Wednesday, November 26, 2008

A thousand cuts

A few weeks ago we were having a spirited discussion on schizm entering indian lives seperating out hindus and muslims with respect to riots and terror attacks in India. There was a widespread viewpoint on the number of lives lost as collateral damage and the one argument that was pretty prevalent was that the hindus have been subjugated for over 800 years and this was bound to happen.

Sadly this view has been shared by well educated people and anyone objecting to the viewpoint is labelled a "secularist" almost as if thats a curse word. Justice for any oppressed group has no place in the current scenario.

Now my city of bombay has been attacked (again) and I'm sure as more news of the islamic groups being behind it come out, that viewpoint will be further reinforced. While my city is knocked down again (I dont know if it still has the ability to come back up), the terrorists might have finally succeeded in completely alienating the hindu and muslim population. India has been cut and now left to bleed to death.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

The long road travelled

I've been in london the past couple of nights and its been at its cold rainy and dreary best, reminding me of chicago another place that I really really dont want to go back to. The last time I was in london, I had covered the major touristy places and I wanted to do something else this time around.

Considering I walked around all european cities that I've visited in this trip without taking any of the local public transportation, I decided to walk around london as well. I headed towards lords cricket stadium to check it out (take that mihir) and then walked towards central london after it. Heading down Baker street past the fictional residence of the great detective living on the street, I found out that there is a real museum dedicated towards the fictional person.

Giving the weather on this island, soon enough it started to drizzle and considering I was near the British Museum, thought of spending the afternoon at the museum. Being free added to its allure and I spent the next few hours walking around the massive museum.

Headed out of the museum in the early evening, noticed that the rain hadn't stopped and only increased. Since this was my last night in europe, I decided that the cold rain shouldn't stop me and spent the next couple of hours roaming around the streets of london. Finally being cold and tired, I headed back to my hostel.

Its time for me to bid goodbye to europe. The cold and rainy weather in london is probably not the best send off and I really hope I never have to visit this city again, though I would love to visit mainland europe again. The old body is a little tired with the constant travelling and the about 10 hour daily walking sessions, so though I really dont feel like heading towards the cold in chicago, it will be nice to have a few days of relative quiet and restfulness of home.

Friday, October 31, 2008

My favorite mistake

On my final travelling day on the continent I headed to Pisa from Roma. Unfortunately there were no direct trains around the time I needed to travel so I had to take a round about way via Firenze and reached pisa at around 2 in the afternoon. Now there isn't much too see in Pisa other than the leaning tower.

Its funny how the architect's biggest mistake is the sole reason the town is on the tourist map. Checked out the tower and headed back to the train station to find a train to milan. For future trips to pisa, I wouldn't give the city more than a couple of hours. I headed up to genova via cinque terre. Ideally I wanted to stop at one of the villages of cinque terre for a hike, but I didnt have the time and anyways it gets dark pretty early in this part of the world.

The final train journey was filled with delays. We were more than an hour delayed getting into genova and then further delays going up to milan. Finally reached milan around 11 at night and now all set to fly out of milan and out to london.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Forgive me Father

I was partying with some friends from my hostel last night, when one of them mentioned that the pope is giving a papal audience today. Considering we were up pretty late last night, wasn't sure I would be able to get up on time to see it.

Luckily my hostel is walking distance from the vatican and I ended up seeing the holy frigging pope in the frigging vatican. I guess this probably happens on a weekly basis on wednesdays but another thing to be noted in the old life history - seeing the holy frigging father.

Bella Roma

If there was one word to describe rome, it would be spectacular. All the adages about the glory of Rome are true, its one of the most amazing cities on earth. I can imagine why rome evoked such feelings amongst the roman empire.

I was also surprised by how big the city is, with a monument at almost every piazza. Ive been roaming the city for a couple of days and still haven't covered everything, reason for me to return to this city I guess.

When to the musei vaticani (Vatican Museum) to check out Michaelangelo's and Raphael's works. The museum is amazingly large and ornately decorated. Do make sure to keep aside at least 3 hours if you want to visit the museum.


Firenze(Florence) was at the fore point of the renaissance period. The main attraction still in firenze is the statue of david in the galleria del accademia. I have been studiously avoiding going to any museums in this tour and saving on the admission fees, but if you do visit firenze checking out the wonderful sculpture of david should definitely be on tour.

Obviously everyone has the same idea as well and the long lines do generally take hours to gain entrance. I decided to beat the crowd and go early around 9 am and walked right in the museum (well there is nothing more to watch there other than the statue so using the term museum loosely). The fabulously sculpted statue of David looking on into the horizon after his victory over goliath definitely lives up to the hype around it.

