Friday, December 29, 2006

"A Brave New World", First impressions of Singapore

Everyday, as I get into my Hotel elevator, I see representatives from at least three different nations in that space. The tall, white, stout, bald foreigner in his late 50s wishes me 'Good Morning', the student wearing three quarter cargos, motley t-shirt, colour framed glasses and the spiky hair can be Malaysian, Singaporean or Chinese, and the middle aged couple who keep pecking each others cheeks looks like a mix of Asian and European origin. This diversity is one of the most striking things about Singapore.

The lady who attends to Room Service is Malay and knows all the four official languages of Singapore (she even tried to speak in Malayalam, but gave up). In the MRT (Metro Rail) I met a SriLankan who was educated in Trichy, is now settled in Singapore, but who someday wishes to go back, not to SriLanka, but to India, and settle in Bangalore. He tells me India, especially Bangalore, is doing great.

The Taxi drivers I meet almost always men in their 60s, mostly Singaporean of the 2nd generation of Chinese or Indian settlers. They are a very cheerful and talkative lot - a far cry from the Autowallahs of Bangalore or Chennai. The difference it makes when you are greeted with a - "Good Morning Sir", rather than a bargain on price and on reaching the destination given a print out of the bill, of course paid through card, and told - "Thank You and Have a Nice Day", is unparalleled. It is not to be mistaken as part of a high-flier life-style as a Taxi is a common means of transport in this city. Some of the men work from 6:00 am - 11:00 pm even after retirement age. They also know quite a lot about the world. One Taxi driver, on telling him that I was from India, enquired which part of India I was from and on being told South India, asked whether that place was hot. He had heard of a certain Chennai which was very hot throughout the year! Then there was the 2nd generation Malayalee, whose father settled here after the World War, and looked after his two families, one in India and the other in Singapore - well he said that in a matter of fact manner and on sensing my wonder at his description, told me that that was the way things were at that time. He then showed me a piece of news on those days Strait Times that talked about Kerala Govt's ban on public spitting and blowing mucus in public places. It doesn't take much to brighten my day.

One of my project mates is Chinese, from Beijing and is employed with - Infosys! On questioning he starts to talk about Infosys' operations in Beijing and tells me how a contract won by Infosys India is now being done in Beijing. I was even told Infy was a good option for fresh graduates as it was easy to get into and they were recruiting in large numbers! At work, I'm replacing an Indian, report to a Chinese, work with a Singaporean and an Australian, am part of an African's team and sit in the seat of my Alumnus from Lucknow, India. Not truly Global I know - the South Americans, Canadians and the Icelanders are missing. But am sure they are somewhere in the crowd!

People are in general very courteous, work hard, lead a balanced life - are in office by 9 and leave office by 5, and are not xenophobic. They are at ease with foreigners and are more than willing to help out; and are damn stylish! Women know a thing or two about style and fashion here, and men try hard to catch up. The range of fashionable clothes that women can wear without revealing or being obscene is amazing; and it is impossible to guess a woman's age. It is probably in their genes to remain slim and petit.

It is a truly fascinating city, Singapore. If I were to take any aspect of life and I mean any - from the attitude of people to cycle-rickshaws, or from food in McDonalds to the Central Fire Station - it will be different and more importantly different in a very positive way in most cases.

One of the reasons why The Taj Mahal is so beautiful is because it has a clear blue sky as a background, uncluttered by distractions of buildings and trees. Strangely, this was the thought that crossed my mind when in the light of dawn I first saw the sky-scrapers of downtown Singapore. There they were jutting out into the sky in sheer defiance, like the imperial guards of some Chinese emperor, defying everything that I had seen and experienced till then.

Singapore is a model city - the roads are wide, clearly named and are lined with trees and flowering plants. Sprinkle a good helping of stylish cars and well-dressed people from around the world and there you have your postcard. Above all the city is as clean as a freshly starched pajama. Like a friend describes it, you can see the treads on the wheels of the cars, and you don't have to polish your shoes everyday. Roadside constructions are blinded from the public, like I have seen when the Delhi metro was being constructed. The whole city runs as if it were an automated machine, I have seen a policeman only once in my last 2 weeks in this city.

