Thursday, 29 December 2011

South East Asia - Year End Nostalgia 2

 For my 25th B'day this year, I travelled to Singapore, Bali and Cambodia. I travelled alone (well almost. My sister came with me to Bali and I was plonked at her place in Singapore... Okay Okay... I only really went to Cambodia alone), I planned a trip entirely by myself from scratch and had a blast! What better celebration could I ask for really!

From cutting my b'day cake in Bali and wandering around it's lush rice terraces and beautiful, elegant temples to sunning ourselves on the beach and going jet skiing, I loved every bit of my three days in Bali with my sister. I definitely plan to go back to that island and this time for longer. I'd love to live in a small house/apartment somewhere near the rice terraces and walk around at leisure in the midst of the greenery, taking my time to soak in the peace of a slow life lived in harmony with nature.

The highlight of my stay in Singapore (apart from getting to spend time with my darling sister and eating some yummy food) was a visit to the National Orchid Garden at the Botanical gardens in Singapore. Orchids are my favourite flowers and I don't think I really have to say anymore about why I was so happy to be where I was! I must also say here that the Botanical gardens are perhaps the most serene part of Singapore and an early morning sunrise visit to these gardens was a completely awesome beginning to a wonderful day!

I also managed to click a picture inspired by a photo in the very first issue of National Geographic that I subscribed to (it had a cover story on Angkor and I had been planning this trip in my head since I read that article in 2009). The article had a beautiful night time photo of Phnom Bakheng, the highest temple in the area. When I reached Phnom Bakheng at dusk, it was milling with a gazillion tourists. Climbing the last of the steep steps up to the temple, I pretty much gave up hope of getting a shot of it without people in the frame - something that would replicate the serenity of the picture I had seen to some measure. I wandered around, clicking randomly and looking like a forlorn kitten, when to my luck, I got a window of a few seconds when there was no one between me and the front facade of the temple. In those few seconds my brain and my hands and my camera seemed to work pretty much on auto pilot. In fact, I didn't even realise that I had gotten a clear shot till after I clicked it. It doesn't come close to the Nat Geo photo and there's lots that could be better with it, but clicking it made me really really happy.

This trip was one new year resolution that I did complete (there were others too and so this year has been productive on that account!)!!!

PS: I plan to make more resolutions like this one :D

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Abhi Nahin Aana - Year end nostalgia 1

2011 draws to a close. And cliched as it may sound, year ends always bring on reflection of hits, misses and might have beens. So I am starting a series of posts of things that made 2011 for me, in absolutely random order!

The first thing I want to post, is a song that I am hearing as I write this post. It was a song released in 2006. I discovered it in 2011 and as I hear it, it resonates with much of what this year has been about.

PS: My blog is beginning to look like a review blog - something it was never intended to be. Time to get back to things more personal.

Technology abuse

In 2009 a movie released that bought, what was then expensive, rarely used technology to mainstream cinema - Enter Avatar and the era of 3D. The stupendous success of James Cameroon's saga in 3D made it the buzz word. Suddenly everything is in 3D - films, newspaper ads, outdoor hoardings, television sets. It's the new money spinner - I mean just look at the 20K price difference between a regular plasma television with HD etc etc. and one with 3D.

James Cameroon, when he wrote (and made) Avatar, wrote it to ensure that the film maximised the impact that 3D technology can have and produced scenes that were stunning to say the least. Before Avatar, few short animation films as well as some NASA documentaries (please correct me if I am wrong here) used 3D - wowing us with images that were larger than life. Post Avatar, I can still name a few mainstream films that used 3D well (How to train your dragon, Alice in wonderland)... thankfully! So I won't write off the technology entirely but I do have a problem with how it is being used currently.

Today every film that is anything but a romance or a family drama is in 3D. I've gotten to a point where I go scouting for 2D shows of films because I do not want to see them in 3D; because 3D destroys what might have been a good film; because technology is being used for the heck of it, without rhyme or reason. This latest rant is stemming out of my experience of watching Don 2 yesterday in 3D (There were no 2D shows in the multiplexes I frequent here in Chennai... such a pity really!). 3D, with it's extended depth of field, made the film smaller than life. What should have been larger than life, thrilling action sequences became small, distant events. Heroes and villains instead of towering over the audience were dwarfed by it. And this perhaps, is the film's biggest failing. I daresay audiences who watched it in 2D would have enjoyed it more especially the chase and action sequences - so much more suited to the flatness of two dimensions. I daresay I will enjoy in more on TV at home... in 2D! I hope film makers realize, and soon, that they can do more harm to their craft than good by using technology for the heck of it. Till then I hope to stay away from pointless 3D as much as I can and save myself many a headache.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

By, Of and For Book Lovers

There is something about words. In expert hands, manipulated deftly, they take you prisoner. Wind themselves around your limbs like spider silk, and when you are so enthralled you cannot move, they pierce your skin, enter your blood, numb your thoughts. Inside you they work their magic.

