Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Reintroduction to Delhi/Gurgaon

The year was 2006.

A dashing yet vulnerable looking youth tentatively stepped off an aeroplane in the rather small and congested old-airport in Bangalore. He had with him a single suitcase and a scrap of paper with an address.

He looked around hesitantly. The air was crisp with a hint of rain. A combination that he would get so used to that he'd take it for granted in some time. But that would be later, right then, just after the heat and dust of towns in Gujarat, it seemed like heaven.

He stepped out of the airport to see the smiling face of a close friend, and the familiar pillion seat of a rather fetching burgundy motorcycle. He had spent close to two years riding pillion on this bike. Two points of familiarity in a sea of the unfamiliar. Unfamiliar faces, unfamiliar roads, even unfamiliar red, igneous soil.

And so the journey began and I moved to Bangalore.

From the initial couple of years when Delhi still seemed the real home and coming back from vacations gave a sick feeling to the stomach, to missing Bangalore when on vacations abroad and only feeling  comfortable after landing at the Bangalore airport, its been a long and interesting journey.

So when I got a good professional opportunity back in Delhi/Gurgaon I wasn't completely exuberant about leaving Bangalore. True, quite a few friends had moved out of the city (including the first familiar face here, PS) by then and the weekends were not as full of action as they used to be, but still, AV and I had set up home here and we liked the city. We had our own haunts and our own stories. I had thought that if we would leave Bangalore, it would probably be to move outside India. But then, as they say, the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.

So I came back to the place of my birth four weeks ago. AV, the sacrificing angel that she's been about this, is still in Bangalore and will be joining me in a few weeks.

Enough context. This post is about coming back to Delhi and rediscovering everything again.

After you spend nearly a decade out of a city, coming back is as good as living in a new city, even though in theory you had spent 22-23 years earlier. And that's what is happening now.

I was looking for a house to rent in Gurgaon for most of these last four weeks. And this has been such a different experience because, if anything, there has always been a house in Delhi and I have never been exposed to hunting for a house here. Overall, it was a very different experience than in Bangalore (I should know, I've stayed in eight different houses there). For one, the brokers were significantly more unreliable than they were in Bangalore. At the other end there were brokers who wanted to ensure we chose the right 'address' rather than the right house. But it wasn't all bad. There was a lot of warmth in the broker who finally got us the house. Genial smile, taking me around as I precariously perched on his Activa. Showing me the different markets where I could get great food and also advising me that if I just move to the other side of Gurgaon, I could buy everything for '30% cheaper'!

Which brings me to the other thing. The FOOD.

It is just amazing in Delhi. I know, I know I've eaten some amazing food in extremely hoity-toity restaurants in Bangalore, but the steaming momos in the nippy air of a November evening, or the sizzling tikkis at night or the chhole-kulche at any time of the day in the street food markets of Delhi/Noida/Gurgaon are unmatched by any high-end restaurant anywhere. Oh, and I forgot the paranthe outside IIFT (yes, I visited the old alma mater dhabas one night. Though I believe I accidentally missed the alumni meet last Saturday. Pity, I would have liked to connect with people again)

All the food means that I am buying more and more soap. (As the surface area is increasing. oh what the hell, I am gaining weight with all the food intake. Need-to-start-running-again)

And finally, and most importantly, lest you think I value food more than friends, I have been catching up with a lot of old friends. People I've been in constant touch with but who I have met very infrequently. And there's nothing like having friends around; friends who you can tell (instead of ask) that you'd be staying over at there place and they better arrange for your favourite food before you reach there. Or having friends who show up downstairs to pick you up if you don't feel like driving.

So yes, things are different here. And there will be many rediscoveries and new discoveries to be made, but I'm sure it'll be a fun ride!

PS: You realise sometimes that the parameters of comfort change. I am looking forward to AV coming, and then we can start rediscovering things together. I'll also feel a little more, to use the cliche, 'settled'.

PPS: Now you know I'm in Gurgaon, so all my long lost friends, do drop me a line/comment for us to catch up again! Preferably, while eating street food!

Monday, September 8, 2014

Internet ke Angoor

The internet, is a wonderful thing.

Where else would you be able to find a source of distraction to distract you from a source of distraction when you should be studying/working? Where else will you get the inside track on which cat videos are popular with Gen-Now? Where else will you get to peep into other peoples' lives without the least threat of having the window banged on your nose?

But there are some problems that come with the internet too. Especially when you have two rather weak minds.

Let me explain.

