Monday, December 12, 2011

Travels in the US

Two reasons I felt like writing a post today.

1) Exactly six years ago, I started this blog and it almost felt like an obligation to write something. Although considering that my frequency of posts has drastically gone down, it might be time to call it a day and start something afresh. Will see.
2) I've wanted to make a map of my travels in the US this year ever since I did a road trip with my friends in June. So here it is.

2011 has been a great year in terms of travel. I thought I had seen a lot of the US till I made this map and realized how much still remains to be seen. All the trips were different. Vacation with parents where I was in charge of everything. Road trip with friends where the night's hotel was booked during the afternoon. Beach week craziness at a 20 member house. Impromptu one day road trips. Bachelor parties. A wedding. And a couple of official ones. The last one, in Seattle is coming up during the X-Mas weekend. And I think it would be a great one to round up the year.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Living in the Age of Disruption - Television

The show was named "Superstars of Soccer" and if my memory serves me right, it aired at 10 PM. I don't quite remember if it was sometime before 1990 World Cup in Italy or the next one but have a feeling that it was the former. My dad was a huge soccer fan and had gotten me to watch the sport (basically only the World Cup). A one hour show packed with clips of the Johan Cruyffs and Maradonas and Zicos scoring goals was enough the capture the imagination of an eight year old. What I vividly remember about the series is that we would often rush back from a family friend's house so as to be able to watch it uninterrupted at home. Bring dinner to the living room table and see spectacular goals being scored. 

And now we have YouTube. So much for instant gratification.

One Show. One Time.

Like any kid born in the 80s in India, Doordarshan was my introduction to television. And apart from Ramayan and Mahabharat, the only thing I remember are the Spiderman and He-Man cartoons. There were hardly any sports (or I was too small to care) and watching TV was more often than not dictated by the program which was being aired at that time of the day. Which essentially meant you picked your shows and adjusted your life around it. If you missed it, it was gone. Forever. And you asked your friends about it and replayed it in your mind. 

More Channels. More Movies.

The big change sometime in the 90s was cable TV. Suddenly you had this thing called "options". A dozen channels. Actually, I think there were more but our TV only had so many channels. So you had to pick favorites. Zee TV, Star TV, BBC World, MTV (they played music back then) and a few other channels almost immediately changed our TV viewing behavior. The concept of channel surfing came into being. There was this air of unpredictability. Let's turn on the TV and see what's on. I would do that with my mom in the evening before dad came back from work. We didnt have channel guides and often weekend editions of newspapers would have all the TV listings. I remember spending a good 10-15 minutes to make sure I had all my action movies covered. To add to the entertainment portfolio, my dad got us a VCR. Still remember the first day trying to set it up. Took us the entire evening. Compared to today's interfaces, that was almost command line like in its demeanor. The advent of VCPs and VCRs (which could also be rented) opened up this whole "Video Parlor" business - shops which would stock copies of Indian and Hollywood movies and rent them out. Nobody I knew "bought" video cassettes. It was way too costly. One particular guy at one of these shops was an avid movie watcher and introduced us to classics like The Gods Must Be Crazy and Dances with the Wolves. We would spend hours at his shop browsing through the library and chit chatting about the movies he had watched. It was one of the more memorable outings that I used to have as a teenager. The quality would often be sub par, though. Sometimes it was bearable. Just a glitch here and there. On the rare occasion, we would have to return it to the shop without being able to watch it. It was normal. A little depressing but absolutely normal. Cassettes get damaged. It was the way things are supposed to work.

The R in the VCR meant that we could record stuff too. And the one we had was powerful enough so that we could set timers to turn on the TV and record stuff even when we were away! Pretty cool, right? We never figured out how to do it. Nevertheless, we did record some live stuff. The 1994 World Cup Soccer Final, for instance. I never watched it afterwards. Roberto Baggio was my hero and it broke my heart to think about that final.

Whatever. Whenever.

Fast forward to the 2000s. The channels increased to over a hundred and the TVs became more powerful but essentially the model remained the same. You had a cable provider (and may be a set top box). CD/DVD players replaced VCRs. Although people had started to buy CDs. They were cheaper and lasted a lot longer. So yes, we are moving from a rent-only mentality to a buy-really-good-movies one. Or buy-cheap-pirated knock offs. I, for my part had moved to college and discovered the power of the internet and P2P file sharing software.

Terabytes of videos. DVD quality. And Free. Beat that!
I perfectly blended into this free model as everything from the latest American sitcoms to the Kurosawa movies were suddenly a click away. Watching as much of the the IMdB Top 250 as possible almost became a fashion statement of sorts. Not that I knew the term then, but this was "Time Shifting" at its pinnacle. You could always watch movies later. The whole Video Cassette followed by CD/DVD industry was built on this premise. That people would want to and should be able to watch any movie any time. Not just when it played in the theaters. But before I went to college, I didn't know that this happened for TV as well. So now, no matter when the 1st season of FRIENDS aired, I  could download it from the LAN and watch it as many times as I wanted to. It was fascinating. 

