Friday, December 18, 2009

Reflections of India

A late post- half compiled in India and completed after coming back...

Wow, can't believe it's been more than a month I have been in India - This time it's been an all round experience with work and visits to Hyderabad and lots of new experiences. But I guess, a good sum up of the whole experience would be some interesting positives and negatives about India - which catch the eye of someone who gets the chance to visit this land just once every year.

As part of my trip, I visited the Oracle office in Hyderabad. It was a different experience for me, because for the first time in my life, I was actually working in India. It started off with a 6 30 am flight to Hyd via Kingfisher airways. Having heard so much about the new and improved experience, I was looking forward to it. 6 20 am in the morning, I got to my seat and saw a nice TV in front of me, and just wished for a nice cup of coffee along with something good to see.

Hopes dashed first up,with an announcement that the TV sets weren't working throughout the flight . All right, I thought, a coffee and a nap would be good. An announcement followed that due to a 'technical glitch', coffee or tea would not be served on the flight. And almost literally an icing on the cake, I was server some very oily food to just complete my experience on a wonderful flight. Later , I checked their site and found this nice picture in there .

I decided to send a feedback message to the airline complaining about the service. The reply I got was as if they were trying to console a crying baby, with a manager replying, sir , we have checked our electrical connections for the next flight.

So much for customer service - I felt. I think that this has more to do with the mindset that we carry. Quality of Service is quite a different phenomenon in India and the US,and this difference is probably caused more by the acceptance of poor service by the people. I am sure a lot of us would agree, that we are more satisfied by the politeness of the Indian consulate in US than that of the US consulate in India. It's frankly not about the people who work there, it's more about the people who take their service, and how they put their need before their tolerance.

Coming back, I think with every trip of mine, I find that India gets richer. It's still quite a mystery how there's so much money given the worldwide recession, but then that's where it is. Newer, bigger, better malls, foreign brands, huge stores, newer mobile phones, lot of money spent on endorsements, just get curios as to where the money is coming in into all this. The only good thing, is that it is generating vast employment opportunities, especially for middle class people with moderate educational backgrounds. The one interesting thing I found was also, how gadgets and popular culture go together. In a train journey from VT to Mulund, I found a teenager explaining 'email' to his friend. He was like, just 'mobile jaise address hoga'. Then 'as you fwd smses, you can now fwd emails' . What I found interesting was, that a 'mobile phone' has become such an integral part of the Indian lifestyle, which has been one of the revolutionary evolution for this decade in India. I mean, who would have imagined this day in the late nineties, that everyone from the 'kaamwaali bai' to the 'fruit vendor' would carry mobiles, and that too with full utilities ? And even more so, I can't imagine how people, who would otherwise be illiterate at most things, never falter in execution of this divine gadget.

And finally, the sad part- I always used to be proud of the fact that though Bombay was a city with heavy traffic, and less-than-great roads, the discipline of people driving made up for it. Quite disappointing this time, that Bombay is following the norm in a few other cities, of not following traffic rules, or jumping signals unless and until you see a policeman somewhere. Unfortunately enough for the city, the cheaper cars, supported by growing salaries of people, and fueled by attractive loan schemes from banks, is all leading to people leaving the good old local trains and taking their 'own' cars to work- which I fear is going to lead the city to a big mess unless steps are taken.

And this post should of course mention the one thing that has not changed, or in fact improved, and that's the reliability of the local trains in Bombay. Love them, hate them, but you can still trust them to get you on time. In fact, I think I beat my Dad in most challenges to reach home before his expectations, and the one facility that always helped me, the good old local trains :). Quite a few improvements too, newer trains, better compartments, more automatic vending machines, and a general 'Go Clean' campaign by Mumbaikars have made the overall experience a bit better. At least if you see the change over years. Kudos to these guys!

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

So did you celebrate Independence day?

Yes, Celebrate. Did you? I don't quite think so. Maybe you went to a function . A flag hoisting ceremony. Or maybe you just watched it on TV .