Shopping is the favourite pastime of Singaporeans, and they jokingly call it the national sport of the country. There are underground malls connecting different parts of the city. You are busy taking in the Starbucks, the Carrefours and the Kopi tiams, and before you know you have covered 3 to 4 traffic junctions.

According to a B-School friend, the Government of Singapore has taken care of the fundamental needs of its citizens, the ones that Maslow talks about. What he meant to say was that the basic 'Roti, Kapda, Makaan, and Sex' needs of every individual in this city have been taken care. The Government provides housing - 90% owned by the individual, social security and health care needs of the populace; and the city has its legal blind spots. Rules and Regulations are plenty, and fines are very hefty - $500 for eating food and $1000 for smoking in trains. It is very clear that the authorities have no intention of spoiling the child by sparing the rod.

Still Singapore is not without its murmurs of discontent amongst its labour class - I have not yet had a chance to talk to the thriving upper class. Like one Taxi driver told me, till a few years back things were great, but now, though the govt does provide for our basic needs, there is no fun. He was for one referring to the many rules and regulations, and for another saying that given the small size of the country, to get away from the city one had to fly to another country. Cost of living also becomes high once you start going after the luxuries. $10 starting for a movie is probably the cheapest form of entertainment. Concerts run into $50 or more and cigarette packs cost $11 and come with gory pictures of patients afflicted with cancer.

I chanced upon a movie trailer that made fun of many of the quirky ways and some of the issues of Singapore (like bureaucracy!!); and it got a loud reception in the theatre. It probably is the biggest advantage of the visual medium that it can sneer the masses on their face, portray them as outright idiots and still get their acceptance and appreciation. Borat is making waves all around the globe and the Black Adder series that I'm currently into rips apart anything British (and French!) over the ages.

It might look a bit childish, but the list of cars that I have seen in Singapore reads something like this - Ferrari, Porsche, BMW, Renault, Jaguar, Mercedes, Alfa Romeo, Lotus, Kia, Nissan, Audi, Saab,Volkswagen, Mazda, Lexus, Volvo, Toyota (like we have the Maruti in India the Toyota is everywhere), Proton, Suzuki Swift, Hyundai and Honda (I have not seen a Lamborgini yet!). Well that is Singapore for starters.

And as far as bikes go Dirt Racers and broad wheeled Hondas rule the roost. I'm told there is a Harley Davidson parade that happens ever Monday - seems the club members just ride around the city showing off their priced possessions.

One is witness to innovation in every part of life and the meaning of the phrase 'by any stretch of imagination' is redefined everyday - there are street side e-kiosks for paying all your monthly bills in single shot (from electricity and water to the credit card charges), there are congestion taxes to dissuade vehicles from taking heavy traffic routes during peak traffic hours and the concept of "On-demand TV" lets you choose, pay and see movies of your choice using just your remote and TV.

It is hard not to wonder why things are so different from back home; but I miss home for sure.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Motorcycle Diaries

We were like the travelling Saints - Param, Sri Kanta and Me.

We would move from shrine to shrine, singing bhajans for 10 mins wherever we stopped, mesmerising the gentlefolk of the sleepy town of Kaivara and bringing some smiles on our faces. Actually, spirituality was lost on me - I was just a chronicler, I took snaps, recorded videos on my mobile and reflected on the moment and the experience that I wished to chronicle somewhere. Param and Sri Kanta did all the chanting.

It was the night before that Param rang me up and asked me whether I wanted to join him on a bike trip. He had some work in this place called Kaivara, some 50 kms outside Banglore. I was just back from my Diwali break to Goa. The temptation to answer a blind call, the impulse, is exciting - reminds me of days back in college when we would on the spur of the moment decide to go for a movie on the eve of an exam. I'm glad some of that madness is still left in me.

We ate our home cooked food. We were spread-out on the grass near the road eating rice, dal and beans. We had clocked some 2 hours on the bike. We had almost 20 kms more before we reached our destination. The dog sat patiently behind us. Every now and then it would just get up and nudge a bit closer checking out where we were with our lunch. Its turn would come. I had tried shooing it away. It just jumped back a few steps confused why I was doing what I was doing - couldn't I see it was hungry and following us around for food was a natural thing to do. I gave up, I did not have whatever it took to pelt it with stones and drive it away.