What began in college continued in Bangalore too. I missed the LAN but still had a hold on LOST and How I Met Your Mother. Bit Torrent to the rescue. I couldn't imagine people paying for content when piracy was so rampant. And so easy. And nobody ever got caught. And thus, "owning" became the default. First I would burn movies into CDs. But then as storage became cheap and 500 GB external HDDs became pocket sized, it became the norm. Download entire seasons and keep them in your hard drive. Not a penny expended. Technology changing consumer behavior. Ah! now, I get it. Thanks to my MBA!

TV meets Internet & I start paying.

The last bit of this story brings us to my life in present day America. I spent the first two years in this country in school which meant there wasn't time to really watch any TV. There were way more interesting things going on. As a result I stopped downloading stuff. Still, buying digital content was an uncomfortable notion for me. Years of access to free, hi-def videos had had its impact. But then there was the question of ease and any time access. Add a hi speed internet connection and a relatively cheap fee to the mix, and I began to realize why I would finally be ok with paying for content. So I got my internet enabled TV with a built in Hulu and Netflix app and access to a couple of other on demand movie stores. Renting  or streaming at a monthly subscription is still a lot cheaper than buying. And I found myself moving from the owning-for-free to the paying-for-rent mentality. A full circle, in some ways.

So much has changed. From the devices themselves to the way content is distributed to the way it is consumed and the way people relate to it and react to it. From a one time only event, most of Television today is available almost immediately after it is first screened. Hulu has made a name out of the concept of "Second Day TV" (making popular shows available for streaming a day after they are aired). It's even more fascinating for me because I work in an industry which is so intricately linked to all of this.We expect instant streaming at hi qualities and are annoyed by the slightest glitch or delay in playback. Things are so easy now. And will get easier in the future. And our options will explode. TV would soon move into (it has already started) handheld devices. It would become more interactive. If you follow this space as closely as I do, you would be aware of how it's being billed as the last domain ripe for digital disruption. And I thought so much has already changed !

Enough of writing about TV. Time to catch some Arrested Development on Netflix!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Of Korean Food & American Pop Culture

I'm not nearly there but I've definitely gotten better. At eating food with chopsticks, that is. Thanks to the delicious Korean food at my company cafeteria. I love the spicy pork and the chicken and the Bi Bim Bap. The veggies aren't too bad either and along with the meat are the easy part. I've learnt the technique to pick them up and eat without looking like a retard. But I seriously think that it's the clumped up nature of it that makes it possible to even try to eat rice with chopsticks. I still take a fork though. To finish it up. Because the hardest part is when you literally have grains of rice left. I use them more when I go alone for lunch (not because I'm not popular, though). Just feels easier trying out slightly different holding techniques.

Enough about food. Now for the second part of the post title.

I've always considered my knowledge of pop culture above average. Of late it has risen drastically owing to the new fall season premiers on NBC, FOX, ABC & CBS and the fact that I have started following the Dallas Cowboys. Yes, I admit it. I love coming home from work and watching everything from Parks & Recreation to Sing Off (if you like music you should watch it because it's the most unique show out there and the judges actually make sense and talk about music rather than other stuff) to X-Factor to Prime Suspect to Modern Family on TV. And if I'm not feeling particularly sleepy I also catch parts of Jimmy Fallon and Craig Fergusson before going to sleep. Fallon is way better by the way.

Point is, since the days of bit torrent at IIT, I've considered myself pretty knowledgeable about all this - music, movies, TV shows (the core components of pop culture - according to me). It took some time getting up to date with the Rock n Roll stuff of the 60s onwards but I'm satisfied with the progress I've made. 

On the other hand, during the three years of my life at Bangalore, I got up to speed with the Indian pop culture too. Not that I was far behind. But with uninhibited access to internet and TV and room mates who were just as enthusiastic, we made sure everything from MTV Roadies and Splitsvilla to Himmesh Reshammiya and Indian Idol was consumed. And yes, there was Times Of India - the ultimate entertainment piece. No, I'm not just talking about Bangalore Times (insert any city name that had its own version) here. Read aloud sessions from ToI were one of the most fun we had at times. Oh, how I miss those!