But this year, we celebrated Independence Day. Celebrated our independence. Remembered the people who worked for it. Celebrated India. And I must say I felt ecstatic. Thanks to a wonderful party hosted at the Deshwal residence, I must say that it was the most wonderful Independence Day I celebrated.

A small glimpse of the decor is here . Maybe after seeing it, this read will be a bit more interesting.

So here's what the party was all about. The tricolor being the theme of the evening. Everything , from balloons to food, from drinks to dresses , symbolizing the tiranga. People coming in in traditional dresses, all decorations with an 'India' theme, participating in an 'India' quiz (which in itself was quite interesting and informative), having Indian food, drinks (again all in the tricolor theme) was something that made the independence day memorable.

And that's where I personally think, that something is not right. This independence day was much better than singing an anthem whose meaning I don't know, listening to a speech by someone which I find boring, honor the flag for exactly 5 minutes before distracting your attention to 'Samose kahaan hai?' . This gave me a proud feeling of being Indian, wearing my country's colors, listening to old and new patriotic songs (there are some very nice patriotic songs in the recent era) remembering the good people who have brought us independence and got us to this point, and above all, felt like, I was one amongst the one billion of us who were part of this celebration.

This is something I personally believe in, doing something with your full heart, and not because you are 'supposed' to do it. As they call it, 'Direct Dil Se'. This year's independence day party was indeed a memorable one.

< A small disclaimer: Before you think that this post was mistimed :), must say that I have been too busy and hence the delay in posting this one- I did start writing this one on Aug 16 >

Sunday, August 02, 2009

An evening with Kailash Kher..

This one is one of my personal, or as I like to use the terms, senti-mental blogs . A blog which just pens down the thoughts that went through my mind at this moment. A blog that is written without ever pressing the backspace key

I went to a Kailash Kher Concert in Redwood City today . I will not say that I am a very big fan of Kailash Kher, although Allah ke Bande and the overall Sufi flavor of his music typically entice me . But today, it wasn't just the music that I was enticed with.

In this life full of joys, sorrows, problems, solutions, decisions and so many things to do, sometimes you feel

"What is this life if full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare "

And sometimes, that's what happens. Suddenly, a moment comes when you feel ecstatic. Although all the issues in your life remain where they are, you just feel happiness about being there.

And some of the things that happened

-Kailash Kher singing really well, I must say I was enjoying and he and his troupe were quite nice

-The songs and the Sufi flavor to it, which give you this amazing soothing experience

-A gathering of Indians from different parts of the bay to see the concert. It might seem funny, but when I see these guys, I feel a strange sense of brotherhood. Somewhere, I feel that we all came here on the same ship, and when I see them , I remember that we had started this voyage together. Interesting today, was that I saw a face in the crowd of someone who had come to USC on the same day as I did

-Some really sweet and cute kids. And interestingly, they also seemed to enjoy the atmosphere as people were dancing , singing and having fun. It felt so heavenly to see the joy on their faces. So innocent and pure.

-And finally, a feeling of Dance like no one's watching. Reminded me of the AIS parties while at USC. When you danced without any kind of steps or rhythm, the only purpose of the dance would be to make you feel happy

I have always thought that your goal of life should be to maximise the moments over your entire life when you absolutely feel happy and ecstatic. Guess today was one of them . Thanks Kailash Kher. Thanks , my fellow-expatriate Indians in San Francisco. and thanks to C and R for being really nice companions for the evening :)

By the way guys...if you like my blog, you can follow this blog , would be nice encouragement for me as well.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Save Energy, Go Green

So we hear this everyday. We all think that we want to make our planet a little bit better, but then, do we really contribute to it? Or do we actually take care that we don't contribute to it's continuous exploitation. Some months back, an email on the Oracle Indians list sparked off a series of suggestions, which I would want to compile and put in here. These are extremely simple things that you can do, and just do your bit towards the planet .

1.Carpool/Vanpool to work. (Saves gas, time (due to carpool lane), driving effort and car maintenance costs ). Vanpools also get subsidies from most major companies

2.Use compact Fluoroscent lamps (CFLs) instead of normal ones

3.Use the Biocompostables Biodegradable Biocompostables Biodegradable Food Service and Packaging Disposables.>

4.Stop use of bottled water completely.

