Sunday, July 30, 2006

Random snaps of London

This is a rather poorly framed snap of a typical UK train.

UK train

This is a road somewhere close to the London Liverpool Street railway station.

Road in London

Some building in Westminster Abbey

Westminster Abbey

Saturday, July 29, 2006

mubarakan da sijjun

Its been some time since I last posted on this blog and it wasn't due to laziness for a change. I have been very busy lately with some rather sudden and hence unexpected changes in my project that have necessitated my working my butt off just to meet the deadlines that are getting more ridiculous by the day.

Apart from the pressure at work, life has been relatively smoot with some rather hartwarming news from back home which has been a real relief. Heartiest congratulations to Mitali who got married after a hunt that spanned four years and three continents.

Also getting onto the bandwagon were college friend Alok and secret-crush Monika who got engaged recently. Manu, I am heartbroken ;-)

And since this thing seems to be in season, the notoriously naughty and free-wheeling Deepak Nautiyal, childhood buddy of mine and the handsome bloke in the infamous Adi,Deepu,Mukki troika, is also tying the knot in October.

Here is wishing an exciting and lovely future ahead to all of them.

Ok, now that the formalities are over, lets get down to the real business. The reason why I write this blog and all my readers descend on it like vultures to read it. Yes, even you guessed it right, its me.

So ladies and gentlemen and others, presenting my latest culinary masterpiece.

i made it !!!

And no, the recipe shall not be shared.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

of friends and technology

Just twelve years ago, the only places where you could meet someone, make friends were school & college, your neighborhood and the city center or its equivalent. Which meant that your friend circle was necesarily restricted by the access you had to these places and your relative popularity in the relevant circles. Of course, it also meant that being close knit, you were far more likely to be close to each other and interact on an extremely regular basis.

The flip side, as everything must have, was that the moment circumstances forced you to leave the physical region in which these places were located, you almost always lost touch with the friends you had made there. I can personally reel off dozens of names of people whom I was friends with during my early school days and have lost all contact with. The irrepressible twins Sona and Mona, Amit Gandhi, Aditya Vishnoi - the first Aditya I ever met, Yogesh, Saif, Juhi, Shilpi, Kamal Bhojwani, Smita Saha are just a few names that come to mind immediately of people who I was pretty close to and have now lost touch with.

However, in the past 10 years technology has grown by leaps and bounds. New avenues of finding lost friends have cropped up. There are far more ways of meeting people than there have been ever before. Social forums like Orkut allow people to post details about them and let others read the same and establish contact if they are interested. Publishing platforms like blogs let people post whatever they feel like, personal thoughts or opinions, general bits of nformation or trivia and give an opportunity to others to comment on the same and react to the same in a variety of ways. One of the greatest inventions of this technology era was email and Instant messaging. Tools like Yahoo Messenger and MSN Messenger (and now GTalk) have become an entirely independent medium of communication with an almost parallel universe of their own, with unique terminology, slang, etiquette and behavioral norms.

I have made so many friends online that I suspect the number of people who I have been friends with through a physical contact might be lesser than otherwise. I am not that big a fan of strictly virtual relationships. I prefer the online channel to act as an interface for initial contact, a filter for undesirable elements, and a filler for occasions when actually meeting in person is not possible for some reason but the need to communicate is mutual and strong.

Some of my best pals today have established first contact with me through my blog or Orkut. However, as was quite inevitable, the rogue elements have begun their tricks on these fora too. Fake pictures, fake profiles, slanderous comments, everything is happening. And if that was not enough, now I see increasing evidence of people deliberately lying on their profiles to keep interest in them alive. Some act aloof and busy, not responding to messages even though they are clearly online. Some write stuff that is again transparently untrue. While others are content with posting someone else's pictures and passing them off as their own. Its a shame.