Firenze doesnt have too many other things to check out, so took the evening train to Roma

Monday, October 27, 2008

A Nice place to go

I took the overnight train from paris to Nice on Cote d'Azur (french riviera). The next morning the train had reached the Mediterranean Sea and the train journey from a little before Cannes all the way to Nice was spectacular to say the least. Infact the entire train journey from about Cannes all the way past the Italian city of Ventimiglia might well be on the most scenic train journeys.

Reached Nice and walked towards the sea. I needed to make a few phone calls and passed by a few pay phones. Now payphones like street signs are almost impossible to use in france. These payphones dont take coins/cash and inserting your credit card any which way causes the payphone to show WARNING - put back the receiver as if the phone booth might explode or blast off into space (without having the border guards having their one last hurrah on checking your travel documents). Cursing the lack of user friendliness of the payphones, I continued towards the sea and on reaching it, you are met with a sea of people sunning, running, walking on the mediterranean sea.

Well considering that sunbathing wasn't my cup of tea and I couldnt really run with a heavy backpack on your shoulders, I decided to walk up and down the riviera. It really is a pretty place to be and I can imagine why the rest of the europeans head down here to enjoy the warmth and probably the beautiful bodies on view.

I decided to take the train towards Ventimiglia south of the border in Italy. On the train station I met this Indian family heading towards Monaco. The gentleman had an interesting story and was part of the generation kicked out of Uganda by Idi Amin and immigrated to the UK (a fact that most people dont know is that most of the Indians in UK are Ugandan in origin). Its also nice meeting someone who identifies himself as Indian irrespective of the country they might live in currently.

The train continued its amazingly scenice journey along the Mediterranean Sea past Monaco and into Italy finishing up in Ventimiglia. You can see that you are italy and not in france/monaco when you hardly see any tourists, the village looks like a sleepy village town and things look a little more run down. So someone wanting the same scenary as the french riviera but are more than happy to avoid the tourists and high prices, might want to consider the italian part of the Cote D'Azur.

The old and the new

I reached paris close to midnight and was wondering on whether to roam around the city all night or find a place to crash. The signs around paris are utterly useless made even more confusing when the street names (for the same straight street) keep changing after every intersection.

So I took out my trusty map and tried to get my bearings straight when an elder parisian comes along and offers help and shows me directions. This was completely surprising considering the image I had of parisians was that they werent welcoming of tourists (and they do get a lot) and more like fuck you tourist, go home.

Well I was roaming around the streets of paris when I came across a budget hostel and no surprise it was all booked up. Resolving myself to a night on the streets (time to get my rouge and lipstick out) and I came across this run down inn which had a small room by the stairs. Gladly taking the room I crashed for the night.

Getting up late the next morning, I put on the backpack and continued my walking europe tour. My camera was dying on me, so I figured I'll go to the opposite end of the city towards the Eiffel tower. An hour later, I finally reached the eiffel tower in all its splendid glory. The first thing that you notice about it is how massive it looks from close by.

Continued from the tower to the Arc d'triomphe and down the Avenue des Champes Elysees towards the Louvre.

One problem of covering a lot of european cities at one go is that you've feel that once you've seen one palace you've seen them all and wont be too impressed with the newer ones. France has more of the greco-roman architecture which is funny as the Louis' and napolean where neither greek nor roman.

Now Paris has lots of major train stations and my train out of paris was a little distance away. So walking towards the train station via Notre Dame du Paris, Panthenon and the Sorbonne, I reached the station a couple of hours before my train. Having time to kill I noticed the bibiliotheque du france not too far from this station and decided to walk over to see if I could get some free internet (emphasis on free).

Walking for about half an hour and I still couldn't locate the stupid library when I came across this mayan looking pyramid structure having wooden steps all acroos the pyramid heading to the top. Now since I had the time and there was this pyramid looking thing to be conquered I decided to climb to the top. On reaching the top I started walking to the center and I was stunned by the architecture on show.
Right at the center of the pyramid was a forest surrounded on four sides by the walls of the library heading into the earth. Unfortunately the library was closed so I had to admire it from the outside, but I like the direction france is going mixing the old style of architecture with the new.

Well time for me to head back to get my train to Nice.

Africa calling

The Thalys fast train from Amsterdam to Paris takes about 4 hours. I was overbooked on the train (considering my last minute booking) and was pleased that the conductor let me stay on the train and even more pleased that I was sitting across this very amazing french girl.

