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Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Free thoughts by Cherry

An extraordinary independance day thought. From Cherian, nothing extra ordinary though.

The earliest memory of Independence Day that I have is perhaps early middle school or 4th standard, when I rattled off a 5 minute speech my mom wrote for me at the school on our independence day. Yes, I mean the Indian Independence day, which is the real Independence Day as far as I am concerned, the American version does not have any much of a meaning for me. But this July 4th the American Independence Day is a good occasion to reflect on Independence Day in general with the focus being on our independence as individuals and a nation.

But that day when I was reciting the speech which I learnt by heart, I probably did not understand the real significance of our Independence Day. Couple of years later I was enthralled to watch the Kerala Police, Scouts, NCC and school bands march around in the Police Parade ground right behind the Kottayam collectorate. Then in later years when I was part of the parade my chest thrust out in pride, and I remember the tense mornings when I was worried that I may miss the early morning bus and miss out on the opportunity.

By then my understanding of the Indian struggle for Independence grew, I became truly proud of our freedom fighters, the ones who took the non-violent course and those who took the violent course. I was proud of the armed forces that helped maintain the independence. I was proud of the Indian forces which won a decisive victory in 1971. I was proud of the Armed forces, the then defense minister VKK and above all my dad who put up a fight against the formidable Chinese Army in 1962 and
lost. My Dad was listed MIA (missing in action) before he turned up at a Army camp after the treacherous trek he and 8 others had taken thru the jungles of NEFA (Arunachal Pradesh) for eight grueling days.

I had mixed feelings about 1965 war for I was not sure who won the war, and who is to be blamed for starting it. Yes, I was proud of our country, the way it fought for its freedom and the way it maintained it. And I was even more proud of my own dad's little contribution to it. To this day I get goose pimples when I sit down and listen to my dad and hear his stories about coming face to face with the Chinese and then the dangerous trek thru the thick jungles of NEFA, with no food or water.

My patriotism was at its peak when I stood in line as part of the NCC contingent that was there for the first rehearsal of the Republic Day parade in 1987. I was already standing on Rajpath, dropped off there in a bus, but could not see anything beyond 3 ft due to thick fog. Then gradually the fog lifted and I could see the Rashtrapathi Bhavan slowly appear out of the clearing fog and I was speechless, my voice cracked when I told my friend "What an amazing sight". The sight that I had seen so many times on National TV, I was right there and I felt more part of the national fabric than at any other time.

But my patriotism did not get any more intense as time went by; the 6 months I spent in the youth exchange program and the 4 years in Kothamangalam afterwards, changed the way I looked at things. I was getting mature in my thinking and my perception of things changed. When I joined the IAF, we did not have any more Independence Day or Republic day parades, neither was I interested in one. We would have a parade on the Air Force Day, October 8th, but none on Independence Day.

When I stood in the old American supplied radar in the heart land of Punjab, looking at the stair case leading up to the dome still having 5 cm diameter holes in it inflicted by the guns of the Pakistani aircraft in 1971, I realized the futility of it all. No longer did I feel that the wars actually maintained the independence, but each war actually was making us less free. (By the way we do have equipment supplied by the Americans soon after the 1962 invasion by the Chinese. However after the bitter experience of 1965, we solely relied on the French or the Russians to supply us with all the equipment.) Now don't think that I was afraid of a war when I was in the IAF and hence this thought of the futility of wars. I was not afraid, for one in case of a war I would be in one of the most fortified places in India, in an operations centre that is dug into the ground and further fortified by concrete and sand banks. Of course there was the odd chance of a RF radiation
seeking missile taking the radar out, but I was prepared for it. In
case of a war, I was ready to lay down my life, I was not married and did not think too much about loosing one's life. In fact deep
inside, I wanted to see some action, just so that I can live to tell
some stories to my grand children. How silly of me. I almost envied my dad who was in the thick of action in 1962 and my NCC friend who later as an Army Lieutenant came face to face with the terrorists in Kashmir and lived to tell the story. Well most of his soldiers died in that mine blast, he was lucky to survive the mine blast and smart enough to fight off the terrorists who vastly outnumbered him.

But by then Independence Day had lost its meaning for me. I knew that it was not like British eventually gave up due to our stiff resistance. We won our freedom because the Government changed in London in 1945; the labor party came to power after the World War II and decided to give freedom to India, among other countries. Eventually the process was completed and made official by 1947, August 15. But this is not to take any credit away from those fathers of our nation, who relentlessly
struggled for our freedom from the British, whether it was Mahatma Gandhi or Bhagat Singh, or Subhash Chandra Bose, who joined the Japanese to defeat the British. We may have won the freedom, despite the freedom struggle, we may have not, I am not sure. But the real Independence Day for India was much earlier than August 15th 1947. The debate should be whether it should be May 27 1857, day of the sepoy mutiny, or the January 26 1929 when Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru read the declaration of Independence or April 6 1930 when Gandhi reached Dandi with the Salt Satygraha. Indians had already won the psychological warfare by then, British had already lost the war with India. Gandhi had already defeated them with his non-violence. Gandhi
did not fear what the British would do, but the British were always
afraid of what Gandhi would do. Gandhi had already won his freedom, the freedom from subservience, the freedom from fear of physical oppression. The British was increasingly becoming an occupied nation, their psyche occupied by the fear of the Indians and their leader Gandhi.

We seem to miss the point when we celebrate our independence day. Our Independence Day is celebrated showing off military might, whereas we forget that the real Independence need to be the free human spirit which will stand up to fight against oppression and injustice in a non-violent manner. We forget that long before we were declared independent by the British, our leaders had the won independence in their hearts. That is the legacy that we need to remember during our independence day, the independence we sacrificed over and over again in the past. We continue to do so even today. We can never call ourselves Independent when we continue to be enslaved to our own fears
and insecurities. Instead of being empowered with our education we have become self serving and opportunistic, giving up our freedom, because we are afraid of loosing the very freedom we want to preserve.