So AV had mentioned many times that Udaan was a very interesting movie. So we were watching it one evening (from where else, the internet) after dinner. Now it's a good movie, and even though I wasn't too convinced by the ending, I get that it is an unusual topic, has a good script, good performances.

But the problem was not the movie.

Small spoiler ahead

The movie starts with a bunch of school kids from a boarding school stealing out of their dormitories and going to watch a late night movie. You know, a 'that kind of' movie. Pretty commonplace, right? Something that Ruskin Bond may have written, eh?

Unfortunately the name of the movie they went out to watch was 'Kanti Shah ke Angoor', from the legendary film maker of Gunda (post). Now with a name like that, and some scenes that were shown in Udaan, it was almost a foregone conclusion that the two weak minded individuals in question (AV and yours truly) would be enthralled by this name.

Now in ancient times (pre-internet) this enthrallment would have been just that, a weak entrallment that wouldn't have led to any action. But in this era (post-internet) it led to something that I will continue to remain ashamed of.

We watched it - Kanti Shah ke Angoor - On Youtube - Till 3 in the morning.

(hides his face)

And the next person asking me for a link to the movie on youtube will get a tight slap. At least put in the effort of searching for the movie!

PS: I just read that the lead "actress" in Kanti Shah's 'Uss tarah ki pictures' is his wife! Sometimes, I am just amazed at the power of commerce. 

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Kicking the ball looks easy, no?

And it's happening again. Football fever is gripping the country and armchair pundits across the world are disparaging the skills of the players while casually reclining their recliners and munching their favourite fried snacks and beverages.

"Arre that through pass was just too weak"
"Call that a header? Bah, my grandma could've had more power on it"
"clear the ball, Clear The Ball, CLEAR THE BALL you !@$#124"
 "Make the run, cross it to the guy with the blond hair, GOAL GOAL GOAL. See I told you!"

So the long and short of it is that the said person on the recliner is usually me. And AV sometimes comes in bleary eyed after I scream, whacks me one on the head and then disappears again.

So when I got an invitation to play a football match on Sunday morning, I was quite geared up for it. In my mind, I had already made up the position I would play at (a la Pirlo). The strategic mid-fielder who would make the crowds go ooh and ah with his perfectly weighted through passes. I was already dreaming of how my grateful teammates would pick me on their shoulders, tears in their eyes as they solemnly do a lap around the ground in front of waving flags and screaming, adoring (hopefully female) fans.

The reality, unfortunately, was a bit different.

I was able to stay upright for the 60 odd minutes we played. That's it. Nobody raised me on their shoulders. A few people were looking at me and muttering, what I want to believe, were compliments about my skills. I did see the captain surreptitiously (or not so surreptitiously) striking off a name from the list of players for the next match. I have a strong suspicion that it was that blue shirt guy's name, though you never know with captains.

And his handshake at the end of the game was decidedly final.

Ok, ok it wasn't as bad as that. We had a good game, won and everyone seemed to have a good time. There were flashes of competence and a stream of bloopers as would happen for any one who hasn't played for a while

It was good fun, playing after a while. But what I did want to say is that all the skills that look so easy on the screen are anything but. Many times I was trying to pass the ball to someone and it ended up going in a totally different direction, including a heart-stopping time when it went to the other teams main striker. Taking a header on a bounce, the ball would bounce clear over my head, or if it did touch, it was a glancing blow - much like Gerrard's that helped Suarez (Chikki bhaiyya - who taught us quite a bit of soccer and had us run header drills would have been appalled with some of the headers). Even the clearance kicks which look so easy were dropping weakly 6-7 yards away - and usually to the wrong team.

So, to conclude this meandering post - you would perhaps have felt that there is no real conclusion in this post -

"Screaming at screen - easy
Playing football well  - not that easy

Playing football - fun!

Monday, June 16, 2014

Smiling through a Forced Exile

Strange title, eh? Got you interested enough to read, eh?

This is what happens when you abandon someone. Now that none of my regular readers visit the blog everyday to read about my antics, I have been forced to resort to gimmicky titles to get some interest and traffic out here.

Yeah, yeah I know I haven't been writing frequently, but that doesn't  mean you don't spend 3 seconds (or 7 if you type slow) to type in www.swappinglives.blogspot.com in your browser to check what's been happening in my life. Hell, you can also use Ctrl+Enter in case typing the www. and the .com is too much effort!
SO there are two main topics here.

I did something on Saturday that I haven't done for 10 years now. Something that is so devastatingly strange and uncommon that I kind of felt very good about it. Something that was forced, no doubt, but was still very very liberating.

I didn't carry my cellphone. Yes, I walked out and about without the familiar weight of a cellphone in my left pocket.

