Thursday, April 30, 2009
Saturday, April 25, 2009
Singapore is a country where citizens really try to make a difference to the way things are run. They are proactive for sure, and when they voice their concerns, it is evident that they are heard immediately and prompt action is taken.
Quite a bit of whatI know of their efforts comes from the newspaper distributed at the train stations on weekdays. 'My Paper' is an extremely praiseworthy attempt at keeping the people of this country abreast with the happenings, and a platform for themselves to alert one another to things of note and be on their toes all the time. You never know who might be watching and chastising you for your misconduct in public, so you always have to be careful about how you behave lest you should find yourself in the newspapers for doing something gross or not abiding by the rules.
From students who vandalise or treat people with contempt to people who refuse to give up their seats on the train to those who need them more, appreciation for people who work hard (recently, ladies who distribute the paper at the stations were lauded by readers or their friendliness), road accidents (of course, there aren't too many of them, because rules here are stringent), or regulations that citizens might have a grouse against, the paper carries reports on them all. And it isn't just regional in nature. While the primary focus is on happenings in and around Singapore, there is quite a lot in it about China and India as well, key players in the world now, and regional superpowers. Recession, business, sport, music, television, cinema, some light, heartwarming writing- indeed a good way to pass time on the train. The team behind the paper is pretty young and enthusiastic, and I am sure everyone there works really hard on making it what it is- a clean, kitsch-free paper, and a far cry from many of the 'urban' supplements we have back home, which seem to thrive on Page 3 sensationalism or yellow journalism.
What is most impressive is how people really care and try to make a difference. Of course, it helps that those at the helm of affairs also listen to them and try to address their problems. No pompous speeches, no chaotic politics. This is clean, exemplary governance. Singapore is said to abide strictly by its laws. If stringent regulation is needed to keep things in check, so be it. They are a hard-working lot and their efforts show in the precision with which the country is run. Life here really spoils you to the extent that I sometimes dread having to come back home to work in the dust and the grime- and you know what I mean by that. However, we are probably not as callous as we were, and I am sure things are changing for the better. Optimism helps.
Thursday, April 23, 2009
Cab drivers in Singapore are an ilk of their own. They can disarm you with their heartiness or put you off with their sullen taciturnity. When you open the door of one of the blue or yellow or white or silver cars, you can never be sure of what to expect.
After a night of work and breakfast at Komala’s at Farrer Park(where we’re almost always the first customers and my roommate was once requested to come in later as they hadn’t opened yet), we found a cab at the traffic signal. The driver was extremely loquacious and cheerful. He had a rumbling laugh rising from the depths of his belly and a deep voice. He pointed out a Buddhist temple to us as we drove down, and launched into a soliloquy (supposed to be a conversation, actually) on poverty in India. He was critical of businessmen buying their wives aeroplanes when beggars languished in poverty on the streets. He couldn’t comprehend why he could get to Delhi in a few hours from Singapore, but had to travel more than a day to get to Gaya from there. He told us about the large number of IT professionals who crowded into the restaurants of Little India come Sunday. (Of course, we didn’t tell him we belonged to that category too). There was something rather amusing about the way he spoke, though, and my roommate wore a very uncomfortable expression as she tried to keep herself from laughing out straightaway into his face. The most priceless moment, though, arrived when the driver, glorying in the magnificence of his country, mentioned the ‘Cocodye’ farm. My roommate looked up at him, puzzled, and he promptly snapped his palms, joined at the heels, at her. ‘Cocodye!’
“Crocodile!” I announced simultaneously, convulsed with laughter, for I’d already seen the Crocodile Farm pass by, and I couldn’t even bring myself to thwart the driver’s eagerness as he looked out of the window constantly, trying to find the place and telling us how you could purchase leather bags there (which made me wonder, on a serious note, if the farm bred crocodiles to kill or for conservation- their website says they practice ‘sustainable utilisation’- something I need to learn about).
Then there was the driver who asked us a question or took directions, and followed up every sentence we uttered with, “Thanks. Thank you very much. Thank you.” Three times. OCD? I hope not. Then another memorable one was a huge fan of Indian cinema who watched Hindi DVDs on weekends and got his daughter hooked as well. He went on about what a safe place Singapore was, and as he dropped my colleague off before me, told him that he would be taking me to a discotheque and not home- whereupon, in two minutes, I received a call from my colleague to make sure I’d got home safe and sound. Another driver, smelling the food we were carrying home to the other girls, asked, “Is that dosey?” They have varying tastes in radio channels, so you never know if you’re going to be treated to some Western Classical or pop or Chinese music, or be bamboozled by an incomprehensible game show (in Chinese, of course!)
