Sunday, July 24, 2011

Book review: “River of Smoke” – Amitav Ghosh


Why do we call sugar “chinee” in Hindi? How did we ever land up with “post-cards” and ketchup? Did you know that we Desis were called “Achhas”? Achha, so the origin of the word chinee is because in the late 1700 and early 1800 the Dominion of India imported sugar exclusively from China. Ketchup, brace for this, is apparently a Chinese export from the 1800’s. At least the concept of Ketchup. And well, post cards were more or less a manifestation of Europe’s questionable obsession with “authentic” Chinese porcelain. Mr. Ghosh peppers his vivid description of the events in Canton (now Guangzhou, China) leading to the opium war in China with these pearls of “wisdom”. Speaking of pearls, do you want to know why the murky and definitely pearl-less river flowing through Guangzhou is called Pearl river? Haha, I won’t tell.

Mr. Ghosh starts his narration on the islands of Mauritius, which, if you’ve read the Sea of Poppies will recall was the final destination of the Ibis. The scene rapidly shifts to the South China sea where the script erupts into apparently disconnected, yet gripping threads of parallel narration. Very Pulp-fictionsque. The vivid narration effortlessly transports the impressionable reader back in time to Canton of 1838 and lets him experience the unraveling of the story as an active participant.

One thread features Neel, disguised as a Munshi of an Indian Tai-pan. One takes the form of the colourful correspondence of a gifted and seemingly gay Anglo-Indian artist looking to step out of the shadow of his famous father. Yet another takes the form the Indian Tai-pan stumbling in an opium laced haze of his own creation, or perhaps he attempts to navigate through his own river of smoke. The threads converge towards an event which sows the seeds of the opium war, and in this convergence I suspect Mr. Ghosh has planted the seeds of the next volume. Perhaps cricket and theater. Perhaps.

Mr. Ghosh makes a statement which could as well reflect today’s state of the economy:

That is correct, Your Majesty. Since the middle years of the last century, the demand for Chinese tea has grown at such a pace in Britain and America that it is now the principal source of profit for the East India Company. The taxes on it account for fully one tenth of Britain’s revenues. If one adds to this such goods as silk, porcelain and lacquerware it becomes clear that the European demand for Chinese products is insatiable. In China on the other hand, there is little interest in European exports – the Chinese are a people who believe that their own products, like their food and their own customs, are superior to all others.

Except that these days the Chinese people have an insatiable appetite for all that is remotely European.

If you have read James Clavell’s Tai-Pan, then I must urge you to read the River of Smoke. As an impressionable teenager I read Tai-Pan, and fell instantly in love with Hong Kong. And the two times I’ve been to Hong Kong, those feelings clouded my judgment and yours truly could not help but warming up to the place. (Forget that it is humid and hot like my other beloved city – Bombay) I confess, I don’t remember the story anymore, but this book reminded me why I was fascinated by Hong Kong. Tai-Pan narrated the story of the south china sea territories post the opium wars, and the river of smoke the story before.

I have never waited so eagerly for a book as I have for this one, that I was surprised by my own behaviour when I was presented with the opportunity of picking up a copy in Hong Kong earlier this year. I must admit, I was caught unawares of its publication, until I accidentally saw it on the book shelf. Having seen it on the bookshelf, I resisted temptation with the logic that I could pick up a copy as easily on my return to Bangalore. It was at best misplaced prudence, for on returning to Bangalore, I discovered to my utter dismay that the book was yet to be released in India and that the bookshops were very cleverly allowing eager readers to “pre-order” the novel. What is with that? huh? Anyways, I got lucky, and could finally lay my hands on the much awaited book a couple of weeks ago. The other book I was reading was unceremoniously retired to my ever increasing backlog of “to-read” books and this book received my undivided attention. I swear, I didn’t keep it down unless I absolutely had to. My one regret, is that now in hind sight I wished I had picked up this book in Hong Kong. It would have been a little bit more special than it it is now. However, now I eagerly await the last of the trilogy, whenever it is published – my bet sometime in 2014 or late 2013.


Saturday, June 25, 2011

Agashiye, Ahmedabad: Restaurant Review

Ahemadabad is situated on the banks of the river Sabarmati, and every time i set foot in Ahemdabad I am reminded that I am but a lesser soul treading this earth. But then, remembering Gandhi and his legendary Sabarmati ashram can be quite humbling. The abject poverty of his countrymen made the man embrace austerity and urge the rest of the privileged “class” to do the same. Today’s Ahemdabad is a spectacular contradiction to his ideas, and Agashiye is the perfect example of the excess he preached against. Not that we are complaining. No. Never.

The restaurant is located on the top floor of the heritage hotel - “The house of MG”, bang opposite the exquisite Sidi Saiyad Jali, definitely worth a visit, near Lal Darwaja in the heart of the old city. Now do not be confused by the “MG” in the name, it has nothing to do with Mahatma Gandhi. By some coincidence the late owner of this “haveli” was a one Mangaldas Giridhardas. Not that the present management is trying to milk the other “MG” “brand value”. No sir. Never.

There are around 10 parking spots in the hotel – i mean the ones that I could see, may be there are others hidden somewhere else. I don’t know. The hotel also offers a valet parking service, so you really do not have to worry about parking – but you could worry about your valet parked vehicle in between dhoklas and khichidi. I mean that in a general anywhere in the world context, not just in an Ahemdabadi context. That said, as I was in Ahemdabad, the newspapers reported this curious case of a certain bank manager (or some non banking financial executive, what do I know about such things other than that he was, well, a suave conman like the rest of his ilk) stealing an Audi Q7 from the Ahemdabad Audi showroom. And, and, he used it for 3 months before he got caught. So, so, so, you know what i mean, right?

Once you are past the parking, you get to the cashier and request to be seated – ahem, yes, the cashier. You pay upfront. Before eating. I know! Like I was going to change my mind about paying after eating. No man. I am only known to walk out of restaurants after I see the menu, and before I order anything. How the hell did my reputation get ahead of me! dang. Anyways, after having confirmed to the clean shaven grinning face under the sparkling white Gandhi cap, that one would indeed dine at this fine restaurant, one is escorted in a lift to the upperest (I just invented that. We, upperest and me, will see you in the abridged Cambridge dictionary of the English language. Soon.) floor. I must admit, I was feeling like an out of place buffoon – I mean shorts, chappals, an old supersize and nearly torn t-shirt, no wonder they asked me to pay first. I was the perfect villager in a diamond shop.