But I guess you have to pay a price for anything that is good and in this case free. I cannot deny that some of the most close friends that I have have come to me through Orkut. And it is relationships like these that have kept my sanity intact in this mad mad world. Far away from home, from family, from India, I have managed to retain my innate optimism, my cheerful nature, my inquisitive spirit and my goofball instinct, strictly because I know there is someone waiting online to hear about them, to savour them, to bring a smile back on my face.

You know who you are, and this post is dedicated to you.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Italy it is

I am not sure how to feel about it, but once again, things went almost exactly as I thought they would. The outcomes didn't happen that way, though. The France v Germany match was pretty much like I thought, mostly tactical with no moments of individual brilliance from either side. I have consistently held the view that Zidane is 2 years past his sell-by date and his wizardry with the ball is mere showmanship. He does not have the stamina to make threatening runs at the opposition all night and his teammates are all crap. This was proved yet again in the match with Portugal where Christiano Ronaldo was the most aggressive and dangerous player on view from both sides whil Thierry Henry was reduced to parade his excellent dribbling skills but to no noticeable effect.

In the end it was one moment of stupidity from the Portuguese defence that cost them a place in the finals. Although the blame lies squarely at their own door. They had so many chances at goal that everyone stopped bothering to count. They could've scored atleast half dozen goals that night, French defending was that bad, and yet they didn't score even one.

The Germany vs Italy match was a different kettle of fish altogether. Every now and then, you see a match that exceeds your expectations, sets the pulse racing and warms the cockles of your heart to an overwhelming degree.This World cup semi final was one such match. Right from the outset, both teams played a very open, very attractive, attacking form of football. While Germany, usually the dour west European beacon of technical football, was intent on proving that they could be incisive as well, the Italian lads were keen to give it their all.

The defenders were inspired all night, Buffon stood like a wall and the forwards were motivated and spurred into turning in a performance worthy of true champions by Totti, one of the most under-rated yet most influential player in this world cup. Totti was the talisman that Italy needed so desperately, the mercurial master of ceremonies, the director of on-field operations, the magician with the tricks, and the king of the Azzurri did not disappoint. I have no hesitation in claiming that Italy would have been blown away by Germany if not for Totti.

It is a credit to Germany's industriousness and sheer willpower that the match remained evenly poised for all of regular time and almost all of the extra time as well. Alas, as has been shown so often, the most well meaning of intents and hard work have been undone by one moment of sheer magic. Italy's first strike 90 seconds from penalties, something they had to avoid being so bad at them and Germany being perfect, was one such moment. It did not come through any plan, it was not pre-meditated, it was instinctive, it was magical, it was an embodiment of everything that is good about football and it sunk a nation's hopes.

Germany were devastated. And they should be. They had promised so much, like England, and looked capable and willing to make good on those promises, unlike England. But it was not to be. This was one match where you did not want anyone to loose, where the true winner was football. It was a match where I could feel the pain, the anguish, the tears of each German that night and I am sure, so would have all football fans around the world. Don't worry my friends, German football is in safe hands under Klinsmann and he will take it to further heights. Euro 2008 seems ripe for the taking. All the best !

That leaves the minor matter of the final. France vs Italy. No contest in my mind. Italy it is, Italy it must be. They have waited too long, they have deserved it for too long, they need it right now more than any other country has ever needed it. The only way the great Italian tradition of football can be salvaged from the corruption crisis currently engulfing the Serie A is by winning the big one and wash all the sins away. I just hope they play like the way they did against Germany. If they do, France can do nothing but watch. I just hope.

Monday, July 03, 2006

i was right !!! England and Brazil die

Ok.. the cup is warming up now.. As predicted Argentina vs Germany turned out to be a jolly good scuffle. However Argentina lost, sadly, and a lot of the blame must lie with the stupid tactics of their coach, who kept genuine stars like Lionel Massi on the bench when the need of the hour was to go on an all-out attacking spree.