5.Use a bottle and a mug in office to avoid wastage of paper cups and plastic bottles

6.Switch off your monitor when leaving office. It’ll definitely save more energy than having it go to sleep mode

7.Make sure to turn off the lights in the conference rooms once the meeting is over.

8.Sign up for e-statements and paperless bills for banks/financial institutions/payroll.

9.Sign up at and to opt out of pre-approved offers (spam)

10.Do not throw cans or bottles into dustbins if there’s no recycle bin around your cube. Accumulate them, take a walk to your pantry and dispose them in the correct bin. Same holds for unused paper as well

11.Always Prefer to print both sided

12.Keep a rack to save cover sheets on your office line printer. The paper can then be picked up by people to be used for rough work

A similar (and really nice) list can also be found here . It's our planet. Let's do our bit.

If you have some interesting suggestions, comment/email/IM me and I'll add it to the list.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

The evolution of the Television

Note: this post is a long one, I decided to write it in 2 parts. If you have interesting comments or suggestions, let me know and I'll incorporate them too

Thanks for your responses to the previous post! Comments are really encouraging and nice to read!

And of course this gives me an increased enthusiasm to write about the second entity in this series, the television , which over a period of time has had it's time as the intelligent box and the idiot box.

Perhaps this blog post is also fitting because of 2 more things, first , 25 years of Hum Log , which according to me was the symbol of the TV becoming popular in the early eighties. Though, I don't have any memories of that time, I have heard from my mom how this show used to be so famous. In fact, as a school-going kid, I remember reading in Limca Book of Records (circa 1993), that Hum Log was the longest running serial till date, spanning 156 episodes, a number which seems so trivial as compared to the modern era. The second thing, well, let me come to it at the end of the post.

I remember the first TV in our house. A Black and White TV, with no channels. Yes you got it right. It had 2 things on it. A power button and a volume control knob. Just turn it on, it would show DD-1. I always felt envious, because my uncle's place had this extra 2nd channel ( which over the years became popular as DD Metro) . But then, there was a value for this one channel. Every thing that came on this TV was watched with some deal of interest. It was a unique, nice experience. I still remember this popular tune and I am sure most of my readers would too. There were some soap operas that we watched with great interest and of course, you had neighbors coming in and watching TV. Serials like Wagle ki Duniya , Fauji , Circus,Magic Lamp became objects of public conversation and debate and ignorance about them was a taboo at school . Chitrahaar and Chaayageet were perhaps the only source of watching hindi songs on video, and I remember that they typically came up with songs that no one wanted to listen :) . And how could you forget the Hindi movie on Sunday (which moved to Saturday some time), a movie with no commercial breaks and a proper 20 minute interval for Mom to quickly cook some nice snacks for us and give the impression of watching a movie in the theater. Of all movies seen till date, the greatest value must be for those movies that we watched.

The first stint at cable television was when a few operators started telecasting movies in the afternoon, evening and night. It was a new experience. For some years, my parents were against the idea because it would distract us from our studies, but guess they gave in eventually . The concept was really really unique. Cable operators used to print out monthly brochures with movie listings. Cable operators were branded from good to bad depending upon the new movies they telecast. I did have a dream sometime that if I ever did this job, I would do it so much better :) .

The advent of the satellite world came about somewhere in 91-92, starting with 4 channels, MTV, BBC, Prime Sports ( the predecessor to Star Sports) and Star Plus. It was nice and interesting. First, the concept of a 24 hr channel. The feeling that when you turn on the TV at 11 pm, you see something else but those 7 stripes of DD National . Personally, I became a fan of Prime Sports in 1992 during the world cup. For the first time you could see high quality graphics, never-ending stats trivia, and a quality of commentators which was big relief from the Ravi Chaturvedi's and others on Doordarshan. I remember getting up at 3,4,5 am to see matches. It's still a wonderful memory, and I am glad that I could see it then.