Anyway, let's get to the crux of the matter here. For the first time today, I actually listened to the desi Radio station in Dallas today. 104.9. And the reason was that instead of talking about how to save taxes and the new jewelry store in Plano, they were actually playing some good new music. Some of it was apparently from Rehman. And I had absolutely no clue about any of the songs. That's when it hit me. I don't follow the IPL anymore. I had little interest in politics and have very less idea about that now. I might have watched two Indian movies in the last one year or so. And I'm no longer on top of the one thing which I used to be the first to find out - new Bollywood music which is good. I was usually the one forwarding downloaded mp3s to my friends. So the gain in the US pop culture knowledge has come with a price. Not that I'm surprised. I think in my case, I have chosen this and if and when I go back to India, it will change. I don't like being at one place and following the happenings of some place else. Wait, I sort of did that with American pop culture when I was in India. But US is the center of the world, right ? And those sitcoms (& LOST) were good!

Funny story: Somebody at work was talking about the Republican candidates and inevitably Rick Perry came up. I was not part of the conversation but happened to overhear it. I immediately said something on the lines of 'Oh, he was a front runner but kind of shot himself in the foot in the Presidential Debates' and went back to checking on my computer. The girl asked the guy 'What did Perry do?'. And the guy who is born and raised in Texas and now works in Texas pointed to me and said, 'You seem to be more aware of this than me' And no, he was not being sarcastic. It's another story that my knowledge is courtesy Jon Stewart and Jimmy Fallon.

Almost time for Jay Leno.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Friday Morning

It's 55 degrees and sunny. I roll down the car windows a little on my way to office. The traffic is smooth and so I decide to stop at Panera and get a hazelnut coffee.

There's a beautiful news reporter with her crew setting up the equipment. Will probably talk about the coming of fall weather!

Some days, you just feel good about everything. This seems to be one of those days. I feel like taking a long drive and snap pictures. Maybe I'll do it over the weekend.

Anyway, time to head to office.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

'Last' Weekend

I drifted in and out of sleep throughout the taxi ride from the Meatpacking district to LaGuardia. The overcast sky and the rush of wind through the open rear window providing the perfect company to my thoughts wandering around another unforgettable weekend. The last one of its kind. 

The greatest thing about having a job is getting paid. And so even though I have a HUGE student loan and a smaller but significant car loan in my books, when the opportunity to spend a 3 day weekend with some of  my closest friends came by, the Dallas to NYC trip didn't seem extravagant at all.

Friday night at a bar, Saturday at the US Open culminating with a midnight feast of chicken and rice at 53rd & 6th, Sunday rooftop breakfast with the Brooklyn bridge in the background followed by an Indian lunch and cycling in the Central Park and finally the crazy night of partying and dancing which ended at around four - on Monday morning, the weekend felt too short to be over.
In between all these, there was a deluge of absolute nonsensical conversations (which won't be posted here!), hysterical laughing at the stupidest of jokes (some people won't even call them jokes), talking about touring the world by some and getting back to work by others.

I reached Dallas late in the evening to find that by a miracle of nature the temperature had dropped from 105 to 85. I looked at the forecast and the highest for the week was not even 90! Something to look forward to, I thought. And that's when it sort of made sense. I love having things to look forward to. Travel, meeting people,  even a work meeting late in the week. The sense of anticipation is quite a high. The wait almost as rewarding as the actual occurrence. 
There's more travel and meet ups coming up in the next couple of months. So soon I'll be in anticipation mode again. The settings would be different and so would be some people. It will be a blast, I'm sure.
But last weekend was unique for sure. I'll miss not having an encore.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Songs, Places & People

Even though I think I'm a "musical" guy, I don't listen to a lot of music - like during work or while running on the treadmill. Part of it could be because I don't enjoy putting on headphones. While driving, though, I love it. So much so that I'm willing to say, I need it. I mostly listen to the radio. The zone between unpredictability at one end and the comfort of familiarity (e.g. the Today's Hits  station that each city has) is perfect for me.

Enough of beating around the bush. The reason I wanted to write this post is because with so many songs there are these places and people associated in my head that have become inextricably linked with the songs themselves. Every time a Don't Stop Believin' or Pour Some Sugar On Me or The Scientist or Collide or Coming back to Life or Dust in the Wind plays (I'll stop here, because the list is pretty long!), I invariably end up thinking about those associations. Some go back to the hostel rooms of IIT. Some to the pubs or even my house in Bangalore. Others are more recent and trace their origins to Saturday nights at a certain No. 3 in Charlottesville. Then there are the people with whom you shared the song - singing, listening along with pitchers of beer, dancing or even just sending the mp3 and having a conversation about it.

I don't know how it is with you; but for me, nostalgia is almost always bittersweet. There's the high of having had such a great time and reminiscing about it. And there's also the sense of loss. These songs are part of nostalgia too. 