Wait, actually that's not true. I did go through a small period when I didn't carry my phone in 2007. That was when I had fallen full length into a rainwater drain in Bangalore's torrential rains. Don't remember that? And you call yourselves my  regular readers, hmmpff. Read it here: The Mysterious Incident of the Drain Dive

Coming back to a happier time, this time was a bit strange. I got a call from Vodafone (my service provider) on Thursday (12 June) that some documents need to be re-submitted by the 15th or my phone would be disconnected. Now I normally don't listen to such calls with a lot of concentration. So it didn't register with me. You would normally be correct in concluding (with a snigger) that he must have forgotten about it and woke up to a no-working-phone situation. Except, that's not what happened. Did I forget about it? Yes. Did I have any intentions of submitting the documents? No.Was the service provider justified in disconnecting my phone if the documents were not submitted in 3 days? Yes. Did they wait for the 15th to disconnect? NO, a resounding NO.

They disconnected the phone on Friday, 13th June! Now, I had heard stories of scary things on Friday the 13th, but super-efficiency from the service provider was not one of them.

But this did have a good effect. Not having a phone is mildly therapeutic. Not that it still doesn't keep pinging because of Whatsapp that you get through the wifi networks at home and work, but it's been a while since I just walked out without a device that anyone could reach me with. It was faintly liberating. And I had to hunt for the phone this morning because it had been so unimportant over the weekend that I didn't even know where it was!

The other topic is a little strange and perhaps you'll laugh at my silliness.
"He's a few cards short of a deck"
"As we suspected, he's a little cuckoo"

Yeah, yeah hear me out though.


You're running about getting ready, packing lunches, waiting for the maid and cook to clear out etc. Tell me, who doesn't read those silly articles about how people get up early and meditate and  relax and go through their morning routines with a beatific smile, and make a face and say what bull shit is this. Actually, a very appropriate cartoon strip also came out in today's Bangalore Times.

So you get out of the house and on the road where all the stressed out drivers and riders are trying to cut out a few minutes from their commute and reach office on time so that the rest of the day can be a bit better. By the time you reach work your shoulders are knotted up with stress, you have a scowl plastered to your face and you pretty much know how the rest of the day is going to be like.

I read something a little while back which says that even the act of smiling is a stress buster and can help you calm down.

Baloney, you say. And so did I. How can plastering a grin on your face affect your psyche? Seems like another of those silly authors writing anything to make their timeline.

But I've started trying it on my drive to work. Force a smile and automatically the scowl goes away (try it, you can't hold a scowl on your forehead when you're smiling), things slow down a little and you're more willing to let the bike-guy who almost brushed against your car go by without yelling abuses at him. You reach office more at peace.

I know, I know, Swapnil is getting soft in the head.

But try it. Before you dis it, try it on one commute. I wouldn't be recommending this if I didn't actually like it.

So if you're driving around Bangalore, around 9:30-10 in the morning and you see a rakishly handsome guy with a silly (slightly scary) grin plastered on as he maneuvers his car deftly, don't run away screaming - it's probably just me trying to bust some stress!

Monday, June 2, 2014

Back to a peaceful age...

The other day I was out jogging

(Or wheezing, semi-rolling and finally plopping on my face as some rather imbecile-like observers call it. Yes, I'm talking about you - the one who called the ambulance when I was merely taking a breather on the jogging path by indulging in a little Shavasan)
Anyway, I normally listen to music on my phone while running (wheezing, rolling, plopping). Unfortunately, I have a Windows phone which makes it near impossible to make a decent playlist without connecting to a computer (or even after connecting). Thus, I end up listening to the same songs again and again and again...

So this time I decided to try something else. I switched to the radio and started searching for radio stations that I normally don't listen to while driving.
And I locked into Vividhbharti
And it was so cool. No garish advertisements selling me real estate, or chirpy (screechy?) RJs playing phone pranks on people, or random people trying out tongue twisters to earn prizes.

A Hindi play was running on the station. No background score, just nice mellow voices acting out different characters in the play. The story itself was no great shakes, but just hearing it without a break, with no effort to sell me something was such an enchanting experience.

And that's what's happening elsewhere as well. I find myself gravitating more and more towards listening to the Doordarshan and BBC news, rather than the thousands of channels for which each story is 'breaking' all the time. Same sensational statements repeated again and again with no substance.
I was watching a channel yesterday which said Modi will give out bonuses to BJP workers. 16 times. In 2 minutes. Once every 7.5 seconds. Go figure.