Of course, this immense garrulity is limited to a few drivers. They aren’t always comfortable with English, and we’ve even had an instance when one of my flatmates was told that she didn’t know English (needless to say, she was left speechless). Many of them do make conversation, often intelligent talk, and it is indeed amazing how well-informed they are. They know a lot about India in particular, and not just the basic stuff that any interested foreigner would, but also politics. Many of them are people retired from regular day jobs, and it is heartening to find them doing a job which, back home, would be regarded as degrading and inconsequential- what a price we pay for our ignorance!
Unpredictable. That is what they are. And this makes each drive an adventure and a journey to look forward to (even when the destination is office).
Monday, April 20, 2009
The heat is beating down upon Singapore with a vengeance. The sun burns on the skin and makes you feel you're somewhere around the Equator, the once iceberg-like capsules of the train seem like a pleasant reprieve from the sudden onset of harsh summer.
The birds, though, are trilling cheerfully. At dawn and dusk, as the sky changes colour, splashes and swirls of blushing amber streaking the different, ethereal shades of blue, they call out to one another, and perhaps also to us, if we would only care to listen. The sun rises late here- it is atleast seven o'clock before the sun streams in through the parting between the curtains, but it doesn't really wake you up. No sunrise and sunset for people who wake and sleep at the oddest hours, lose track of their biological clocks and act wilfully against the laws of Nature. Pity, isn't it, not to see a spectacular blue dusk or a magnificent sunrise for weeks on end? To feel the blinding glare of the sun as you step out of the underground railway, feel its warmth on your skin and realise that you have, indeed, missed it? It is weird to watch people go about their business ordinarily when your own life is all topsy-turvy, when there are numerous questions running about in circles in your head. Sometimes it is so hard to believe that it is actually my body and my spirit up here in this flat, looking out at the brilliant lights of the city, and not someone else who has taken possession of my life, holding it in a fragile goblet and standing on the edge of a sheer cliff. It isn't fear; it is just the unpredictability and the risk, and I think it makes things all the more exciting.
I have about six months in which to make my decision. Dare I actually hope to realise all that I've been dreaming of? Heck, I need to get it all sorted out in my own head first. Do I spend my life dreaming about what could have been, using unpredictability and the risk factor as an excuse for inaction; should I go for it, irrespective of the very real possibility of disappointment and keep those sneaking, lurking fear of failure at bay?
Life tosses real puzzles at you at times. And at these moments, the decision is all yours, your responsibility. There is no going back from certain situations. I can find myself heading for some of them now, in the very near future.
I noticed something weird during my recent trip home. I wasn't getting too nostalgic about things. I mean, yes, I did look back at the years with longing, missed the school vacations, the cricket matches, the melas in the maidaans, the occasional movies. But I never wondered when I'd be back again, how I'd miss everything. I've probably learned to live in the present. I know it's important to.
Philosophising doesn't become me, does it? Can't help it at times, though. Just like frivolity.
Sunday, April 19, 2009
Thursday, April 16, 2009
The FIA has ruled that the double-decker diffusers are valid, and that potentially brings the entire fight onto the track this weekend. The season has already been mired in scandal, starting with the season opener in Australia, and McLaren-Mercedes have been left sweating over the 'lying' scandal- how on earth do they manage to get themselves into the most embarrassing scrapes?- and without a sporting director. Ferrari have been in the limelight for all the wrong reasons as well- the defending World Champions haven't scored a point yet, and will indeed be praying for a windfall in China. The balance has toppled strangely this season, the fancied teams not even in the reckoning after the first two races. But then, this is sport, and things can improve in no time. McLaren will be hoping they can get the facts right when they appear before the WMSC, for this is some publicity they definitely wouldn't want, especially after the bitter Spygate saga of 2007. Ferrari, on the other hand, need to pull up their socks and take proper decisions. Kimi Raikkonen's race at the Malaysian GP was ruined by the decision to put the wet tyres on way before the rain started, putting paid to his hopes of a points finish as the plan unfortunately backfired.