At the top floor, one steps out into a terrace peppered with young palm trees and other greenery. The summer heat hit me. And then I realized that the hotel, obviously, is air conditioned. It did not feel like it was “chilled 15°C” air cooling, like it should be, but it was a very pleasant 24°C. This area is where the guests are entertained in the evenings (No. Not customers. Please. They are guests.) It was how the Indian National Congress met all those years ago, and how the Congress (Indira) meets today I guess. One is quickly ushered into another smaller, but air conditioned, room where the waiters in green kurtas, spotless white dhotis and smiling faces adorned sometimes with handlebar mustaches outnumber the tables and chairs put together. You do realize, that I did not have to navigate all by myself through the self explanatory maze. There was a staff member guiding me to my table all the time, least I get lost. I know.

We was handed over to a portly “Harisingh ji”, who took it upon himself to ensure that I would put on 5 kilograms in 20 minutes. First, “welcome ji” he said and presented me with a rose. I know. What the efff. Bali ka barka. I was waiting for the tikka ana arrati, but that did not happen. Thank god. Then the Aam ka panna and jal jera followed. The lunch comprised of unlimited helpings of “kadi”, “dal fry”, “avial” (yes avial, no kidding), and one more vegi dish which i do not know the name of, kachoris, rotis, parantas, kichdi, ghee, kulcha and jera rice. Every dish was promptly refilled the second you finished it. Even though there were more waiters than chairs, I never felt like they were waiting over my shoulder to refill my plate. I was reluctant to apply makkan to my kulchas, but Harisinghji insisted, “It is the only way to eat it sir. Belive me. Try it once.” and went on to empty one quarters of a cup on my kulcha. And boy. Was it heavenly or what?

After gorging on the yummy food for 20 minutes like a person from a famished land (attempting to do full paisa vasoolee yaar, come on!) my stomach was at its elastic limit, and just when I thought I couldn’t take anymore, Harisinghji offered icecream – locally made mango icecream. “Totally organic sir. We make it here only sir. Very little sugar. Try a little bit”. I mean, really, you forgot that you paid money to be treated like a guest.

A very sleepy me then staggered to the overpriced handicraft shop on the ground floor to see anything caught my fancy. And they did. Overpriced. But still, the whole afternoon was one paisa vasool.

This is also a good place for those interested in the Ahemdabad night walk.

Ambience 10/10
Service 10/10
Food quality 8/10
Buffet price Rs 450 + taxes


Ahemdabad night walk:

As the discerning reader would have no doubt deduced, yours truly is now diversifying his pointless blog to include restaurant reviews. Yay. How thrilling. Now let us all open a bottle of bubbly to celebrate this momentous occasion. As if sleep inducing accounts of his boring travels down the beaten path and book reviews of books which no one but him would dare to touch were not reason enough to… hmmm… well… you know, hurl a couple of rotten eggs his way while cursing him for wasting your valuable time. Well, now you have reason to collect some rotten tomatoes as well. Wow. How cool is that? Ha ha ha!


Sunday, January 02, 2011

Pre flight check list

After a rather long break from "travelling" the road tripper returns with a new episode of travel stupidity. He spends 3 months "planning" a trip, buys the "rough guide", gets the visa, buys the rather expensive airplane tickets, buys the new language phrase book, and generally spreads the word around in the facebook world that he is off on a rather exotic destination. The works huh? Yeah, but then, he conveniently forgets to read the rough guide, knows not a word of the new language, and wait for the almost epic fail - manages to misplace his only camera on the eve of the journey. Gaddamn.

Hey mister, it could have been worse. So typical of you to overreact. Have you forgotten already the short trips you made in the meanwhile? You could have lost your passport, or worse - the dog could have eaten it. Get a life man. Look at the positive side.

Yeah, don't worry peeps, the boy is sulking in the deep recess of this empty cranium. He'll be alright after his vacation. He'll be back. Soon. Promise.


Friday, September 17, 2010

Book Review: From Heaven Lake – Vikram Seth

519ITgSCF7L._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU01_[1] Twenty nine years ago is long time back. A whole life time ago. The world was divided into two major camps – The Capitalistic West and the Communist East. It was a crime to be communist in a capitalist world, and enterprising free markets were smothered in the communistic world. It was the last few heady years of the Cold War, when countries were recklessly boycotting Olympic games; shooting down each others passenger planes; training and arming people who would come back and haunt us twenty years later; and generally being spectacularly infantile.

In the midst of this mayhem, an Indian student travelled from Delhi (in India, a Non-Aligned Movement nation) to Stanford (in Capitalistic America) to study economics, and then rather incongruously chose to spend 2 years at Nanjing University (in Communistic China). If the China of then was a closed nation, then Tibet was an impregnable fortress. Fortified by the high walls of Chinese bureaucracy on one side and the dizzying Himalayan mountain range  one the other side. That this Indian student hitch hiked and scaled his way through this treacherous terrain; stayed alive, took photographs and kept notes; and a couple of years later went on to write a book about this improbable journey; a book which won the “Thomas Cook Travel Book award”  is an incredulous plot worthy of a Bollywood movie.

The first novel by Vikram Seth, which I read, was “An equal music”. A book so riveting, that I read it in the middle of my final year Engineering Examinations. It was my escape from reality. It touched on human emotions at a very raw and basic level. I loved the book. I could, for some unfathomable reason, connect with the characters. I wanted to feel their pain. They were to me more real than the equations and circuit diagrams flying around me. Surely a man who wrote such a book had to be a cocktail sipping pansy psychoanalyst.

Really. That is how I thought of him. That is, until I read “From heaven lake”. The characters are real. So is the story. For it is a narrative of what really transpired. Vikarm Seth transformed from that silk scarf wearing, pince-nez totting, cold psychoanalyst into a free spirited wild adventurer. My judgmental eyes pleaded guilty and begged for forgiveness.

The book in parts took me back to my days in China – I could relate again to the character. But I tell you, I was not brave enough to eat dog meat. His journey from Liuyan to Lhasa, in the driver’s cabin of a rickety old truck with a chain smoking driver, his nephew and a Tibetian hitch hiker for company, is regularly interrupted by floods, unplanned stopovers, stolen luggage picked up by unscrupulous truck drivers, altitude sickness, and passersby who stop and laugh at you, but not help, when you are hopelessly trying to fix your broken vehicle.  This too reminded me of a rather strange holiday I had a few years ago. On which involved doing almost the same things, but on motorcycles, with a bunch of colleagues from University, on the Indian side of Tibet – in Leh. And of course that omnipresent Tibetian chant, “Om mani padme hun”.

How lucky he was, that he had a chance to see Tibet. At a time when it was still more of less forbidden for any foreigner to be there. How lucky we are that he was (and still is) also a gifted writer - we get to share his experience. In the grand scheme of things, a lot remains the same after 29 years in the Himalayas.

On a personal level, to learn about another great culture is to enrich one's life, to understand one's own country better, to feel more at home in the world, and indirectly to add to that reservoir of individual goodwill that may, generations from now, temper the cynical use of national power.