We got talking soon after and I was very surprised that Yohana actually had an amazing story about herself. She is currently doing her PhD in economics as well as working with the World Bank but her background was what captivated me about her.

She grew up in Africa spending most of her growing up time in Burkina Faso, Senegal, Haiti and Gabon. She eventually moved back to France for her education but has been back to a few developing countries to work in her field.

One of my favorite topics is the mix of western and eastern culture and the study of environments where races and religions mix.

When you talk to white south Africans/Zimbabweans they always consider themselves Afrikaans first.
However its not quite the same when the mix is between a colonizing country and the colony. Most of northern Africa was a french colony till recently and the scars still run deep - something which came out during the Paris riots a couple of years ago. People who immigrated to France from the former colonies still don't have the same rights and opportunities as the locals (a prevailing theme across most of Europe) and when you travel through their localities, it feels like the economic boom has completely skipped that part of town.

A person's identity is strongly tied to their roots which gets more confusing the longer you stay away from home. Hers would be the opposite story to an immigrant to a western country and I can imagine the confusions she might be facing growing up in a different continent during her growing up years. These would be now heightened now that she is out of the environment, however her thoughts might still be connected to Africa.

Considering this, its really amazing coming across a person who hasn't yet forgotten her roots and trying to make an impact. Its not easy making a difference in this world but every little effort goes a long way. Wishing her the very best in life

The miracle of Amsterdam

Reached Amsterdam early morning and started walking towards dam square. It was a cold and rainy day and after about half an hour of getting drenched, I thought I was done with Amsterdam and couldn't wait to get out of the city. Took some time off to have coffee at one of the numerous coffee shops across Amsterdam (as numerous as most of Europe) and after the rains had stopped decided to give the city another try. Walking around the city when I saw someone holding a post saying 'free tour of old Amsterdam'.

Now when an Indian sees a sign that says free, he/she is automatically attracted to it. There is a strange sort of magnetism and its difficult to break free. Apparently this group (Sandeman's europe tours) holds free walking tours across most major european cities and the volunteers carrying out the tours work solely on tips.

We started the tour through the red light district (a huge letdown as the windows are family friendly during the day), pass the numerous "coffee shops (serving not just coffee)" and past most of the old city and the stories associated with the city. We finally ended up at the Anne Frank house a sober reminder of europe's violent history as well as a great reminder of the secular nature of this amazing city. The 3 hour tour is highly recommended and I presume the tours of the other cities should be just as good.

By evening I had changed my mind about the city and wanted to see if I could spend the night in the city. Wandering around the city was a much more enjoyable experience wink wink, however eventually found out that most hostels/hotels in my budget were all booked up for the weekend.

Eventually I ended up at the train station again and bought the last fast train to paris. Goodbye Amsterdam, I'll be back again.

The Munich connection

The same night I headed out of Salzburg and took the overnight train to Amsterdam. I didn't notice it at first but I kind of kept things tight having to catch another train at Munich with a 10 minute difference between my arrival and the departure of the next train. To make things worse the train arrived 15 minutes late in Salzburg, which made it pretty inconvenient.

To having to stop thinking of finding alternatives in Munich incase I missed my train, I started talking to this older gentleman in my train. Turned out he was with the british army liasoned to work with the german army and try to convince them to take a more active role in the operations in afghanistan. Our conversations moved from muktada al-sadr, Al Zarkawi, the indian army expectations in afghanistan, how to prevent the envitable failed state of pakistan etc. Soon we started talking about the american elections and I was surprised to hear him say that having McCain as president would be disastrous. I knew all of europe was pro-obama, guess have to put in most of the british army as well in that category.

Anyways our train eventually arrived in munich (at a different platform than was expected) and I took my backpack and started running towards the other platform. Half way down I realized that the train that I needed to take was actually on the other side of the same platform. Now the thing about european trains is that most bogeys end up in different cities so the entire train doesnt go where you need it to go. So having confirmed the amsterdam bogey was at the other end of the train (no surprise), ran back up the platform and made it to the train with seconds to spare.

The hills are alive

Early next morning (if you call a 8.30 am start early), I headed back towards the train center and caught a train to Salzburg. Coming from Innsbruck and Vienna in Austria, Salzburg is a slight disappointment. In my opinion half a day is more than enough to cover most sights in the city.

