In Wasabi, I met my Kryptonite!

Ah, wasabi and I haven’t been friends, we started off on the wrong foot. Twice I my life have I tasted the vile thing, both of the times it has snuck up on me in a work situation where I did not have the luxury to extract myself from the room.

The first time was when we were working late, and I was hungry. I saw a box of peanutes with the words Wasabi written over it. I had never eaten or seen Wasabi before (I come from another country). The packaging looked nice, resembled a similar snack my mum makes back home. So I took a handful and stuffed them in my mouth. What happened after required Kung Fu ninja skills of being able to control the spit and look completely normal. I kept nodding at my colleague who kept chatting, wondering when the ordeal will end. I swore never to touch anything which had wasabi written over it.

Little did I know that Wasabi wasn’t done with me yet, an year later after the first incident, I was visiting a customer’s local office in Paris. The team went for a takeaway for Lunch, opting for Sushi.

As a vegetarian Sushi never appealed to me, I didn’t bother with it. Who would want to eat bits of avocado/cucumber wrapped in rice, what’s the point of that? Little did I know that the tiny container of greenish chutney in the sushi box was my old enemy, waiting to strike.

We were busy chatting, they were asking me about my exotic land and I was responding with the most engaging stories to be told, up until I took a bite of the wasabi infused Sushi, I went quiet. This time it was much worse, there was no water nearby to soothen the suffering and I couldn’t even open my mouth to ask them where the water cooler was. Tears welled up, I tried to look away, I suspect they thought I got emotional about talking of my land…

Thus, in Wasabi, I met my kryptonite!

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Where did the popcorn wallah go?

Tan..tan..tun…tun..tan…the chimes of his sickle shaped utensil hitting the dark iron wok could be heard atleast a block away. Each afternoon, around the last few minutes of the 13th hour I could hear him approaching. I’d be usually be sweating in my school uniform, just arrived from school, with my mother bidding me to change before venturing out. On most days it would be too late for her, I’d already heard the popcorn wallah‘s tune and like children chased the Pied Piper I’d rush out to our gate waiting for him.

He was a tall dark man, with bright white teeth, often reserving a smile for me. The transaction was the usual, I’d ask him for 2 rupees worth of pop-corn and he’d pop fresh kernels of corn into the wok. The wok was a curious instrument, bigger than the ones at home but not any bigger than the ones they’d make jalebis in the nearby sweetshops. At the base of the instrument was a coal fired stove, and the wok had a sand-salt mixure. The real thrill of the ritual was the sound of popping corn, it gave me a strange delight and he’d cover it up with a strainer but even with that contraption, a few kernels would pop out and escape leaving a trail of popped corn in front of the houses he had sold his produce. In the end, he’d pick a paper bag, and gently blow air to open it. He’d finally fill it to the brim with hot popcorn and finally top it off with a sprinkle of the strange sand-salt combination. It took 5 minutes each day, in the sweltering sun, and I’d pay him up a couple of rupees. But the whole performance was not without its rewards, he’d always fill a tiny paper bag with already popped corn and give it to me for a quick snack, while i watch him cook a fresh batch for me. He’d never charge me for it, it was perhaps a token of our unspoken friendship.

This would continue for the next morning and the next, for almost 2-3 years, the price went up to three rupees and gradually his regular visits declined. Sometimes he’d be back to his village for weddings, and at some point he stopped coming. I, for my part, also grew up and left my home for studies and work. I still wonder where did the popcorn wallah vanish, does he still sell it in another town or place? Does he share the same camaraderie with another boy as he shared with me?

The second man had his stall in front of the Parade grounds in Kanpur. I’d often visit my grandfather for my summer vacations, and he’d take us once a week to this pop-corn seller to pick up our favorite snack. This man was shorter in stature, but more talkitive, he’d talk my grandfather about us and about his well being. It would usually be dark when we’d be visiting him, his kersone lamp would burn and through little strands of light on the wok. He’d only pack the fresh popcorn into thin polythene bags, and perform the magic of sealing the packs by touching the base of the lamp with stretched packing material. This was pure magic, and probably my first experience on how one could seal stuff in poly bags! This man would always give us extra bags of pop-corn, much to the annoyance of my grandfather, for he would refuse to take money for these extra bags. It was a ritual, with him giving us extra bags, and my grandfather coaxing him to take money for all of it. It would always be a sight, sometimes he’d win the argument on others my grandfather would prevail. Each week, when the packs were empty, we’d go for the refill. Over a period of time, our grandfather grew old and could no longer drive the scooter, my trips on vacations declined and the talkitive popcorn wallah vanished from our memories.