Fortunately, I've found my staple radio stations in Dallas. Today's Hits, Classic Rock, Alternative New Rock and this station which mixes up everything from a Matchbox 20 to a Bruno Mars. Not surprisingly, a lot of these songs come up during my drive to and from the office. It's a pleasant distraction from the 105 temperatures and occasional traffic on US-75.

P.S. Watched this absolutely riveting movie about street art - Exit Through The Gift Shop. Best thing I've seen in a long time.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Starting Again

The absence from this space has been so long that when I logged in today, I found that Google has changed the entire Blogger interface! Like my other hiatuses, this one also has been characterized by an extended period of what I like to call 'eventful living'. Graduation and goodbyes. Travels and transitions. In that order, actually. There have been too many things I've wanted to write about. But the irony is that I don't know how to begin. 

"So where are you from?"

I don't remember if I've written about this earlier, but this is no longer a simple question for me to answer. Sometimes people are more specific (like the girl in the leasing office of my apartment) and ask "So where are you moving from?" Two years ago, when I was introducing myself to the three hundred other classmates, it was easy. Well, easier. Start with India and then ramble a bit about growing up in a small town in Eastern India and then spending time in Delhi and Bangalore. But I realized, some people wanted an easy to remember, 2 second answer. So I stuck with Kolkata or Bangalore.

Since moving to Texas, I mostly say Virginia. And if the conversation goes on for over thirty seconds, I make sure that I put in the 'have been in the US only for two years' part. To which, surprisingly a few say, 'Oh! just two years? Your English is really good!" 
Now, my English has been or less the same as it was when I was in India. Sure I've started to roll the T's and the R's and stretch the A's. Mostly so that people understand me. Not to put on an accent per se. Anyway, I take it as a compliment, say thanks and continue blabbering.

Then there's the occasional encounter with an Indian American or somebody who happens to know more about India that I would think he/she does. So my standard 'I'm from India' leads to a duh!-you-really-thought-I-couldn't-get-that-from-your-accent-and-skin-color look, I laugh awkwardly and proceed to talk about my journey from Kolkata to Bokaro to Delhi to Bangalore. 

Point being, it's not an easy question to answer. Not anymore. 

"What do you think about the US of A?"

This is not as frequently asked. But is probably harder. My answer? I give a very standard one. 
I like it here. I think the social infrastructure is great and makes life easier. Technologically, this country is way ahead. But I miss the spontaneity of India and the fact that I'm far off from my parents and a lot of my friends. Nowadays, I add the fact that how pissed I have been with customer service at most places - from AT&T to car rentals to IKEA and the fact that things work great here when there is no human intervention.
Depending on how long the conversation goes, I talk about how I find it very 'sanitized' here. About not enjoying baseball at all though starting to like American football. About missing being out of touch with cricket and all the festivals back home. And more.

But on a deeper level, what do I think about this country? The two years so far have been tremendous. But how much of it was the cocooned atmosphere of Darden and Charlottesville where everybody is nice and considerate? Then again, a lot of my preconceived perceptions about this place have changed. Some for the better. Some, not so. 

Anyway, I'm curious. To anybody who has been here for a while now and happens to read this blog - what would your answer be? And no, don't start talking about the debt ceiling and White House, please.

"Do you think you would go back to India?"

This is almost invariably asked by my non-Indian Darden friends. It's actually the easiest to answer. Right now, I mean.
I really don't know. I think I want to. But for the next 4-5 years, I've got this student loan to pay. After that, we'll see where things stand.
And it's probably the most honest answer. I mean I find it hard to plan 5 weeks in advance, so how would I know!

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

A Few More Days...

Last Friday, I made my singing debut at Darden as the lead male vocal in 'Darden Lovin', a parody of Summer Nights from Grease. I blanked out on a line too. We also finally got to show our Bollywood Musical to the entire school. They had it as the last video of the 2 hour show. Yes, we did bring the house down and being part of the core group which made it possible will be one of the most satisfying experiences at Darden.
Fittingly, the climax of the show was the last song - Decades of Debt. Inspired by Seasons of Love. And when TB belted out her solo as the rest of us climbed up the stairs on the aisles of the auditorium, it started to sink in. That it was only a matter of few days. That the celebrations were a signal. That all of us were trying to hold on to as many memories as we could.

The next day started at 7:30 AM as I got up and got ready to catch the bus to Foxfield. It ended at No. 3, at 2:00 AM the next morning with 'Don't Stop Believin'. In between there were mimosas, screwdrivers and red wines, pictures and more pictures, lots of laughing and shouting out with friends and of course dancing to 80s music.