Amen to that Mr. Seth. Amen.


Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Goodbye Germany

bodensee-from-munster Panoramic view of the Bodensee, Konstanz

Before I came to Germany my expectations were not that high. I imagined I would make a clinical entry and an equally easy clinical exit. Focus on work, travel around a bit on the weekends, and indulge myself in the culinary delights of this part of the world. Period. It has been a year and half to the date since I first came here, and now that I am all set to leave, I can’t but help looking back to those early days and say, “You were so wrong!”

Unsurprisingly, the better part of the master plan was consigned to the rubbish bin. The weekend trips never really materialized, bar a few - one long weekend in Munich, one in Heidelberg, one spent camping at Belfort in France during FIMO, one too many in Zurich, an interesting one in Amsterdam, one in Ravensburg, a couple of day trips, a couple of hikes in the black forest and one little cycle ride around the Lake of Constance. Not bad, but I think I could’ve done more. If only. If only.


My friends tell me that I’ve seen only the “Disneyland” part of Germany, which is probably true, for Konstanz is a favorite tourist destination for many. The mesmerizing azure blue waters of the Bodensee can lure you into wasting sunny days at its banks, inviting you to take a dip in its pristine clear waters and stare at the Alps marking the boundary between heaven and earth. White in winter and dark bluish in summer. Why the hell did I ever work here? I will miss the view sorely.

The old quarters of Konstanz escaped the brutal Allied bombing raids of the second world war by keeping its lights on. The pilots confused it with a neighbouring Swiss town of Kreuzlingen, and so the homes from the 1300s survived here, while those in other German cities turned to rubble.

Konstanz 041

If I had a penny for every time someone asked me “What are the three things that come to your mind when you think of Germany”, I’d be a rich man. “Boris Becker, Schumacher and BMW” is I believe an unusual answer. The 2nd world war scarred not just the landscape of Germany, but continues to scar the German population. Yes. Even to this day. It is an emotion called guilt. On pavements you will find these little bronze cobblestones, with the names of people who lived on that street. The people who were sent to dreaded prison camps to meet a gruesome death. These recent installations are a symbolic gesture - a sober reminder of a gruesome past, for which the current generation is genuinely sorry. Even though it was (and is) in no way their fault.

P1020285 Reminders of the past

P1020099 Street protests in Stuttgart against German involvement in Afghanistan

The German language, I’ve been told, is a very exact language. It is supremely frustrating to learn. After months, you believe you have kind of sort of gotten a hang of it, and then bham, you are blown away with a new, until now unknown rule. And each rule of sentence construction is inevitably followed by a million exceptions to the same rule. Mark Twain found himself in the same conundrum about a 150 years ago, and wrote a comical account of his struggle with the language - “The Awful German language”. Still true. Still true today.

One of the low points in the life of an expatriate, is the feeling of loneliness. Far from home, family and friends, evenings can get melancholy and weekends utterly boring. Skype or Facebook offer but only a temporary escape from isolation. Been there, felt that, so I was expecting it, and totally not looking forward to it. However, in the course of these 18 months, I’ve seldom had those expected bouts of melancholy. I guess I got lucky, for I met some of the sweetest people I’ve known. They’ve taught me that there is more to Germany than fast cars, cuckoo clocks and good beer. I know I will miss them as much, if not more, as I have missed my friends from Bangalore. Thank you folks!

No matter how far we trudge along,
The world is small and our lives are long,
I know not, if again ever we will together break bread,
That hope alive in my heart, in this life I continue to tread.


Monday, August 09, 2010

Book review: Love Thy Neighbor – Peter Maass

War is ugly. Period. This is one of those rare books which leave you with a bad taste in the mouth. Not because it is war porn (which it isn’t), it is because of the hypocritical nature in which the rest of the world responded to these events. Peter Mass spent 3 years reporting for the Washington Post a particularly ugly war – the Bosnian war. Those three years left over 200,000 people dead and brought “ethnic cleansing” to the living room – via TV.

He interviews refugees fleeing a marauding Serbian army and militia - they tell gut wrenching stories of abuse and torture. He talks to people on both sides of the “conflict”, and it is so easy to see who the bad guys were. If he saw it, and all the other reporters saw it then why did the governments not see it? He talks about the toothless UN force, how they unwittingly encouraged the Serbs to continue their atrocities. He talks about task force commanders not willing to see the truth, fabricating stories, and stonewalling the media. Sadly among those commanders is our own Lt. Gen. Satish Nambiar.

He visits detention centers comparable if not worse than Auschwitz. He talks to Serbs who have the guts to speak out against what their leader was doing, the talks to Serb soldiers who didn’t kill or rape and  to those who did with unapologetic pleasure. He talks to a young doctor who performed surgery without sterilized tools or any anesthetic. He talks about how liberal Bosnians turned to more conservative strains of their religion. He discovers the reason why a husband and wife never step out of their apartment together, why they go to different churches on Christmas, why they are delighted to receive oranges as gifts. He befriends people only to lose them to the war.

He also interviews Slobodan Milosevic, the slick power hungry goon of a President who singlehandedly triggered the collapse of Yugoslavia. He pokes holes and points out the absurdity of the Serbian propaganda that Bosnians were the ones who were bombing themselves as well as the Serbs. He tells the stories of high ranking US officials who resigned in disgust, of young French soldiers who do not understand why they must stop and turn back children, women and old men who are trying to cross a thin strip of land into the safer territory. After confiscating their food and supplies.

Any notions that Maass is biased faded away rather quickly, as I read through the cases pending and decided by the ICTY - International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. The cases of War Crimes pending trial, completed or pending appeal are available at website of the ICTY - After reading these cases you realize the absurdity of Lt. Gen. Satish Nambiar’s insistence that “he did not witness any genocide beyond killings and massacres on all sides that are typical of such conflict conditions”. He must have been truly blind. And we awarded him the Padma Bhushan on the 26th of January 2009. Another lesson in Hypocrisy. 

Lt. Gen. Staish Nambair’s interview on BBC Hardtalk

After reading this book, I realize why it is so easy for the Taliban to recruit people. Maass hoped that his reporting could make a difference i.e. persuade the US/NATO to intervene or the UN to act as its should. They didn’t until it was too late, and when they did it was a half hearted attempt. Would there have been no Taliban had the US attacked and suppressed the Serbian aggression?

By telling the story of Bosnia, Maass, doesn’t want to take us on a guilt trip called introspection, he merely reminds us that within resides a wild beast capable of inflicting the worst on its own kind.