-- The Thirteenth Tale, Diane Setterfield

Book love can be obsessive and to a degree far greater than one might think possible for  something so benign as a few pieces of paper with some ink on them. But for those who know the power that a good author can wield with words, it is not a strange thing to imagine oneself completely lost. Reading a book about book lovers then, is almost like introspection. At so many points does one pause to say "Oh! I totally know where that feeling is coming from!" And so it has been with me. Over the last couple of months, I have completed two books based on a central character who runs or rather helps run a book shop. These books have engaged me far more, to the extent that I have forgotten meals (after a very long time) or other pursuits in order to finish them as soon as I possibly can.

The first was The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon - a recommendation and gift from a dear friend. It is a mystery novel of sorts where a boy, whose father owns a antiquarian bookshop, traces the anguished history of author Julian Carax and tries to discover who is destroying Carax's little known works. Along the way, the boy discovers love and friendship in unlikely quarters. While the plot of the mystery became predictable after a while, the book kept me bound by virtue of the protagonist's fierce desire to protect the last known copy of The shadow of the wind, the last novel by Julian Carax. As someone who fears the demise of physical books in the face of the advent of ebooks (there are many points for and against that debate an I am not getting into it here. Suffice to say that I love my paper books to the ends of this earth and have no qualms carting them around with me no matter where I go), I can empathise with the boy's anguish as he fears an author lost to the world.

Zafon's prose is beautiful as he paints Barcelona in shades of antiquity. It seems a world far far removed, untouched by technology, where friends meet everyday and lovers write letters (a lost art!). He manages to transfer the moods of his protagonist on to his reader (or was that just me) and so compels one to finish the journey so normalcy in life may be restored.

The second book was The Thirteenth Tale, an excerpt from which appears at the start of this post. I picked up this book from a list on "Best book cover art" on Goodreads. I fell in love with the rich cover and then the plot summary intrigued me. For once, I went in search of an edition with exactly that cover and though I found other editions with different covers more easily, I wouldn't buy them. The Thirteenth Tale, is about books and stories on almost all levels. It is the story of a famous but reclusive author who decides to tell her true story before she dies. Vida Winter has invented many histories for herself while she was alive but as illness eats away at her, she decides finally to tell the truth about her past to Margaret Lea. Margaret Lea is an equally reclusive biographer and prefers to write biographies of authors already long dead. Margaret's father owns an antiquarian bookshop where Margaret has spent all her childhood. At the time of Vida's invitation to be her biographer, Margaret lives in an apartment above the bookshop and spends most of her time with the old books and almanacs there. Vida's story eventually also helps Margaret deal with events of her own past that she has not yet been able to come to terms with.

As author and biographer talk, they reminiscence about their favourite books. Jane Eyre makes a repeated appearance as do Sherlock Holmes and Wuthering Heights. Books become expressive of personalities and behaviour as Vida's doctor recommends that Margaret read Sherlock Holmes in a bid to snap out of her winter induced depression. Setterfield explores how story telling is central to human life, how stories can be more powerful than the truth and most importantly how the telling and receiving of stories is cathartic. When Vida talks about the stories we weave around our birth, it takes me back to conversations with my parents as they described my birth and early childhood - moments that are not a part of my conscious memory but at the same time stories that I can now tell as if they were. The Thirteenth Tale hooks you in the dreamy manner of a book that promises to transport you to a different world. It makes you lose yourself in its folds by describing exactly that feeling of being lost in a book and completely cut off from the rest of the world. For any bibliophile, making the journey with Margaret and Vida, is at many points an introspection with the luxury of some outsider actually naming in words the way you feel inside when you read those words.

For that introspectiveness, I have enjoyed reading books about fellow book lovers. A genre that I intend to explore not for its plots but for the insight that it brings to me.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Hunger Games

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins is the first book of a trilogy. The story is set in an uncertain time in the future in what is now North America and in the book, the country of Panem.

