Friday, April 07, 2017

Why South Park rocks

I just saw on CNN that a woman in Minnesota got fined an incredible $1.9 million for downloading songs from the internet. That's $80,000 per song. Wow! Just the other day, I was watching this South Park episode "Christian Rock Band", which addresses the exact same issue in a hilarious way. Watch it if you have time. Here's the link (no, it's not an illegal link, it's from their website).

People who do not know any thing about South Park think it's some kids show. Nothing could be farther from the truth. In fact, it's assigned an adult rating. The way it presents two sides to the current issues going on in America is amazing. Some times, its based on the weird issues going on. And there is some weird issue or the other going on in America all the time. Seriously, think of it. In which other country are abortions and gay marriages election issues? And some other times, it talks about serious issues like the Iraq war. That particular episode that talks about Iraq war is brilliant. Every one must watch it. These words from that episode are classical. "We go to war and protest going to war at the same time. We can go to war with whomever we wish but at the same time act like we didn't want to."
I think it's the 100th episode. Check it out here

Movie mania

I watched quite a few movies the last 2 weeks. "We own the night" had a good star cast and the reviews were good but it turned out to be hopeless. It was like a 80s masala Bollywood movie. I couldn't believe that Mark Wahlberg had such a meek role in the movie. We watched "Gone Baby Gone" last week. It didn't have a lot of previews leading up to the release but the story line seemed interesting and the reviews were good, so we went. It turned out to be great. The first half was slow but the 2nd half was spectacular. I think it's a good directorial debut for Ben Affleck and I think it will have an entry at the Oscars next year, just for the message it brings, if not for any thing else. The ending presents a fascinating conflict and that was my favorite part of the movie. I am very rarely philosophical and it was one of those rare moments. Some may not like the decision at the end, but I think it was the right one.

I got a big screen tv after I moved to a new apartment this month, so I watched a couple of movies on it to kind of test it. One was V for Vendetta. Some how I had missed this movie when it came out even though a lot of people had recommended it. I thought it was ok. I thought Natalie Portman was unbelievably pretty in the movie. Then I watched Casablanca. Until I watched it, I didn't know that Casablanca was a place. It was good. The story line, except for the happier ending, was very similar to "A tale of two cities", which I think is one of the best love stories ever written.

And I finally watched “Chak De India” which was good as well. As with all other sports movies, the problem with this one too was that it was very predictable. The only thing that wasn't predictable was that the final was against Australia and not Pakistan. Some of the scenes were great. Like the scene where the girls go to Malaysia and get awestruck by the facilities there. And the scene introducing all the players. It's very easy to see why the movie was such a major hit. As it is, patriotism is a big draw. Add girl power to it and it adds so many more days at the box office. I think it had been almost a year since I last watched a Hindi movie. I guess my next one won't take that long as I plan to watch Om Shanti Om later this year.

American Gangster comes out next week. I can't wait to watch this movie. With two great actors and a good director, this has the potential to be the movie of the year.


Among the many bad things about the US, I think the worst is guns being legal. Thanks to the 2nd amendment, any normal or (more worryingly) abnormal person can possess a gun. The crazy guy who killed so many people in Virginia Tech couldn't have killed that many if not for a gun. He would have been stopped long before he could have killed that many. It wouldn’t have been as easy to walk in to an apartment and kill two students as someone did yesterday. Gun shots are so ridiculously common. You keep hearing about them all the time. There are a lot of weird people here. To let them carry guns is to allow yourself to be killed. It was just last week that I was debating with my friends on the most important invention in history. That is always debatable but I'm sure the most unnecessary one is the gun.

The last day

It was time for some last minute shopping. Friends back in US had asked for sweets, so I went and got some for them. I also said good bye to my granny. Every time I do this, I do it with the thought that I may never see her again. She is healthy now; barring the Alzheimer’s that she has. But once some one hits 80, you never know. That's the toughest part of living in the US. A lot of people in India ask me, what life is like is the US. I tell them it’s fabulous, except for this one issue. We are really helpless in case of any emergency back home.