Thursday, July 29, 2010

Book review: Maximum City by Suketu Mehta

Maximum City

It stinks, yet everybody wants to be there. It is a place where one can arrive with nothing but the clothes on ones back, and within a lifetime amass enough wealth to last several generations. It is also a city which can shatter a runaway’s dream in a heartbeat. It is the city of glitz and glamour, of filth and grime. It is also a city which I remember mostly as the place where I learned to write and read, to fly kites, to play hockey, to ride bus, to cross streets, to walk so fast that it feels like running but isn’t, to catch tadpoles in the deluge that monsoon was sure to bring, and learned quite early on that men can and will kill in the name of religion.

So, when an opportunity comes up to read about my first “hometown” I don’t let it go by. A couple of years ago, an Australian by the pen name Gergory Roberts captured the minds (and hearts too?) of us Indians with his largely fictional, yet loosely-based-on-my-experiences-as-a-mafia-“money-runner” account of the Bombay of the 1980’s. The book left us thirsty for more. We were hungry for more stories about the horrid slums. Yes sir, poverty sells. A sequel was planned but never materialized. Or did it? Anyhoo, the next book that I read about Bombay, is completely non-fictional, i.e. 99.99% true, and is set in the early 1990’s. In my mind this is as good a sequel to Shantaram as can get.

Suketu Mehta, what is the right word…, embeds, no, not really, but almost embeds himself in the Mumbai underworld scene. He interviews a top cop – Ajay Sharma. And the cop tells him about the brutal methods the Mumbai cops use to extract confessions from dangerous men. Methods, which as you read, screams human rights abuse.

He interviews men who killed their neighours in the madness of 1992. Men who drenched men in gasoline, lit cigarettes and then casually threw those cigarettes on the gasoline drenched men, and let them burn. Not in some movie. In real life. Men who show no remorse in killing other human beings.

He tells us the truth behind encounter killings, the power of money, the power of the gun, the power that the cops had to do what the pleased, and of that none of these so called “sharp-shooters” were really that effective if the target was running or if the target was more than an arm’s length away. State sanctioned cold blooded murder.

He speaks to the certifiable nut case who called himself the supremo a.k.a. remote control. I need not say more about that lunatic pussy cat in the guise of a tiger. The author covers all the angles of the deranged, dysfunctional world of the Mumbai underworld, and he does so without prejudice, and without passing judgment.

He collaborates on movies, speaks to Sanjay Dutt who in turn speaks quite freely of his troubles with the law, and how he feels justified that his “drug fuelled” desire to protect his family resulted in keeping a couple of assault rifles handy.

The author also chronicles the life cycle of a dance bar girl (or is it a boy) and finds that where ever he goes he finds a magical Gujrathi connection. He chronicles the short stay of dreamy young poet from Bihar, and the bizarre journey of a family to attain spiritual enlightenment.

To sum up, it is a great book to read. I had no expectations, and was pleasantly surprised. I seem to pick the right books to read ;) Although, I admit, the book did not make me nostalgic or homesick. But, it drove home the point that, home is a place where you can go again, and you can also leave again. Thank you sir.


Saturday, May 29, 2010

Reichenau and Back

Bike route 514137 - powered by Bikemap
I have been a little lazy since the last bout of rebellion, and so, also conformed with the doc's orders i.e. no sport for 6 weeks. Lets makes that 8 for good measure :) And today, I wanted to get back with a big bang, not the post-beans kind of big bang, but the symbolic types - telling the body that the hibernating season is officially over.

If only I did all that I plan to do. If only... :P

What I wanted to do was start at Konstanz, go to Radolfzell, and from there head towards Stein am Rhein, and then head back to Konstanz. But some where within the first 2 kilometers I got distracted. Well, what to say, pretty young things are pretty young things :) I was perhaps a few meters behind these aforementioned PYTs, and well, there was no motivation to overtake them. At the 7 kilometer mark I think I took the wrong turn.

Right-ho, because these PYTs turned left towards Reichenau while I should have continued straight towards Radolfzell. It was only after I lost the PYTs that I realized I was on the wrong route. I stopped to click a few snaps to commemorate the monumental fail I had just committed. Then I remembered that I had left the memory card on my desk at home. So now I had space for only 6 more snaps. I am sure I would have been seething mad if I had discovered the lack of a memory card at the 50 km mark. Am I a believer in signs and destiny? I honestly do not know how to answer that anymore.

Anyhoo, this Reichenau island thingybob is one funky place. Glasshouses everywhere. And rows of salad greens growing all over the place. It is said that people living in glass houses should not throw stones, well these guys apparently can't throw even a tennis ball around. It is also a UNESCO heritage site because of three really really old churches (from the Roman era). Did I go in? no. Why? why not? What people do not know is that there is also a ghost toilet at Reichenau. No. Really. The locals say they can hear the toilets flush themselves at night. And of course, the haunting sounds of a constipated soul attempting to pass stool. Which is why they grow greens in the hope that one day the ghost will be cured....

WC beim Freidhof - i.e. Toilet at Cemetery

The rows of salad greens

The wrong side


Tuesday, May 25, 2010

A fantastic summer's interlude: le Festival International de Musique Universitaire

For a fleeting four days the Kackwetter we've been experiencing for the past few weeks gave way to clear blue skies. Yeah, its going to !@#$ing rain again tomorrow. Thunderbolts of lightning, very very frightning me, Galelio galelio, figaroooooooo.

In this very brief summer interlude, when men could roam the world in shorts without having their nuts frozen, a very French town called Belfort hosted 2500 musicians. And they performed at 14 different venues over three days. It is called the le Festival International de Musique Universitaire. It is held every year in May, and next year will be the 25th edition. The musicians are usually music students, but that does not mean they play like amateurs ;)

Picking from across genres should in theory have been simple. But it wasn't, because most of what we heard was good. And this festival lets you do exactly that, pick a venue, see if you like the music, if not, move on to another one. Simple.

If, if only if I had to pick the best band from what I heard, then I'd have to pick Sunergy. Sunergy, I learned later via the internet, is a group of four music students from Campus Notre-Dame-de-Foy Canada. They played Mike Stern's Chromazone, and boy they kicked some serious ass. These guys had the crowd on their feet. They were enjoying themselves on stage and their state of mind manifested itself in their music. It was downright infectious. I hope these guys don't stop playing. Heck, I even found them on facebook! They sounded better at the venue than on this video though.

These three pics are not by me! Pulled them off Flickr.
FIMU 2010 - Jour 3 - Thibaut DespoulainFIMU 2010 - Jour 3 - Maxime RipardFIMU 2010 - Jour 3 - Maxime Ripard

Then there was this group performing Jean-Baptiste Lully's Armide, where the actor's faces are ghoulishly painted white. It was well, Opera. Yeah. WTF? And I did ask myself for a moment - WTF? But once, I went past the WTF stage, it was smooth sailing.