I headed over towards the castle and trekked up the hill (with my backpack in tow) to check out the famous Salzburg castle. Now everything in europe has an admission price attached to it, which I have studiously avoided paying. Now that I trekked up the hill with my heavy backpack, I figured I might as well pay the 7 euros to get into the castle. The view from the castle is pretty good and definitely worth the trip if you have time to kill. There are some mildly interesting stuff to see in the castle along with the stories of the archbishops who used to hold the religious and political throne of salzburg.

Ofcourse the reason d'etre of Salzburg is the sound of music shot in the city, which you are painfully reminded at every turn. So if you do consider adding the sound of music tour to your itinerary consider staying the extra day and you can prance about singing 'The hills are alive with the sound of music', something all intelligent adults seem to do on reaching salzburg.

Unfortunately the urge to sing doesnt seem to be restricted to the hills around the city. I did meet a couple of american tourists happily singing the song and then giving a stupid grin, which I still havent figured out if they expect a compliment on their singing skills or me to join them. I would recommend turning away with a look of disgust (ofcourse this still wont stop them singing)

Innsbruck delight

I started on the longest phase of my train travel by taking an early morning train from milan to innsbruck. I was travelling with this delightful 85 year great grandmom and she was telling me her story. She was born and brought up in Vienna where she continues to live till now. She was telling me her sons and grandsons all live together in the same house. Now joint families are dying out in India and I was pleasantly surprised to find it alive in europe. My stop soon arrived so I bid her goodbye and pleasant journey for her remaining leg to vienna.

Innsbruck has been an apt choice for two winter olympics, straddled right in between the alps with wonderful mountains looking down on the valley where innsbruck resides.

Once landing in Innsbruck, I set about searching for a place for the night. Apparently most of the hostels are open for reservations from 5-9 pm only, which was pretty inconvenient consider I was hauling a heavy backpack. Eventually I did come across one which was open and a short distance away from the centre which was made to look further away with the steep walks. Dumped my backpack and I headed back to the city center.

The center is pretty quaint, with one of the Hapsburg palaces in the city (of the Vienna fame) and can be covered in about half a day of walking. Headed back to the hostel to freshen up when I met an australian guy sharing the dorm.

Oh isnt it fun meeting the australians just after a test that India won. We were talking about various stuff when I steered the conversation to cricket and wondered if he followed the game - Not at the moment mate was the reply. Well I did let him have a few words on the future of the game and let him take solace that ponting will eventually overtake tendulkar's record.

I had heard about hiking trails around innsbruck and headed back up the mountain past the alpen zoo. An hour of hiking and came across a clearing where you could see the entire city of Innsbruck in all its glory and one of the most beautiful sights of the trip. If you do enjoy hiking I would recommend staying in innsbruck for another day and hike around the mountains (the trails go on forever).

Eventually headed back down on fading light and feel to sleep early due to exhaustion.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Whya this a happeninga

On my way to como, I decided to give the self service machines a try to avoid standing in line for tickets. When I finally figured out on how to use the machine, I put in 10euros for my trip when the machine suddenly crashed with no sign of my ticket or my money.

Now depriving an indian of his "hard earned money" is a crime and an embarrassing one when its done by a machine. So I set about trying to find the right person to complain to, which is hard enough with the language problem. Tried the police but they seemed clueless on the words coming out of my mouth, so I wandered around till I found a person attending another self service machine. I dragged him back to the offending machine and tried my best to explain the gross injustice that happened, but he shrugged his shoulders and said not his problem, try the ticket office.

As it is I had to book another ticket and as I didnt trust another machine, got it from the ticketing office, after which I tried to explain the problem to him. To my irritation I got the same response saying not his problem and I was supposed to go to another station somewhere else. Now I realize dealing with italian officials is pretty much like dealing with the indian burueacracy with almost no chance of getting anything done, but I wasn't done without a last stance.

I decided to miss my train to como and stood in the long line at customer service. Figured I probably need to connect to him at a more deeper level so I tried my best italian impression. Now imagine the following scenes with exaggerated shoulder shrugging and gesticulated hand movement. I also figured adding an a or o to every word would pass me off as the orphaned italian child that no one wanted, but italian nonetheless.
Whya thisa happeninga? Whya doa I needa to goto garibaldi (station) whena the machine at centrale (milan central) atea my money? Whya no one helpinga?

I dont know if the wonderful italian accent or his irritation, but he finally got it cleared from his supervisor and gave me a form to send to trenitalia for my money refund. Luckily I was allowed to board the next train to como as well so my gambit of skipping the train wasn't too monetarily painful.