I do not know the fate of these men, who shared their affections with us with a fresh bag of hot popcorn, I wonder if they still ply their trade or have long fallen victims to make-it-yourself-for-10-rupees Act II, or worse, compete against 60 bucks a pack popcorn at malls, which we grudingly buy either due to keeping up a social pretence or just lack of other options. Maybe I’ll spot them once again…just maybe..

If you have a similar story of a street vendor filling your childhood with tiny pleasures, do share in comments below.

Turning 30 – Ich suche purpose

Maybe that answers it.

Turning 30 is no fun, today is the last day of my twenties! God, am old, of course I am old, that is how I regarded all people above 30+! I cannot help but remember the episode from FRIENDS, ‘Where they all turn 30’. My feelings are not as extreme as Rachel, but they aren’t exactly as thrilled!

I still remember, exactly 10 years go, on the night of my 20th birthday I was writing a blog, just 20 minutes before I turned twenty. Sitting in a college dorm, I reminisced about watching Forrest Gump that night with my roomate. God, the decade went too fast, life runs much faster than I thought!

Now coming to the purpose part, not that I live purposelessly but then I still need newer avenues of finding some purpose in things, I had always thought that by the time I am 30 I would have figured it all out, sadly I haven’t. I am still as confused, stupid, goofy, lost, funny, irritable as I was 5 years ago! All I have done in the last few years is gained a paunch and lost a lot of hair!

Lets review the decade that was, and maybe make some sense.

First, the List of things to do before I turn 30

If you remember this blog post, around 5 years ago I had planned to do a few things. Lets see how I fared:

  1. Visit 5 countries outside the Indian sub continent. √ You bet, I did more than that, let me count….10 countries!
  2. Learn to play a musical instrument (no specifics which one). I am tired of playing this compter keyboard! Busted, didn’t do this 😦
  3. Learn to paint using water colors (I mean learning formally and�not just dabbling around). I learned for a month in 2009, turned out that I wasn’t that good at it!
  4. Try Skydiving – Well, am a wimp when taken to heights. I presume this is the toughest of the lot for me to even attempt. I guess its also about conquering one of your worst fears! Well, not exactly sky dive, but I did do tandem jumping off a mountain, it was pretty cool. I think you can give this one to me?
  5. Play in snow – Can you believe this? I have never ever touched snow! Ah ha, ended up living in Switzerland for a couple of years, sometimes had more snow than I could handle!

Pretty impressive ha? It seems that I am an achiever!

Second, what about the rest of life? How did I fare?

I don’t think I should turn this post into a performance appraisal. I managed to complete my study goals in the last 10 years, managed to stay employed given the crises of things.

  • Professionally not yet into a state where I would have preferred myself to be (bosses, are you listening to me?).
  • Personally, I have been doing well, had multiple crushes, made nice friends, messed up a few friendships, and managed to marry the sweetest girl ever. Sadly, I also lost a few close relatives in the years including my Grandma.
  • Financially, am not sure where I am, still don’t own a car or home, but no liabilities yet…gotta start planning for retirement?!!
  • Healthwise, I got fat, and balding…but am exercising now…hopefully I fix the fat part…balding isn’t in my control!
  • Emotionally, am still a kid at heart, not sure what the grown man logic is all about, yet!

At the bottom of it all, I learned that life is not supposed to be fair and just, and I also have understood that at times the only thing is in control is my attitude towards a situation.

Cmon, you are doing fine, why the sad face?

Ah, you see, I don’t want to be called 30 this birthday, twenties sounds much younger!

Come tomorrow, I will be 18 with 12 years of experience 😉

The move – Final Frontier

Be grateful for the home you have, knowing that at this moment, all you have is all you need.

Sometime in 2010, when I was setting up living in Kolkata, India; I had talked about how my  mother craved for me to buy bigger products aimed at a family life. I had, painstakingly, defended my bachelor position for a good 17 months after that. I finally capitulated in November last year; but then I moved back to Zurich and continued to live in a limbo.

Since November, I was a married guy, still living the bachelor life, waiting for her to join me. The last post is an indication enough of our long wait, luckily she will be joining me in the next few days.

I have been busy packing since morning to move to an apartment tomorrow meant for a family, trying to cram in everything in the limited set of bags which I possess. Its always strange to realize how one tends to gradually buy new stuff over a few months and then wonder when did it all accumulate. Coming back to the topic, this is my final move as a singleton, this marks the end of the bachelor pad era for me.