The first big revolution in Indian satellite television came with the advent of Zee TV . It was a really pleasant change over the low-quality Doordarshan, in a lot of senses, be it transmission quality, quality of programs, to the way serials were promoted. This phase saw the evolution of commercial breaks and repeat telecasts, things which were new innovations over state-owned television. It also marked the beginning of game shows which were otherwise unheard of on Doordarshan except in the form of academic quizzes which did not quite appeal to the common masses. Game shows like Saanp Seedi and Antakshari became popular, and with this came the introduction of post cards and competition post cards, a kind of pre-cursor to SMS voting today. Those days, all programs would have lucky draws in which someone would select a post card out of a huge bunch.

The next big revolution came with Star Plus going Desi, with the introduction of two revolutionary players in Indian Television Industry (coincidentally they were launched on the same day ), Kaun Banega Crorepati and Kyunki. KBC, armed with the big B, an amount of cash which seemed unbelievable and a concept yet-so-simple that anyone could understand and play with it, was the one that of course enjoyed the opening glitz . In fact for months, all 4 slots of KBC remained the top 4 in the TRP ratings. It became an element of social change, with people suddenly trying to apply general knowledge. I mean for years, quizzes like Cross Fire, Bournvita Quiz Contest had remained limited to the educated and the scholarly masses. This was one program where the common man could imagine himself sitting on the hot seat with Amitabh Bachchan and winning a Crore rupees. Unbelievable.

Spin-offs and competitors soon followed, the most infamous of them being Anupam Kher and Manisha Koirala anchoring an otherwise useless show named 'Sawaal Dus Crore Ka', which was really a comedy show and nothing else .

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The evolution of the Computer

This particular blog type is going to span 3 entities, which I think have evolved during my growing years. - The computer, the television and the phone. and I assure it's going to be an interesting read. The time when each of the posts will come will of course depend on my enthusiasm, as of my readers :)

I still remember my first computer- I was lucky to be in the 2nd standard, when we got a computer at home. It was very very expensive, my mother took it on a loan that would take 8 years to pay (:p), but on a cost-benefit analysis, it was more beneficial to her business [ before that, she used to contract a small computer services for the same]

The specification: 80286 box with maybe 8 or 32 mb of disk space [ yes not RAM, this was about the total disk space] . It ran DOS and the first thing I remember was that DOS prompt which said c:\> . For about 2 years, we used the computer as instructed on a sheet of paper by the engineer who came. I remember that he was no unprofessional that he would sit with a Marathi newspaper crossword when he came, and he would run something, get back to his crossword and then look at the computer after he solved the clue. Perhaps the pre-cursor to people using twitter at their workplace :) .

After a while, Ami took her first computer course [ I was in 6th standard then], and I learnt commands like cd,md,rd, and most important copy con . I was so thrilled by the idea of typing and creating my file, and in the hey days of Kapil Dev, came across a news article which listed all of his 431 wickets [ I was in 7th or 8th standard then], I went through the tedious process of creating a file which listed all of them using copy con. The limitations, if you made a mistake in one line, just redo the whole file . But somehow, it didn't seem tedious since you had never heard of better tools. I mean, even though, you could not correct your mistakes, this was a hundred times better than a typewriter...wouldn't you agree?

And so I did that. Then we made an upgrade. The newer computer was so fast, an 80386 box after all!!!!! It seemed faster, simply because when you typed a command in DOS, it would respond immediately as opposed to the 286. Yes, this was it- a 'fast' computer.

Those days were funny. Funny in the sense how a 3rd grader would respond to someone telling , there's a virus on the computer. My sister Ami was in 7th then, and she was learning about viruses in bio, as microscopic organisms. I remember that once my cousin brought a game on a floppy and it infected the computer with a virus. I had this strange feeling that micro-organisms would crawl out of the floppy disk as I put that in my hand :)