To date we the Indians have this subservient Indian mentality, where we blink when we see white skin- Sayipine kannumbam kavathu marakkum. But, remember Gandhi, he held his own against not just a couple of white men, but against the mighty British empire. They say "clothes maketh a man", but in Gandhi's case the lack of it made him the man he is- he was already independent. Do not be confused that Gandhi was some country bumpkin who did not know to wear his western attire; he used to be dressed up like any other British educated men, suit bow et
al. He chose to relinquish it and was confident despite it. When he stood barefoot on the stairs of the queen's palace, he conquered the British and the whole world-barefoot instead of wearing boots, bare hands instead of blazing guns, a firm smile instead of a war paint on his face.

If you look closely at the religions of the world, they were instituted in an attempt to free the people from their fears, to liberate them spirituality. It is all about freedom, the freedom to act boldly for the betterment of ourselves and our brethren. But unfortunately religions have become a means to instill more fear than to liberate us from the fear. Religion is meant to empower us not enslave us, but unfortunately which is what has happened all thru ought the history of mankind. The non violent struggle that Christ led was one to free our minds from the trappings of this world, to eat the food that was not of this world and have the drink that will quench the thirst eternally. But yet people of his times mistook him to be the liberator of the political kind from that occupation of the Romans. But Christ wanted to liberate them not just from the Romans, but even more, he wanted to do so by liberating them from the clutches of ignorance, fear and sin.
But the path of non violence that Christ showed the world, was soon forgotten as Christianity gained more ground. The so called Christians had forgotten all about the message of non violence and instead Crusades were fought in Christ's name inflicting loss of life on innumerable innocent humans. Empires set out to conquer and plunder nations with the blessings of the religious leaders. Kings who assume the power in the name of God would order killings of innocent people for the selfish gains of a handful.

It took Gandhi to reinvent the non violent freedom struggle to fight the British after 2000 long years. What Gandhi contributed to India or the world was not the liberation of a nation from British, but the liberation of a mankind from fears of all kinds, empowering the weak to stand up and fight without taking to arms. But like Christ's message was forgotten and buried in the annals of history so is Gandhi's. The children of that founding father of the sub continent still continue to squabble, even as late as year 1999, we had to go to war to settle our disputes. 400 or more of our soldiers gave up their lives when shot at from point blank range while climbing up steep cliffs with both their hands used for rock climbing, unable to use their weapons. Countless
Pakistani soldiers and Mujahideen fighters lost their life too, who won in the end, no body did. But I know who lost, we all lost, Indians and Pakistanis and Mahatma Gandhi too. All his hard work, all the time he spent instilling the principles of non violence in this sub-continent had gone waste.

Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela could learn from the Gandhian way of fighting oppression and tyranny, but we can not. The silent Tsunami of non-violence that Gandhi started in South Africa when he asked the British soldier who kicked him in the face to throw him out of the first class train compartment "Did your foot hurt?", was still hitting the walls of oppression in South Africa decades later after going around the world and making its impact as far as India and the U.S.A

Mahatma Gandhi was ahead of his times, just like all the prophets,
Guru's and Gods of the past. When Krishna taught the Bhgavad Gita he was ahead of the times. So was Christ, Prophet Mohammed and Goutam Budha when they gave their courses on art of living. We had Mahatma Gandhi and Mother Teresa in the last century, but they too are ahead of their times. We are not ready for Independence yet. We want to continue to be enslaved. We feel that our Independence is preserved
when our Jawans are sacrificed in the altars of Kargil. We feel that Independence is preserved when we test our nuclear capabilities. We feel that Independence is preserved when we see our military might being displayed on Rajpath or Redfort. We want to be proud of the friend who fought the terrorists and lived to tell the story and feel that we are preserving our freedom. Oh mine have we not forgotten what freedom is. Look at U.S.A. since September 2001, U.S and its population is living in fear, in their minds they have lost to the terrorists. And physically their losses continue to mount. Almost four years later there are more people hating the U.S than ever, more U.S. troops have died, more than the combined tally in the last 3 decades and two wars. The world's biggest super power, the father of all modern democracies is not free. However we celebrate the independence day, we eat our barbecque, drink our beers, enjoy the fire works and celebrate freedom. We pay homage to the countless young men and women who sacrificed their freedom to preserve ours. But the sad thing is that when they got dragged into this war, they realized that they are not necessarily making the U.S more free, on the contrary less so. It is the age old custom in many cultures that human sacrifice is the cure for many ailments, we on the outside call it barbaric, however deep inside we approve of the human sacrifice our countries U.S. or India has made in countless unnecessary wars. All in the name of preserving freedom.

The U.S.A even though it claims to have won the freedom couple of centuries ago, was still not free in the real sense in the late 60s
when it still had segregation in its streets and schools and neighborhoods. But still is...the country that is still not free in many ways. Neither is our own home country. We can not call ourselves free, when we educated, employed citizens our country still live in fear, enslaved by the trappings of this world. We still live insecure about our future. We can not call ourselves free when people in the most literate district of Indian still come to the "heavenly feast" to have a lunch because they can not afford to get decent food at home. We can not call ourselves free when children don't go to school, because they have to go to work. We are not independent, because we forget we are interdependent.

True freedom could mean different things to different men. Tom may find true freedom in the exhilarating experience of running long distance, Subin may find it in sitting cross legged and meditating, Riyaz may find it in expressing himself in his regular blog entry in the "petals of life". My mother may find it in kneeling down before God and praying. But Mother Teresa and Thomas Chettan of Kottayam Medical College "Navjeenan" fame, one a celebrated saint the other not so celebrated nevertheless a saint indeed has in my opinion finds the true expression of freedom. Freedom for his / her fellow human beings by sacrificing their own freedom. By enhancing their own life by uplifting others.

We need to re-install Gandhi as part of our Independence Day
celebrations. Americans need to go back to what their founding fathers believed in, not just put out some war rhetoric or send out a probe to crash land into a comet to celebrate their freedom. We need to reinvent the meaning of freedom and straighten up the contorted minds of ours and be liberated in our minds. These two great democracies of the world have got a lot of work to do, we need to retrace some of our paths and rediscover the true path to freedom and independence, the independence that is entrenched in interdependence.

"Truth (Satya) implies Love, and Firmness (Agraha) engenders and
therefore serves as a synonym for force... that is to say, the Force
which is born of Truth and Love or Non-violence... we ..., believing
ourselves to be strong... we grow stronger and stronger everyday. With
our increase in strength, our Satyagraha too becomes more effective,
and we would never be casting about for an opportunity to give it up."