I had a good run, bought things only for my own use, ignored any product which could make an apartment homely, never cared about matching color schemes, family packs and tidiness beyond a bare minimum level. Got a TV for my Xbox, removed all silly Hindi channels from my cable network, got a cycle, bought small utensils, never bothered with storage boxes and ate out of packets!

I know it will be strange to live with a girl too, there will be a zillion things which will annoy us about each other, there will also be so many things I would be asked to care about. Its a transformation from indepedence to co-dependence on each other, its my first real step towards family life. Will it be easy? I don’t think so, but I know that each phase has its own relevance, while I enjoyed living like this, I am looking forward to the next step.

Here’s to The Move, cheers!

Constipation of Thoughts

With the church bells chiming around me for the past 8 minutes, I have not been able to focus on a single thought. Piling on a happy-to-recur headache the bells have ruined any peace whatsoever.

Ever wondered, if you didn’t wake up the next day? Will it be easier for you? Will it be easier for the people around you?

Sometimes life is swirling vortex of sticky situations, and all you wonder is if your not being around would have made life easier for people around you. Sadly, these are those days when you don’t have better thoughts and neither do you have any comfort. I often plunge into such situations, at work or home…strangely i blame human interaction as the culprit. The lesser I interact the fewer are the sticky situations, but then isn’t this the first stage of turning into a sociopath?

Ah well, why do you care, you are another unfortunate visitor to this blog, which is plunging in popularity and meatiness of content…quick click the back button to never return.

 

Au Revoir

Yes, Yes I know that change is the only constant, and one must embrace change with aplomb. But after an year of arguing for loose change with rude autowallahs of Kolkata, I know better. Anything with the word ‘change’ in it, is not an easy activity.

Another big change awaits in a week, when I bid adieu to Calcutta for another country. With this change multiple areas of stress have also propped up like moving the house, losing on the deposit, sending all the stuff home, shopping for the visit, not meeting loved ones and so on….

With this change also comes an uncertainity of a new job assignment with limited earlier experience, the anxiety and pressure to perform in a new environment.

Hope this change is good in the long run, but the run up to change is not…

I bid my goodbyes to this city and this house….wondering if the city would ever miss me. Wondering if the next occupant of this house would ever know about me, would he/she ever wonder who was the last person here and sense my essence of having lived here for around 13 months.

I know these are all philosophical questions, but well, thats what I ponder about too!

Here’s to a new  journey of a few thousand of miles and a new destination….cheers!

Imperfect

Its been just around a week in Geneva, the perfect city in the perfect country of Switzerland. Life seems so systematic, organized, punctual and respectful. In between extra polite Bon jours of ever helpful citizens of this city and the rough brawny and loud existance back home, I seek peace.

Its strange, life seems much more balanced, comfortable and easier here…its simply a perfect place to be. Yet, I am counting days to return, to an imperfect country where I’d start cribbing the moment I reach and start comparing it with good ol’ Geneva.

Why? Simple. Its the place I call home, its not perfect…its far from perfect but it still is home. Its the place where most memories and moments of my life have been, its the place where things can change, there is an opportunity to improve and make it perfect. There is so much to do.

Yes, i have met too many Indians living outside India and cursing it. I do not like it, I respect their decision to move out but with the same decision they forfeit their right to be critical of the place. If you cannot be a part of the journey you have no right to talk of its destination.

I know I’d go back home and crib…but its home, imperfect home.

Table for two please..or four?

“Get a big TV, don’t buy a small one. Get a 3 burner cooking range, two burners is too small”, with these instructions my daily phone call to Ma comes to an end. Its been less than 3 weeks since I moved to the new city and found myself a pad. Of course the place is empty and its been upto me to spruce it up the way I want it.

Equipped with a shoe string budget and purely functional needs in mind, I scoot off every now and then to the nearby home stores to add bits to my shack. At the end of each such visit I report back to Ma about my purchases and how it fits in well! Unfortunately Ma always has a different view, while I look at smaller furniture, small TV, small refrigerators…her demands are for the big stuff. Its unspoken but well understood that she wants me to buy everything according to how the needs shall be when I am married. It annoys me to no end but I always stop just short of explaining it to her, for I guess she may not comprehend it too well.

When I buy smaller stuff it gives me a comfort that I am still single, not getting sucked up into the family life just yet. Anything family size makes me aware that this freedom might end soon, its almost like marking my territory by buying things which are meant a single person to use…ay! even a dual burner seems to be an overkill in my kitchen! Constant trips to attend weddings of my friends who are now a part of this epidemic(as Barney said in HIMYM) doesn’t do me any good either, for she now thinks that I am ready to be domesticated.