Panem consists of a Capitol surrounded by 12 districts. Each year, to remind the districts of the consequences of rebellion against the Capitol, the Capitol holds the hunger games. Each district is required to send one boy and one girl between the ages of 12 and 18 to participate in the games. To win the Hunger games the participants must eliminate each other within an artificially created environment known as "The Arena" till only one of them is alive. The Games are televised and broadcast across the country as a show of the Capitol's power over the districts. In its setting and premise the book is highly reminiscent of  Battle Royale, the Japanese movie. There too rebellious adolescents are kept in place by a fight to the death.

The Hunger Games begins in district 12, the poorest of the districts with Katniss Everdeen volunteering to take her 12 year old sister's place in the Hunger Games. As a thriller Hunger Games scores full points. There are enough moments, nicely interspersed to keep you flipping the pages, enough to make me want to complete the trilogy.

As an exploration of war and its effects on freedom and morality it falls short. I would have liked to see Katniss make a few more tough choices. The book circumvents tough choices in fairytale fashion with the Capitol relenting almost too easily. Personal conflict is almost absent as Katniss hardly faces a dilemma that calls for her morals, actions or choices into question. What would she have done if it came to her survival vs. that of a friend? Would she value her life more than a past kindness? Would she consciously rebel against the Capitol and the powers that be? There is no choice that Katniss is called on to make that compels the reader to evaluate the ethics of war, dictatorship and rebellion; choices whose consequences are unpalatable for Katniss and the reader.

While there is promise of retaliation by the Capitol in the other two books of the series, I do wish this one had examined the personal choices that people make in situations of extreme stress with a little more depth.

A P.S to the Post: After reading the other two books, I think the only key character who represents the personal crisis that is created by war, dictatorship and rebellion is Gale. At the very end of the tale, it is his choices that are worth thinking about. I wonder if he would have played the Hunger Games differently as opposed to Katniss or Peeta. Sure would have made for an even more engrossing read.

In a P.S that is longer than it should be, I should also say that I think the ancillary characters add much more meat to the story than do the protagonists. They represent the entire spectrum of choices that people must make in situations where Peace is not an option.

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

The death of the villian

 For many decades Bollywood has had iconic baddies. From Ajit as LION to Amjad Khan as the unforgettable Gabbar Singh to Amrish Puri as Mogambo. They were unabashedly bad making no excuses for their actions. You had to hate them and in doing so love the characters. They often became more defining than the heroes themselves, stronger protagonists whose destruction became the raison d'ĂȘtre for the film.

Somewhere today this memorable character has disappeared. In the fuzz of grey characters there are no villians anymore. Only people with questionable actions and morals spanning the spectrum between black and white without being either. So much so that the category of "Best actor is a villainous role" has all but disappeared from award shows. 

One could argue that this is more real, more nuanced, that people are hardly all good or all bad; that it is time that Bollywood got more realistic and less over the top in its portrayal of characters. And this is an argument that does hold good. Films have gotten more realistic, less melodramatic and on the whole more relate-able. I don't think I ever believed that someone like Mogambo or Shaakaal could exist with all the fancy hideouts with women dancing in silhouettes. 

While I am all for realistic portrayals and characters who are relate-able, I do wonder if the blurring distinction between good and bad is what has led to audiences often complaining that they don't understand what the movie is trying to say. Yes, all of us are grey and by that token, grey characters should probably be easy enough to decode. Only they aren't; they aren't because in a two-three hour film, you get but a fleeting glance of their lives and their thoughts; they aren't because decoding them is too much work when you are out looking just for entertainment; they aren't because decoding them raises uncomfortable questions about your own life and actions. 

And lastly I lament the passing of the villain because I wonder if it also means the passing of the hero. Batman, after all, wouldn't be Batman without The Joker.

Monday, 4 July 2011

The meaning of modernity

Mom was here recently and we were having one of our long winding, jumping from here to there, no end in sight discussions and the topic came around to one of the things that almost always crop up - the tradition vs. modernity dichotomy and what it really means to be modern. Is modernity only about blindly abandoning your tradition/culture? All around me I see  two extreme patterns. One is an endorsement of everything western and the abandon of everything Indian. The other is a fanatical endorsement of everything Indian and ancient and a denouncement of everything western as decadent and morally bankrupt. What I see very little of is questioning. What I see very little of is true progressiveness and a critical thinking.

