It was fun, we all had a go, it was short and we did not experience much of an adrenaline rush, but then again it was fun and I am afraid of heights!

We had good fun at the hotel close by, tried out some food, watching people jump of the bridge with a rubber band tied to their legs. But this was not all. This was a special day. This was the 3rd Anniversary for the wife and me. The evening was a lovely dinner in a local restaurant. Although it was not gourmet, the food was good, steaks and all and the hotel had champagne!!

We started back the next day early morning, making back to Masvingo by evening (My speed being hampered by the presence of cops on multiple occasions with speed guns). Dropping my colleague and his wife back in Masvingo, we stopped for the night and left for Harare the next morning. 

That was the end of the official holiday. Although this was just 5 days, all the 15 days that the wife was here was a holiday. It was one of the best ones I had, and just because Mukta was here. I could have gone to Victoria Falls with all my colleagues and stayed longer and done more stuff, but it still would not be as memorable as the one with Mukta. She adds her own flavour and touch to everything.

I look forward to more such holidays. And here's hoping I can see more of this wonderful world with Mukta.

Monday, 22 July 2013

Priorities

Its been  2 months since I have begun my new adventure in Zimbabawe. Contrary to popular belief, its a thriving society, with kind, good natured albeit greedy people, striving to get back on its feet after the economic meltdown a decade ago.

I thought the going would be tough. Its much more than tough, its brutal, but I find myself enjoying it. The pressure, the multitasking, developing people skills, the responsibility and the the multiple roles that I am playing here seem to give me a rush, the same kind of rush that I felt when I was working my own gig at Goa in 2006-2008.

But, in this rush, I seem to have forgotten that I am now a married man, that part of my free time, all if possible, belongs to my family. So engrossed am I in my work, that I am finding myself thinking more of work and less of the family I left back home. Is this normal? Is there something wrong with me? What makes one forget some things while remembering others? What makes ME, remember to call up every single contractor, contact and client, but forget to save time for the family? 

I hate to think of the possible answers. Some might say I remember stuff that I am most interested in or stuff that excites me, gives me satisfaction and happiness. But nothing gives me more satisfaction than seeing my wife on the webcam, nothing excites me more than hearing her lovely voice on the phone. Then why do I forget to make time for her? Self doubt raises it ugly, sinister head. Am I a bad husband? Am I self obsessed and self centered? and the lot.

But I guess, its another of those lessons in life, where logic must prevail over emotions. No matter how excited my work may be, no matter how much I get to learn; there must always be time for family. Maybe if Mukta was here, I would not be looking for incomplete tasks after dinner or before breakfast. Maybe if Mukta was here, I would stop working at 6 pm and start only after 8 am.

If only. I already regret not bringing her here with me, but I believe her career as important than mine, maybe even more. I feel so proud of her PhD and her bright future. Makes me smile everytime. Makes me want to tell the world how proud I am of Mukta and I find myself telling everyone who cares to listen what a brilliant scientist my wife is.

And yet, here I am writing this blog, when I should be picking up the phone and calling her. But then its late and she is on vacation. I guess the call can wait unbtil tomorrow morining, when the time is right for both of us.

Until tomorrow morning.

Sunday, 7 July 2013

Dirty, Lying Scoundrels

I used to find it unfair at the way, men and women have been stereotyped in my country. If you are a man and a stranger, people wont trust you easily, wont have faith in what you say. Any crime will automatically be attributed to the man etc etc.

While in case of a woman, ah things are different, non one will believe a woman can be distrustful, or conniving or a cheat. Its only after she has done that, will people wake up.

But as I have been moving around North India, working with different people from different walks of life, varied levels of income, education levels etc etc. I have slowly but surely come to realise that the general public are not at fault. Most of the men I have met are such disgusting people in their personal lives, one peek and I feel ashamed to be associated with the guy.

No matter what their education, why do so many men show so much disrespect to their wives. I mean, even the present times, she ha to serve these guys food, hot of the oven/stove ans she has to eat after the husband and children are done.

Arguements will be loud, and laced with expletives, unnecessary. There are no requests or instructions, there are just orders to the woman. 

Fidelity is an all time low. Looking at other females and admiring their beauty is one thing. I do it myself sometimes. I see nothing wrong as long as I stop there. Aspiring to get to know other such females intimately and thinking about every good looking woman that way, disgusting, especially when one is married. But I have come across many who do that, and all I can do is say to myself; thats the last time I spent time with this nut.

Wake up guys, you are giving men a bad name. I like to make friends, guys and gals. I dont want gals wondering, whether I am only interested in getting into their pants, neither do I want guys discussing with me how to find girls to pick up and get in their pants.