Or to put it in more plainly "Jo dar gaya, woh mar gaya"

Now those of you who think that I am crazy after reading this, please think that it is not me, but the beer I had earlier today that is speaking. But those of who think I make sense, please think that it is the sane Cherian out of the bipolar Cherian speaking. But I am not sure hardly anyone would have read this far, except may be Saina. By the way I was joking about the beer....no this is not alcohol speaking,
but the soul (left brain) that had been trampled by the long 35 grueling years on earth, finally getting to shout out to the world, what it has to say. I don't know how much of this is agreed to by the right brain...may be we will hear from him some other time.

Happy Independence Day

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

"Enikku Vishakkunnu"

An unusual, not unbelievable mail from Cherian on Wolrd Hunger (Awareness) Day. A call to all of us who mistake their urge for a Starbucks coffee for thirst.

I remember seeing this movie (I hope I am getting the name of the movie right) long back, when I was in the middle school I guess. Nedumudi Venu gave a stunning performance where he was hungry all the time and kept on saying "Enikku Vishakkunnu". Well I do not recall much of the movie or exactly what Nedumudi's role was, except that he was playing the role of a person who in reality was a very caring, sincere person, but not liked by the society as such, always mocked at, considered unintelligent and at the receiving end.

Well his performance has been etched in my mind as one of the best ever movie performances. Well Nedumudi plays almost any role with ease and grace, I guess this role was a more touching one. Also this was in early days of his career and he must have had that hunger for success that made his role as a "hungry man" was stupendously done.

The understanding I got from the movie was that Nedumudi's unusual hunger- the fact that no matter how much he eats, he remains hungry- was some kind of a disorder- it may be logical to call it an eating disorder. If you ask Saira she will tell you that I have the same eating disorder too....the food that I eat seem to fall into a bottomless pit, no matter how much I eat I still want to eat more..or I am still hungry. Well at times I think whether I have a disorder similar to what Nedumudi portrays, in the movie or may these are symptoms of diabetes. Especially considering the fact that I am so easily irritable and angry especially when I am "hungry" makes me think whether it is diabetes.

Well you guys must be thinking, what has happened to Cherian? He used to be a healthy person, but my Poulose lodge friends will vouch that I had the same eating disorder back in
the early days of MACE.

Enough of self deprecating humour....when I feel hungry, I also think of the millions or billions of people who are hungry many times a day, 365 days an year. I just looked up a website, they say 800 million people go to bed hungry every day and 24000 of them die of hunger each
day. Check out http://www.solcomhouse.com/hunger.htm

When I think of such shocking statistics, I feel ashamed of myself to even feel hungry. My hunger is not real hunger...my hunger comes out of abundance...it happens because I don't get the exact choice I am looking for-because the banana I got from the American grocer is not
the regular one I get from the Mexican grocery store which tastes more like our "Njali-poovan pazham". Or the parotta in the freezer is not like the one I used to get in "Maz" in Kothamangalam (I hope I got the name of the restaurant correctly) where most of us from the Poulose lodge used to frequent for our dinners. By the way I have made some attempts to recreate the taste of the tomato fry they have in my lab (kitchen) when Saira was away...without satisfactory success. Well the taste of the beef at the kanji place where Riyaz used to go during his early years are also fresh in my mind.

Coming back to business...I feel guilty even feeling hungry, amidst the abundance of affordability that God has given me when it comes to my buying power as far as food is concerned. And the sad part is it is not a question of lack of food in the world. I remember having read in my school days that U.S. dumps tons of wheat in the ocean just because
no one is willing to pay for shipping it across the seas to more needy people. Those reports were probably true, because storing the grains will be an expensive proposal and so will shipping be and then there is the question of who will pay for it. And releasing that to the market will drive prices down, which is not in the best interests of the farming community and perhaps the wheat market as a whole. So much for free market economy.

Well, we Indians used to berate U.S. those days for their lack of generosity in not sharing their abundance in food for the benefit of the poorer countries such as ours. An year or two back I read that India had achieved self sufficiency in wheat production. I was proud to read that my country, which has millions of hungry people, have produced more wheat than what it needs. But unfortunately, we still have millions that go hungry. Well I am sure we had the same problems that U.S. have been facing for sometime, shipping costs or to use a more appropriate technical term, logistics or a better supply chain management system.

We all work in different industries and work hard to earn a pay check and contribute substantially to our companies and the industries we work in. But look back my friends, in the last 13 years of working how much did we contribute to the betterment of life on earth? Well
personally, I don't think I have made much of a difference. In the first six years on my IAF job, I may have indirectly contributed to the sense of security that Punjabis have, which may have a bearing on their willingness to invest in their fields to produce all the wheat that they do. So I may have contributed in a miniscule way to India achieving self sufficiency in wheat production. But my subconscious mind tells me that even if India withdraws all the forces from our borders, Pakistani army is not going to march into our country, they will only be adding to their problems by doing so and they may not have enough resources to drive such an invasion. So that leaves me with a confused feeling, that I can't count on even that contribution. Ever since leaving the IAF all I have done is to help make telecom more
affordable, first in India and then here in the U.S. Does it really matter at the end of the day?

What about all of us, the talent that we have in us, how I wish at least some of that could be used for betterment of life for the not so privileged? Half a billion dollars were spent on the rover that landed on Mars, cutting edge research was done, a landmark in space history
was made. In 1969 after scores of space missions, Man landed on moon, "a small step for man, but a giant leap for man kind" the astronaut said. But dear friends, I did see the small step he took from vintage video footage, which was like a child learning to walk, but I can't seem to see the leap for mankind. What did we achieve from man landing on the moon or the rover landing on mars? I would say sweet nothing.

Half a billion was spent on Mars project and Bush has announced plans to send a manned mission to Mars...can you imagine how this money could be well spend by feeding hungry people? What about doing some cutting edge research for better distribution and storage of food. I still feel that when it comes to the logistics of food distribution we are still like the astronaut on moon, sort of learning to walk.

I know what you guys are thinking, why don't this guy Cherian shut up and do something himself? I know guys, I feel I do not have any right to express these thoughts, unless I do something about it myself. But unfortunately I have this other syndrome too, "preach but not
practice". Well that is not a very positive note to end this with, but I could not let the "world hunger (awareness) day" pass by without at least writing about it.