Its been a week now since, I've had the form. I still dont understand what it expects from me (as it is in italian), but the hope still exists that one day before I leave, I will fill the form and miraculously get back my 10 euros. Why all this fight for 10 euros u ask? Well my friends, considering the devaluing dollar, soon I will be able to retire on my 10 euros - Welcome to the life of the rich and famous.

Como again

I decided to take a day trip to Lake Como which is situated right at the border of Italy and Switzerland. If you do have some time to kill, its not bad to spend a few hours. I decided on taking an hour boat ride on the lake. Like America's five great lakes this is another giant lake, we seriously need to come up with another terminology for lakes of this size. Lake's are meant to be smaller, something to swim across and not something to drown in while trying to reach half way through.

On the way back, I had some time to kill and was wandering around on the platform when I heard hindi being spoken. Needing no further prodding to find out the source of this familiar language, I came across Ehsaan (a pakistani maintaining a pizza place at Como station) and Sanjay (a textile salesman/representative from calcutta) sharing a few laughs. Now sanjay makes a trip to europe pretty regularly while ehsaan has been in como for a few years and it was nice talking random stuff with the two, including on how to make trips to switzerland without bothering the guards (might be useful when you feel the need to smuggle swiss cheese out)

Skip the Gondola

Venice like Vienna is a wonderful city to walk around. Now the one thing that comes to mind when people think about Venice are the gondola rides. They kinda seem romantic if you are willing to shell out 80-100 euros per hour. Venice might be the city of canals but it has an amazing architecture to be discovered while on walking tours.

You can cover pretty much the entire city in less than a day (be prepared for long walks). Its still a living city so you might end up in someone's backyard, but the locals seem to ignore tourists for the most part. The high point of the city is piazza san marco and is definitely not to be missed on any visits to venice, however as everyone is heading there early mornings and late evenings are the best times to be at the piazza.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The italian

All my wonders and joys of travelling in second class were rudely extinguished while spending an uncomfortable night on a seat. To pass the time I started talking with frederico an italian kid in my cabin. Its nice meeting the next generation of italians who can speak english and it was even more refreshing that they are very well politically aware, a trait sadly lacking in my american contempories.

Strangely our conversation veered towards Russel Peters the canadian-indian comic. His 'Indian0 - no Indiano and what the fuck' sketches seem to be very popular and its amazing how many cultural borders comics can cross - not to mention give us a common talking point.

Hopefully frederico checks out the blog and sends me his email address. Wishing him the best of luck and hopefully he does travel to india sometime.

The case of the curious case

Well I had taken a friend's camera for my tour and her exact words were do what you want but bring the camera case home, which is strangely possessive about a camera case. So I have been taking extra care of my camera case and obviously not so much about my other things, which ended up on me losing my eurail pass.

This obviously inconvenient loss was noticed while drinking coffee at one of Wien's oldest kaffehaus. Since with the pass I lost my train ticket to munich, I d0ecided to head direct to the station to try to figure out a way out of wien. Now obviously the counter lady couldn't help me much (even though I had a confirmed reservation to munich under my name), but there was an overnight train to venice in 15 minutes. Not willing to spend an extra night in Wien, I decided on taking the train to venice and purchased a second class seat on the train.

Losing the pass hasn't been such a bad deal because I'm really not used to travel in first class luxury. Its time I travel with my folks in the second class. Also its been strangely liberating. So now 1 pass down 1 camera case to go

Singh is King

Wien might be a beautiful city but its pretty confusing on getting around for the first time after you arrive at the city. So I got talking to this australian girl, Kim, and she agreed to take me to the city center.

We took the underground and kim actually showed me how to avoid paying the required fare for the train. This minor act of truancy was exciting as well as depressing that this little girl from australia was the one teaching me and not the other way around.

Anyways soon the topic changed to cricket and we were talking about australia's current tour to india, when kim remarked how irritating she finds harbhajan singh. Now we all can agree that harbhajan isn't the most well behaved cricketer around and he definitely has its flaws but then complaining about him to another indian is definitely not the right way forward.

Well sorry on yer mate (assuming this is unisexual), but guess who is primarily responsible for australia losing this test match and going down in the series, hopefully helping india win the border-gavaskar trophy. You dis the turbanator at your own peril.

A full circle

I've got this great friend of mine who has these weird notions that things are not over till you complete the entire circle of association. Maybe her words were true as I've been meaning to go to Wien for the last 10 years or so.

This sounds strange but my first real notion of train travel was association with the movie 'before sunrise'. Since watching the movie in my teenage years, I've always wanted to travel around europe by train and especially visit vienna.