England, as I had predicted, went out, again due to tactical errors by the coach. By not playing Aaron Lennon for any significant length of time, he was wasting something that he was in seriously short supply of, attacking intent coupled with the requisite skill. Anytime Lennon has touched the ball, the opposition defenders have panicked and rushed to swoop down on him. And each time he has beaten them all and released some of the more illustrious names. That they fail to use the space created by the little lad is hardly his fault. But he should have been played much more just to keep the opposition defenders busy.

He had the potential to be the find of the tournament. For me, he still is. Its a shame Sven didn't see that. And he is going home a week earlier than planned because of that one mistake. I might cause a furore here but I will stick to my view. Not Beckham's injury, not the ineffective formation, not Rooney's sending off, not lack of strikers, certainly not the missing of penalties, England lost because Aaron was not given enough time on the pitch for reasons that only SGE knows. Simple !

Brazil went out too. And as I have mentioned earlier in these parts, you don't play your reputation you play so that you create a reputation. Most Brazil players were too puffed up with arrogance and pride about being the best team in the world, which they undoubtedly are, to bother about trivialities like playing to a plan. Barring very few exceptions like Kaka and Juninho, all the Brazilian players were too busy dazzling the world with their talent to think of winning as a team.

Roberto Carlos, the worst offender, could not be bothered to think of defending, he was the greased lightning down the flank in the last World Cup, wasnt he ? Sadly, its been four long years and he is not even a flickering tube light on Bihar's power grid.

Cafu, the other winger with tireless legs, forgot that running is not the only thing that a winger needs to do. Releasing balls into spaces that their strikers can reach is the other important bit that they must do. He never realised that it seems. And so we had the sorry spectacle of Cafu picking the ball from deep in their own half, running like mad down the sideline and reaching the opposite corner, where he would stop and let a defender come close before he would try to hit the ball into the stratosphere. Since that was getting to be quite predictable, the defender would block, more often than not and run away with the ball, leaving old Cafu to run all the way back and start all over again.

In the off chance that the defender couldn't the ball way, the kick would be so hard and nonsensical that it would either land across the field into the spectators or just go straight as an arrow to the keeper's waiting hands.

Ronaldinho has talent. Lots of it. Oodles of it. Unfortunately for the Brazilian supporters, he knows it. And never leaves an opportunity to showcase it. Which means we get to see brilliant cameos on the field almost everytime he has the ball but precious little else. I think that one goal from a free kick that he conjured up aganist England to sink them in the last world cup has been the single most horrible thing to have happened to him.

He has forgotten that goals can be created in far more simpler ways. Every time he takes a free kick, he tries to create a similar miracle. And fails. In the France match, he had a golden chance to level the score and keep Brazil's hopes alive in the dying minutes of the match. A chance that Ronaldo had created with an exquisite display of diving that would have made both Rivaldo and Klinsmann proud. All Ronaldinho had to do was go for the far corner of the goal. Barthez was not going to reach there,ever.

But the twice FIFA World Footballer of the year would have none of it. He had to create magic. He had to do it the difficult way. He had to try and hit the ball above the goalkeeper and make it dip at the last minute once it had got behind Barthez. Only, it was a world cup quarter final, it was not England, and miracles dont happen all the time. He missed, not by far, but he missed, and the Brazilian team can only hope that they had the foresight to buy them tickets for the matches ahead. They certainly wont be allowed to watch them free after they charged people for watching them train, after all.

I suspect France will have the better of Portugal after a nicely balanced match with more chess on display than football. In the other half, Germany should brush Italy aside with typical efficiency unless Italy manages to motivate its already good defense with tales of their legendary defensive teams of yore. In which case, it will go down to penalties, where Italy's record is checkered at best, and Germany's is chillingly perfect.

So a Germany vs France final. Ugly, efficient, unpoetic football vs defensive, thinking, physical and tiring to watch football. Typical European match. Not what the fans of football in any coutry apart from these two would have wanted or expected, but here it is.

P.S. I want to be proved wrong. I want it to be a Italy v Portugal final.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Are foreign countries really that much cleaner?