I leave the packing to my aunt who is an expert at it. The only thing I make sure is that all my clothes are with me in my hand bag cos every thing else is food stuff and I don't want them to mix. I looked at my luggage and thought there was no way all of it was going to fit in my bags, but she some how managed to squeeze every thing in. Meanwhile, my best friend from college called to ask me to bring some coconut "laddoos" cos his girl friend felt like eating them. If he was next to me, I think I would have stabbed him. Somehow, I managed to find some space for them. The tough part is not finding space for friend's items; it's answering all my aunts who ask "do you really have to take these?"

One moment I will never forget is the day before my first trip. A girl from my college had forgotten to take one of her tops, so she had asked her mom to send it through me. It was a really short top. I tried to hide it between my clothes, knowing fully well what would happen if any of the elderly ladies in the family saw it. But it didn't escape their x-ray eyes. That's it, all hell broke lose. "Who is she? How do you know her? Do all your friends wear clothes like this? Is this why you are going to college?" After a heated argument, my aunt even started crying! What can I say?

This time around, they are upset that I booked my ticket on an “eclipse” day. It’s supposed to be very bad. But what do I know?
Day 7

Amazing. No temples today! It's Saturday, so every one's home. My cousin had come from Chennai to see me. So did my aunt and uncle from Vijaywada. We had a family dinner at a restaurant. Yet again, the topic of discussion was how to get me married. What can I say? I feel like singing the Michael Jackson song "Leave me alone". The best analogy between me and my family right now is Princess Diana and the paparazzi.

I get really ticked off at the dining table. They just don't get it that there is only so much that I can eat. For some reason, all Indians are hell bent on feeding you that extra bit more at the end. The standard dialogue is "have just one more" (serving). Why can't they understand that we are all grown ups and know how much we should or shouldn't be eating? As soon as I open the refrigerator, my aunt goes "are you looking for some thing to eat?"

I think I should be like Sunil in the Telugu movie Manmadhudu and scream at the top of my lungs, "I said I didn't want any more". I actually did some thing like that to my aunt once and she didn't talk to me for a couple of days. So that won't work. May be the next time they ask how it tastes, I should say "It's terrible; now don't serve me any more of it."
Day 10

It's my cousin's birthday today. I am home waiting for him to come back from college so I can take him out. I am as usual sitting with my aunt and mom who are watching the serials. The maid servant is also sitting here. She is unbelievably addicted to the TV. I think she watches more TV than my aunt. A day doesn't go by that my aunt doesn't regret the dearth in the quantity and quality of maids. The current maid has already given her resignation letter. She will be leaving in a week. So my aunt is already worried. Where ever she goes, she inquires if they know of any trustworthy maid. It's hilarious.

Some of the comments that the elders make are extremely funny. I have started recording these now a days so I can watch them later on. Just small clips, but they make my day. Especially my uncle. There is nothing better than watching cricket with him. Too bad there's no cricket these 14 days. Some times, when things are serious and if I want to laugh, all I have to do is turn on the MTV channel and watch a Shakira or Beyonce video in their presence. The comments follow themselves.
Day 11

It's Wednesday, meaning, it's time to feed the cow again. As soon as I got out of the car, the cow saw me and started running towards me, like a heroine runs towards a hero in a Hindi movie song. I didn't know cows had such good memory power. But it was nice. Believe it or not, mom made vegetable fried rice for the cow! It was nice to see it gobble it all so fast. I would rather do this every day of my life than go to the temple once a week.

After that, I went to my native place. It's a village in Srikakulam district. Every time I go there, I thank my Dad a lot, cos if not for him, I would probably be still farming in that village. May be that’s not that bad. I used to absolutely hate going there as a kid. Now I would love to spend a couple of days there but I don't have the time. It's really nice, the farms, the natural wells, the coconut water fresh off a tree and the occasional sighting of cobras. It's scary to think that the farmers just continue with their work bare footed even with the possibility of snakes lurking in their farms!

