I used to sit on the 21st floor. Now I am retired

Monday, January 30, 2006

Enemy at the Gate


Few of the most stressful moments that I have faced are at passport control/ immigration desks at international airports. Sometimes the stress gives way to relief, as in Singapore, where the person at the desk smiled and said "Aaww!! Sentosa for work?... No way!!"

Sometimes, on the other hand, stress gives way to a deep sense of hurt and outrage. In my latest trip abroad (South Africa), all was well, when we made our way in a bus towards the airport terminal at Jo'burg.

There were four counters for foreign nationals and two were being manned at the moment. By rather matronly African women. Everything was going fine and I was looking to follow Senior Leadership out of the immigration booths.

Suddenly, one more counter opened up and a dark man, medium height, walked in. If this was a Noir movie, I would have been struck with the sullen expression on his face. My heart skipped a tiny beat and decided to catch up fast with the miss.

I went to the man and handed him my passport. He looks at me says, "Hand me your vhnreve"... or some such nonsense.
"Hand me your what?", I asked.
"Your vhnreve"

Now, since he was murmuring below his breath, I could not understand properly. In most civilisations, my question would have been answered with a polite clarification. But not in Jo'burg. And not by the dark man.

He looked at me with slit eyes and said.
"Not your visa. I know that passport has the visa inside it. Your ticket's what I said."

Obviously, there's no scope for witty repartee at passport control. I handed over my ticket. The only thing that rose in protest were my goose bumps. I can stand sharp tongues. I can stand rudeness when accompanied by cold logic. However, rudeness within a service industry at the entry point to a country?

A minute later, I was free.

I will remember the bad vibes though. In Jo'burg.

P.S. Some of my friends told me that this was an Indian experience in South Africa. I don't know about that though.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Cape of Good Hope

Came back from Cape Town on Tuesday. I had gone for one and a half days for a 3-day conference. Work called me back faster than you can say Robben Island. Hence, I missed a trip to the flea market and a sundowner party at the top of Table Mountain.

Still, Cape Town was amazing.

Mountains end into a blue, blue sea. Even the asphalt, skirting the waves, looks colourful. The temperate vegetation has its own sinewy attractiveness.

But the best thing that happened to me wasn't the beauty of the place. It was choc-chilli fillet. At Madame Zingara. Beef fillet with dark chocolate sauce. All of us ordered this for the main course (passing over lamb shanks, balsamic chicken, fish). None of us regreted it.

The other memory that will stay with me is of Table Top. With 0 visibility. More about that later.

Thursday, January 19, 2006


Most restaurants I am going to these days, can be divided into 3 types:
1) Ask them what will they recommend, and they will play safe. Butter Chicken, Chicken Tikka, Masala Dosa or some such banal dish (Unless it's Moti Mahal recommending Butter Chicken to me).
2) Ask them what will they recommend, and be given a vacuous stare.
3) Ask them for a dish that you want, and they will debate the pros and cons with you. Sometimes, they make you change your order as well. Very rarely (though it does happen), they will make a face and mutter 'idiot' under their breath.

The third happened to me in Tiffin in the Oberoi's next door. It's got nice enough food, zero ambience (unless tables put in on the side of a corridoor with people moving in and out is your idea of ambience) and efficient (though slightly slow) service. However, this is not a restaurant review.

The interesting thing happened when I asked for some Tiffin Supreme or some special dish for dessert. The waitress, P, cruched her nose up and said, "It's not that good".
"No, the meringue is a small layer, and most of it is ice-cream."
"But I still want to have it."
"No, sir, it's really not good."
By this time, conversation has stopped at the table. Everyone's looking. Who will win? I make one last-ditch attempt.

"No, I really want to have it."
Not the sharpest I can be. But.

"I would suggest either a Chocolate, Chocolate, Chocolate or the Orange ___."
"But if that is not good, why do you have it on the menu?"
I don't give up.

"It's the chef's idea, sir. He wants it there. Very few people really like it."
Escape route to me. Good collaborative stuff. First convince me it's bad and then blame all this on the chef. Final score. P-10, Chef-0.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

IITians on IITians

I am back again. After two-three weeks of serious mayhem, where we went working for fourteen hours a day, here I am.

While the team had many different discussions (which contribute at least 30% to the fourteen hours a day), the most interesting thing that I found out was that Chetan Bhagat has had impact. While the book is generally quite bad (I have read the first 40-odd pages) and reduces IIT to booze, bunking classes and discussing women (or so Mowgli says), it does manage to influence people in a significant manner.

In one of the IITs, a couple of men, who have tried asking women out, have had to face rejection because of him. The object of their affections had already read Five Point Someone and thus rejected them, saying, "I have read Chetan Bhagat, I can't hang around with boys like you". Can you believe it? If currently, things weren't bad enough with the sex ratio being what it is, here comes a book documenting what the men actually think.

And I thought that till now, the worst that has appeared about IITians was the cover of "The IITians" by Sandipan Deb. Just check it out. It lives upto all its cliches of IITians being serious, spectacled, badly-dressed men (Notice the absence of women). I don't know whether it holds true for the majority of IITians. All I know is that the authors are not doing their fellow alums a favour.

P.S. The existence of the cover and for that matter, the book was brought to my light, by an IIT-ian itself. Why do they do this to themselves?

Monday, January 02, 2006

Measure for Measure and two others.

The three biggest past-times in office the last few weeks have been Pong, Bloody Pingu and Ego-surfing (obviously after Uno). Past-times in office??, one may ask. It's hard but 30 minutes in a day isn't hard to find at times.

Pong is a Mozilla Firefox addon which Mowgli and I have got very good at. Pong is also known as the first video game known to man. Check out the tribute site! And definitely download Pong.

Bloody pingu on the other hand is this strange obsession started by SK. Pingu is a amusing enough game with more emphasis on skill rather than luck. However, Bloody Pingu, besides being gross, is purely a game of chance linked to trampoline-mines. I don't agree with it. Though, I have a high-enough score (1740+)!

As far as egosurfing is concerned, while other's names come up pretty normally (though one of us can be found on the net, asking for sh***b, k***b and sh***b in his IIML days), the best entry that we have found is Aniket being a unit of measure.

Apparently, in a language spoken on a Hawaii island, "Mats may be measured in finger spans or by using various distances along the arm." 1 Aga = 8 Anikets. Today, Sun has also found other references to Aneket. Apparently, Aneket's also a drug.

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