To my mind, the blind adoption of an alien culture is a sign of capitulation to hegemony and not a sign of modernity or progressiveness. Modernity, the way I see it, is the ability to evaluate what values are important irrespective of their origin; to be able to use all the access to information and exposure to different cultures that we have to our advantage and find a balance that guides our choices and our behaviour through life.

At the same time, unquestioning obedience to one's own culture, at a time when life and society are completely different from the circumstances in which the culture and its practices originated, does lead to a situation where one's values are often impractical to follow or implement.

What is important, then, is to understand the larger purpose that a culture and a value system serves in preserving a civilization. Value systems are an ordering influence, a compass to align individual behaviours to be non-conflicting. They encompass broad values that determine the direction that a society or civilization takes, its attitudes towards production, distribution and consumption, its notions of right and wrong, of justice. It comes not with the legal sanction of the station but the moral sanction of the people who chose to follow it.

In that larger abstract framework, modernity lies not in the blind adoption of a system based on its origins but in the ability to recognize values that are universal, that benefit humanity beyond national borders and that provide support and direction in times of tension, dilemmas and choice.

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

More about Singapore - of winding lanes, dolphin hoops and deceiving flowers

Once I got back from Bali and was fully recovered, which by itself took a full day, I got a chance go around Singapore and explore somewhat. My experience of Singapore proper started with Arab street. Sister and her friends took me there for a lovely sit down dinner and I happily gobbled my way through lots of hummus and foul (now the name might be a tad deceptive there but it's actually a pretty tasty dish made with dried fava beans and loads of olive oil!) amid much conversation and merriment. But what really does catch the eye about Arab Street is the funky street art. The brightly painted walls of roadside cafes add a lot of character and much excitement at chancing upon something quirky as you wander through these little winding lanes (I doubt I could find my way around that place again!).

Singapore, by the way, is a foodie's delight. There's all the "stall" food, the food courts serving all sorts of Asian food and lots of lovely little restaurants. My favourite, and I regret not having my camera along as I went to meet a friend for dinner, was Marche's. A swiss eatery, more than the food, or the "pick what you want" from different counters, what I loved was the way the whole place was done up. Under the streets of Singapore, Marche's had recreated Heidi's farm - complete with vegetable and fruit cards piled high with veggies and fruits to a little barn - all in lovely wood and warm hues. The place looks so inviting that even someone stuffed like a Turkey would feel hungry there. In fact, I really do regret not taking more pictures of Singapore, the city.

But well... coming back to my chronological chronicle, after the night spent at Arab Street, I behaved like a good tourist and decided to make my way to Sentosa. So on to the MRT I got and headed straight to Vivo City. Apart from being the mall from where one takes the train to Sentosa, the star attraction for me at Vivo City was the Nat Geo store. I was all but lost in there for a couple of hours and after glumly picking up just one book (weight and cash constraints you see) I had to literally throw myself out of the place. I would have gladly spent the entire day in there browsing through all the photographs, magazines, books and maps they had in there. However, I did have an agenda for the day and so with another longing glance at the store, I left and went up the escalators and got myself on the monorail to Sentosa.

Sentosa looks very impressive from afar but as you draw closer the artificiality of it all starts to seep through. It's not the kind of beauty that I particularly appreciate. I'd prefer nature to do it's own thing, a little wild and unsculpted. Man trying to imitate nature at her own game is, to me, a bit of a losing battle. We are better off building steel and glass skyscrapers or the Taj as monuments to our skills. The imported silver sand beaches are nice to walk on but I much prefered Coronado, an island off the coast of San Diego, for that or even Goa simply because they are natural... the sands there belong there and the little rocky outcrops create delicious pools of water in which to wiggle your toes.

Anyhow, there I was at Sentosa and after a little bit of random ambling around I decided to head to Underwater world. Once again a pretty big disappointment. I was done touring the entire place in half an hour flat. After Monterey bay aquarium, a definite let down. Apart from the size, the thing that really disappointed me here was the lack of any substantial information near any of the displays and the complete lack of respect that visitors seemed to be showing towards the creatures. So out I walked into the sunshine and plonked myself with a cheese sandwich and my book (recently bought at the Nat Geo store) on the beach outside Underwater world to wait for the Dolphin and Fur seal shows.

