Sunday, July 26, 2009

Singapur - Ek Desi ki Yatra - I

With a bit of free time at hand,I have generously decided to unleash the tyranny of my spam mails onto the World Wide Web. It is to be noted that these mails have graced the inboxes of a few (many ?) kindred souls in the recent past. Buoyed by the success of these mails (Don’t ask for statistics, believe me!), I hereby wish to write here, with a few modifications.

Greetings from Camp Singapore (Couldn't Resist this!)

After a brilliant Hindi film climax like situation, I arrived in Singapore. The only difference was that I was trying to decide as to who was the villain. Me and my commonsense were trying to vie for being the Mugambo of this well crafted, unceremoniously shot movie titled “Singapur – Ek Desi ki Yatra”. I shall shed light on my innocence (read: Ignorance) on some red moon day. As for the film, you should lower your expectations considerably, because it has all the offerings of a nonsense flick, unless nonsense makes sense to you. Whatever be the case (and since you have already read so much), I shall take you through the movie, starting with the “Entry”

*Music in background, foreground etc*

With his head held high, he steps into the Changi International Airport (It was preceded by a few hours of frantic calling, cursing and wtf moments as he did not have a Visa to enter Singapore, 6 hrs prior to the scheduled departure). But since he is the Hero, he always manages things at the last moment, overcoming the evil designs of the villain (That would be me again). He smartly boards the SMRT, and gets off at the station near the university.

But his evil adversary, who would be my commonsense again, won the battle. He boarded the wrong bus and ended up in another part of the campus. Not bad you would say, if you omit the fact that he had to drag over 30kgs of luggage for the odd kilometer at midnight. Anyways, reached and crashed onto my bed.

*Suddenly remembers he is a business student, and he is making a movie & gets haunting images of Choti making Dhai kilo ka haath dance . Decides that like a true powerpoint bhakt, he shall now write in bullet points only !

Had our orientation and met almost all the exchange students on Campus, about 170 of them. I won’t bore you with the list of countries, but met people from Iran, Bangladesh, Norway, Sweden, Vietnam, Hong Kong, Denmark, Philippines, Netherlands, UK, US, Canada and a few Desis too!

Later in the evening, we went out with an American and Phillipino to 7107 Flavours, a restaurant dedicated to Philipino cuisine. Rowena ordered all the food and it was brilliant,

Geeky stuff: 7107 is the number of islands that make up the Philippines. Hence the name

As Chacha would like it, a few key learnings or Constructs from my first days here

1. It’s very easy to talk to people if you know about their History, Culture and Music. Though I am hopelessly challenged with the latter, I do a decent job at the former. Its good fun to ask a Swede why there is no Nobel Prize for Mathematics and he wouldn't know. You tell him and he will remember you for sure

2. Having varied experiences helps a lot. I am a Mechanical Engineer, with IT work Experience, Studying Communications management, majoring in marketing and thanks to mathew have some knowledge of social sciences. Breaking the ice becomes much easier.

3. Indian currency - Koi Izzat nahi hai .. Such a weak currency :(

4. Whenever abroad, make travel plans with Firangs. These people have traveled so much that they can work out plans with shoestring budgets.

As I wrapped up my first days in Singapore, I had a feeling that I am in for a good time. And did I? Well, keep watching this space for the same.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Wanderings of a Bookaholic

A long wait like this has to be broken on an instinct. The blog has been lying dormant ever since I returned, so I thought the best way to get things rolling would be to talk about something which has been on my mind ever since I picked up Narcissus and Goldmund by Hermann Hesse. Having read him earlier, I had an inkling of what I could expect, knowing his inclination towards eastern mysticism, but the book delivered much more than I expected. Fiction does not catch my imaginations as much as non fiction does, but once in a while I come across an author who completely blows me away.

And in the recent past, I have managed to find three such masters, about one of whom fera says has an effect of making the reader go back to the themes, all the time, it’s like being in the eye of the tornado. The greatest quality about these people, is not their ability to hold your interest, which is a difficult job in itself, but its their ability to make you realize, with each passing moment, that these men have far surpassed their craft, are beyond setting benchmarks for others to achieve, gone beyond scratching the surface and revealing the undercurrents, those swirling mystical designs, intriguing and captivating and sometimes thoroughly confusing. What they have managed to achieve is transporting the reader into a universe, not created by them, but created by the reader himself. I have hardly seen my imagination firing all cylinders until I stumbled upon them.