 And the debates! Don't even get me started. If we tried to debate like that in school, we would've been kicked off the stage and probably been made to stand outside class for a while, a long while. Screaming, scratching, drowning out the opponents (enemies?), not interested in what was being said - as long as it was loud enough.
I think it is time for someone to break the clutter with a well thought out program of debate. A show where you just have two participants, a well defined topic and a provision for blocking out one person when the other speaks. Let's just get the actual opinions on the topics with no provision for questioning. 

So in a decade and a half, Vividhbharti and DoorDarshan are making a return to my mindspace. Not for any great quality, but just for peace.

Am I growing old? Or is the cacophony just too much already. 

Saturday, May 17, 2014

The Hidden Joy of Mr. Rahul Gandhi

Am I the only one who thinks Rahul Gandhi looks so much more happy since the election results?

Now, I am not too much of a Gandhi-family type of politics. The politics of ensuring a family rules, whatever the impact on the country is obviously not my, or any other reasonably rational persons, cup of tea. Doling out huge subsidies to measurable vote banks and distributing out reservations galore to groups to ensure that the future pipeline of votes is maintained makes me feel as angry as the next 'aam aadmi'.

But I can't help but feel happy for Rahul Gandhi now. All through the campaign he has looked like he was being forced into something he just does not want to do. He walked into most interviews and rallies the same way we used to walk into engineering viva voce exams. We knew we were going to be screwed, but there was no away around seeing it to the end.

The judgemental focus on his performance during the campaign would have undermined his confidence even further. I don't think anyone can be thick skinned enough when almost every single word, every single gesture was. and continues to be, analysed and criticized by numerous pundits. And he certainly doesn't seem to be thick skinned at all. His expressions were too transparent and he certainly doesn't look like a person who craves or relishes power.

Of course he could have denounced this role that was being thrust upon him but AV very intelligently put it  yesterday, the Gandhi family is riding a tiger. They have to continue trying to ride it or it will bite them back and finish them. The number of scams and scheming that has gone on in the last few years - the only way to avoid a backlash is for someone to keep holding on to the reins of power. And unfortunately in true patriarchal fashion this role was thrust on the 'son of the house', whether he wanted it or not.

The way forward for Rahul Gandhi or even the other Gandhis/Vadras is not clear, but at least it has become abundantly clear that Rahul cannot be the person who plots and schemes and takes on the responsibility justifying actions he had not had any role in. And now that this is clear to everyone banking on him and running over each other to anoint him prince, he would be feeling a huge weight lifting from his shoulders. Who knows, with the pressure gone he may be able to do much more good than ever before. He may even move away from the public field and do something he is really interested in. I cannot believe that he is as talentless an imbecile as the media has been painting him. Maybe he'll write a book, maybe he'll paint, maybe he'll get into business. But whatever it is he does, at least  it will be something that is not thrust on him.

So to those who derisively ask - why was he smiling when declaring the rout that the Congress faced, I think the answer goes back to the viva voce situation. Once you come out of the room, there is relief - it's over, you've done all you could have, whatever happens now - the next exam is six months away and you can breathe...

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Crushing Addictions...

I slept at 3:30 am on Thursday. Slept at 3 am on Friday. Fell ill by Saturday.

No, I'm not leveraging the new 1 am deadline in Bangalore to paint the town red. Nor am I working hard on an investment banking deal which would net me millions of dollars.

Instead it is this exasperating thing. This little niggle that refuses to leave me with any peace. Its a festering little wound that keeps reminding you of its presence with a nagging low level pain that just doesn't go away.

Have you read Narcopolis (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Narcopolis)?
There are these descriptions of people who are opium addicts. The perpetual craving, the gnawing in the pit of the stomach for one more puff, the levels to which they fall for getting their fix.
And I'm feeling the same. Every night, every day.

It's this bloody Candy Crush (http://www.candycrushsaga.com/)

Now, I had been initiated into this a long time ago. I went through the initial phase of playing the first 60-70 odd rounds. And then...I stopped. No withdrawal symptoms, no pain. I just got bored one day and stopped. Life was peaceful. A gentle breeze was blowing. Birds were chirping. The weather was mild.

Until I picked it up again. And now I seem to be in the same zone as the chandu-addicts in Narcopolis. Going to sleep with just the hope of starting on the next level in the morning.

Aargghh, someone, get me to the rehab!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Transitioning Libraries...

Many of you would know that I have been using a library called EasyLib since 2008. It was a great find for me and really helped me in sustaining my reading habit.