This was the highlight of going to Sentosa for me. The pink dolphins and the fur seals are absolutely absolutely cute and adorable. Nothing in a picture or a film comes close to how you feel when you see their "smiling" (dolphins) and expressive (fur seals) faces up front. The show however generated mixed feelings in me. To be absolutely honest, I'd never end up seeing any of the animals up close except in a zoo/aquarium. I don't think I have the enthusiasm to go looking for them in their natural habitats. But watching them being made to do tricks to loud rock music with little fish being tossed to them as motivation for our amusement somehow seemed to make a mockery of their existence. It seemed to me that they were being made to earn their keep. Not fair... since humans are the ones merciless destroying their natural habitats in the first place. I'd be far happier to just watch them swim or waddle around at will. The fur seals also seemed to have similar thoughts as one of them completely refused to move and perform his bag of tricks mid-way into the show and needed much massaging and coaxing to get him moving again.

At this point, I got a call from sister's friend saying she was going to the botanical gardens to take some pictures. Since I'd been planning to visit the gardens myself and I was more or less done at Sentosa and in fairly low spirits, off I went. The Botanical Gardens, I am glad to say, was a lovely end to a day that I would have otherwise written off. Rolling hills, soft grasses, lakes tucked away behind huge trees and wonder of wonders... an entire sprawling section devoted to Orchids!!!

Now I should tell you, Orchids are my favourite flowers. I love them for the vibrancy of their colors, especially that vivid blue, and for the delicacy of their structure. They seem so frail and yet they are amongst the hardiest of flowers. And then this article in an issue of the National Geographic gave me even more reason to be fascinated by this highly diverse family of flowers. So imagine my happiness when I saw a signboard that said National Orchid Garden! Oh the sheer joy of it!!! Happy to pay the entry price and glad that I was carrying a spare battery and memory card for my camera, I joyously ran along and dragged friend also along. We clicked and chatted the evening through in, what was for me at least, complete bliss. As the sun set and more photography became impossible, two tired but happy girls headed home with plans to come back for sunrise the next morning. We did amaze ourselves by actually making it there for sunrise the next day and we shot the swans and wooden gazebos covered in creepers in that magic morning light. A hearty breakfast of fresh fruits and coconut water later we crashed and then saw only the Singaporean evening thereafter.

PS: Links in the article lead to the photo albums (except for the nat geo article link). So please do click on them :)


Saturday, 23 April 2011

Bali - Rain, sun, and some temple touring

When I said Bali, a dear friend immediately commented that my trip sounded like I was doing an Eat, Pray, Love number. Well, we (my sister and I) certainly did eat. We went to temples too (though I am not sure we prayed). And unfortunately we found no Xavier Bardems :( .  But I can't say I have any complaints.

Kuta, where we were staying, is the heart of touristy Bali. With a dozen lodges and inns, uncountable eateries, bars and discotheques and unending rows of shops, it caters to all the necessities of a tourist destination. Additionally, Kuta is also home to the Bali bombings (2005) memorial. Beautifully lit at night and smack in the middle of the busy Jalan Legian (the arterial road in Kuta), it draws almost every tourist in the area. It is also the only sombre note in an area that defines the 21st century notion of Fun.

Knowing that we had a little more than 2 days in Bali (technically we were there for 3 but counting arrival and departure we were left with about two and a half days), sister and I had packed in our sightseeing schedule with the things we absolutely wanted to see in those two days. What we didn't account for was the rain and cloudiness which forced us to adapt and change our plans on the 3rd April. With the rains playing spoil sport, we barely caught sight of Mount Batur and its caldera lake. But when we did, it definitely was a sight worth seeing. The next time I go to Bali, I am going to make sure I have enough time to do the midnight hike up Mt. Batur to the crater itself!

One of the reasons I had chosen to combine Bali and Cambodia (Angkor at any rate) was that they are both Hindu cults and there is, even today, an element of Indianization in their cultures and way of life. I figured they would give an interesting perspective on how religions and cultures spread and adapt.

During our stay in Bali, we visited three temples - Gunung Kawi, Goa Gajah and Uluwatu. The first two are smaller temples, the last a major tourist spot. One of the first things we noticed about temples in Bali is that they are very one with their natural setting (Angkor in this respect was more like India). They are not tall, imposing, cloistered spaces meant to intimidate or over awe. Instead they are squat, horizontally spread and with plenty of space for people to gather. At Gunung Kawi and Uluwatu, we could not see the main temple complex till we were very nearly at the doorstep. Another interesting departure from how the temple experience is constructed in India is that there is no priest at the temple officiating over everyday prayers. People of the community to whom the temple belongs may go make offerings and pray in whatever manner pleases them. Priests officiate only at special occasions and ceremonies. Our driver Gusti, at the Gunung Kawi temple, also performed an everyday ceremony for us... the way the locals would. He also took us to his village and while we were too late to see the ceremony at his family temple, the size of the temple offering his mother-in-law was carrying quite stunned us.