The experience so reminds me of rivulets, the tiny off shoots of rivers, who branch away from the main river only to rejoin in the end. During their existence, they have a semi fluous identity, one governed by the obstacles it finds in its path, and yet governed by the mother river, because its course has also been decided by the mother. As one delves into the writings of these men, you feel like a rivulet. They completely overpower your senses and make you float in an ephemeral world, but the joy this ephemeral submission to their thoughts is long enough to keep your head spinning in and out of consciousness. Your identity in those fleeting moments is not identified by who you are but with the way the author decides to play with your mind. You end up playing a mind game in which you don’t have an identity of your own, just like the rivulet, is made up of this contradicting duality, one fighting to deny the truth, the other meekly acquiescing to the very obvious.

But beyond all this, the one single thing which puts them into a different league altogether is their ability to jolt you out of your lives, the times when you thought the whole world would pause and ponder over the words of these masters, and try to assimilate an infinitesimally small bit of it into your own self. But what is even more fascinating is that all three of them do it in starkly different ways, each so brilliant in their own way. It does make me think of a question asked millions of times in the past, what is the right way to reach God? But again isn’t God another way which asks you to look within, something which stimulates your thoughts, makes you think about things which normally don’t merit a second look or conveniently forget. So if three of god’s own creations themselves manage to do so in entirely different ways, I already have my answer for the right path to reach Him. The right path is always the one you choose.

This post was supposed to be a review of the above mentioned book, and yet again, they have managed to play mind games with me, and I end up writing something which I never intended to.

Friday, April 17, 2009

The Vietnam Experience : A few questions

This post comes a bit late, yet is very much relevant for the world we live in today. I have been traveling a bit around South East Asia lately, and War tourism was something I always wanted to do. The best start would obviously be Cambodia and Vietnam. So off I went into these two beautiful countries to explore an area which holds immense interest for me.

Why wars has been a topic of interest in the recent past, more so because of the increasingly conflict ridden world we reside in. The finest thinkers of the day have expressed themselves on the topic, with often diametrically opposite viewpoints. Samuel Huntington, in The Clash of civilizations states that people's cultural and religious identities will be the primary source of conflict in the post cold war era. Amartya Sen, in his book Identity and Violence: The illusion of destiny argues that the root cause of all the violence is when people see each other with singular affiliations (Hindu or Muslim, in the Indian context) rather than having multiple affiliations. Yet another viewpoint is the one put forward by Paul Berman, in his book Terror and Liberalism says that distinct cultural boundaries do not exist in the world anymore.

But more recently, in the past 50 years, we have seen wars being fought for primarily ideological reasons. The Vietnam war was fought so that America could contain the spread of communism across the world. In their race for world domination, they have left behind a legacy which no American wants to inherit. My first stop in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh city) was the War Remnants Museum. I always felt the war was unjust, but the visit to the museum was all it took for me to realize that this was much worse than I thought. The next two hours I spent there made me realize what a contradiction our lives are. We fight wars to achieve peace. But is the peace we attempt to achieve, the promise of the a better and safer tomorrow, worth the human cost we pay. And I have not even begun to question the methods we adopt. Is it an inherent trait within the human race, that we can thrive only on conflict ? The hunger for power and recognition is something which has led to the doom of man, for countless centuries we have been fighting wars under some pretext or the other. These wars are fought on the pretext of national pride. Is patriotism an albatross around our neck ? I guess I have been asking far too many questions, as always. Even if nations can justify a military offensive by harping about national security, what cant they justify is the means to the end.

Looking at the pictures of the victims is something which should always make one think. What is it about power and patriotism that make an average citizen into a war supporting moron is the moot question. The pictures in the museum are a testimony of a race gone wrong, a tale of how the most intelligent species on the planet has managed to find a way to annihilate itself, how we have developed mechanisms within our society to ensure that we do not progress as a species, how we have managed to achieve what evolution, disease and hunger were trying hard to do over the past years. The destructive mentality of man and his selfishness to the core ensures that for his immediate gain, he will conveniently overlook the mayhem he creates in the process. The concept of the dignity of human life seems like something which only academicians have the time to think over. When one man decides that another one is not in his definition of mankind anymore, he forgoes all his inhibitions, turns a deaf ear to his conscience and executes a mindless act he shall repent when the adrenaline rush is long gone by. When a country decides that in order to prevail, it is wise to adopt a burn all, kill all, destroy all we must understand that we have come to a point that our so called intelligence has deserted us. When a human life becomes a mere statistic, and is treated as number devoid of all human and emotional association, when one country thinks that it she is superior than the other, and the citizens of the latter are lesser mortals, when a nation feels the need to educate, liberate or civilize another one, when one culture is seen superior to another, when the value of each life is not at par, we must understand that we are surely spiraling towards a society we never wanted. Neither we dreamed of it, we did not plan to work towards it, no one really desired it but our actions have finally bequeathed it to us. Our actions cannot be justified under any pretext as this is something that has to go beyond all cultivated intelligence. On the ground, it boils down to instinct. When spontaneity takes its course and instinct rules our actions, we must realize that we are no better off than animals. That is according to me the final downfall of our culture, civilization and our supposed intelligence.

