Saturday, September 24, 2005

Yes, I'm here, come on in

Yes, I am here. I'm just watching, listening, reading and assimilating my thoughts. It's something I like to do every now and then. I will be back, soon, can't promise when though. Maybe tomorrow, maybe day after, maybe next week...
So byte, does this answer your question?

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

The mood in England

England is scared. England is very, very scared right now. Did you read the paper this morning? Now any UK citizen can't be smiling in his or her visa photograph. Yes you read it right. It's to improve security and so potential travellers must produce "a neutral expression with your mouth closed," to quote The Asian Age. The piece continues, 'The UK home office spokesperson says, "It's about having a closed mouth. An open-mouthed smile will throw the scanner off.' A restrained grin is acceptable, officials confirmed, but even the slightest flash of teeth could pose a problem for the equipment".'

When I landed in London, precisely a month ago, to the day, my cousin and I stopped off at Chelsea for a cup of coffee. We parked in one of the residential lanes behind the market, one of the very posh areas I'm told, and I was surprised to see that the road was absolutely empty. At 6.30 p.m. Not one person in sight. She explained to me that it was holiday season so a lot of people who lived there had taken off to their homes in the country etc. Also, she said, there aren't many tourists this time because of the blasts. The streets, I kept noticing, were practically empty. At one time, I said something to the effect of 'so and so costs a bomb' and I was immediately hushed up by my aunt, because even the mention of the 'b' word was scary.

Can you imagine that? We live in that world. Day in and day out. I have a friend in Srinagar who says that it has happened that he's gone to the market with his wife and there's been a blast and they've dusted themselves and got into the car and driven back. They live with that. England doesn't. It never has. Which is why Blair did so much straight talk in India this time. In fact in London, there was a desperate attempt to lift spirits and forge a spirit of unity. Every street light, every bus shelter had this slogan.

7 million Lononders
1 London

It was of course cleverly done with the letters from the two lines merging (will photo blog it). The problem is my London pix are by a regular camera so I need to scan them and post them, unlike Canada which is all on digital.

Anyway, back to London. Every paper only talked of the killing of the innocent Brazilian with demands and probes and resignations etc. Even as you walk into the Heathrow arrival lounge three-four (very good looking) cops strut by, but believe me, they are so heavily armed, you don't even want to try and make eye contact with them. And on my return, just as we were at the boarding gate (No. 42, the last possible gate, and a 20-minute walk from the main lounge where the duty free shops are), the British Airports Authority announced that they weren't satisfied with the security arrangements and hence all of us had to go right back to security. Now I had just gotten off an eight-hour flight and was dehydrated and dead tired and I felt quite bad because there were many old people too, but everyone had to do the drill. A 20-minute walk back to security and then a 20-minute walk back to boarding gate no 42 which means an hour of just walking up and down. That's how scared they are. Nothing is good enough. If there is any lapse in security, however small, they ain't taking chances. But living in this part of the world we all know that they are not going to be attacked again, not in the near future. The chill has been sent and the message has been received loud and clear. So they can do all the security arrangements in the world, but the deed is already done. All they can do is learn from India. Chin up. Go about your daily life and do not let them think they have managed to disrupt your life, your thought process, the way you travel, the way you work.

> The buzz
The only think to make me believe that Londoners were going about their normal life was an article that shopping continued to be on the rise with most Londoners out buying stuff and frequenting markets. In fact, this is where I really felt the 'buzz'. At Oxford Street, on High Street Kensington and in Knightsbridge. I read an article the other day in Time Out Mumbai by columnist Girish Shahane who was writing from Geneva and talking about how some cities had the buzz but others didn't. He also spoke of how some foreigner had told him that Mumbai has the same buzz. In fact, London, New York, Mumbai and Shanghai are the cities normally supposed to have it. Like Lycra. Either you have it or you don't! I don't know about Mumbai (where would you go to feel this buzz, Phoenix Mills?) but London definitely does. It's in the air. The fashion sense. The way women will continue to wear short skirts and stilletos even while shopping and in extreme cold, because they must be well turned out at all times. The way they will wrap a pashmina over a pair of linen pants and make it seem the hippest thing to do. The way four women will effortlessly be sharing lives over a bottle of wine and cigarettes at 5 p.m. But more than anything else I think the buzz is a reflection of how happy people are to be in that city, how much they love it. How much they smile. Do they wish each other while walking by, are manners and courtesy in full display, do they nod to each other like iPod users who know they are part of a unique club, do they smile while chatting on the cellphone? Do they hold hands and hug and kiss in the street? Or are they aggressive, abusive, angry, frustrated, scowling faces. That really is what the buzz in a city is. Talk to most Londoners and they will tell you that there's no other place in the world they'd rather live. Same for most Mumbaikars. That's what the buzz is.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Hmmm... what is it about living abroad. Could I do it? I don't know. Do I want to do it? Probably yes, for a while. Just back and completely disoriented and without wanting to sound like a 'phoren-return' I am silently acknowledging how absolutely dirty, noisy and polluted our city is. How commuting is so tough, how I love this country but it makes me seethe in anger to see how little we show about how much we care. How we don't give a flying eff about our tax money and how we don't demand that it be put to better use. How the Air India terminal is the worst possible entry point into India, with old, discarded trolleys, the ones where the wheels have minds of their own, which even the domestic terminal has discarded, in use. Where any one from an official to a class IV servant who so much as helps you with lifting a bag demands kharcha paani. (If any of you ad guys are reading this, Air India needs a serious face change and an image change. Please pitch for it. The air-hostesses and flight stewards can't even communicate properly, forget how they look, since that I think isn't a fair way to judge. But yes this is a business where image matters). So, yes I do want to live abroad for a stint. For the experience. For the exposure. For the access to other countries that it affords you, and within your salary. Not like India where till now you had to save for months or maybe years for a half-decent trip to a half-decent country. My friend could go to Oslo and back or Amsterdam and back from London and the same money wouldn't even take me to the backwaters of Kerala and back. (That said, I think Indians abroad who've grown up there need to travel to India too. My cousin, who is born and brought up in England and has visted India several times, but met me after a hitaus of a decade, was somewhat disappointed to see that I wasn't either enamoured of the shopping or the country or anything and that I pretty much dressed like her or someone there, had the same taste in movies and music and as much exposure and knowledge of world matters. She said she also has a friend from South Africa who was also pretty much the same. It was a realisation I think that 'abroad' to Indians is no more 'unique' and no more a place where you come to buy stuff you don't get. "So now you get everything everywhere so no one is unique anymore," she lamented. I asked her what was made in England anyway since all tags are either 'Made in India' or Made in China or Cambodia or whatever is the latest flavour of the manufacturing world.
Anyhow, yes I do want to live abroad and the only thing that worries the lazy part of me is the housework. Oh My God. Doing everything yourself right from the hoover to dishes (even with a dishwasher) to groceries to mowing the lawn to kids... yikes. It's such hard work. First at office then at home, then at relationships. It probably takes great grit to live there... I think we're quite spoilt in India with our bais and our cooks and our emotional support structure and of course, the confidence of being in your own country... that must be a lot to give up. Or is it?