Please share your thoughts on this, I know that tireless Riyaz will, but I would really like to hear from others as well.

- Cherian

Monday, December 27, 2004

Sushi, Sashimi and Japan

Sushi and Sashimi are two Japanese speciality foods often confused between. Sashimi is real raw fish but Sushi is not always raw fish and sometimes even veg. Sushi comes with rice balls. I have met people who does not like Sushi also. Hear from Dr. Amjad Tariq more authentically of the behind the scenes of Sushi. Dr.Amjad Tariq, of Newzealand, used to do research in food and nutrition at Tskuba University, Japan when I met him.

Unfortunately, many people associate sushi with raw seafood.

In the first place, not all seafood is served raw, and in the second place, raw seafood is more properly called Sashimi. Sashimi is slices or slabs of raw seafood, such as tuna and octopus etc, served on a platter with thinly sliced ginger, finely shredded radish, and wasabi (Japanese horse radish mustard).

Sushi types are many, but all include rice and some contain raw fish and some contain vegetables. The nigiri or hand-made sushi is the typical sushi. Another type includes sushi rolls, or maki, which are made with sheets of seaweed (nori)

The important thing to remember about sashimi is that the fish should be saltwater fish, not freshwater fish (like Lake/River). The sea water is very high in salt so mostly Sashimi is from the seawater (Freshwater fish may contain parasites that are killed by cooking. Saltwater fish do not contain these parasites.) So in Japan some expensive restuarants have a small water pond where they keep the fish and cut into pieces just before serving. Even those who don't have a pond they keep the Fish in Freezer at -20 C and as soon as they remove from Freezer they serve (within 24 hours) so that it does not contain any germs.

I discussed with a Japanese colleague and asked him about Food Poisoning/death due to Sushi/Sashimi and he said he never heard. So definitely Sushi/Sashimi are very healthy that is why Japanese live the longest in the world, many of them make centuries without any problem. These days they have twin sisters and are about 110 years old and very healthy. Sashimi can be prepared from tuna, halibut and red snapper, yellowtail, mackerel, albacore and the infamous fugu. Fugu (Japanese name), which must be prepared exactly right or it is fatal. The tuna and yellowtail are quite rich, but not at all fishy tasting. The lighter fishes, such as halibut and red snapper, are almost bland. Only the mackerel is fishy tasting, and that only slightly. Fish for sashimi is usually sliced into pieces about 1 inch wide by 1-1/2 inches long by 1/4 inch thick.

Just for your information if you got a chance to visit Japan that most of the Japanese Sauce contain alcohol and most of the noodle/soba etc as well as other dishes contain pork because they use pork bone in almost every dish.

A Memento to the Mentors

Dr.Fuad shares with me the letter he wrote to his teachers, on visiting his childhood school after a long gap of 30 years. A literary marvel, brewed out of meticulously crafted gems of language, which he acknowledges his teachers for. I am sure the multitude of books he reads also need an acknowledgement.

My dear Sr. Gregory and Margaret teacher,

During my long bygone story-reading days, I have read and heard about time machines ( popularized by HG Wells). Back in those days the concept had fascinated me. But last fortnight I had the rare and wonderful privilege of having travelled in one.

Guided by you, I travelled back in time some 30 years; into another world, another age. And there I saw the child I was. I saw me with now long-lost friends; playing, quarrelling and studying with them. I also saw me queuing for dinner, sleeping in my dorm, and bathing in the open. I saw my teachers too, being taught by them, and occasionally, being caned too, for poor arithmetic or misspellings. I saw me being consoled by them too after my separation from parents.

The whole experience was definitely not just a dream. It was indeed Childhood Revisited. Not at all often in life does one get to undergo such an experience. In a way I am glad it happened thirty years too late. Had it come about earlier, I may not have enjoyed the depth of the experience as much.

And yet I am ashamed at my own insensitivity, nay callousness, at not visiting my alma mater in over a quarter of a century. Geographically speaking, I lived almost next door to my school all these years, and that admittedly makes my insensitivity border on the criminal.

I came back from the time machine experience with a couple of firm resolutions. God willing I shall visit my 'childhood home' again and bring along my child too, that she too may get a glimpse into my childhood. God willing I hope to track down at least a couple of my long-lost friends, teachers and my guardians in the boarding. God help me fulfill these small desires. May I, before concluding this long overdue letter, come to the crux of it.

I can at this point in life look back, and with utmost humility but with legitimate pride say that whatever little I may have accomplished so far, I owe entirely to the education I have received. And had it not been for the strong foundation that was laid at St.Roch's and by you, I may not have enjoyed the long process of learning as much as I have. And yet it took me thirty years to make that Pilgrimage to the most Hallowed of grounds. But what a Pilgrimage it was! While not making any attempt to hide my guilt, allow me to express my indebtedness, no matter how belatedly, to you and to the institution which had been so much to me and which will forever be part of me. May I hasten to add that it is not just I, but my parents too who certainly continue to be grateful for the surrogate parenthood played by my school, my teachers and my nurses way back in those days of their parental anxiety and long years of parental separation.

Though I have undergone education in many institutions right up to the time of obtaining a medical degree, I doubt if any institution could have been as crucial in life as the one in which I learned my ABCs and 123s. I hope you will be gracious enough to accept this letter as a very small memento of my happiness in having been able to come back, but more importantly having been able to see you and be guided by you back into the past.
I make no attempt to express my gratitude to you or to my school. That would be fruitless . I only continue to pray as I have been taught at school, and as I always have, for my teachers of yester years, wherever they be and however they be. God be with you always and with our school too.
I remain yours most obediently, nay, yours most lovingly,

24th August2002.

P.S. this letter may not be a literary masterpiece. But I hope you will be happy and proud that the grammar, punctuation and vocabulary you taught me thirty years ago has stood me in good stead ever since. This letter is the culmination of two weeks of planning, writing and rewriting. But single-handed and unaided effort I promise.

California Blues

Vakada Sridhar, my friend, wrote this when he shifted from India to US.

First of all, this is my impression of the US in the first six months and some of the initial settling experiences.

Came here by a pretty round-about route. Madras to Kaula Lumpur to Hong Kong to Los Angeles to San Fransisco. I took the same flight out of MAS that murali and I took when we went to spore. landed in Kaula Lumpur early in the morning and spent about 3 hours there waiting for the Cathay Pacific flight to HK.