There is this constant refrain that I have been subjected to constantly in India from people who have either been abroad or know someone who has been abroad or who believe that they know more about other more developed countries and it goes,

" you won't believe how clean [insert name of some random western country] is !!! The people are so well-mannered, dogs dont piss next to poles, people dont spit, you dont find dirt everywhere and trash is properly disposed of. It is so nice and clean ! I wish we disgusting Indians learnt to do the same."

Pictures of spanking shiny America and other developed countries beamed into our homes by satellite television and Hollywood fare merely confirm that stereotype. I do not claim to have not been taken in by the same but I did wonder about the fact that even Pakistan, Afghanistan, countries in deep, dark Africa, even Mauritius and Malidives look amazingly clean on TV.

Are we the dirtiest country on the planet then?

Could we possibly be the worst in the world when it comes to hygiene ?

A nation which prides itself on its equating of cleanliness to godliness, a nation which forces people to take a bath after going to a funeral, a nation whose vast majority does not touch food without taking a bath, a nation where the poorest clean their homes every day without fail, can it possibly be the dirtiest ?

There was no way this conundrum was going to be resolved but by self examination. And thankfully, I got the chance to do exactly that when I came to the UK.

And now that I have been here for more than 6 weeks, I can safely say, in the true Mark Twain spirit, that "the rumors of India being the dirtiest country in the world are greatly exaggerated"

I am no alleging that England has a better claim to that title, far from it. But the image of a shiny, super-clean, haven of cleanliness is quite far from the truth.

The roads are not clean and well maintained. Just like there are bits of VIP roads in India that get constant attention and meticulous care while other lesser cousins are left to their sorry state, UK too has some special roads which are impeccable while the others are in quite a dilapidated state. Just like there are bits and pieces of paper and packing material and polythene pieces flying about on Indian streets, there are the same items, beer cans, cigarette cases, and a million other discarded knick knacks that are just thrown all over the place here as well.

The Brits get an awful lot of receipts everyday. Small bits of paper but many of them. Gas receipts, shopping receipts, parking receipts, bus tickets, train tickets, cab receipts, if it happens, it generates a bit of paper somewhere. And they just throw them away. Either at the exact point where the receipt is generated, so there are ugly sights of piles of receipts lying right next to the self-scanning terminals at large super stores, or a few minutes later, once they have scanned the receipt. Buses are littered with tickets, theater aisles are littered with used tickets, ATMs are surrounded with crumpled mini statements. There is just too much paper just thrown all over the place with no regard towards recycling or properly disposing trash.

That is the story outside. If we peek inside the houses, hotels, offices, some new aspects emerge. While there are clearly marked garbage bins and waste disposal techniques and guides and what not, you will still find ridiculously high amounts of trash perched on tables, lying on the floor, crumpled and pushed into corners, small but visible. The philosphy seems to be, if you dont need it, screw it, compress it and stash it somewhere. Used coffee cups, torn bags of chips, read newspapers, all of this and more are left just lying around.

Something as routine as washing hands after a trip to the loo is so rare that there are notices put up all over the place, imploring people to wash their hands. Unfortunately, they dont seem to be having any effect on the majority.

The water bodies, the river Yare flows right next to my hotel, are again filthy and dank. You cannot imagine jumping into them for a bath. They are too dirty and what is worse, they smell bad.

The one major difference, and that can not be denied, is the dust levels. Firstly, being a more technically inclined country, all homes have vacuum cleaners and hence dirt gets sucked up and disposed more effectively. However, since you cannot vacuum everyday and the floors are usually carpeted, the dust remains trapped in the carpet for upto a week or more, directly in touch with your feet and even your body if you lie down.

Secondly, and this is critical, there just isnt much dust anyway. India is a tropical country, we have the Thar on our western border. We are climatically disadvantaged when it comes to dust. We are bound to get more dust. We will just have to do the best we can to tackle it.

But we are certainly not the dirtiest there ever was, thank you.

This post is dedicated to my friend, Shipra.

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