The Facebook statues have begun to tell the same story. Of the numbered days all of us have in Charlottesville. Mundane, taken for granted activities like the walk from Ivy Gardens to the school start taking on special meanings as I try to cling on to all that this place has given me over the last 20 months. Listening to acoustic/alternative music on 106.1 The Corner, or the popular hits on 101.9; bumping into familiar faces in restaurants and bars, going out for short drives around the city; knowing that there are always people to dig you out of a spot; making last minute dinner plans because everything is just so close by; talking to professors who are as much friends as mentors - the list can go on for quite some time. There's so much that has happened in such short time. It's fascinating to look back and see how far we have come. 

For me, apart from rolling the P's and the T's to make sure people understood what I was saying, the greatest change has been a heightened sense of awareness. Of myself as well as my surroundings. I've become a little more confident too. 

But I don't want to get into too much of self reflection here. That's always better with a little bit of alcohol and a few friends. The reality is in a few days Darden would be over. And in time we would lose touch with most of the people we have got used to knowing over these two years. There would be newer things to look forward to on one hand and loans to pay back on the other. There would also be reunions and the occasional business trip to a city where you catch up with friends. 

What we had here, though, was special. And as a lot of the faculty and students keep saying - we should remember that it was a privilege, that we are a very unique group who have had most of the gifts of life. 

Thursday, April 14, 2011

A photo-shoot, a few meetings and a Tango

Not a usual day at Darden. But that was my day today. With just three weeks to go before classes end, it has sort of begun to hit me. The fact that it's getting over. And if you have read my posts for long enough and/or have known me, you would know that transitions make me uncomfortable. My parents finally booked their flight tickets. Which means that now I have to start planning the itinerary of their first US visit. Leaving this place, travelling with parents, travelling with friends and then finally moving to Dallas - there's a lot coming. Exciting? Yes. But also unsettling. 

Anyway, back to this day. The photo-shoot was for a Darden marketing material (yes, I might make it to a glossy brochure, for all you know) with another second year and my marketing professor. So we sat down (well, actually, I was standing with the bag on my shoulder and my shirt sleeves rolled - because it fit my "student" image) in Flagler Courtyard and chatted casually as the photographer clicked a few snaps. It helped that my classmate actually had something to talk about and we didnt have to fake a conversation. The pictures did look pretty cool. I hope I can get my hands to them sometime.

The meetings were nothing out of the ordinary to be very frank. But 'A photo-shoot and a Tango' seemed kind of empty as a post title. And so here we are. The meetings ranged from talking to the new publisher of the student newsletter about the transition, to meeting a professor and getting ideas on how to wrap up the project, to a short lunch about the elementary school tutoring program that I helped run. A good mix, I would say.

And that brings us to the Tango. I'm doing three courses this quarter. One on social entrepreneurship and responsibility which has guest speakers in almost every class and we get to have dinners and lunches with them. Another one is on literature. Fiction at that. So far the reading list has been - the novels The Great Gatsby, The Good Doctor, The White Tiger, and the short stories Barn Burning, The Killers, and Love is Not a Pie. And the professor also invited a group of us over for dinner where I had the best grilled salmon ever. 
Doesn't sound like B-School, you would say, right. I agree. That's why I took these courses.

The last course I'm doing is about Theater. Yes. Nothing to do with business unless you start really stretching it and talk about teamwork and collaboration and all that lingo which we love. One rock-star professor, one director,  and 24 students. Last Wednesday, we had formed groups amongst ourselves and picked up 10-minute plays which were to be performed today. I was amazed at the amount of effort I spent in it. And all of it was so much fun. It was a bit like being in undergrad and getting involved in extra curricular activities.  Never feels like a burden and you achieve so much. 

The Toy-Story like play about three toys about to be discarded, a crazy sequence featuring two extremely drunk men and two women,  a girl and her craving for candies, a dead man and a dead woman who are tied to each other for eternity, two faculty members talking about student-teacher affairs, a brash young man, his friend and the waitress in a cafe and the weird grocery store meeting of a man and a woman who have almost too much in common - there was a lot of variety on display. And all the performances were worth watching. 

It's one of those moments that stand out from the myriad experiences that you have. Performing a play in a B-School. And in 3 weeks from now, the 24 of us will write, direct and act in a totally original play and perform it in front of the entire second year and first year class. How crazy is that!

And about the tango - that's how the grocery store play ends. With a rose in my mouth. And apparently we were terrific. So said the professor and the director.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Moments from the Ah-mazing Spring Break - Istanbul

Tram ride from Eminonu to Sultanahmet: Tram rides and walks seem to be a more authentic way to get to know the city. You also get to see more of the insanely beautiful Turkish women. Trams are super crowded though, and the internet had warned us about holding on to our belongings. We get down at Sultanahmet and JM calls out to the three of us to make sure we have our wallets and bags. The moment after, he realizes that his camera pouch is empty. We re-board the tram and look around the floor. But it's obvious it just didn't fall off. This time around, the jokes start almost immediately . Fortunately, he had downloaded his London pictures. And the rest of us had Greece covered. I sigh about losing a few awesome Facebook profile pictures.