Looking at Malaysia, from the air the first impression is of the lush green forests. flying from Delhi to BGL, the color of the soil can be easily made out. not so while flying over malaysia. it is absolutely green and forests seem real dense. We flew over the South China Sea and flew along the Chinese ( ? ) coastline to HK. Entry to HK is pretty interesting. Down below lot of ships, steamers can be seen converging to one point on the coast. entry by air into HK too is also pretty interesting. quite down the descent path, the plane turns to the right. Pretty surprising especially since the plane is at about the height of some of the taller buildings which you see around you. the landing strip is really a strip of land parallel to the sea and boats can be seen anchored on either side of the landing strip.Hong Kong seems to be in a very hilly region and it seems dense with buildings. Spent a lousy 10 hours in the airport waiting for the next flight. couldn't get out bcos a visa was required.spent the whole time trying to sleep and exploring the shops and restaurants. Hong Kong airport is really crowded, almost resembles a railway station. contrasting it with the Kaula Lumpur airport is really interesting.

The Kaula Lumpur one is business type in the western sense and almost everybody seems to wear the western type of business clothes and are busy talking away on cellular phones, carrying brief cases etc. there is little crowd. HK is crowded with chinese dressed in casual colourful clothes. all of them busy chattering away, eating food and luggage strewn all round them. Sort of got an impression they were a part of a big tour from china returning back after sight seeing/shopping. The duty-free shops and the restaurants are same as in Kaula Lumpur -- you would find the names of all the french fashion houses if you move around
these shops.

Funny thing. There was a group of pakistani college students who seemed to off to some country on some religious seminar. one guy started chatting asking if i was from india and so on and after some time when i told him i was was from south india he lost interest totally!!

Stood in the Q for the LA flight pretty early and started chatting with an american ahead of me. Guy was pretty helpful. He knew hindi a bit and said he was pretty close with some indian muslim family in New york ( ? ) from whom he had learnt it. told me that i would have to do my immigration and customs at LA and not at SFO where i was planning since that was my exit point. he said immigration and customs is at the port of first entry to US. I got a bit tense as i had only an hour gap at LA before my next flight to SFO. The guy started off saying i could cancel the SFO flight and go by a later one etc..etc. he said he knew the pilot of the LA flight and checked up the available flights to SF from LA. Luckily we reached LA 2 hours ahead of schedule so finally i had a good 3 hour cushion for the immgration check.

The flight to LA used the polar route so it flew down south along the pacific coast line. the aeroplane had a console display in front of every seat showing the location of the plane, the height, speed etc. -- great tool u could zoom in and out and see in the map the area u were flying over etc. pretty good view from the top with the sea stretching out and a bit of the very hilly coastline visible from my seat. Funny thing was even at night 8 pm i could see the sun which felt strange initially. Later realized that in the higher latitudes the sun sets late in summer...

Immgration check took about 1 and half hours. customs was a breeze "what do u have inside? " any eatables ? " pickles is fine." done.

LA airport is real functional. No flowers/creepers like spore airport. The flight to SFO was a typical american flight from what i hear. Minimal security check. The stewardesses make little fuss. no food. just a coke and a packet of peanuts.

My friends picked me up at the airport and dropped me at my hotel by 1 am. and next day by 1 pm was generating revenue for my company!!

Jet lag isn't much of a problem i think if u sleep through out the flight.

First of all the area i stay in, is something like a vast suburban sprawl. Lots of towns combined together. no high rise buildings and all that. lots of houses everywhere but all maximum two-three floors. SFO on the other hand really looks like a city and is also quite dirty.tall buildings and all that. almost looks like an indian city.

On the first day my boss took me to office and dropped me off at the hotel in the evening. the next day onwards i had to fend for myself. ( CDOT GET period is god sent, very little hassles initially at least!!). I had taken down the bus numbers, the change required and where to get down etc... and still needed help. after getting onto the bus and dropping the change in the box near the driver, ran into my first problem. The driver kept saying i needed to drop one more nickel. i had no idea how much a nickel was
and finaly offered him all the change i had. he picked up a 5 cent coin and droppped it himself.

I was having difficulty in understanding the accent of these guys and was not sure where my stop was:-( looking around i saw an indian in the bus and went upto him ( i was sure to understand him, at the very least!! ). of all the things, the guy was wearing a cdot XL cutover T-shirt. He was a GET 4 guy from Delhi. Luckily he was going to the same office too. So all problems solved!!

In the evening another funny thing. i was walking back to the hotel and i see a sikh guy coming towards me. problem here
is, people seem to say "hi" to just about anybody who goes past them. i was wondering whether to greet him and finally nodded to him and this guy begins to talk... asks if i can provide him with a job and that he has come here recently and so on. Man, i was hardly two days old in the US and this is what i hear. I almost started laughing in front of him.

Initially i kept bumping into people i knew everytime i went out. For close to two months everytime i went to an indian restaurant i would meet at least one fellow i had lost track of.

The first task is of course to settle down at the earliest -- get a room-mate and then find a house, buy bedding etc. bus frequency is not very good and cabs are not visible like the autorichshaws. anyway i have not seen anybody i know, use a cab till now, though most of the drivers seem to be Sikhs. Seems they have a monopoly of taxi-driving in the cities here. then of course i got into the initial hassles of bank a/c, social security number, driving license, driving lessons, driving tests etc.

Settling down here takes a while. meaning till you can move around independently on ur own with out having to ask people around. till then people would tell me not to stare at things. initial funda as everyone said was to move around more and try to do things by myself and so get used to the way things are done here. I would intially look around and see how others did and then imitate them. I realized i was settling down, when i started to do things by myself without having to looking much around me.

Accent is real confusing. the whites have two or three different styles depending upon where you meet them ( in office or store or in bus .. , guess its a matter of education level). the blacks have a totally different way of speaking and the chinks have their own accent.