Temples in Bali are also highly personal in that each community has its own temple into which outsiders (including other Balinese) are not allowed. Larger temples such as Pura Besakih, Uluwatu and Tanah Lot are temples where all the Balinese pray (outsiders are still not allowed... even if you are Hindu) but the smaller community temples are meant for the community alone. The community gathers there each evening to pray, sing and dance, as Gusti informed us.

How religions adapt to local culture was evident in more than just how the temple is built and the absence of a priest. While in India it would be unacceptable to bring meat near a temple or religious ceremony, we learnt that in Bali, no ceremony is complete without the sacrifice of a pig and that the delicacy/offering for the day is made with the blood of the sacrificed pig! The depictions of gods and of Hindu mythology also varies pretty drastically. Gods in India are clean shaven and well groomed. Not so in Bali. They sport huge handlebar mustaches and elaborate hair-dos. Sis and I did end up having an interesting debate on why the Gods would end up looking so unlike the local people and figured it was probably an attempt to make them look more intimidating.

At Uluwatu we also saw the Kecak dance that is performed every evening for tourists at the temple's amphitheater. The Kecak is interesting in that it is not accompanied by any music but instead by a rhythmic chorus that tends to go on in a monotone. The dance that evening was depicting a part of the Ramayana (The Ramayana is the major epic in Bali and most dances will depict one or the other part of the epic) - from Sita's abduction to Anoman's (Hanuman) burning of Lanka. Based on a traditional village purification ritual, the dance began with the lighting of the lamp and the priest blessing the chorus. The chorus interestingly, is not just the chorus but also forms the set as well as the props for the dance. The high point of the dance was the actual lighting of Lanka for which the entire stage was set ablaze.

But Bali was not just about temples. We spent a good part of our second day on the island at the Nusa Dua beach jet skiing and sunning ourselves - much needed relaxation for the sister and me. About this though, the less said the better ;) I'd suggest anyone who wants to know how it was gets themselves a beach, a deck chair and a nice mocktail :)

Pics                                                                                                                First Impressions

Thursday, 21 April 2011

First Impressions

My first impression of Singapore was that it was quaint (Yes, it was the first impression... though it does continue to last at least in part). The reason for it was perhaps was the drive from Changi airport. Driving entirely through the suburbs, I only saw short buildings masked in part or wholly by trees. Added to the fact that my sister's place seemed to be similar despite being, technically, in the middle of the city.

With wide roads with barely any cars on them and shaded side walks it looked more like a countryside town than a thriving metropolis. I am guessing I also have Mumbai to blame partly for that. I've begun to assume that unless a place is full to the bursting of people, buildings and vehicles, it isn't really a city. And so for that one day, and one day alone (a visit to the Central Business District and to the Malls cured me of most of the "quaintness"), Singapore was pretty and refreshing and a sight for sore eyes!

Pics                                                                                                                    Trotting around

Trotting around

So this year, for my 25th B'day, I decided to treat myself to vacation in the South Eastern part of our continent. For those who did not see on Facebook or twitter (or have forgotten since they have better things to remember), my itinerary looked thus:

On 31st March 2011, the end of the financial year, yours truly clambered onto a flight and flew off to Singapore.

On April Fool's day, I landed in Singapore, was promptly picked up at the airport by my lil sis and then had a very scenic drive to her place. The city-ness of Singapore didn't really sink in on that day... but more about that in a separate post.

On 2nd April, sis and I strapped on some seat belts (I have seen seat belts in more colours than I can remember on this trip) and flew to Bali amidst much questioning on how we could want to spend the day in any way other than watching India win the cricket world cup. We did, incidentally, watch the match at the only sports bar showing cricket at Kuta in Bali.