The world of the multimedia/windows was introduced to us by a guy called Manjeet at Tangerine store (Compaq). One visit there, and the world seemed changed. Color monitors, using a mouse, pictures, photos, encyclopedias, I just felt that if I could get that computer , I could just live doing things on it for the rest of my life. And so, after some thinking, Pappa decided to get one for us. It was 486 [which meant super-fast], ran windows 3.1, and it was just so much fun. The Encarta Encyclopedia had a Cheetah video and we must have showed it to everyone who came to our place . Well- yes, people came to our place to see the multimedia computer :)

And then came the internet. A shell account. 500 rupees for 500 hours plus a huge phone bill. It's interesting how in those days [ I was in 9th standard], having no knowledge of 'shell' or 'tcpip' we would tell people, 'Oh, tcpip accounts are too expensive, shell accounts are cheap and pretty good to use'. A shared mailbox between me and my sister, a chat client, and most importantly, the fact that we could send an e-mail to anyone in the world FREE!!! Perhaps seemed too good to be true. Mom made me call VSNL and confirm that we would not be charged for emails sent to the US :).

I sometimes feel lucky at having seen this wonderful process. Having lived in a world without computers makes you aware of the importance. I still feel great when I open up a chat window and chat to someone on the other side of the globe.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

New and Improved 'Life n Times'

Reminiscences of a desi guy's first days in Uncle Sam's land

I was just about settling in Uncle Sam's land. It had been barely 2 weeks that I was away from my homeland, and each day getting to be a learning experience in this "new world". I was to travel to an airport first time since I came here.To begin with, I had an option of spending 15 dollars to go to the airport by shuttle, or to "just" change 3 buses and reach the airport. The importance of money at that moment, and the ease of bus travel as described by some seniors made me go for the latter, and what followed was an adventure I'll remember all my life.

So, here's how you would do it, they said. Go to this nice website, and it'll give you which buses to take from where and it'll get you to the airport without any hassle. Perfect plan, and money-saving too, so with a printout and a small bag, I left home, hoping to complete my 3 bus voyage and reach the airport. The first instruction said, go to the NW corner of Hoover and 28th Street.

I reached the intersection, so far so good, but then, how would you find the NW direction? It's something you would have never given a thought to.But then , you had to figure it out. At 9 30 am in the morning, and without a single soul on the street, I realized that the only way to resolve this might be to look at the sun. Interestingly enough,the trick worked, and I could figure it out. Caught the first leg of my itinerary , and got down at the next stop.

This time, I again had to find a particular corner, but wasn't so fortunate this time round. It was almost noon, and the Sun was right above me! With no other way out, I was thinking at what could be possibly done here. At a distance, I saw a board:

SOUTH 101 -------------->

This, probably, was a "godsend", and with a smile on my face, I immediately began to calculate north, east and west. The curve on my face soon reversed, as I suddenly saw another board, which said:


And, all my calculations became irrelevant. It was an amazing bit of luck and skill which eventually took me to the airport.Though, i realized on the way, that the bus drivers were quite reminiscent of the conductors in BEST buses of Mumbai, always insisting( read forcing) for 'Sutte Paise' (Exact Change). Here too, the driver told me, you either put the exact change, because otherwise you will not get no money back . For starters, I took a bit to understand the American grammar interpretation of this sentence.As you might know, 2 negatives do make a positive, but the Americans don't care, I thought.

And then I had my first dash with the airlines here, and it was quite surprising to see the kind of ways people could use to save money. In true 'Water No Ice' tradition, I asked the air hostess to serve me a juice without the ice that was supposed to be the main ingredient instead of the juice. However, keeping up their reputation, I was served exactly 1/3rd glass of juice, the air hostess implying that she knew precisely how to handle people like me ;) . Thus, after an amazing voyage, I finally reached Phoenix. I guess the journey was much much more memorable than the destination itself

It's interesting how the first few days, though difficult and uncertain, eventually turn out to be the most precious memoirs of your life. Little things, like learning to save money, like making new friends at 3 am in the night, like teaching your mother to use the computer while chatting on MSN, with things like 'There'll be an icon that looks like this to the left of the screen', like meeting new people like you who are roaming around in campus with a small plastic bag, a map, and the wish in everyone's eyes to 'make it'.