In fact, just because you are such dedicated readers of this blog, I shall give you some statistics:

Row Labels Count of Book
2008 11
2009 59
2010 57
2011 58
2012 29
2013 47
2014 7
Grand Total 268
Month Number of Books
Jan 34
Feb 34
Mar 15
Apr 23
May 23
Jun 16
Jul 19
Aug 14
Sep 20
Oct 19
Nov 15
Dec 36

Interestingly,  more books read in the winter months. Makes sense, nothing like snuggling in with a book during winters!
As you can see, when you start using pivot tables to track your own book-borrowing behaviour, you really need to take a break from work!

Anyway, the long and short of it is that this library had become a weekend ritual for me for a good 5-6 years. Unfortunately, due to some reasons the library has shifted to a rather distant part of Bangalore, Rajarajeshwari Nagar. It would take upwards of an hour to reach there and it just didn't seem feasible to continue with this library.

Thus, the last few weeks have been slow on reading. I did go to Blossom and pick up a couple of books, but somehow having a well-stocked library is just a great feeling (by the way, those who are close to Rajarajeshwari Nagar, do look up EasyLib. It's got a very good collection - www.easylib.com ). Also, after five years of using a library, not having one leaves a rather hollow feeling.

So I was despondently sitting around one day when it struck me - there may be other libraries in Bangalore. After all Bangalore does have a rather reading friendly environment. So I got on the internet and searched.

Lo and behold, I realized that there is a national chain of libraries that has a branch roughly, oh SIX MINUTES WALK from where I work!!!

Bagal me chhora, sheher mein dhindora
So I sneaked off for some time from my office yesterday and checked out the Eloor libraries (www.eloorlibraries.in)  branch nearby.

And the collection is quite vast and good!! YAY!

So life is beatific once again. 

Though the weekly visit to EasyLib also included a nice breakfast at Cafe Terra. Now I just need to find a breakfast place near Eloor to complete the experience!

Monday, April 7, 2014

Weighing In...

Pounds and Kilograms, Kilometres and Kilometres per hour and Kilocalories.
Sigh. There was a time when I was blissfully ignorant of these concepts. I mean, I knew what these were of course, but in an abstract sort of manner. They didn't affect me and I didn't affect them. I didn't think of them and they, in turn, didn't think of me.

But all this changed against the backdrop of pristine blue waters and white sandy beaches. Last October-November AV and I were on a vacation in Bali. Now, normally I would look to find cheap accommodations wherever I go but this time because of a glitch in www.booking.com  I wanted to make this a really, really special vacation, I booked a nice hotel. 

Nice.To put it mildly.

Let's just call it drain-out-your-account-and-max-out-your-credit-card-and-steal-your-neighbours-car-and-sell-it "nice".

Perhaps it was the pressure of knowing my first born child would have to be sold to bonded labour to pay the 'Nice' room's bill that I lost my appetite a bit. 

Now that we were at the hotel I decided to forget about the financial crisis when I return to India and enjoy myself. This obviously meant using EVERY SINGLE FEATURE in the room. Every light was switched on and off, the little touchscreen that controls the airconditioning was moved up and down just for the sake of it, the small cashew packet in the mini-bar was slit like a surgeon so that no one, least of all the guy who would come to check the mini-bar, would realize that the cashews were gone!

Amongst the last few things I spied in the room was a small weighing scale nestled unobtrusively under the wash basin. So, against my better judgement, in the spirit of extracting every Rupiah's worth, I stood on it. I looked down and the sweet display was showing something I just couldn't imagine. My weight was significantly lower than I ever remembered in the past. A good 4-5 kilograms lesser.

Miracles, they say, happen.

And thus began the journey of understanding all the scary terms (kilos, calories etc.). Of going for a run after coming back from work, on getting up early on a Sunday and going for a run. My weight lowered miraculously, and I was going to keep it low, dammit!

Unfortunately, after reducing it another kilo, it was time for another vacation. This time to Singapore for the New Years. And while we did run 3 kilometres on Chennai airport (yes, we did!) and then a token run on the first day in Singapore, the rest of the vacation was an insatiable cesspit of good food and drink.

Cesspit, you say? A bit harsh, you say?

You would say the same if you came home and realized that those little pre-lunch, post-lunch-but-before-evening-tea, pre-dinner, post-dinner, just-a-little-midnight-munching snacks had added another couple of kilos. 

And then we had to go to Delhi where moth our mom's have an ongoing healthy competition for the "Who-can-feed-them-more Cup".

Another kilo added in 2.5 days.

I started running again last week. But it looks like a hopeless cause. 

Perhaps I should have taken the scales photo and posted it on Facebook when the weight was low.