For now I am winning the battle by citing financial constraints(which are partially true as well) but I know one day she’d have it her way, it would the day when Ma would visit me for a few weeks and change the landscape of the house buying comforts for her imaginary daughter-in-law whose name, arrival date, and whereabouts are still unknown.

*** Disclaimer ****

The house in the image isn’t mine(flicked off the net) and I am not getting married! So please don’t congratulate me and scare the bones out of me! 🙂

Leaving Maximum City aka Mumbai aka Bombay

There is a silly line which I mutter every time I get down on the VT station (okay! CSTM for the MNS and SS) with my friends. Watching the crowd, I’d quote innumerable hindi films:

ये है मुंबई शहर. सपनो का शहर. यहाँ सबको जल्दी है. खाने की जल्दी. ऑफिस जाने की जल्दी. पैसे कमाने की जल्दी. जीने की जल्दी. रोज़ यहाँ हजारो लोग आते है अपने सपनो को पूरा करने..

I arrived in Mumbai around 6 months ago, for my job required me to. I had always believed that if one could survive in Mumbai one could survive anywhere. I had been here before, but always as a visitor, an outsider just for short trips. But this time, I was meant to stay here and live the place.

Within a week of my landing here I ended up living in Dadar. Oh yeah! I was living in the townside as a Mumbaikar would say. For them anything ahead of Sion is a part of the suburb! I guess I had well avoided the most stressful activity for any newcomer, of finding a ‘decent’ place to stay, thanks to an old friend.

Like Morgan Freeman once talked of life being institutionalized my life started oscillating between the 8.41 AM Thane Fast from Dadar and the 6.27 PM CST Slow from Thane back home. Within 15 days I was the champion of the Central Line with a good awareness of surviving Western and Harbor too. I could tell you how much time in exact minutes it takes between point A to point B. I could lounge myself or squirrel through crowds to get in the trains. You could quiz me for any station sequence and I’d ace it!

In between work and trains, the endless stream of people and constant acitivity at any time of the day made it so alive…nothing like the sleepy towns I have been to. Between the extremities of lavish homes at Khar and the people living off the city streets I was amazed by the ‘in your face’ nature of life here.

Hundreds of Mani’s Dosas(What! you never been to Mani’s Cafe in Matunga?) and Filter Kapi fueled my mornings enabling me to be a corporate labor each day, with Mani never realizing how he was fueling India’s GDP through an able manager like myself!

Marine Drive and Nariman Point

Our weekends were sprinkled with our Foodie desires and frequent visits to the Marine Drive. That stretch of Queen’s Necklace would continue to be one of the favorite places of the city, almost an oasis of peace in bustling city. It was a part of my first evening here and I hope it shall be a part of my last evening here too.

Did I love the city? Do I want to leave it? These questions keep coming, but I feel they are irrelevant…afterall the choice has been made, my preferences do not matter. But, I do know for sure that this city allows one to dream and pursue them…it is both kind and ruthless to people….Like Sinatra once sang:

“This town is a lonely town…Not the only town like-a this town…This town is a make-you town…Or a break-you-town and bring-you-down town…This town is a quiet town…Or a riot town like this town…This town is a love-you town…and push-you-’roundtown”

I survived Bombay…and I know I can now survive anywhere.

The Charge of the Life Brigade

Not tho’ the soldiers knew
Some one had blunder’d:
Their’s not to make reply,
Their’s not to reason why,
Their’s but to do and die:

The lines above have been taken from Tennyson’s The charge of the Light Brigade. The very same lines are a part of my GTalk status for a few days now. They reflect very well a soldier’s duty to follow orders without questioning them even if these very same orders may lead to their doom!

Most of us admire and envy a soldier’s life filled with discipline,  honor and valor.  A soldier’s life and the life of his fellow men often depends on following orders without fail or deviation. For people like me, who love to question each decision/order in order to understand the big picture; an army career would have been a difficult choice.

But, just putting the same lines in the perspective of life and replacing the decision maker as God, i suddenly feel that unwittingly all of us just ‘do and die’. Whenever unfortunate events occur in our life, people comfort us by telling that something better is in store and that we should not question it for it is the part of God’s big plan.

But what if, Some one had blunder’d, and the big plan is but a false dream? Then of course, we are just doing and dying only to be forgotten in time…

PS-Apologies if this is a very philosophical and confusing post to read!