Wind on your face at 70 kph, a machine that responds to your slightest whims between your legs, smooth grey roads scampering into a horizon of overcast sky, rocky hills and green flora that has taken its true colours from the slight drizzle that is falling around, and the thought of seizing the moment. Life!

There was this place in the mountain where they were cutting shrines in the hill. There was this hall in the womb of the mountain which shouted back at us when we called out to it. Param and Sri Kanta ran towards the podium shouting the Lord's name. I looked around taking in the moment, we were actually INSIDE the mountain! Forgetting for a moment our angst and our cowardice to solve it, we ran into the warm and protective cavern of nature.

We will emerge one day, stronger, resolute, free and ready to be scarred again!

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Lines that Stuck

The terror of society, which is the basis of morals, the terror of God, which is the secret of religion - these are the two things that govern us

- Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray

The aim of life is self-development. To realise one's nature perfectly - that is what each of us is here for. People are afraid of themselves, nowadays. They have forgotten the highest of all duties, the duty that one owe's to oneself

- Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray

Show some respect to your time on this Earth - Paulo Coelho, Zahir

Life is Serious Business - Param (Friend)

Give Life a Chance - Akshay (Friend)

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Word Play

Happy Onam.

Happyo Nam. (are we happy?)

An interesting message I received today.

By the way I have not quit blogging. Just took an extended break. Hope to be back to active blogging soon.

Recent movies I saw,

1. Lage Raho Munna Bhai - Very Enjoyable. Arshad Warsi as Circuit steals the thunder. The idea of Gandhi-giri is also good.
2. The Tenant (Roman Polanski) - Waste of Time. Have watched Chinatown, Rosemary's Baby and now this. What is all the hype about I fail to understand.
3. Vettayadu Vilayadu - Very slick and enjoyable. Production quality is great, but an overdose of violence. Watchout the lead dancer in the last song.
4. Achan Urangatha Veedu - Highly reccomended for performances and treatment of a new subject in Malayalam cinema (one of the many sex scandals that have rocked the state).

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Ogden Nash

This Is Going To Hurt Just A Little Bit

One thing I like less than most things is sitting in a dentist chair with my mouth wide open.

And that I will never have to do it again is a hope that I am against hope hopen.

Because some tortures are physical and some are mental,
But the one that is both is dental.
It is hard to be self-possessed
With your jaw digging into your chest.

So hard to retain your calm
When your fingernails are making serious alterations in your life line or love line or some other important line in your palm;

So hard to give your usual effect of cheery benignity
When you know your position is one of the two or three in life most lacking in dignity.

And your mouth is like a section of road that is being worked on.
And it is all cluttered up with stone crushers and concrete mixers and drills and steam rollers and there isn’t a nerve in your head thatyou aren’t being irked on.

Oh, some people are unfortunate enough to be strung up by thumbs.
And others have things done to their gums,
And your teeth are supposed to be being polished,
But you have reason to believe they are being demolished.

And the circumstance that adds most to your terror
Is that it’s all done with a mirror,
Because the dentist may be a bear, or as the Romans used to say, only they were referring to a feminine bear when they said it, an ursa,
But all the same how can you be sure when he takes his crowbar in one hand and mirror in the other he won’t get mixed up, the way you do when you try to tie a bow tie with the aid of a mirror, and forget that left is right and vice versa?

And then at last he says That will be all; but it isn’t because he then coats your mouth from cellar to roof
With something that I suspect is generally used to put a shine on a horse’s hoof.

And you totter to your feet and think. Well it’s all over now and afterall it was only this once.
And he says come back in three monce.

And this, O Fate, is I think the most vicious circle that thou ever sentest,
That Man has to go continually to the dentist to keep his teeth in good condition
when the chief reason he wants his teeth in good condition
is so that he won’t have to go to the dentist.