There was also an Indian duo on the Sitar and Tabla. It has been a while since I have been at an Indian classical concert - I think the last one was by Pt. Shivakumar Sharma on the Santoor in 2008. Anyhoo, they were not too bad. I have no idea what ragas they played though.

The other bands which did the trick for me were the Jazz band from Zurich - ETH Big band, a group from Morocco, and of course - Somogo with their didjeridoo and percussion inspired collective madness at the L'Arsenel on Saturday night. And I did see a David Hasselhoff wannabe - blinking lights and everything :)

Not every band we heard was good, not every genre moved the soul. For example a Chilean group dealing in Chamber music played such somber pieces that you could be forgiven for thinking you were at a funereal. Doesn't work for me. Sorry.

And then, there was this new music. One would expect new music to be different, something so profound that we ordinary mortals cannot conceive. But what if we cannot even appreciate it? One such artist was this guy making weird sounds - like the clearing of a blocked nose or the gargling noise one makes when using Listerine in the morning, or the rumble of an empty stomach reverberating in a hollow chamber. In my humble opinion this is exactly what parents tell their children not to do. And this guy was professing such hogwash as music. Sorry, but village idiots like me just fail to appreciate you. Or maybe, it was all just a choreography stunt. I hope.

Allegro con brios typically can not put you to sleep, but voilà, a guitar ensemble did exactly that with Mozart's Symphony number 25. They killed it! Ok, it was like 11.30 at night and I was on my feet for the better part of the day, so sleep came very naturally to me, but I have no doubt that these guys did play their part!

Three days of camping and good music. Merci beaucoup! (the ones who shall not be named) :)))


Saturday, April 03, 2010

Stein am Rhein

Radroute 436098 - powered by Bikemap 

So, the doc said no sports for 6 weeks, but he did not say anything about cycling :) And hence I went for a little spin to a village called Stein Am Rhine. It was a 56 km round trip from Konstanz. The cycle track follows the Bodensee, so no inclines, err… hmm… there were a few minor one near Stein Am Rhine, but really – it was (and is) a no sweat ride.

The skies were ominously gray all morning but at cleared up by afternoon, which is when i started from home anyways. The blue held up for the whole day, the temperature was about 11 degrees, so it wasn’t a bad day to cycle at all. Or to motorcycle. I saw so many kickass motorcycles on the road. Sigh. My heart ached. Again ;) And no, it wasn’t the darn ribs.

Stein Am Rhine felt like an extremely touristy village. There were too many camera totting people for it not to be. The shops were open, not just the ice cream joints. Maybe it was a very Swiss thing. But what the heck, I got my ice cream. It was everything you’d expect of a European village – One stream flowing in the center (check, stream here is the Rhine), one big towering church (check), one or more bridges across the stream (check) and a fountain for good measure (check)

Keeping Guard

The Church

The fountain

The dragon…

… the slayer

F650 + GS1200 (i suspect, lady + man)

The bridge

The clear waters of the Bodensee


Rathaus (or Council house?)


Sunday, March 28, 2010

Phew… cartwheels finally! Ribbing it in, ain’t I?

Yeah, so what the duce huh? After last time’s futile attempt to do something worth writing about, I was kinda sorta hoping to get some juicy stuff to write about this week. And boy, I lived up to my own expectations, and how.

First I had a late night yesterday at the Casba with some friends, and then today was the day when the clocks goes from 1.59 am to 3.00 am i.e. we lost an hour (so I effectively slept for about 3 hours), and then I missed the first of five trains which I must take to get my fat ass to Feldberg. Carried the camera, but not the memory card. Darn. Enough of whining.

Missing the train gave me an interesting diversion. It was classic Googie, train starts to pull away as you make a hurried last minute filmy entry onto to the platform. Anyhoo, since I was hungry (hey! it was 6.39 am) and since the next train was just waiting to leave, I took it to and got off at a random station to grab breakfast. Breakfast in hand… err… partly in mouth too, the ruminating commenced - about what kind of an idiot wakes up so early and other sundry uninteresting things which occupy any given reasonable person’s mind.

The delirious early morning ruminations were interrupted by the sight of a slight bespectacled man hobbling towards me. “Zuuureesh. René”, he drawled in a French accent. He was obviously drunk. The only way I knew to Zurich, was via Konstanz, so I helped him along, “Sie mussen nach Konstanz fahren, und vom da Sie kann weiter nach Zurich fahren..”. “Merci monsieur”, he thanked me and started hopping towards the ticket vending machine. Yes. Hopping. Right-ho, like a rabbit. It was a scene straight out of Alice in wonderland. And no, I was not high on pot, or magic cake.

A few minutes later, he was back on the platform, bathroom-singing at the top of his voice, “Zureeessssh, Rene..”, and dancing around the few available pillars. Think bollywood movies of the 80s, the ugly songs, and dancing around trees. Now you get the picture. The poor guy got into trouble with the cops, who wanted him to shut the F*** up, which he promptly did and thus ended the morning show. Oh boy, I must say, travelling Deutsche Bahn can be very entertaining.

Without further entertainment, I was at Hebelhof/Feldberg, to be told by the ski-school that there were no classes for the day, and since I was so “good” the last time, I could try doing my own thing. Yeah. What are the chances of that? Dang.

The thing is, it was very foggy, visibility was around 50 meters. The snow – white, the air – white. Bewitching. No wonder there was hardly a soul around. At the ski lift, another skier offered to share the ride, and I accepted. It takes about 10 odd minutes to reach the top (990 meters, and elevation gain of 124 meters) so we got talking. He was there on vacation with his family. They had rented a Ski hut, which he showed when we passed it. Then I told him I was from India, and that 3 hours of train journey to find a place to ski was better than travelling a whole day changing two planes to do the same, which is why I was doing this again and again. And, hold your breath, his sister in law is an Engineer working in Pune. What are the chances of that? Then I told he I went to school in Pune, and we were both like – what a small world. We guys kept talking until we reached the top.

The whole day was pretty uneventful. Almost. I could still do all the things I had previously learnt. I was sniggering when I saw beginners struggling to stop. Ain’t life grand? Then on my last run for the day – after about 12 runs, I also learnt something new. Skiing hurts.

First, it was quite wet, and then my ski got stuck in the snow while was speeding down the slope. Don’t ask me how. It just happened. The stuck ski became the pivot and I was tossed up in the air. I did a couple of cartwheels – one of them I distinctly remember was completely airborne, the two on the slope. And sometime while my limbs were flying around, one of the ski poles (thankfully not the pointed end) kissed my chest. There was only one other person on the slope (within visible range), a kid – perhaps 7 or 8 years old. He had fallen too, and he had just finished picking himself up when Circus Sushil started its act. And I could hear, “Oh oh!” echo across as I was doing ma thang for the day. It was painfully hilarious.