Initially i would be asking lot of those stupid questions --- "can i cross the road wherever i want?"" do i need to Q up for the bus?"" where do u have to go to get this?" of course nobody gives up such a chance to lecture and keep giving out fundas all the time. "do things this way and that is not the way to do it, americans dont like that", stuff like that. here quite a few things are done opposite to the way in india. keys are turned in different direction to unlock ; the switches also work in the "wrong" way. so automatically u try one way and then the opposite way. once i had to get right down to the basics to enter a room. the door was tight and wouldn't open. the immediate question that came up was if i pushing the correct end of the door? so i tried pushing at each ends of the door till it opened. I noticed that walking down a corridor I would walk on the left side a bit and would give way to people coming in the oppposite direction by moving further to the left. Well, that doesnt work here. people walk a bit to their right and give way by moving further to their right. Generally with my habit i would end up face to face with them all over again. Now i am delibrately developing their habit. Luckily i didnt have to unlearn any driving habits over here!!

Getting used to the american way of greeting is another thing. these people say "hi""how r u" to even strangers. and i still wonder what to reply back. It is very obviously a mechanical greeting. when the bank teller says " how r u " as a greeting and finally finishes off the transaction saying "take care " things have reached the pits. Learning to respond takes time intially and then becomes mechanical i guess. Then i guess it used on people like navada who get totally charged up. getting used to the miles/fahrenheit system takes sometime. when somebody says it was hot yesterday -- hundred degrees, it doesnot make much sense to a guy used to the centigrade system.

Food. Initially i was quite excited. the canteen had about 5 counters with different varieties of food every day. daily i would try out something new. very quickly i learnt a safety mechanism. pick up a bottle of tomato sauce along with the food. if i found the food to be unpalatable pour tomato sauce liberally and then eat whatever possible and junk the rest. i find i cannot eat the regular american food ( as opposed to fast food) without the help of tomato sauce. most of the veggies here swear by italian food. but i found it tough to eat. mexican food was ok initially but quickly i stopped liking it ( dont like the smell). by the end of two months my regular lunch menu was fried/plain rice with a curry very selectively picked from the chinese counter. now my standard menu is a vegetarian burger with curly fries( pretty good, a spicey version of french fries). most of the indians get lunch from home, i guess i will start doing that soon...

Canteen serves indian food about once a fornight. My first experience is worth describing. I got pretty excited seeing indian food on the menu. The serving fellow made a small hill of the palav, and on the top of it proceeded to add the curry. and then poured the raita all over the curry. The veg. palav was a mixture of rice and only cabbage ( of a purple variety ). the guy then asked if i wanted "the crisp ones " or "the soft ones". it took a little while to understand he was offering me an option between the papads and the chapathis. These he kept on the top of the raita and then put the pickle on the papad. now i tell him exactly what i want and where on the plate to keep it. i think i have the same problem with american regular food. they dont seem to have a base ( rice/chapathi) around which the dishes are eaten. it feels a bit like there is only curry for lunch. the indian restaurants
are pretty ok here. plenty of them.

Buying a car. Thats about the first major item of expense. hell of a lot of research is done and all sorts of considerations are taken into account. If you come thro' Wipro/TISL like companies generally they have a rented car pool arrangement. so initially the transportation problem is less. People dont go for a walk here, they go for a drive. If u have nothing to do, go out on a long
drive. We went on a 200 mile ( 360 km ) drive one saturday afternoon bcos we were bored. There are a few parks and like stuff around but mostly kids play there in the evenings. The number of models of cars on the road is amazing. difficult to see two cars of the same model together.

Shopping here is different. Difficult to find a local kirana shop like operation. Mostly big shopping complexes of chain companies which constantly advertise on TV. there is no Max Retail Price on the products. so depending on the area the price varies. Some of city corporations seem to have built shopping complexes which are rented out by these chains. Only in these shopping complexes i found some family run shops. there are a couple of roads along which all the shopping is generally done. Away from these roads shops are difficult to find. there are several restaurants around. Quite of a few of these are privately run ( i mean by individuals ) . The chain companies specialize. one in office supplies, other in groceries, another in pharmacy, another only in clothes, another only in high end designer clocthes, another in sport goods and u see the outlets at regular intervals along the road. Almost everything can be bought by telephone. telephone is pretty useful here and is almost considered a neccessity item.
plenty of information can be obtained over telephone. most comapanies are now maintaining web sites too here. There are infinite "sales" going on always. but several holidays and special days seem to have been created just to boost sales. There is a "mother's day, "father's day' etc when papers and TV are filled with ads promoting "ideal" gifts. the returning policy is pretty good. and they seem to accept it quite routinely. One new policy which i saw here is if u find the same item in another shop for a lower price within a month of buying the item, the difference of money is refunded. Generally the people in the malls are helpful but sometimes u meet the junk guys. Some people are anyway natural kaam chors. One fellow i knew once complained and to his horror the shop manager called the assistant and told him that he was fired .

Initial problem here is what girish calls "sense of money". there is no way to find out if something u are buying is overpriced or not. using the indian prices as standard is not possible. Relative pricing too is different compared to india. A walkman may cost a little
more than a dinner at one of the indian restaurants. Petrol is extremely cheap compared even by converting into rupees. you get about 6 litres of petrol for the cost of a burger( ~$4 ) here. Clothes are costly even relatively. and so are formal shoes.

Holidays here occur on fixed days of the year. like last thursday of november is thanksgiving. etc. Generally infotech companies seem to take pains to give a long weekend off in case of holidays. like thursday holiday results in friday being declared off too, getting 4 days off in a row. the holiday season starts with thanksgiving ( end of november ) and climaxes with chritsmas. and tapers off with new year. Plenty of christmas cards around but couldnt see many new year greeting cards here.people are busy shopping, work slows down in december. Houses and shops are lighted and having sales etc. I guess a bit like diwali-dussera time. Christmas is quite well celebrated. lot of houses are lighted. and on halloween lots of kids were going around to houses accompanied by parents ( people are real scared here of wierdos and TV helps in increasing it ) to get sweets etc.