So no surprise that the first trip I take after landing in mainland europe was the overnight train from milano to wien. Wien was everything that I wanted it to be and a litle bit more. Its baroque buildings and streets are a walker's paradise and walking through this historic city has been one of the most unique experiences so far.

Now that the circle is complete, its probably time for me to move on to the next stage in life.

Poor Idy

I had taken a couchette from Milano (Milan) to Wien (Vienna) and a few stops from milan, Idy got on the train.

Idy was a Senegalese political refugee and we got talking about his journey and his life. He was curious on my life story as well and we were gladly exchanging notes. Soon our talk changed to Barack Obama. Well no surprise that most if not all of europe wants Obama to win the election and idy was no different. He was curious on what I thought of the election process. I was of the opinion that even though obama was well ahead in the polls and in any other kind of election that would be a significant advantage to the leader this election was different. Given that economic issues will be a big part of the election but when it comes down to voting time, race is going to be the key factor on the next president.

Idy agreed with that opinion and he recounted a few of his stories in italy and how irrespective of the 10 years he has spent in the country he still wont be treated as an equal in terms of work or other aspects of life. He was pretty impressed that race is not an issue in terms of jobs in most parts of the US.

Our conversation covered a whole gamut of topics from mugabe to the state of europe and finally we decided to call it a night so that I could enjoy the next day in Wien while he could visit his brother. Somewhere in the middle of the night we crossed the Austrian border and the austrian authorities came on board to check our documents. While checking idy's documents, they noticed that he didnt have a passport issued by italy but just a receipt of his applying and his work/stay permit. Idy tried to reason with them that he had taken permission with the italian police before travelling but they refused and ordered him off the train.

The last words idy told me were that, you cant fight them - this is their country. I hope all they did was send idy back to italy while I looked helplessly on

Monday, October 20, 2008

The stranded traveller

After my trip across the atlantic taking from chicago - london - zurich - milan, I was looking around to see what bus to take from milan malpense to central milan. Trying to find someone who talks english is a challenge in milan and I came across another soul having the same problems.

My new friend Atif from islamabad (not of the atif aslam fame as that thought crossed my mind too) had just flown in from paris and was on his way to rome to take in the sights. We took the bus to centrale and got chatting on the way. Apparently atif spent 15 years in chicago before heading back to islamabad which was surprising because he looked more to be in the late 20's instead of the late 30's.

My plan was originally to spend the night at my friend's parents place at milan before planning my itinerary but his offer to join him that night sounded quite tempting. We decided that once in milan central, I'll go ahead and drop off my bag, freshen up and head back to centrale in a couple of hours to catch the 11.30 train to rome.

However after taking a shower and nice meal, fatigue suddenly hit me and without realizing it, I was done for the night. Hopefully atif had a fun time in rome and didnt wait up for me.

The bangladeshi problem

On my landing in Italy, I was greeted by a lot of south asians on the streets of milan and other places in italy. This was surprising as I didnt realize that italy is amongst the favorite destinations for my brothers.

On closer inspection I found most, if not all to be bangladeshi. They were particularly friendly with me and didnt seem to be mind indians for the most part, to the extent that they pass themselves off as indians to the locals here.

This adds to the puzzle that is bangladeshi. Back home they seem to espouse a virulent hate towards indian and all things that are indian. This is even more surprising as India was the only reason why bangladesh is a country and not continue as East Pakistan. I can assume we would be hated if the Indian army arrived as an occupying force, but once the bangladeshi government had been established, the indian army packed up and left.

I still dont understand the dual faced nature of the country. Right now they are so downtrodden economically that they have migrated enmasse into India, to the extent that the local population in quite a few of the north east states have been termed as minorities. A lot of the terrorist activities in India for the past few years have arisen out of bangladesh and dhaka. They still spew hate towards India. They seem to be almost as ungrateful as the kashmiris.

Yet once outside the sub continent why pass of yourselves as Indian. I dont understand the bangladeshi's.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Friendly neighbourhood hero

Now its no secret that my dressing sense is ridiculed by all friends and not so friends. Be it my lack of ironing or mismatched clothes, but my choices don't seem to please anyone.

Now European men are supposed to have an excellent sense in clothing (though why they tend to keep up their offensive smoking habits beats me), so I thought maybe I'll pick up some tips along the way.