Every where I go, there are people that come up to me and ask "Do you remember me? You used to play with me a lot when you were a kid." This is one of the embarrassing problems in life. Some times I say "yes, of course, how can I not remember you" and that does it, but then some people ask "then tell me who I am!" and I have to come up with some fictitious name. The one standard lie that I use in such cases is that "I remember you very well but just can't remember the name." This problem is even more when I go to my native place. Almost every one in the village is a distant relative of mine and it's too confusing. I think the world's best genealogy expert wouldn't be able to go past the previous 2 generations of our village.

Today, my cousin threw up. He follows me every where I go and so has to eat equally as me. He has a slightly smaller capacity compared to me but of course the ladies don't realize that. So he finally reached a "bursting" stage today and fortunately just threw up and didn't blow up.

Fascinated by Bermuda

I am a bit fascinated by Bermuda these days, thanks to their participation in the World Cup. The Bermuda triangle has always been fascinating but it's only now that I am reading a bit about Bermuda, the country. Technically, it's just a territory of the UK. As cricinfo puts is so well, the entire population of the country is 60,000, just over half the capacity of the Eden Gardens stadium in Calcutta! As I was going through Bermuda's facts and figures on wiki, 2 things struck me. One, that it has the world's highest per capita GDP. Not surprising, I thought, considering the popularity and size of the country. But the 2nd was a shocker. The national dress for men in Bermuda is, get this, the Bermuda shorts! I know Bermuda shorts are thus named cos of Bermuda, but them as business attire? They wear them to work and restaurants, some times with a blazer and tie. Amazing. Apparently, there are two different kinds of Bermuda shorts, the ones that some of us wear, and the ones that are considered formal wear. I think this still doesn't beat the Scottish Kilt, which is kind of like a gown, worn by men in Scotland wear.

By the way, if you haven't done so yet, check out the new Beyonce-Shakira song. Earth shattering video. As for the song itself, who cares? Last year, my friend and I were discussing on who was the better entertainer. I theorized that Beyonce was better looking in general but Shakira had the better moves. We decided it wouldn't be possible to judge unless they were in the same video. I think they heard our wish, and came up with this vide, but we still can't decide. It only makes it tougher. Youtube had it the last time I checked. I'm surprised that you can still get such material on youtube after the billion-dollar lawsuit filed by Viacom. When youtube first started, I was wondering how long it would take to clamp down on the copy right protected material. While it did start restricting the videos, it's not fool proof yet. Surely they cannot screen every video that's uploaded. I think the way to do it is make every person who uploads videos accountable. May be take their personal id information, and if they post any copyrighted material, hold them accountable. Not sure if that's possible, but just a thought.
Day 6

Another day, another temple. This time it was the temple of Lord Subramanya - the God of marriages. I think you can figure out the reason why mom took me there. At first I was confused, cos I thought that the Lord of marriages was Manmadha. Apparently, he is the Lord of romance, not marriages. Us Hindus have Gods and Lords for anything and everything. Yesterday, we went to the largest temple in Vizag - Simhachalam. The drive to the temple is the second greatest form of torture. No sooner than we enter the car, my aunt goes, "driver, please turn on the bhakti music"! Now, such temples, I don't mind going to at all, even though the wait time is a bit longer. Cos they are stone temples and are a bit fascinating, and generally, all of us go there together. At the temple, the priest blessed me, "May you get married soon". Mom was over joyed by that blessing. Now she is convinced that I will get married soon, conveniently forgetting that they have been blessing me that for the past 5 years.