In front of the Sultanahmet Mosque:  It's a little cold and overcast and the steam coming out of the brass container made it look all the more tempting. The four of us decide to try the Sahlep, a Turkish hot beverage. 3 Liras for each cup, he says and even as HW hands out the money, he tells us that the guy is overcharging. It shouldn't be more than a Lira. We notice that unlike other roadside one-man stalls, he doesnt have the price written down anywhere. We stand there sipping the Sahlep (which I really like, by the way) and see what price he charges other people and to find out if there's any price discrimination. An Asian tourist couple comes by and they dish out 10 Liras for two drinks. Price charged is directly proportional to distance from Istanbul, I make deduction as we move on with a smile that says 'we know you cheated us but it's ok.'

Looking for dinner near Sirkeci: It's a small by-lane and there's hardly any crowd. It's our first night in the city and we are looking for some Turkish cuisine. The restaurant manager comes out inviting us. The menu has a lot of variety and is priced well. The next door restaurant guy also comes out and requests us to come over. The attention is pleasantly surprising. We tell them we will come back soon and walk off to explore more before deciding. A few minutes later, we are back there. We tell the guys to decide where we should sit. 
'Two of you can come here and the other two can go to his place'
'How about all four of us come to your place and we promise to come back later to his place.'
'Ok my friend. Remember, it's a promise. I'll wait for you'

The meal is fabulous. And half the items are on the house - bread, a spicy tomato based paste, salad, and Turkish tea. We order a chicken and a lamb curry based dish (cooked with onions, bell peppers and served with rice). The guy was supposed to close the restaurant at 11 but its closer to 12 by the time we get done. It's a small place and the look of satisfaction on the guy's face makes us happy too. We ask for the check to one of the waiters and he is almost embarrassed that he doesn't know English. At each instant you get the feeling that they are trying hard to make sure you are satisfied. The look on the waiter's face says 'I'm sorry I only speak Turkish. I hope it doesn't take away from your experience here.'
It's a very different feeling from dining in an American restaurant. Yes, it's Istanbul and the restaurant is small and all that. But beyond that, you feel an underlying authenticity about the way these guys go about feeding us. For all I know, it's their job and all of it is a well thought out script. But I like to think otherwise. 

Next day, we come back to the other restaurant. The manager remembers us and shakes our hand. He seems genuinely happy that we kept our promise.

To be continued....

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Moments from the Ah-mazing Spring Break - Greece

Athens (Metro from the airport to the hostel): We get into the train and just as the door closes, AA shouts out, ' Oh shit, my bag!' The train picks up speed as the three of us helplessly watch his bag lying on the platform bench. We get down at the next stop, change sides and within four minutes are standing in front of the same bench. Nothing there. We look around, climb up and down the stairs, report it to the security who tells us very honestly and with a smile and  that even if they find the bad the laptop would be gone. AA is super pissed about losing his laptop, all his data (pictures) and the I-20 which will give him entry back to the US. Luckily his passport is in his jacket pocket. We tell him that the I-20 would be replaced (another friend is coming to Istanbul later and he can get it) and console him about his loss of data. An hour later, we are making fun of him as we go out into the city - 'AA, did you take your bag. Oops, we forgot about your generous donation to the Greek economy!' Friends can be cruel.

Santorini (9:30 AM Breakfast): Sotiris, our host, is phenomenal. He's funny, always ready to help and has an air of genuineness about whatever he does. The night before, he brought us local white wine upon our arrival to the hotel. Over the 3 days we learn more about him - that he used to study Criminology in London, he's originally from Albania, has been trying to get a Greek passport and has a friend in Florida who is setting up a restaurant and is asking him to come. He shows us the hill which is up for sale for a million euros and suggests places to go. Luisa, the very pretty receptionist also points out places on the map that we should visit. All of us are very attentive as she writes down the names of the restaurants and shows us the places by pointing them out from the balcony. 'And this is Oia.', she says as she points out the farthest tip of the island. 'It has very beautiful sunsets. Remember, it's pronounced as Ia, like Ia Ia O'. 
Coming back to the breakfast, when we asked Sotiris what time would breakfast be available he told us he would prepare it anytime we were ready. So 9:30 it was, and we requested him to put it outside.