I didn’t feel much pain until I had returned the ski equipment, and was on the bus to Titisee. And now the ribs on my right side hurt. It hurts to laugh, to cough, to get up if I am sitting, to sit if I am standing, to bend, or to even lift up my arms. Not like I will die type hurts, but an irritating kind of hurt which you can tolerate, but wish you didn’t have. Arrgh.

In anycase, if I ever get to ski again - it won't be without a helmet. I now know why one needs it.

At Titisee I met a whole bunch of Indians. And a few were from Bangalore, so I got to speak in Kanada. “Yen magga”, and everything. And they work for the same firm as the man’s sister-in-law. And they knew someone, who I knew who worked at that firm. Small world indeed.

Ouch. @#$%^&@@!! Can’t a man yawn in peace?

31-03-2010 Update: The doc says I have fractured 3 of my ribs. I am not supposed to do any sports for 6 weeks. The darn ribs still hurt. I cannot sleep well, etc etc. So, so this experiment must not be tried at home and everything else....


Thursday, March 11, 2010

I can stop! Damit!

What can I say? Sometimes, I disappoint myself. Like this post’s title. What the eff was I thinking? Anyhoo, this weekend’s ski trip was dull compared to the last one. I could stop. When I wanted to. And no, not with a “controlled” fall. I could turn left, or right. At will. Going up with the ski lift, was however, a different story. But hey, we ain’t livin’ in no perfect world! In the grand scheme of things*, it couldn’t have been a better day.

Get yer pillows out. Put yer peejamas on. Damit! Don’t you have anything better to do? Sigh. Oh well. I told you so.

We reached Feldberg at around 9 or 9.15 ish, after the mandatory 5 train/bus changes. The ladies went Snowboarding at the Hof, and I trudged down to the other side – to the On Snow Ski school, to rent my equipment and continue where I left off last time. I must say, the guys at the school weren’t terribly thrilled to see me again. I wouldn’t have been either, if I were them, and if they had to undergo what they had to with me the last time I was there. But, customer service and everything, they put up a brave and friendly face, and said, “Hey! how are you doing man?”

The last time, I remember, I requested for UK size 10 shoes, and by the end of the day my feet were ready to grow hands and strangulate me. So, this time I requested for European size 45 shoes. But I said - “Size 45 – US please”. Damit!

The guy at the counter, who kinda sorta reminded me Shaggy from Scooby-Doo, you know – brown hair, lanky, long bearded face, semi curly mop, sweat shirt wearing kinda guy, grinned, and mentally asked me, “What the *.*.*.*.*.”. This is what happens when someone interrupts my labored effort to speak German, by posing a question in English. Anyway, I assured him I was no Yeti, and that I meant to ask for the European size 45.

Suitably kitted out, I headed out. The weather was perfect to learn skiing. It was snowing, it was windy, and it was freezing freaking cold and what that meant was, less people on the slopes. Bingo! Larzro, our instructor for the day, was getting the group together. The minor minor blizzard like conditions had everybody hooded and ski glassed – like Kenny from Southpark. I swear I cannot recognize any from my group if I were to see them again. Unfortunately, that also includes the instructor.

The only spectacular incident of the morning session, apart from the minor miracle that I could stop and turn at will, was the very late addition of a certain Mr. Kamikaze to the group. Ironically, he was Chinese**. He reminded me a lot of myself on my first day***. The guy could not stop. Period. He fell more often than the nine pins put together in a high scoring bowling game. I felt sorry for him. And the instructor instantly christened him “Kamikaze”. The rest, I must report, suffered no falls in the morning – thanks to the instructor’s super insistence that we all get the basics of balance right.

The afternoon session was when we guys learnt to use the ski lifts. Sounds easy, but I managed to fall out three times. Only once, was it my fault, the other two, was thanks to the other guy (or so I assume, because the next time we went alone, I got to the top just fine and he fell out of the lift.) Anyhoo, now I was a nervous wreck. I had singlehandedly managed to muck up the rest of the queue. There were people waiting, I was falling, I was getting psyched, and the cycle was spiraling out of control. Until, the instructor came with me. The guy was like aVipasana teacher#. A calm, collected and soothing presence which in a jiffy puts a mind, as troubled as mine, at ease.

And up we went, “Look, what a beautiful day it is”, he said, while asking me to see the islands of blue in the sea of gray overhead.

“Look, at the pervert wind playing with the snow”, he said while pointing to the giant whorls of snow strewn all over the hill as the wind gently lifted a fine layer of snow on its journey over the slopes.

“See, how calm it is to climb up with the lift”, he said, interrupting only the sound of two pairs of skis.

And, just like that, going up a ski lift became enjoyable.

It could easily have been the monotonous drone of, "Breath in, breath out. Feel the air passing your nostrils, and in your nose and in the wind pipe. Feel the air go out as it hits your upper lip. In and out", numbing the brain into a coma. But it wasn't and this was way better.

Really, I wish I could regale you with stories of me tumbling down the hill, crashing into trees, breaking a limb or two, or whatever other morbid scenario you may want to imagine. Unfortunately, it wasn’t meant to be. Don’t blame me man, it was the freaking universe.

But then, there was that thing on the train… Yes, something on a train. Again…

One of the 3 trains we took on the return leg, was a two car train between Neustadt and Donaueshingen. The train is too small for the number of people travelling, so one has to rush, wade in, and grab whatever seats are available. And when 3 people are travelling together, one can hardly be picky about where one sits. We found ourselves in this pickle too, and yours truly spotted these two rows of seats facing each other, the ones which makes train journeys interesting. The old man sitting in one of the four seats really didn’t matter. So, then now we were four.

After sitting down, I looked at the old man a bit more carefully. He was old alright, withered round face; white hair; long flowing uneven unkempt beard; a walrus moustache which i am sure doubled up as a tea strainer as well – guessing by the faint tinge of brown at the edges; and mischievous eyes peering through rimless, alas not circular, pair of spectacles sitting on a round short nose; He was a bit on the plumper side and the white reindeers running along the border of his red woolen cap made it difficult not to imagine him as Santa Claus.

He was working diligently at a word jumble puzzle, and by the pace at which he was filling up the blank spaces, one could safely assume that the top story was still sharp, alert and often worked overtime, or that he was really good at making up his own answers. In anycase, I was impressed. I was hardly finished being impressed that he fished out a tiny bottle of alcohol from the depths of his jacket and took a swig. With panache. A swig which would have made the badest scallywag look like an innocent kindergarten kid. And then he let out a small burp.