I was flying from london to milan with a stop over at zurich. So at zurich I saw a very nicely dressed italian man get on the plane. The gentleman looked to be in his 30's and a very nicely tailored suit with excellently matched dress pants and shoes. Now indians have an innate ability to stare at someone, maybe its our innate curiousity on trying to figure out how someone is not indian and yet seems to be entirely functional. So I decided to put it to use and tried to observe the guy closely to try to get some sort of matching tips. His grumpy look throughout the flight and the balding hair all seem to fit in the distinguished European look.

On alighting in milan and in our bus towards the terminal, I stood next to our subject matter and concluded that this look is the one for me, all I need is the same color combination and my clothing ridicules will be at an end. At the terminus our italian gentleman turned around to get down and hung on his shoulder was a pack with the words Spectacular Spiderman with the web crawler strutting out his prowess in all his glory. So close.... or maybe there is no such thing as 'good dressing sense'

euro trip - 2009

I'm on a trip around europe and though it may not be as exciting as the movie of the same name, it might be an interesting enough trip to blog about.

These would be interesting highlights of the tour.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Time to stop the bleeding

India entered its 61st year of independence while the recent land row agitation is entering its 6th week.

The current kashmir issue started when the government of jammu and kashmir allocated about 40 hectares of forest land to the amarnath yatra trust to dedicate towards the yearly pilgrimage of hindus to amarnath in kashmir. Kashmiri's saw this as an attempt by hindu fundamentalist to steal muslim lands and started protesting against the land transfer. When the government revoked the land transfer, jammu hindus saw it as a final straw of the intolerance of the muslim community and started their counter agitation blocking off the main highway to kashmir and preventing all supplies leading to kashmir.

The facade of hindu-kashmir brotherhood in jammu and kashmir has finally come down. The religious intolerance has been responsible for multiple lives being lost. The early 90's saw around 1200 kashmiri pandits (hindus) being killed by the insurgency leading to the mass exodus of about 5 million pandits from the valley towards jammu and other parts of India (with most of them never coming back). The resulting government crackdown and the high handed response of the military forces resulted in about 3000 deaths and further fuelling the insurgency *.

So we've reached a situation when the kashmir valley (with the current population of over 95% muslim) has never considered itself Indian with most prefering azadi or merger with pakistan while the other parts of jammu and kashmir (jammu and ladakh) prefering to be part of india. The indian government has pumped in billions of dollars and countless lives lost in the insurgency and the local population of kashmir being still ungrateful.

Haven't we now reached a stage where we should no longer force our will on a people who never associated their future as part of a whole (called india). Its time to cut our losses and stop the bleeding. Let the kashmiri's make their own future (their success and failures should be their own doing) and let them go.

* The figures in the post are unverified and obtained through a google search

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Protest Away

A splinter group of the fascist Shiv Sena party in bombay starts a state wide anti-migrant rally restarting their original claim to fame campaign about migrants stealing jobs from the local marathi-manoos (sons of the soil)

The gujjar community in rajasthan started a statewide protest movement demanding tribal status to the community so that they can avail of the reservations in education and jobs.

The sikh community creates a stir after a bollywood movie 'Singh is King' is claimed to hurt the religious sentiment of sikhs.

The hindu community in the US and India protest against the new movie 'The love guru' claiming it hurts the religious sentiments of hindus and casts indians in a very poor light.

The anti-migrant rally in bombay and maharastra takes a violent turn, driving out migrants by the tens of thousands and invertently claiming the life of a marathi manoos (the very community that was supposed to be protected). In another incident, supporters of one of the ruling start congress minister (a former shiv sena minister himself) attack an editor of a marathi daily who wrote about the wasteful spending of the current government and their ludicrous attempt to spend crores erecting a statue of Shivaji.

The gujjar protest caused cancellation of hundreds of trains, thousands of crores of damages and a few deaths over the past year.

The sikh protest over movie and an mtv ad resulting in vandalism of the mtv office in mumbai, resulted in the arrest of over 70 people.

Love guru is deemed to reinforce negative stereotypes regarding the hindu community and there have been efforts to have the movie banned or have an adult certificate attached to the movie.

Are indians born with absence of reason or do we enjoy protesting so much that we dont really evaluate issues worth fighting for.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

would a million lives be enough for the paranoia to end

Everyone's following the cyclone which hit Myanmar (formerly called burma) a few days back. According to latest estimates there have been 100,000 people dead and a million and half more at risk.

The military junta ruling Myanmar has always shared a tenuous relationship with the outside world. Aung san suu kyi's democratic movement and her nobel peace prize did not help reduce the suspicion with which the junta viewed everyone else.