If you were wondering what made me write such a post, you can check out the pics here. I would like to warn you that they may be a bit depressing, as a friend of mine found out.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

A Day, A film and Reflections

Expectations are funny things. The more you have them, someone, somewhere is secretly working so that they are never realized. You accept this fact and accommodate it into your daily workings It is indeed interesting as to how we seamlessly accommodate unwritten rules into our lives, which would have seemed absurd and out of place otherwise. Is this a resignation to fate or an acceptance of reality, practicality at its best ? Whichever way we see it, there is no escaping it. One lowers his expectations sometimes, and just accepts the way things are thrown at him. But then once in a while, comes a moment that completely throws you off balance, leaves you stunned and it takes some time for the feeling to sink in. I am probably reeling under such a situation now.

On a Friday afternoon, after a guest lecture on the gaming industry, I dropped in one of the innumerable lecture theaters here to watch the screening of an Israeli movie, Seeds of Summer directed by Hen Lasker. As you might know, Israel is the only country in the world which has a compulsory military service for women. One is expected to serve a military in some way, not necessarily as combat soldiers. At the young age of 18, girls are drafted and undergo rigorous training. The movie is about the girls who voluntarily underwent combat training over a period of 66 days. Shot by Hen Lasker, who herself underwent this training a few years ago, and returned to capture the lives of these girls on film.

The next 63 minutes were a feast for the senses. The movie looks at the lives of the girls in two ways, one is the metamorphosis of 18 year old girls into fierce combat soldiers, who until a few days ago would have been happy handling a hair drier, today handle guns with ease. But more interestingly, it explores the personal lives of the girls, and how in a closed environment, feelings of infatuation and love develop between them. In an environment set by masculine codes, the way female intimacy is developed is a pleasure to watch. The director, who fell in love with her commander while in training, in a conversational manner, chronicles the lives of these girls, their complex interpersonal relationships, their joys and sorrows, their acceptance to change happening within themselves and the maturity they possess at such a young age. I wouldn't review the movie for you, as I don't consider myself qualified to do so. I was extremely thrilled to watch the movie. But I realised the best was yet to come.

As the screening ended, no one was moved. Not because they were so taken in by the film, more because they knew more was in store. A young woman walked up to the center and introduced herself. My jaw dropped. Hen Lasker herself! She thanked us for attending the screening and opened the floor to questions. Following are my recollections, and I am not quoting this verbatim.

She was asked about how it is to be in the training. She replied that it was indeed interesting as to how its a common point/base for all Israelis to talk about. How it is almost impossiblt to prepare onself mentally for this kind of training. Then a professor asked her this

" In the context of the movie, there is an unknown enemy that lurks in the background. How do young people deal with the concept of the enemy and how does this training effect them as individuals ?"

The fact that there is an enemy has altered our lives forever. Our children today are more mature than children elsewhere in the world. Unfortunately, this isn't something we chose. They have lost a part of their childhood, to war and to reality. They have been born in a world where conflict is the norm. A day doesn't go by that the thought that we are in a perpetual state of war doesn't cross our minds. In Israel, war is a reality, something we confront everyday. The way the war has scarred us is something I will never be able to put into words.

She broke down.

Her colleague took over. She talked about how people after the draft, save money to travel, to see the world, to restore a sense of sanity within themselves. Military service is not something which comes naturally to everyone. They choose to try out different drugs, just to forget what they have seen, returning after a few years to become normal citizens. War to them is more than television news. Its a way of life, which they had to choose. I am not trying to take sides in the conflict, but trying to tell things as they are. After the talk, I went and spoke to her. I had a million questions running in my head, but none seemed appropriate for something which was so sensitive to her. I decided not to probe any further, as I felt it would have been just heartless to do that. I wonder if peace is a concept people in Israel understand or probably they understand it better than all of us.

I ask again. Is this a resignation to fate or an acceptance of reality, practicality at its best ?