People here donot seem as wacky as made out by some people. Most people seem conservative and donot easily get involved with other people. But this area is supposed to be one of the safer areas in the US. Seems the inner city area of some cities can be pretty tough . The default conversation is of traffic. Of course football is the other topic discussed around. freetime seems to be spent in shopping and movies. Most of the people seem to have a lot of outdoor hobbies. mountain biking, rock climbing, gliding is some i have heard of. everybody goes to the gym to be in shape. Yeah, what i am saying is probably among the richer infotech guys. Probably the poorer guys cant afford all this. But something like training for a private pilots license costs about $5000 ,about 2 months pay of a s/w engineer. I see some punks ( wearing all those chains and weird hairstyles ) now and then but not very frequent. I see more number of guys in sun having long hair than generally in the streets, but yeah, they %age of guys with long hair will be probably more than india anyway!! The funniest i saw was a guy in sun canteen with half his mushtache shaved off and the opposite half of his beard shaved off. Anyway my interaction with the americans is very less and only with office people. so cant say much about the people.

Generally people in the office are much older than us. they generally seem to have a lot of experience. I think these people start working pretty early and study at college while working or in breaks. Guess they donot study in one continuos stretch like we do. The indians and chinese are the young fellows looks like.

"thanks" doesnt seem to be fashionable here, its " i apreciate your help". sounds a bit like " hum bahut kush huye" type and initially it would get my hackles up. At work these people generally react very quickly if u ask anything. If i ask for anything they give the information before the end of the day. But not sure if this happens everywhere. When working in National the guys used to take ages to reply to our questions.

Selecting the company to join here has one additional criteria. The company/division u join should be doing good. getting fired bcos the company/ division is doing bad is not uncommon. references matter a lot here. Seems here the boards go through 3-4
version before reaching the field. All the alpha, beta testing terminology makes sense. Nobody expects the first version to reach the field directly. They seem to think about asics the same way too:-))

I guess the infrastruture is what separates this place. Roads and highways are meant for high traffic flow. Electricity and water problems are very few. I have seen power go off in small areas about two times till now. Seeing police guys patrolling around is common and they play hide and seek on the roads to catch any unwary speeding fellow. You hear the sound of the ambulance and police cars pretty often. Salaries seem to be pretty evenly distributed between private and public employees. A fire-engine guy earns almost as much as teacher and a software engineer. Of course the engineer generally has shares from the company etc..

Telephone installation is very quick. Every city has very good libraries. American soccer seems the most popular sport here ( in this area especially bcos the local club is about #1 in US ). Basketball is another popular game and baseball is falling in popularity it seems. Tennis talk i dont hear much. Can you believe the US open coverage was limited to barely a few columns in some interior
part of the sports section of the paper. Newspapers are full of local news and politics doesnot neccessarily occupy front page. Especially in this area newspapers even headline major breakthroughs in industry ( like IBM making copper interconnect practicable, intel making new type of memory) or take-over or tie-ups in the industry.

The fellows seem to have a hell of a lot of rules and regulations. Referendums seem to be held here -- shall we have a new road/bridge built in the city, is it ok to build the stadium in this area etc. the city council sessions seem pretty open to public. Sun was planning to buy some govt. building here and some other people were opposing it. Some sun employees who stayed in that area went and made some speeches and all during the debate. i dont know if all that is possible in india?

People here seem pretty much scared about violence in schools and among the youth. The weirdos here seem to be like being high profile here while in india i guess they tend to mind their own business.

TV has about 40/50 channels but cable is not very cheap. and then there are some channels which charge extra to get connected. there are a few movie channels . the prime time seems to start off around 8:30. mostly during this time there are comedy serials running. have not managed to see any of the sopa operas so far. advts are as common here as on DD. i dont follow much
of the sports around here, though the guys who did their MS here seem to have become regular sports channel addicts. ISDN is available here though its costly and WebTV has also started operations recently.

ok thats about it. to say goodbye in Americanese " have a good day, take care!!"

French Diary

Fine Parambaloth has been in France, and in his usual careful and sensitive study of the sorroundings, wrote this

1. June 1998

I am staying at a 3* french hotel "NOVOTEL" untill the apartment becomes ready which is expected by first of July. The hotel is quite good, but my colleagues are finding it difficult to get vegetarian food. In france, all the people eat non-veg. In our hotel restaurant, there is not even a single dish that is purely veg. So we found out an Indian restaurant. Infact it is a pakistani restaurant, but they always advertise as Indian restaurant since it is more popular. It is half an hour walk from our hotel, but we have made it a routine to walkdown around 7:30pm to this restaurant for the dinner.
In france, you can't get anything done without french. The other day we went to the McDonalds, they don't speak english. We went to a video cassette shop and enquired whether we can hire VCR from there. The lady there took us in and showed us the cassettes instead of the VCR. Then I took her ( almost dragged ! ) to the VCR and tried to explain using sign language. Soon I realized that India did NOT loose a great actor just because I chose engineering as my profession.

In office, we have a french guy in our group who speaks english reasonably well. He has become sort of "facilities manager" for us. He takes us to the bank, to the doctor, to the apartment etc. so that we do not have communication problem.

When the french enter the office, they go to everyone in the room, wish "bonjour (good morning)", and shake hands. So early in the morning, you need to shake hands with so many people.

The book on France which I bought from bangalore says friends in france kiss each other four times - two on each cheek. So the first thing I have to do is to get friendly with a girl which will automatically confer the right to kiss her ( ok, only on the cheek). But I am yet to find any friendly ones.

The tele-media seem to be unrestricted here. Some channels show steamy programmes in the night, some movies that can be categorised as 2X ( I suppose ) are also shown.

The weather is quite pleasant now. No need to wear any woollen at the moment.

I went for "pin bawling" once with my colleagues here. It cost me a lot (as per the indian standards) but was interesting. I gave a very poor start, but soon learned the technique and ended up with second place in the third round. To mingle with the people here, we need to go around with them like this, but the impact on purse is also very high !

We have asked for french lessons. It may start within a couple of weeks.

I am all set to take a plunge into the french culture !!!

2. June 1998

This time I would like to tell you about "The French".

I am really happy to write about them since they are very very nice people and Indians will almost feel at home with them. Since I have worked with the British, I can clearly tell the difference. The British are more independant and would always like to keep a distance from everyone else. But the French are like Indians, there is a great closeness between people. They are very helpful and very friendly.

The French do not like the Brits. Our project leader is a Brit. When we go to lunch with the French, the french and the brit will keep pulling each others leg thru various statements ( eventhough in a light spirit). Once I commented that french food is much better than the British food. The French did not waste that opportunity to declare "The Brits do not know how to cook". Also the French were very happy at the British defeats at the World Cup.