Athens Sports Bar (St. Patrick's Day Karaoke Night): AA, JM and I sing Stand By Me. The crowd loves it and we don't make a fool of ourselves. Buoyed by this, JM and I decide on singing Last Kiss. Both of us are a little high and really enjoy ourselves. The karaoke guy likes it too and gives us free shots of Ouzo. Nobody has yet taken up his challenge of singing a Led Zep song. A decent performance wins drinks on the house. So JM and I put in our names for Stairway to Heaven (probably the easiest Led Zep to sing!). Afterwards we have some expensive Irish Whiskey which I don't remember. The crowd soon leaves for James Joyce Irish pub. We follow them there. The scotch is too strong and none of us wants to spoil the entire next day by waking up late. So we leave the drink unfinished and head out.  A two euro chicken gyro in the corner tastes heavenly as we walk the streets of Plaka back to our hostel.

Athens (Somewhere near Monastiraki Square): Somebody singing 'Hallelujah'. It's a beautiful voice and the strumming is different from the version I've heard. Of course, I stop. In a secluded by-lane, this guy with a cap is singing. No mic or amplifier and yet his voice is booming.  All of us stop and listen to him for a couple of minutes. He finishes and smiles at us. We drop a few euros in his guitar bag and ask him where he's from. Scotland, he says. He's here to record but hasn't been able to figure out the details with the studio. He's still optimistic, he says and hopes things will work out soon. We tell him that he's got a phenomenal voice. He thanks us and credits the acoustics of the street and the hour of the night. It's pretty late. I wish him the best and we wander off. 'What an amazing life.' I say. 'I would say, its more sad than amazing.'  says my friend. I tend to agree and we walk the next minute or so in silence.

To be continued......

Friday, March 04, 2011

The Great Indian Curry

When was the last time I won an award? Can't remember. Story of my life. Above average but never the best! So it was obviously nice to get the Best Curry prize. The best part however, to use the cliche, was the process. 

It was the Darden chili/curry cook off where around 18 teams were preparing a variety of chillies and curies. Around 3 gallons was the requirement so we decided to start off a day in advance. 

6 pounds of organic chicken breasts, whipped cream, yogurt, milk, spices from the Indian store, coriander leaves, ginger, garlic, lime juice, onions and tomato paste - the ingredients were bought on Wednesday afternoon. We prepared the marination paste by mixing yogurt with chili powder, turmeric, salt and lime juice. Mixing it well with the chicken, it was kept in the fridge to be cooked the next day.

We were pressed for time on Thursday so we decided to make the curry on Wednesday itself. A Bollywood playlist was selected, the volume turned high, and in went the chopped onions, tomato paste and the assortment of spices in the largest pan that we had, as the red curry simmered with intermittent tastings and addition of cream, milk and more masala. Later at night, when the curry was done the three of us decided to go out for a few drinks. A friend came to pick us up and as we entered the car the others said - 'Wow, you guys smell of yummy butter chicken.'

The marinated chicken came out of the fridge on Thursday afternoon as we launched phase two of the project. We medium roasted the chicken in the oven before putting the pieces in the curry. The volume had doubled so we split the curry into two containers and set it on low heat. In the meanwhile, the brilliant poster idea - "FINGER LICKERS Present The Great Indian Curry" was conceived. Of course there was a lot of absolutely hilarious and mindless conversation around this which will not be posted here.

The last bit - garnished the curry with coriander leaves and whipped cream, put the containers in the car trunk, drove as slowly as possible and were just in time for the start of the cook off at 6:00PM. By 6:30 PM, we were scraping the bottom for some leftover curry.

Learning to cook and enjoying cooking has been one of the more tangible benefits for me in the last couple of years. No, seriously. To master chefs AA and HW, strong work guys!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Reading Again

Always, at every moment, asleep and awake, during the most sublime and most abject moments, Amaranta thought about Rebeca, because solitude had made a selection in her memory and had burned the dimming piles of nostalgic waste that life had accumulated in her heart, and had purified, magnified and eternalized the others, the most bitter ones. 
                                                                          - excerpt from One Hundred Years of Solitude

I've gotten back to reading. Or so I would like to think. During the winter break, I managed to read 'Love In The Time of Cholera', my first Marquez. I was hooked. Every moment described in excruciating details, the semi-fantastical setting and the heart breaking story of unrequited love was unlike anything I had read earlier. So I decided I would pick up 'One Hundred Years of Solitude' next. I'm a little more than halfway through it and have a feeling that I would finish it this time. My previous attempt during the winter of 2007-08 had been a disaster. In hindsight, I was not in the state of mind required for the rather slow and intense reading.