Somehow the question seems irrelevant.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Indonesian Experience

The travel bug has bitten me. First Stop: Palau Bintan and Batam, Indonesia. I realize that I haven't written a travelogue ever, so wondering what to write here. The space belongs to me, so I shall rant on.

As I write, It has been just over 24 hours since I returned to Singapore. The experience has been unique, enriching and memorable. I will just leave you with 4 photos, my pick from the trip which I feel would sum up my experience.

I took this one in Palau Bintan at the resort we stayed at. The photo reminds me of everything Indonesian, the beautiful tiny islands which make up the country, amazing weather, the hardworking and honest people, the constant struggle between tradition and modernity, the want to leave behind the past and move into the future. A nation stranded on the shore, weighed down by its history, buckling under the pressure of its own expectations. Watching from the sidelines as the world rushes past them, waiting for things to happen, waiting for change, living in hope and dying in despair. A dot in the sky, a speck in the ocean.A boat that's forever docked, waiting for the oceans to calm down, held by flimsy support, tattered by the forces of nature. A future always under construction, a dream that never really took off, the design that never left the drawing board.

An average Indonesian, travels by ferry daily, and is more worried about a million other things we can ever think of. Except what is on his shirt. I don't know if I should laugh or cry, or whether its ironical or sarcastic, maybe just my lens is a bit too coloured. It reads

"When Absolutely, Positively has to be destroyed overnight, US MARINES"

He is probably to oblivious to what the shirt says. Probably he needs a lesson in History. To tell him what the world has done to Indonesia. Or worse what Indonesia could not learn. The oppressed became the oppressor. They collaborated. What they did to East Timor or the 100,000 people who died will not be forgotten. The scars run deep. Time heals everything, but memories don't fade away easily.Can Indonesia ever forgive the Japanese or the world? Can East Timor ever forgive Indonesia? Will we ever learn from our follies and learn to forgive and forget? We all need to.

Photo Courtesy : Rowena Sace

A little girl at the Tangung Uban terminal. Cute that she is, she wanted to take photos with us and we happily obliged. After the photos, when we were about to leave, she asked us for money. I wondered, that here she is, trying to make a living, when she could have been enjoying her childhood. I didn't feel cheated or annoyed or angry, just felt sad. That's the future of Indonesia working when she should be not. Circumstances force us to make choices which are often wrong, and only correct in the best interest of the times. But time is fickle and shows its back as it walks away. It is just a silent collaborator, watching as we go about our business, smirking at our choices, giggling at our indecisiveness. So what, as humans should we do, to deal with circumstances and choices we make and the ones we should have made. A lifetime goes away in regrets not the things we did, but things we did not do, the risks we did not take. But for her, what choices does she really have?

Photo Courtesy : Rowena Sace

At a restaurant in Bintan. This trio of teenagers just burst onto the scene and started to sing and dance. Though I couldn't understand a word, I loved it. The moment they finished, we applauded and one could see them beaming with pride. It wasn't money that they played for. They just played for the pure joy of music. It was the appreciation and recognition they were looking for. Much like their motherland. Trying to stand apart from the crowd, trying not to drown in the shouting and noise, trying to tell the world that they need to be taken seriously. A race which needs to be heard. It gives me immense hope that the world can be a better place, when people try to be happy despite their circumstances.

Indonesia to me, inspite of its circumstances, is an Enigmatic Contradiction.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Six Random Things

I have been tagged by my fellow MICAn, fellow Chennuy, fellow Accenture-ian, fellow PaGaL, fellow short-film-about-future-of-humanity maker Deepak Gopalakrishnan to write six random things about myself on my blog. Apparently this is some long-running game, which just goes to prove that there are enough number of jobless people to keep blogdom going! Representing a section of this disadvantaged population, I shall do the same.

Anyway, here are the rules:

1. I shall write 6 random things, and 'tag' six people to continue this
2. They shall proceed to write six random things, and 'tag' six random people
3. They shall intimate me when done

Six Random Things about me

1. The latest food obsession is Honey dipped dates.

2. As a kid, I always wondered why doesn't the water from the oceans fall down into space, if the earth is round. (I still wonder, you expect me to believe all that Gravity mumbo jumbo!)

3. I don't like putting a bedsheet on my bed.

4. I secretly pray that god punishes people who say that reading is a hobby for them and all they have read is "Sidney Sheldon"

5. I absolutely love washing clothes if there is a washing machine around. I actually get a kick out of it.

6. Sushmita Sen is the sexiest, smartest , sanest ..... Indian woman ever

And the axe falls on

Dream Catcher

P.S: This is my shortest post ever !