In office, I have noticed many French people using the same dress up to one week. And (infrequently) people pee on the road sides which I have not seen in UK.

When France won the world cup, all the people were honking and going around the city in the middle of the night so that we could not sleep properly.

One of the marketing managers had visited India some time back and he spoke about India in a very excited manner to us. He liked India too much and when he landed back in France he really missed something. A very nice person.

The french work long hours in office but like Indians, they waste some time, chatting and celebrating parties during office time. In our group, every friday, one member has to buy "Croissant" ( a `puffs' sort of thing) to everyone else. Birthdays and first salaries are celebrated with Wine, Cider, Cake etc. in Office itself.

At the lunch table, if a French lifts the jug containing water, he will ask everyone at the table if they would like some water, fill their glasses and only then will serve water for himself.

In office, when a French enters a room in the morning, he goes to everyone else in the room to personally wish "Bonjour" (good morning) and shake hands. The problem with these courtseys is that we have to follow the same ! So in canteen, usually I wait for someone else to lift the water-jug.

My French Lessons
I have started taking French lessons. It was a lot of fun. Our teacher is a Canadian Lady. Her intention is to talk only french in the class but many times she has to revert back to English to make us understand. We are doing a basic course to learn "survival french" without which we can not survive in france. I am planning to buy a voice activated dictation machine, record the class and listen to it later at home. I found that this walkman-sort-of equipment is cheaper in UK. So some one will buy one for me in UK and send it to France thru one of our managers who frequently cross the English Channel.

Lot more coming up in next volume ....

3. July 1998

Food in France: Looks like french people have not heard of "vegetarian" food. That makes the life of vegetatians really hard in France. Even if you tell them you are a vegetarian, they will offer you ham etc. According to one of my french colleagues, they eat anything that is alive. The only consolation for vegetarians is the well known "french fries". But don't expect to get it just like that. You have to ask for "frites" instead.

In my office canteen, sometimes the main food is omlette. But they make omlette with cooked fish or meat or sausage in it ! So even eggitarian's will find it difficult to manage.

Today I ate Rabbit for lunch in our office canteen. Some of my french colleagues were commenting that one can not tell the difference between rabbit meat and a cat's meat and so it could be cat that I am eating! . When I was staying at the hotel during my initial days in france, I tried a chop of veal. I did not like it but rabbit was ok with me. In the nearest supermarket here, they display live crabs and lobsters in a glass tank. The crabs available here are really big.

My french colleagues told me I can get "frog" in some restaurants. My project leader has eaten "scorpion" during his visit to china. I am not interested in scorpions but would like to try frogs and snake.

Don't frown !!!

In the land of Idi Amin

One of my colleague-friends, who went to Uganda in pusuit of challenging career, discovers the challenges in life there..

Today is Nov 1, 2003. I am at Kampala, Uganda a cool place in EastAfrica from last week..

This is a poor country of very nice people. They are friendly and respect Indians.
And we Indians are doing the EastIndaCompany act here.. No wonder they loot us, when we happen to be in a vulnerable position.

Majority business is controlled by Indians.. as Investors, General Managers, Accountants. I have met a good number of malayalis in a private party at a friend's house. Well settled accountants they are, from calicut, trichur, cochin, aluva, kollam, trivandrum.. Malayalis are more in jobs like finance and accounts. Mostly in finance, commodities and service companies. Found majority of them having more than 5 years experience here and living with their families. Those having Gulf experience told that they found more life comfort and money here than Gulf. The education is better upto primary level (upto 7th std ) and after that, usually they let their children study from home in India..

Am currently staying with one of the NorthIndian staff and my move to separate apartment later.

Food now is Gujarthi/NorthIndia and cooked by a native. The place is cool and weather is comparable to Keralal hi-ranges. No need to have warm clothing on, may be in morning hours and when there is rain- Low humidity- dry weather.

I visited FortPortal a southern city (city?) of Uganda... It is rather cool a place. 12 degree at night. Total distance is 350+Km from Kampala and for reaching there by car, it took only 4 hours!!! That is still high becos it includes 52km stretch of muddly four lane road getting laid (there also the average car speed was around 70Kms).. Otherwise they say it require only 3 hrs maximum.. The roads are very good compared to our part of India. 100Kmph is not a speed and I have seen no accidents on this 350 km highways. But heard, there is reckless driving around and occasional accidents.

There are tea estates around in that place. When you are there you feel like, you are at KannanDevan Hills.

The cost of living is high compared to India.. Lot of import from India may be becos of Indian managed businesses. Found few Indians in the flight coming here just for marketing.

Cost of production is very low becos of labour. But social security is getting in place like PF in India

Lot of cars and reckless driving in the city.. Majority are Toyota variants. Petrol cost around Rs.40 and diesel Rs.35 per liter.

The city seems to be small in activity compared to Kochi But some better facilities available, being the Capital City. Roads are better, but living/entertainment facilities are less.. Inland Communication is costly. Call to India, the charge is comparable or slightly high this side. Internet connection is erratic. So I prepare my mails in word and sent it as and when connectivity is good. Full time internet cost around Rs.2300/- ($50 full time).. There is part time connection as well.

We get Malayalam TV Channels here. But Cable connection is costly.. Ush 45K (around Rs.2000 per month)

Banking and Finance Companies are very much there.. but cash dealing are more.. All export-import happens through Mombasa port at Kenya..

The looting and thefts are coming down. Police patrols everywhere and they kill poor natives indulging in these activities with a shoot at sight order. The very next day I reached here police chased and killed 6 tugs, for simple reason of planning a robbery ---in India if they do this, this mail might not be read by all the addressees:)

See Guns everywhere.. All business have security staff with wireless and guns.. Heard the school kids are taught how to shoot and the security agency- is a big business here.. Heard about incidence like accidental shooting by security guards while sleeping. Last week a Pakistani girl got hit by a bullet while being in a parked car, when the security guard tried to shoot at a fleeing thief.. She is in hospital now.

Kampala is comparably safe.. Beyond it there is trouble. But still Malayalis say it is much improved in all respect.

The local mass transport is minibus-taxi service called MATATTTU and there is Motorcycle Taxi called BODA BODA Long distance buses are there even to Nairobi and Tanzania. Very fast running busses. ( I have seen them overtaking our 120kmph car)

More to follow..

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