After a while of getting bored looking at the black forest rush us by, the old man causally lifted the lid of the garbage bin between our seats. The open lid revealed the necks of two open beer bottles. Earlier in the day, I had seen an old lady fish out bottles from similar garbage bins, presumably to return them to a supermarket for 10 cents. So, that image was still floating around in my mind, when Santa Claus pulls out one of the beer bottles from the garbage bin, holds it up to the light (now the whole compartment can see the bottle), then peers at it with his old eyes to take stock of how much beer is still available. Satisfied, he took a quick sip of the stale flat beer. Replaced the bottle back in the garbage bin, and closed the lid.

Eyes met, smirks were exchanged and eyes were rolled, eyebrows were pointed, but we did not laugh.

Then we started talking. In English. The old man’s ears perked up, his curiosity was certainly tingled - “But this was an alien tongue these people were talking in, Or?”. Then the two ladies switched to German, and now he was positively confused. What was he hearing? Could it be? He could understand English! What the duce? He hurriedly brought out the remaining stash of whiskey and took a giant swig. Crap! He could still understand English. What the!

He had to join the conversation! This is so exciting! and he made his grand opening statement, “Abbaa baaa hmpf”. Damit!

And he went real silent. So did we. After a while he slowly lifted the lid of the garbage bin and gradually retrieved the beer bottle. He held it up again against the light. It was supposed to be beer. Damit!

I need a prize for not laughing! Really!

Und damit mache ich schloss :)

*Can’t seem to rid myself of this phrase. Damit!

**The Chinese hate the Japanese people. Damit!

*** Damit! This is your SECOND day! Stop being so patronizing!

# Loooonnggg story. Me dad had forced me as a child to attend this meditation course. Scarred me for life.


Sunday, February 28, 2010

Smo(S)kiingggg, somebody stop me!

Last Sunday, someone tried his hand (shouldn’t it be legs?) at skiing. Someone went to Feldberg in the black forest, a good beginners slope. Someone went to On-snow skischool. Someone couldn’t stop. Someone. Someone…

Earlier in the day, I changed 4 trains and one bus to get me fat lazy self to Feldberg. As always it was a fairly uneventful journey. Almost. Remember it is me. So, there has to be this one freaking stupid incident, where the 0-watt candle hiding in the remote recess of my cranium shines so bright, that it could illuminate 300,000 homes for a whole nano-second. Right? Yeah. I had my moment(s). But, on the way back. What happened on the way to Feldberg is something else more mundane, but nevertheless something which I would like to chronicle for the sake of chronicling.

At Singen (about 30 minutes into my journey) these two guys get into the train, and take a seat. One of the guys – about 30 ish - close crop of blond hair, ram-rod straight seating position, polished leather shoes clashing with blue jeans and a green bomber jacket. I could swear he was ex-mil. Ex-mil because, to me, the two silver loop earrings prominently hanging from his ear lobes seemed out character for a current military bloke. The other guy seemed more relaxed – a slight hint of a paunch, sneakers, hoodie sweatshirt, a backpack and a thick beard which would have made Bud Spenser proud. The two sat across each other and started talking in a tone and manner which one would associate with a couple normal blokes nursing a manageable hangover from a jovial und gemütlich night out the previous evening.

As the train started moving, these two guys got up and headed to the other end of the bogie to a co-passenger. The relaxed cop sat beside the passenger, while the ex-mil guy sat on the hand rest. Text book good cop, bad cop routine huh? Dang, I must be reading too much pulp fiction. Anyhoo, they started asking the passenger some questions. In German of course, and out of ear-shot, so I didn’t quite get what was happening. But I could see that they were frisking this guy and rummaging through his backpack. And I was thinking – are these two thugs? Are they stealing from this passenger? Freaky. Overdrive, my 0-watt brain went into.

They made their way through the train doing the same with every passenger, and especially hard on teenagers. They flipped out some sort of official ID when they approached my seat. They claimed to be cops.

“Ah cool, Polizei!”, I exclaimed and gave them a nod of approval, and then like a smart ass**, “Fahrkarte, oder?”

The relaxed cop nodded a no, and said - “No, Passport please” (In English!)

“Ach so, naturalisch, ein moment bitte. Miene Deutsch ist nicht so gut, aber ich probiere”, I said while extracting my passport from my backpack and handing it over to him.

“Oh! Indisch!”, said the cop with unconcealed glee as he saw the shiny gold Republic of India lettering on the weathered blue passport. “Aber besser dann meine Indisch”, he added. I was flummoxed. What did he mean? It took a while for the wick to heat and illuminate. The man thought we all spoke Indian in India, hehe, just as Indians think Gobi Manchurian is a Chinese dish :) So, I let out a delayed forced laugh “Har har har”.

Then he said very slowly, “Wohin Fahrest du jetzt?”.

“Ich Fahre nach Feldberg. Ich werde gerne Skifahren lernen”

“Feldberg, gut gut. Huete es ist schones wetter, a… bis 2011, gut gut”, he said while looking at my visa.

And then he asked to see my backpack. The cover of Malclom Gladwell’s – “What the dog saw”, which I was reading to kill time, had him in splits. “Ha ha, Der Hund, ha ha”, he kept doing the Muttle laugh while pointing at the cover.

“Super, viel spass!”, he said, and it was over just like that. No frisking, nothing, none of the drama my other co-passengers were subjected to. It pays to act retarded, OR? But, the German classes seems to be working in my favor. However, this was not my “smartest” moment of the trip.

Anyways, I reached Feldberg – Barenthal, without further entertaining intermissions. There was only one bus to ferry almost a whole train load of passengers to Feldberg-Hof. Needless to say, if you are slow enough, you will get left behind. Darwin at work. So I got ready to rush, and reminded myself that queues are not naturally formed in these parts.

There were like a billion people already at Feldberg Hof. The place has innumerable number of ski schools, and ski equipment stores, so you can rent/buy almost everything you need at any of the places. Perhaps at a “discount” too, because it was towards the end of the season?

Since, I had already registered with On-Snow skischool for a one day course, I started hunting around for this place. It is not at Feldberg – Hof, but is a bit out of the way but easily approachable by foot in a little under 5 minutes. On-Snow charges 30 euros for a one day course. And 20 euros for the next day, and 15 for the next and so on so forth. You can also rent the skis and boots or snowboards and helmets here for 15 euros a day. If you do not know how to ski, take the course, it is the best way to learn. They have two two hour sessions. One in the morning from 1000 to 1200 and another from 1315 to 1515. The learning groups can be as small as three, which works to your advantage.

Errrr, hmm, embarrassing as it is, it wasn’t only Toyota Motors who had problems stopping runaway and out of control locomotive equipment. Yours truly could not stop while hurtling* down the slopes. It took some luck and some unfathomable instinct to avoid crashing right into my fellow skiers – big or small, red or blue, men or women, experts or beginners.