I finally got to do what most young guys do, that is go to the beach. Now, when I say beach, don't expect activities like jet skiing and parasailing. All we do when we go to the beach is take out our shoes/slip-ons, lift our pants and just wet our feet. Even as we do that, we hear a call from behind, "Don't go too deep!" Then we eat corn followed by ice cream. This has been the tradition for over 25 yrs now. I have great memories of the beach. When we were kids, we used to consider going to the beach a vacation (it was a 30 min drive from our home). We would always buy the "ball" ice cream, which is ice cream in a covered plastic ball. This ball had great importance for us cos it was PERFECT to play cricket even inside the home.

My niece scares me. She comes home from school at 4, changes clothes, immediately does her home work, and watches TV serials with aunt. So I took her out for pizza and gave her a lecture on the topic "All work and no play makes Jill a dull girl". I told her that if she wants to be like me, she shouldn't be too obedient and should miss at least one home work a week. Poor kids, they think I am successful cos I can buy as many chocolates, ice creams and pizzas as they want. Wish every one judged success by that. I bought her a tread mill last year, hoping that she could run on it while watching TV. But my uncle thought the tread mill took too much space in the living room, so he put it in the balcony. Now tell me, which kid in the world will run on a tread mill without any entertainment? This time I got her a muvo and I hope that that will inspire her to run.

Day 4

I am already bored. All my uncles have left for work and the kids to school. So I am stuck at home with my aunt and mom, watching serials on TV. I think TV serials in India are the greatest form of torture in the world. I don't know how any one can watch them. CIA should use these serials as torture techniques for its suspects. Our home TV is amazing. We bought this in 1987, about 20 years ago! The remote doesn't work and I am one of those guys that has to constantly keep changing the channels unless it's cricket or tennis. So I don't feel like watching it now. Why can't I just buy a new TV you ask? As with every thing else, there's that sentiment factor associated with the TV, so we can't throw this out. There's more soccer on ESPN than cricket these days, which is good to see. I hope the kids are not just watching it on TV and are playing soccer as well.

Today, I had to pray to a cow. Actually feed it, and then pray. It's funny, cos on my flight from Chicago to Frankfurt, the guy sitting next to me was asking me why we prayed to cows. I told him some crap about nature that he actually thought was very interesting. At that time, I didn't know I was going to do it myself on this trip. I think I prayed to a cow once before as a kid. I will try not to eat any more beef from now on.

I am in a bit of a quandary now. I need to pay a visit to a lot of families here but they are home only in the evenings. But evenings is when my entire family is home as well and I would like to spend as much time with them as possible since I am here only for 2 weeks. So I don't know. I did go to visit my best friend's parents this evening but only for a few minutes.

Day 3

Just as I had expected, I had to go to a temple this morning at 5, for a special puja. The puja lasted for about an hour, and the priest bagged about Rs 1500 for his services. Accounting for PPP (Purchasing Price Parity) that must be some where around what I make. I have stopped whining about pujas and temple visits now. I used to have HUGE arguments with mom and aunt but I stopped arguing now. It's a waste of energy cos in the end, I always end up doing them and all I get is a few sentimental dialogues from Mom and aunt. Now I quietly sit there all the time wondering what the definition of a vacation is and if there is another person in the world that performs pujas during a vacation.

My uncle decided that the Maruti was too small for my legs, so he sent for a Fiesta. Doesn’t make a difference to me, I am equally scared sitting in the navigator’s seat, not for myself but for the people on the road. Every minute, I feel like the driver is going to hit some one. The cuts he makes are amazing. James Bond would be proud of those!

India trip

Day 2, Feb 19th
It's 7am in the morning. I am lying here in my bed in my home town and writing this up with the full intentions of typing it on a computer at a later time. I arrived here yesterday morning. I landed in Bangalore this time and then took a flight to Vizag via Hyderabad. I met my cousins at the Bangalore airport. My aunt came to the airport with shrimp biryani and dahi-vada. I think she thinks that they starve you on the plane for 24 hours, that's why she brought all that food to feed me. And then she asked me to take some of the food on the flight to Vizag! I knew what was was in store for me food wise on an India trip but certainly wasn't expecting to be stuffed even before I reached home. For the ladies in the family, showing love = stuffing me with food, which means at least a 10 pound gain for me by the end of it in 2 weeks time.