On 3rd April, amidst wishes stating that all of India was celebrating my birthday, sis and I toodled off to sightsee in Bali. We covered Ubud and the Batur volcano, 2 temples (Gunung Kawi and Goa Gajah) and our driver's village

4th April presented anything but Monday morning blues as we headed to Nusa Dua beach for jet sking and some somnolent sunning. Lunch at Jimbaran beach and then a visit to the Uluwatu temple for the sunset and the Kecak dance completed our travelling for that day. Back in Kuta, we shopped till the shops shut :)

5th April - some last minute shopping later, we clambered back onto our flights and flew right back to Singpore

6th April - yours truly in complete vacation mode slept the day through before heading out at night to Arab street, a street with great food and some funky street art.

On 7th April I finally got on with exploring Singapore on my own and headed to Sentosa. I must admit it was a disappointment. The Doplhin and fur seal shows were cute but I have issues there too (I have a separate post planned for this one... so please wait patiently). The evening ended well as a friend of sister's met me at the botanical gardens and two shutter happy women went clicketty clack! The National Orchid garden was a place of sheer delight since they are my favourite flowers (people can generally take hints... I love flowers and bouquets :P )

So happy was I with the gardens that the two of us woke early on the 8th to catch the sunrise there. Of course, we resembled beached whales for the rest of the day! A quaint, gorgeous Swiss restaurant also resulted in much tummy happiness as I caught up with a college friend for dinner.

9th was the typical lazy weekend with sis and I catching a movie and generally lazing around with my getting completely excited about leaving for Angkor the next day!

On the 10th a bunny rabbit couldn't have been bouncier as I counted the hours to my 11pm flight to KL and then on to Siem Reap in Cambodia for 4 days!!!

11th April - Cambodia impressed me from the first moment! A very smooth visa process later (Bali had  us standing in the queue for half an hour) I reached the hotel and set off within the hour on my explorations. Starting with the first temples in the Angkor region (the Roulos temples), onto Angkor wat and finally the sunset from the highest temple in the region - Phnom Bakheng. (Much much more on Angkor in a separate post again).

Day 2 of Angkor began with sunrise at Angkor wat and breakfast in its serene grounds followed by a visit to the walled city of Angkor Thom, Preah Khan and Ta Prohm. In the evening, I chose to take a break from the temples and visited the National Angkor Museum and rounded off the evening with a traditional dance performance along with dinner at one of the restaurants in Siem Reap.

Day 3, 13th of April, I decided to get out of Siem Reap and went to the farther Banteay Srei, the only temple commissioned by a Brahmin as opposed to a ruler of the Angkor Empire. On my way back I stopped at Pre Rup and the proceeded to see the Floating Villages on the Tonle Sap. Driving back to the hotel, the driver took me to his village to see preparations for the Khmer new year and meet his mother and the evening ended with a traditional New Year dinner at the Hotel.

On my last day in Siem Reap, I decided to spend some time just walking around the town and saying byes to the friends I had made at the hotel. The high point of my return journey was the landing in Phnom Penh. The aerial view of the Mekong Basin and the confluence of the Mekong and the Tonle Sap was just gorgeous.

Back in Singapore, I spent 15th and the 16th eating, shopping and generally lazing around. And sooner than I liked, it was time to pack up and come back

This trip has been fulfilling for many reasons. As the first trip that I have planned entirely on my own, it has been quite an experience. I have learnt loads on what to do and what not to. I've also learnt something of the kind of travelling that I would like to do in future. The thing I am really glad about is the places I chose to visit. Not only were they beautiful and relaxing, they also gave me differing perspectives on my own culture (which is another of the things that I plan to write about in subsequent posts).

So, on that note, I do hope everyone who is going to be spammed with links to the posts and pictures and those who are going to stumble upon them, do enjoy reading (and seeing) them.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

On the edge

Pic by Rehab
When she first moved to Mumbai, everyone told her to be careful on the trains. "Don't stand near the door... it's so crowded that you may fall off," they told her. It wasn't an act of rebelliousness or even fool hardiness, but right from day one, she always stood by the door. Right there. On the edge. She loved how the wind whipped her curls - sometimes over her face, sometimes away. In that 40 minute ride, she forgot how sweaty Mumbai was. She forgot the smoke, the claustrophobia, the smell of sewage, trash and too many people living in too little space.

From her vantage point she could see the clear morning sky, sometimes with puffy white clouds. The greenery along the tracks was the most greenery she saw in any one place in the city. It brought back memories from childhood... of walking along wide roads bordered with trees, sheltering her from the harsh northern summers. The fresh, cool air transported her to the hills, to the treks that she went on in the monsoons.