And then, all the firsts, the first time you got a job by yourself, the first paycheck, even if it was for 7 dollars an hour, the first "raise" (so what if it was just 25 cents),the first time you took a girl out for coffee ,the first time you celebrated a night out with friends, the first time you felt that your family hadn't called you for some days, and they are now probably used to your absence , the first time you went to Artesia and got a taste of what good life in US might be like, the first time you borrowed a camera to take pictures of your University and send them back home.

It's been five years that I have been in the US of A. At times, it seems I just came a day ago, and at times it seems ages have passed! It's the most amazing time I have had though.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Ever felt a shock?

With the advent and subsequent popularity of reality shows and contests in India, I have started to believe that most people consider these as a part of their lives. I am not a very big fan of these shows, but I saw two videos which just gave me this enormous sense of happiness.

Kamlesh Patel

Susan Boyle

Sometimes, when you think, that oh, I have been unsuccessful in life, or oh, well I really don't know what I am doing in life, maybe watching this video will make you realize.

Too many things to say, but maybe the emotions are not getting translated to words.....I leave it to you guys to add words for these :)

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Life n Times...

No, actually, if you were a regular reader of the Life n Times , it's not one of those. It's just a small sum up of how life is going on at this point.

Yesterday, while speaking to K , I suddenly felt a deep desire within myself to do some things I like, I love to do. One amongst them, being penning down my thoughts without pressing the backspace key. Be it fun, amusement, happiness, fear, grief, anger, or just that 'whatever' kind of emotion, I felt it could come across.

For now, I think the emotion would be happiness. I was thinking as to how this word has had different meanings for me all my life. When I was 4, it used to be a cadbary chocolate that my Grand Mom used to bring for me. When I was 9, it used to be that Best Student shield, that I felt I won with so much effort. When I was 17, it meant the admission to my desired Engg College. When I was 25, it meant that job that I so much so much wanted. But then, it struck me.

Probably, it looked so much big, when it was not with me. Same with things I could not get in life. Always thought that life would be just wonderful, if I had them. And then, I thought of the wonderful things I had got, sometimes unexpected, and that moment of happiness which was just so heavenly. Like that email from the Qualcomm HR informing me of my first ever internship. Like the look on Mom's face when she saw me after one and a half years ( in 2004, and in an hour, she was crying and telling me, you have matured now, I am so happy for you). Like that wonderful feeling you get when you remember your old days ( and nights) spent at Leavey library.

A wise person told me once, that Happiness is just a state of mind. I somehow agree to it, but cannot quite follow it with a lot of heart. Maybe, it's time for a change [Obama ishtyle]. But yes, due to a lot of events in my life, I started thinking that I need to live for today. For the moment. Each day. Every night, if I start counting all the things I did today for which I feel happy, ecstatic about, I find that sometimes I don't even find one. And maybe that's where the change needs to come. Hopefully it will :)

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Pakistan media reaction

I believe for a while there has been a discussion about the increasing role of the media in today's society, which came to light a lot more during the 26/11 attacks in Bombay. This article from Greatbong gives a good summary of things, and this is an old post about how the media doesn't seem to find even decent articles.

There could be criticisms for the media to be over-intrusive, using people's emotions to increase their TRP, and compromising security details during the blasts, but still it was just to a level where we could just 'criticize' them. Say that, 'Please don't do such a thing'.

Till, Priyendra sent me these videos yesterday. And you suddenly went, "Hello???" or, more succinctly " What the ....? "

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6

Watch the videos and you'll know what I am talking about.

I have always had a habit of reading non-fictional stuff, and read up history and try to figure out why and how is it different from the history we were taught. For example , a lot of good things that Mohammad Ali Jinnah did, were conveniently skipped in our textbooks, and so were the actions of Congress in a number of sensitive issues. I think it does make sense up to a certain extent that sometimes the news channels /history books will be a bit biased towards their country or in particular about their beliefs.

However, these videos, which according to me reflect some extremely irresponsible and without any kind of evidence supporting their claim, on National TV came as a big surprise to me. For whatever reason, I don't believe that journalists can't be this biased.