Will the big guns get going this weekend? Having Ferrari pit their wits against Ross Brawn would indeed make for some exciting encounters, and having the McLarens and the BMWs join the party would absolutely enliven things up. 'Our' team, Force India, trundles on, taking satisfaction in its record of 100% finishes in the two races, hoping for better grid positions in qualifying and a few points in the races. What with things gone all topsy-turvy this year, Vijay Mallya just might be in for a stroke of real good luck.
Wednesday, April 15, 2009
At McDonald's for breakfast, my roommate ordered hash browns and an Egg McMuffin. Let me explain first that she doesn't eat meat, though eggs are okay with her. She asked the lady at the counter if the egg muffin contained meat- twice, thrice, just to make sure, and was told confidently that it didn't. When the muffin was passed to my roommate, she took a look at the layer of pink in it, assumed it was tomato, but asked the lady about it anyway- and was told that it was indeed tomato.
One bite taken, my roommate couldn't quite feel the flavour of tomato. She immediately rang her brother up and asked him to look up the ingredients of the egg muffin, and to her deep chagrin and his great amusement, he announced with a flourish that the pink layer was just bacon. Goosebumps erupted on my roommate's skin as her brother, with all the graciousness of big brothers, gave her a vivid, graphic description of what bacon really means, which part of what animal it comes from, and everything else that she didn't want to hear.
She has been lamenting ever since she came in, and has summoned up more expressions on her face than Katrina Kaif ever will in her entire career (even if she goes to acting school, trust me). What we're doing now is regaling the poor girl with definitions of various kinds of meat, laying emphasis on the fact that they don't all come from the posteriors of hogs; it is pretty hilarious to me as an onlooker, though I can imagine the state of indignation I would have worked myself into had I been in her shoes.
It isn't the first time such a thing has happened, is it? Such incidents are heard of often, and what is it, after all, that causes them? Ignorance, carelessness? The lady at the counter should have got her facts right before confirming things, she should have crosschecked with someone if she wasn't quite sure. How can you ever eat out if you can't even be sure of what you're being given, despite reassurances to the contrary from sales staff? Are they so desperate to sell their stuff that they don't believe in honesty any longer? Mistakes happen, but this doesn't quite seem acceptable. It isn't a religious or spiritual thing here, but having your beliefs encroached upon and violated so doesn't feel too good.
Experimentation doesn't quite work well when you're abroad. Seemingly innocent food often contains ingredients you wouldn't even dream of. We've often ripped open bags of cheese rings or potato chips before remembering to read the ingredients; what a shock it comes as later, when you realise that the snack contains traces of crustacea, seafood, prawns, whatnots.
I might have been careless often enough with regard to reading the ingredients or finding out from staff at a restaurant, but this episode is a wake-up call. I just hope something of this sort doesn't happen to me. It wouldn't be so hilarious if it did.
Tuesday, April 14, 2009
Cotton has to be the best fabric ever thought of by man. I see heavily made up women on TV, faces powdered and dusted with layers on the verge of peeling off; they wear red-sequined blue sarees with blue-sequined red blouses, bat their eyelids, twist their lips into unimaginable curves that possibly only Yelena Isinbayeva could match with her body. I know I'm digressing way off the mark, but at such moments, I feel like reminding people that there is a cool, comfortable, light fabric known as cotton, and you'd be infinitely better off if only you tried it.
Coming to the point, though, I picked up clothes in quick succession, and it was all done in under 30 minutes. I am one girl nobody would crib about having to go shopping with. The unnerving hour at the tailor's was also tolerable. The worst part of the entire trip was in fact the journey- the dust, the chaotic traffic and the heat.
On a more serious note, I was conscious of coming across a scene of an accident or an ambulance speeding to one; has there been a marked increase in the number of accidents? What makes us ignore traffic rules with such carelessness, knowing full well the consequences of breaking rules? What gives us the right to endanger the lives of other people? Hopefully, something will knock some sense into our heads and make us realise the folly of our ignorance, if it can be called that.
One thing on a marked decrease seems to be the number of Ambassador cars, the sturdy, solid, once ubiquitous symbol of 'modernising' India. Is it strange to miss them? There is something comforting and reassuring about those cars, a symbol of an age that was straddling two eras, trying to bridge a gap and trying to catch up with the more progressed parts of the world.
No matter how much we advocate progress, there is a small part of us that seeks refuge in the permanent and the unchanged, isn't there?
Monday, April 13, 2009
The extremely short summer vacation has come to an end, and perhaps it was made all the more engaging by the limit of its duration. Out of the dust, the heat and the chaos in the cloudy environs of Singapore- and guess what? I seem to have brought some sunshine along.