Standing there also seemed symbolic of her life. Sometimes moving so fast that she just about managed to keep her balance; sometimes precarious, forcing her to pay attention to every little move lest she do irreparable damage; sometimes carefree, like free, unobstructed wind; sometimes a wordless conversation with a nameless stranger. Everyday that edge became a different metaphor to an ever changing life.

Each day now, as she walks the 10 min walk to her office, she sighs, almost wistfully, in memory of those two years.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Corporate lesson - Perception is both the smoke and the fire

In the last week I've been a ringside observer to an interesting "clash of personalities" as I would put it, politically correctly of course, in office. It brought home the first corporate lesson I ever learnt - that intentions matter not one bit. Perception is god. Not your own... but others' perception of you and your actions. No one will ever bother to talk to you or ask you if you really intended something. But they will judge you on what they perceive to be your intentions and motivations. And act on that judgement.

Funnily, while this used to bother the hell out of me three years ago, today I see the practical utility of it in the corporate sphere. In a world where everyone is playing one gigantic game of Chinese whispers, it is simply not practical to attempt fathoming the intent behind every act or, on the other side of it, trying to explain oneself. In an organisation with a few hundred people, judging on actions and consequences is not just practical but almost a heuristic necessity.

The fact that one is judged on one's actions and it's effects on the people around (on the people not the job) alone has its pluses and minuses. For the extremely political (and at the same time prudent), it's a great way to smoke screen your intentions. For the un-political and yet prudent, it makes choices and decisions simple - as long as you can get your intentions and actions to match - you don't have to ever explain yourself. It is however, suicidal for the imprudent. If you are political and imprudent, you will get caught red handed. If you are un-political and imprudent, you will be hanged, most likely without a hearing. 

Monday, 14 March 2011


I'd written something in my diary a while ago and when I revisited that today, I decided it's something I'd like to post here. At the time I wrote it, I was debating between two courses of action - Hamlet's dilemma: To do or not do; To say or keep quiet.

As I was debating my choices my thoughts turned towards a word that has been used and abused and misused in personal and societal contexts - Repression. And on a very personal level this is the conclusion I came to: 
Repression is not what society does to you. It is first and foremost what you do to yourself - because of fears, insecurities, past hurts and other what nots. It's the pessimism that leads to procrastination and sudden out bursts. Staccato, halting steps instead of fluid motion. The only way out perhaps, is to love your self. Love yourself irrespective of anything and for everything. To be completely, irrepressibly in love with life - a task that life makes difficult but hopefully, not impossible.

Image: Corbis

Friday, 11 February 2011


I got a forward from my dad the other day asking all of us to bring the government to account on rising fuel prices. As comparison, the forward offered a comparison of fuel prices in Malaysia and Pakistan. It's an email that made me seethe quite a bit.

To my mind, the argument offered in that mail is not only flawed, but it is this expectation that price must be artificially controlled without finding solutions to the root problem that is dangerous. Asking the government to intervene and set an artificial price sends a clear signal to the government that it can get away with populist measures which have no long term sustainability. India saw the result of a highly controlled and subsidized economy in 1991 when we had foreign exchange reserves enough to afford only two weeks of imports. And it seems to me that we haven't learnt.

Yes, fuel prices impact a lot more than just the cost of driving your car around. They affect some of the most basic things such as food prices and the cost of public transport. It is an all round pain to have fuel prices go up repeatedly. But there is a reason that fuel prices are going up around the world consistently. The reason is the way we consume energy, especially energy generated out of fossil fuels. It would serve us better to look at how we as individuals consume energy and ask for the government to invest in infrastructure and public transport development and into research on cleaner, more efficient utilization of fuels rather than asking for price subsidies. Yes, it doesn't have the immediate impact of reducing one's expenses and hence, may seem "impractical" or "unattractive" as a solution but what about the fact that government investment in infrastructure and R&D will create new jobs, increase per capita GDP, make current fuel prices more affordable and in the longer run, reduce fuel prices as well.

So, yes I wish we'd think about the things we ask for when we protest, the results we want to see and spend our energies in getting lasting results as opposed to sending mass mailers asking for a price cut!

PS: a friend raised a valid question about taxes and the fact that the government could easily reduce those to cut fuel prices without giving a subsidy. I admit I hadn't researched that. And the conversation with him has made me start reading a fair bit on taxes. So post on that coming up soon. Hopefully, better researched this time :)