However the natural disaster which hit myanmar hasn't reduced the mistrust. American, British and Indian aid ships are docked off myanmar still awaiting permission to dock. The relief dropped by the UN airplanes has been confiscated by the military prompting the UN to cancel any further relief operations. The smell of death and rot hasn't yet gone away but the aid hasn't yet reached the people most affected.

Agreed most of the wars fought in our lifetimes have been completely unnecessary and done more evil than intended good, but is the world going to look on and wait for a million people to die before taking action. Whats more important, pleasing the paranoid junta of an oil-bereft nation or take action before hundreds and thousands more people die.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Travelogue - Foreword

When I first planned my currently ongoing trip to India, I thought of keeping a travel journal in the tradition of megasthenes, tavernier or nunez/paes. Unfortunately due to a combination of laziness and lack of time I havent been able to maintain one, but thought it might be a good idea to identify the main protagonists of my journey. The following entries are dedicated to them.

Travelogue: The scribbler

I had written europe off as an obscenely expensive place to travel, filled tourists who the locals doing particularly enjoy hosting (or maybe its just the french). On my way to india I had a stop over in milan for a few hours. The airport reminded me of the dysfunctional state transport bus terminals in India in all their glory.

During a bath room break in one of the stalls at the airport, I noticed it to be full of hateful writing against muslims (european and north african). There were a lot of reference towards nazism or neo nazism which has been gaining popularity in europe, and a lot of direct and indirect connections were made between the jews during the middle of the last century and their fate being repeated on the muslims.

Maybe the race riots in paris were not an insular event and europe might be internally in strife. But now europe is definitely a place to visit, if not for the sights but to analyze the growing disconnect amongst various race/religion groups.

Travelogue: The starer

This is something that I probably never noticed while growing up in India but I came across something which is distinctly observable during my last few trips around the country. If you are passing through a touristy area, a market place or any busy througfare you will come across a gentleman who will unabashly follow your every movement till you are of no further interest to him.

While passing through the ridge area of shimla (one of the most heavily visited tourist area), I happened to come across a person who kept following me stroll through the area. For some reason I seem to be a curiosity to him (possibly in a manner of how children look at jokers) and on making eye contact there seemed to be no change his nature or stare. After satisfying his curiousity, he settled on other more interesting subjects to monitor. I passed through the area a few times over the next few hours and our starer barely moved a few meters from his original position. This was quite intriguing as I wonder how he actually brings in the paycheck at the end of the month if all he does is stand at one location and watch people move around.

I put this down as maybe people of shimla dont really have anything to do in life and this is the best way to count down the days. This time around I came across a bunch of such people in busy market places and tourist places, so apparently this wasnt a one off incident. So apparently there are people out there who dont really have anything to do in life other than while away their entire life watching and observing the behaviour of others.

Travelogue: The talker

Bangladesh is a small country to the east of India and for most of their existence they seem to hate India. I havent yet found out the reason for their hate, especially since India is the reason for which the country of bangladesh exist instead of still being called east pakistan. Bangladesh also has another reason to be on India's radar, the maximum number of illegal humans (as opposed to aliens) to come into India come from Bangladesh, so much so that bengali and islam has now become the majority in quite a few places which wasnt the case a few years ago.

Bombay receives quite a few of these illegals most of whom work either in construction or household maids (bai's). One of them currently works as a household maid in my place and apparently her ignorance of hindi or any other local language does not stand in her way of securing or carrying out her job. Somehow my mother and her seem to communicate with each other quite fine, but my father has a real hard time communicating with her.

The other day I came across one such attempt at communication. Our bai really wanted to get something across to my father and she tried her best communicating in bengali. My father not understanding a word for some reason kept asking her to repeat herself which she dutifully did - in bengali. Maybe out of desperation, my dad finally resorted to answering her back in kannada. I guess my loud laughter didn't really help the situation, but that might be the first and last conversation ever done in bengali and kannada.

Travelogue: The speller

India has become a wannabe nation which has its advantages and disadvantages. It looks favorable on the western world and is probably the only major nation on the world which has almost a 70+% approval rating of america and G.W. Bush (no idea why it cant just get on the 'Hate America' bandwagon like the rest of the world). Part of this wannabe culture has led to an outgrowth of sign advertisements in english, though comprehending them is becoming a task. I thought of listing the general signs and their actual meanings.
Side Sing : Site Seeing
Pijjha: Pizza
Pidja: Pizza
Foto: Photo
Buty Parler : Beauty Parlour