I landed at the brilliant, spanking, controversial Rajiv Gandhi International Airport in Shamshabad, Hyderabad in the early hours of April 4. Midnight doesn't show you much in terms of traffic, but you can feel your bones rattle as you are jolted over the potholes and the orange dust rises from the ground and makes its way into your nostrils, hair and eyes. You see the green eyes of a cow caught in the headlights of the car in the middle of the road. You hear the incessant, mostly unnecessary honking and the rumble of huge trucks. And then you know, you're back home.
Election time coupled with the summer season is not exactly the best time to be in India, especially if you need to go outdoors pretty often. What with the rallies, the manifestos sung out in folk tunes and the heat beating down on your head and your back and every possible inch of bare skin, it is quite easy to be driven up the wall.
However, with my new-found optimism aiding me, I was able to make the most of it all. Come election time, news channels become extremely entertaining. There are the exaggerated gestures and the rolling eyeballs of anchors standing by the caravans of various political parties, drenched dupattas and shirts reminding you that journalism is not always as glamorous as it looks. Endless poll predictions, bar graphs, pie charts, statistics. Kurta-pyjamas, tilak and garlands. Speeches full of empty promises. And of course, the digs politicians take at one another, which make you wonder why you're even watching the news. Really, will these people ever get serious? Words and shoes are flying back and forth, and were they eventually to make a difference, perhaps it wouldn't matter so much. As of now, though, the news is just to be watched for the entertainment quotient. Yogendra Yadav and Rajdeep Sardesai can go berserk with their predictions and projections, Mallika Sarabhai can try to make a difference, Chiranjeevi can try to be yet another actor-turned-politician attempting to stay on in the limelight, Shashi Tharoor can try and tread high moral ground in Congress colours after his neutral stint with the UN. In the end, things won't change much. The real permutation and combination will begin after the polls, broken alliances will mend automatically, sworn enemies will swear eternal friendship, Vaiko's fiery speeches will be forgotten, Laloo will be a useful ally again, the next round of games will be flagged off.
And we'll be taken for a ride, yet again.
Wednesday, April 01, 2009
Two more days, and I shall be back in the wilderness for a week. The charm of chaos will be upon me again, as I head back for the wild, raving mad streets of India. Hyderabad, Vizag. Home. Hypocrite I am if I say I love Hyderabad, but I don't dislike it either. Crowds are exasperating, but there is something about the return of summer and the remeberance of long-gone summer vacations and childhood that makes my associations with this veteran city rather strong. In the confused mingling of cultures and people is to be found an inexplicable solace, a balm for all the hurt of adulthood, the one constant factor among all the changes that irrepressibly roll on through life as it rapidly charts a course even before you realise it.
For the first time since I turned three, I shall not know a summer vacation. When I told people I'd be going home in April, they said, "During summer?" Why not. Summer has the best memories possible. The month of April, heat mounting, spent in an agonising wait for the vacations, school and classes a sham, teacher and taught equally delighted with the ultimate, albeit short, reprieve, starting in the first week of May. Holiday homework was delegated to the deepest, darkest recesses of the brain, the occasional nudges and hints of memory suppressed and suffocated by the wonderful days spent under trees or wriggled into convenient little crooks in the branches, fanned by the warm breeze carrying the fragrance of mango and chikoo. We'd sit on the edge of the little tank in a courtyard that could have been called an orchard but for its size, feet ankle-deep in water that was deliciously sun-warmed and treeshade-cooled at once, sending thrills through weary bodies. Games of hide and seek, sulking and making up, traipsing through the city. Perhaps the biggest paradox I can think of is the urge to grow up when you are young, and the wish to be a child again, when you are where you wanted to be. That is how your own innocence deceives you.
Things change. You grow up, grow out of school, enter college, go to work, a new world entirely alien sweeps you into its fold, like it or not. Unrealised dreams nudge and prod, as is their habit. To what use, though?
Home again. What takes away from the excitement slightly, though, is a fear of change, of finding something as it wasn't. Seven months isn't a very long time, is it? Being in the midst of a life you know and going with the drift doesn't make you cognisant of change, really. Once you're away, you know what you cherish and miss, and when you go back to it, you want it all just as it was, everything in its place, untouched and unmoved. The meeting, the parting. Blink and it's over. What more could you expect from a 'vacation' that is only a week long?
Perhaps that is how life is, in retrospect. Short, swift, indecipherable.