PS: Not sure about the line-breaks as this was picked from an unofficial site - is probably still under copyright. Please feel free to point out a 'proper' version if you know one.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Saturday, January 28, 2006


The pages of the book had turned yellow with time.
I turned a leaf against the wind blowing through the window, careful not to disengage it from the bind.
Heat rays of the late morning sun lashed at me from all sides. Its blinding light enfeebled the already weak contrast of the print.
The skin on my cheek stretched and pricked itself awake as I closed my half open mouth - dry tongue on parched lips! Itch, scratch and micro flakes of dead skin on the forearm - a lone hair on the sleeve dispensed off into the wind.
Frantic winds howled in through the window in an attempt to run away from the smoke and dust, pushing through my hair and deafening my ears, that when my friend asked me what I was reading, I prayed he’d have partaken in the charade.
Camus' characters too were plodding along in his Algerian desert. A tale of shriveled dreams and enervated lives - not so impressive!
Then, the microphone of our Taxi crackled to life, blurting out incomprehensible phrases in a background of static. Cracker-candy pop in my head - as if a mosquito had made its way to my brain through my ear, and suddenly realizing it was lost had started pricking all around.
The driver spoke something into the handheld and the next instant the machine went dead, on command and respectful of its master’s voice.
I tried to find the spot in the book where I had left off.
As I grabbed the Arab in mid-sentence, the machine crackled back to life. The static once again contaminated the air, like a burst of itchy pollen. The prick went about its work all over again in my head - live, contained, its unique presence quite unlike the everyday pervasive head split. I would reach in and rip it out.
I grimaced and banged shut my book.
The shrill of a female voice floated over the noise of my thoughts - a rather animated critique of the guy on the wheels followed. Soon other drivers chipped in – little soprano, more tenor. A rally, and then, the microphone went dead again. I wished he had been a bit more assertive – “SHUT UP YOU FILTHY ANIMAL!!” or something like that.
I frowned and complained to my friend, he blamed his manager, and the machine came back to life, yet again.
Both of us jumped on the lad at the wheels as the cab raced through the clear and endless stretch of my ennui.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

ഞാ൯ കഥ എഴുതുകയാണ്....

(Translation: I'm writing a story....)

In case the above letters appear in Pali change your Browser setting
View -> Encoding to 'Unicode UTF-8'

Finally some headway in 'Unicode' !

Some helpful links,

1. For Malayalam fonts
2. Installation instructions
3. Change Browser settings
4. Character picker

I copy-paste from the 'Character Picker'.

Keen to know more efficient ways of doing this!

Thursday, January 12, 2006


Miles Raymond: Well, the world doesn't give a shit what I have to say. I'm not necessary. I'm so insignificant I can't even kill myself.
Jack: Miles, what the hell is that supposed to mean?
Miles Raymond: Come on, man. You know. Hemingway, Sexton, Plath, Woolf. You can't kill yourself before you're even published.
Jack: What about the guy who wrote Confederacy of Dunces? He killed himself before he was published. Look how famous he is.
Miles Raymond: Thanks.
Jack: Just don't give up, alright? You're gonna make it.
Miles Raymond: Half my life is over and I have nothing to show for it. Nothing. I'am thumbprint on the window of a skyscraper. I'm a smudge of excrement on a tissue surging out to sea with a million tons of raw sewage.
Jack: See? Right there. Just what you just said. That is beautiful. 'A smudge of excrement... surging out to sea.'
Miles Raymond: Yeah.
Jack: I could never write that.
Miles Raymond: Neither could I, actually. I think it's Bukowsky.

I was LOL and rolling in my bed at 2:00 in the night when this sequence played out.

Paul Giamatti, I wonder if the role is slightly autobiographical - such talent! Even the support cast does a fantastic job. Watch it!