I'm probably the worst multi-tasker I know. This, despite being almost done with my MBA! So I cant, for example, read and watch TV at the same time. Or browse and listen to music. I don't enjoy it and I invariably end up losing one thread completely. Anyway, the point is, I need time and space to read novels. So last Saturday when I woke up early (8 o' clock) and saw the sun streaming through the balcony door, I decided not to open my laptop and instead pick up the book. For the next 5 hours or so, I kept reading. Stopping only for the cup of tea and bowl of cereal in between. The phone didn't ring and there was no music playing. And the world didn't change because of my absence from Facebook.

Enough talking about reading. Back to doing it.

Monday, February 14, 2011

The Little Things

At Darden, seemingly ordinary, little things can make your day. And much of it often comes from the wonderful faculty that we have here. So when the professor from first year quarter 1 says 'Hi Atish' in the hallway and then you go on to have a conversation about your full time offer and the new term structure for the first years and the winter break and what not - the thing that strikes you most is the fact that you were a very average student in his class and he still remembers your name even though you haven't talked to him for almost a year. More so when at a charity reception, where there are a couple of hundred people, another first year professor, after playing with the faculty band comes over and says, 'Hey Atish, good to see you again'

People here genuinely make an effort to know you. To remember the conversations you had with them. It's infectious, to say the least. 

First week of classes in January. Financial Institutions & Markets. It's a whirlwind of a class - true to the reputation that the professor has. There's not a dull moment as he cold calls and makes jokes and talks about banks and capital ratios and dances around the class all in one breath. It's like a theater. It's definitely a performance. And I don't care that I will never use all this in my job. The experience of being there is worth every minute. And I leave B-School knowing about how banks and markets work. Win-Win, right?

End of the day.  around 5:00 PM. I'm leaving school. 

'Atish!', I hear someone call out. It's the finance professor.
'So how was class today.'
I mumble something on the lines of  'Great! I learned a lot......'
'Well, see you tomorrow then. It's going to get more interesting!' And he leaves with the same spring in his step which he had at 10:00 AM.

A couple of weeks later, we do a Harvard case on Salomon Brothers and the Treasury market. It's a very well written case and I actually understand now how this thing works. After class, I'm at the cafe ordering a sandwich.
'Good job in class today, Atish'
'Oh thanks! It was a great case. I think it was one of the better Harvard cases we have done'
'What do you mean, MY cases are not good!'
I pause for a second and say, 'Oh no! I meant EVEN your Harvard cases are super'
'Ha Ha. Great answer Atish. You get extra class participation points.' And we walk off with our sandwiches.

Competitive Dynamics Seminar. Same professor from first year strategy. So it's less surprising that he knows me well. He wants to take the entire class out for dinner to celebrate the Chinese New Year. Too bad that the 25 odd students have conflicting schedules. So he decides to have the make up class (due to the half snow day that we got earlier) in the Abbott Dining Room and have lunch instead! Not that we haven't eaten in Abbott before, but having a class is a new experience and more than that, it is the thoughtfulness of the professor to make it a memorable experience for us.

These are not isolated incidents. They keep happening. With all of us. All the time. And bit by bit, they add up to what's best about this place.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Break Ke Baad (After The Break)

So my month long winter break ended this Sunday. A pretty eventful stay, I would say. Attended a friend's wedding, met a few school friends (one after 10 years), visited the city I spent the first eighteen years of my life after nearly four years, dad retired and along with mom got the VISA to attend my graduation in May. 
In between all this I rediscovered the pleasure of sitting on the couch and watching a good day of test match cricket, eating Bengali home made food and listening to Bollywood music to start the day.

I moved out of my parents' place in 2000 and have since then lived in Delhi, Bangalore and now Charlottesville. My parents also left Bokaro in 2007 and are now settled in Kolkata. So the concept of home has been a little vague for me. I've come to enjoy, remember and long for bits and pieces of each of these places but as my association with a city ends, over time the fondness fades away. 
Different food; different language; often times completely different conversation topics; meeting and living with a different group of people - be it relatives and parents' friends or the gardener, house maid and driver; different everyday problems and victories; it's like living another life altogether. And I would feel lost at times. I am not sure if I am more 'at home' with my friends in Charlottesville or with my parents in Kolkata or hanging out with my college buddies at a bar in Bangalore or Delhi. May be that's completely natural. In fact isn't that what I have always wanted. To be equally at ease in varied surroundings rather than being restricted to a single identity. 

I don't want to sound like a complete jerk but the last sixteen months have changed the way I look at things and people around me. The filth hurt the eye more and the chaos got to my nerves at times. There were the what-am-I-doing-to-make-this-any-better moments too. But for better or for worse, they remained just that - moments.  Money, lifestyle, opportunities, family and friends, a sense of obligation, adaptability - there would be many factors to weigh. But when the 'Where do you want to settle' question would finally need to be answered, it would be tough. It isn't easy now. It won't be easy a few years from now.