I really was petrified of crashing into a bunch of kids practicing downhill, but these cheeky little kids have no fear. They don’t have to worry about tomorrow, something which sadly burdens an adult’s mind. These kids will go ultra fast and are not afraid of falling down. Anyways, these kids made sure I am now an expert at “preemptive roll overs”, err… well… actually some people call it falling down, but I, I beg to differ.

Late in the evening the instructor took us, the “langsam Anfänger” group for a “langsam pflug” down the slope. When he said pflug, my nascent Deutsch neural net recognized it as flug – i.e. to fly. So we were suppose to fly slowly? I was perplexed. Apparently it means to slowly plough down the slope i.e. by making a V with your skis – the way one is supposed to stop. Anyways, I messed up this part – fell twice doing this, and the instructor had to babysit me through this. Yeah. Sucks. In either case the instructor was a dedicated chap, with infinite patience. And we both agreed that I was by far the worst student he ever had!

I wish I could find an easy and not crowded slope to practice the slow decent. I wish. I wish. Unless I can buy my own private slope***. Sigh. Who ever said skiing is easy. I want my money back! Hmmm… nah… I think will go again and get it right this time. I must learn to stop. Aarrggghhhh.

Anyways, coming to the bright 0-watt incident. On my way back to Titisee from Feldberg-Barenthal, the train was running late, and I had to change trains at Titisee towards Nuestadt. At Titisee, as I got off the train, I heard some announcement – pretty garbled in my defense. I understood that the train headed towards Nuestadt was about to leave from platform 3, so I ran towards platform number 3 and jumped into the train hardly 10 seconds before it started moving (without reading the signage displayed prominently besides the dorr). Five minutes later I realized we were headed back towards Barenthal! What a freaking dufus man! I could do nothing but laugh at myself.

So I had to wait for an extra hour at Barenthal for the next train to Titisee. And on a cold evening, like the one last sunday, waiting at an open railway station can be a lot of fun****. It takes a smart guy to do that. I give myself that much :)

* or it felt like that, I am sure I was slower than I imagine

** tendency to piss cops off, where did this come from?

*** Little evil red Satan sitting on my shoulder whispers into my ears in a slow hellish drawl, “Dream on brother. Dream on. Muhuhahahahahahahahaha”

**** Prescribed dose of sarcasm!! Yippee!!

-- The end --


Wednesday, February 10, 2010


When work takes you to a new place for only a day and a half, there is nothing much that you can do. Nothing more than strolling in the city by night, and clicking some random photographs. Which is what I did at Dusseldorf.

Film museum

The film museum

The long bar (?)

There are a few point to note, The Lonely Planet Guide – Europe edition suggests that one must try the Altbier (or old beer) at a very notable place, so crowded, that it is easier for the waiter(es) to carry around  a tray full of beer glasses (please note, i use the word glasses) and simply replace the ones which they find empty. Sadly, for me, this fabled den of alcohol remained elusive. But, what I did find, was a very helpful bartenderess (does that word even exist?) in a near desolate old fashioned pub. The lighting was dark, the furniture so worn out that it looked like a relic from the American Wild West, and funky posters all around with a total of 6 people drinking Altbier. It was indeed a very early exit for me. Not before I asked the (now pretty) bartenderess, directions to the fabled Hafen (i.e. Port area.) The “Long Bar” stretch lives up to its name, with a million bars dotting the whole street.

The Dusseldorf tower

The Hafen was another place recommended by the Lonely Planet, so I had to do it. Talk about boring people. More specifically, the Lonely Planet recommends visiting the Dusseldorf Tower. As I was meandering along the general direction suggested by the (now distant but still pretty) bartenderess, I spotted a man with a walky-talky. Curiosity got the better of me, and I got into my routine. So I approached the bespectacled man.

“Entschudligung,  Wei komme ich bei der/das/die ganz grosses tower in Dusseldorf?”, I asked, even I could clearly spot it. Followed by a quick, “Sprechen Sie English?” At which he quickly took offence, “Of course! You can talk to me in English” he replied. The water vapor escaping his mouth through the cold 10’o clock night condensed on the outside of his glass, while he pointed out the clearly visible and only candidate for the Dusseldorf tower. He then asked me, “So, where do you come from?”

I was now bordering on German, it is a switch that I cannot turn off and on as will. Mostly because it takes so much effort to turn it on ;) But, “India” managed to tumble out before the man could make up his mind on how retarded I must be. “I thought so”, he said, and his eyes lit up. I thought, “Oh no! Not another Osho moron!”, but before I could completely connect the dots, he said, “I used to work for an Indian company - Engineering Export Council of India”

The thought train quickly switched to a “Holy-cock-a-moly” mode, and I was like “Respect man! respect!”. Then he went into a bit of the details, apparently he was part of three man show in Germany, which canvassed for Indian companies in Europe. Helping them with marketing, sourcing, and setting up booths at trade shows. Kinda reminded of what Grate-Dane was doing for his country in India. Then he asked, “Have you heard of HAM?”

Now HAM was a minor glitch in my otherwise smooth career as a student. I was interested. Deeply. However I am severely tone deaf, i.e., I couldn’t (even with a gun put to my head) differentiate between a dot and a dash in Morse. I had failed my HAM exam. Twice. I received “The Zebra and the monkey went up the tree, to fetch a pile of ice cold cotton candy…”, while the examiner had transmitted, “Long years ago we made a tryst with destiny, and now the time comes when we shall redeem our pledge…” So, well, me and HAM were good old buddies.

Anyway, he updated me on the latest in HAM technology – internet repeaters, and commented on the oldest problem ever – flaky radio reception. So apparently he receives the signal at near one specific lamp post (along the river Rhine), and doesn’t at the adjacent ones. Talk about multi path fading huh?

View from the observation deck

Anyways, the gentleman recommended the trip up the Dusseldorf tower, and that coupled with the excellent weather we were having in Dusseldorf, it was a no brainer that the tower top would be a good place to shoot the city. However, one must factor in the reflective glass, which some one else did not do, or did not think of :S

The observation balcony is 168 meters from the base, and it elevator travels at a top speed of 4 m/s. Impressively fast. And the ear actually pops as one rides up or rides down. The view from the top, on a cloudless, fogless night, like the night I visited is incredible. For as far as you can see, you can see a sea of light, giving you a hint as to how big the city really is. The ride up costs 3.60 euros. And if you can visit during the day, fogless, cloudless, etc etc, the elevator guy informed me that you can actually see the Dom at Colone. Impressive. Apparently it gets even better during the firework show, which takes place some time in May.

The city’s public transport system has enough and more connections and at suitable times too. It costs about 5.60 euros for the whole day.

The Carnival starts tomorrow in Dusseldorf, but I will not be there, since I am already back home in Konstanz! Crap! But, hey, we have a Carnival here too… muhuhahahaha…