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

The Man, The Machine,

It was New Year's eve and I was at the Dentist's to sort out some of my teething troubles.
I was in the waiting room expecting to be called anytime then. A lady and a small girl sat on my right, the bigger woman murmuring something to the other, and a guy and girl probably in their late teens sat to my left. The girl was talking to the guy who was toying with his mobile. The place was rather empty inspite of it being a saturday.
This was not my first time there and I looked at the now familiar walls, walls covered with colourful charts describing preventive measures for tooth decay, cavities and other such ailments. There was one particular information board that always caught my fancy. This one displayed a new technique developed by my Dr. for artificial tooth implantation. The technique, to put it simply, was to 'screw' in place the artificial tooth where the old or broken one previously stood. The information board carried end-to-end illustrations of the transformation - toothless gums, gums with the screw in place sans the tooth - boy, that was gory, the final effect after implantation and even the cross section of a jaw showing that strange apparition of 'screw-tooth' - the last one being a model ofcourse.
Pictures of doctors turning screws into the cartilage (or so, I think, is what they call the bony part of the jaw where the screw is locked) flashed through my mind, the images quickly changed to those of humans subjected to experiments during the development of the technique and finally to thousands of blue collar workers going for work feeling the steel under their gums everytime they felt around their mouth - the utility of the experiment outweighed all these I reasoned. My imagination was perhaps emaciated due to lack of knowledge on the subject.
Every now and then the door to the clinic's operating room opened giving me a glimpse of reclining patients and the equipments around them. Inside the drill was on, in more ways than one, and the low sound reminded me of times when in school our teacher wrote with new chalk on black-board creating that creaky sound that ever so often made me bite my teeth hard and grimace with repulsion. A kid suddenly screamed from somewhere inside. I thought of a poem that we studied in school by Ogden Nash about a trip to the Dentist's.
The TV at the center of the room was switched on, serving as a distraction from all that described so far, and was set to a prominent Malayam Channel. The channel was doing a 30 min recap of all it's episodes in the year 2005 - a Mega Serial, one of those emotional drivels that run at primetime, Mon to Fri, year after year. They were probably trying to show users the evident connection between the story at the beginning and end of the year.
Then, something happened.
Prof. P.C.Thomas walked in.
There is a saying in malayalam that goes 'idi vettiyavante kaalil paambu kadichu ennapole' (like someone bitten by a snake soon after he is struck by lightning). Now I don't intend to potray myself in such a light and capture the pity of the knowledgeble reader - he who knows about Prof. P.C. Thomas. For the unitiated, let me introduce you to the Teacher, Preacher and shrewd Businessman that is Prof. P.C. Thomas.
Prof. P.C. Thomas single-handedly runs and has been running for years the largest coaching center for the Engineering & Medical entrance exams in Kerala. Spanning 2-3 decades (Once he told us that one of his first students had approached him with a request to enrol his son under his able tutelage), the Prof's institute continues to churn out the largest number of Engineering and Doctorial candidates - all the top ranks in the state come under his name, always. A strict disciplinarian - a terror actually; stories abound of him abusing, both mentally and physically, pampering parents and their truant children - Thomas 'mashu', expanded his organization from a single room outfit to an enterprise with branches in Dubai and other Middle East countries. PC (that's what his students call him out of fear and respect) also now expanded his classes to cover IIT-JEE & Civil Services Exams with commendable success (the Prof. eventually told me that 2 of his students cleared the Civil exams that year). One can see the employment generation due to his work in my home-town by just looking at the no of PG apartments that have sprouted in and around his coaching center (I noticed around 5-6 notices right outside his gate - from Eve's Garde to Angel Valley). I always consider myself fortunate to have been tutored by him and the rest of the illustrious teachers at his Tution center.

Coming back to where I left off Thomas mashu walked in and briskly made for the Doctor's room. The years had hardly affected his appearance.
I jumped from my seat, more out of respect this time, and called out - "Sir". He turned, saw me, stopped in his tracks and smiled. He put his hand over my shoulder and enquired 'How are you faring?'. I replied 'Good'. Brief inquiries were made about career and well being. Soon he started to move on. I bid adieu.
He seemed to be in a hurry.
As I turned away, the lady sitting next to me slowly stood up and said - 'Mashukku enne manassilayo?' (Sir, did you recognise me?). PC gave a questioning look, but when prompted by the woman recollected her identity and started exchanging pleasantries.
The Lady soon bid farewell and took her seat.
As PC turned to open the door leading to the Dentist's, the guy on my left stood up and blurted, "Eh..Sir".

Friday, January 06, 2006

Recommended reading

Recommend Dilip D'Souza's blog. Writes, without pretence, about social issues.

The following article was written by him explaining his real life act of child adoption - very interesting.

This following link gives a glimpse into his Mid-day columns