The domestic airlines in India are an unbelievable mess. If in the US, there are too many restrictions, here it's the opposite. The lady making the announcements is constantly blabbering and I cannot fully understand what she says. There are no clear directions to the flights and I had to keep asking all the attendants. The good thing though is the service on the flight. At the Hyderabad airport, I saw this extremely cute girl. What more, even she was giving me the looks for a while. I gathered all my courage and was making a move towards her when her mom came and sat next to her. Then another guy came up to her saying "Madam, the flight is a bit late." She must have been a movie actress or some thing. Thus ended my one thousand twenty third one minute love story. Who knows, a minute earlier and I could have been romancing a movie star. On the flight to Vizag, I sat next to an anglo Indian couple from Canada and was chatting up with them. They told me their journey makes them feel like they are in "The amazing race".

The first day of an India trip is always the best. There is that great anticipation of meeting the family after a long time. Just when I arrived at Vizag, the Indian cricket team was leaving. I did not get to see any of the players since I was busy with hi's to family. My cousin had bowled to most of the batsman at the nets and I will put up that video on youtube some time. After the initial feet touching and hugging, we made a move to our home. That's when the fun starts. Sitting in the car at that time is like being in the best roller coaster of the world! The traffic is unbelievable. I think the Indian traffic system is the most efficient system in the world. Seriously, think of it. There are people driving towards you from all directions, and it seems like they are going to hit you but some how they miss at the last minute. Nothing ever happens and the traffic never stops. Even if there's an accident on the road, and the path is closed, you can just turn the car back, and take a close by exit. In the US, a few cops would come to the scene, block the lane, and the traffic gets jammed! The traffic in India makes you believe in the saying "What's destined to happen will happen!" There is no other explanation for it, other than that every thing is controlled by destiny. Anyway, the first day I begin to question myself if I can ever come back and settle here. You really need to have a "me first" attitude here. If in the US, you need to learn to hold a door for some one, here you need to learn to slam it on some one's face! Ok, it's not quite that bad but cos of the constant hustle and bustle, you need to ignore others around you. You cannot afford to give fake smiles and hi's to strangers on the road as in the US.

One of my baggages was missing, the one that had all my clothes. This, amazingly, happens to every one. If you have two baggages, one of which has your friends' stuff in it, the missing baggage is always the one that has your stuff! Anyway, as a result of that, I had to go shopping yesterday, with my uncle of all people. Now, he is the person I respect the most in my life and I am a complete "yes man" when it comes to him. Going shopping with him reminded me of the movie "Bommarillu". All he had to do was pick up a shirt and say "isn't this nice?" and the next thing you know, I was buying it! Even the shop keeper was intimidated by him. The clothes weren't that bad and I think I can wear them to work.

The easiest way to avoid jet lag is to fight the sleep during the day on the first day, which is what I did. But this morning, I woke up very early after hearing the "puja bell" that my mom was ringing. And then she asks me if it was my jet lag! It's election day here. So every one's going to be home, which is great for me. Later.

A question of the mind

Of all the things that I do or try to do, the most difficult seems to be studying. When all is said and done with my life, I think the one stand out statement to summarize it would be – “It’s a miracle that this guy got a double Masters”! My biggest problem is that I am an imperfect perfectionist when it comes to studies. Sounds complicated right? It is! The thing is, I want to be perfect when I study, in the sense that I want to understand each and every line of what I read. The problem is that there comes a point when what I read is tough to grasp with the first few readings. At this point, I tell myself that I will continue reading the next day. A day becomes a week and a week becomes a month and before I realize it, I fall behind. Any book I read, I do well for the first 4-5 chapters. Then I pretty much don’t touch the book. You can tell it if you saw the markings in my books. To quote a popular Telugu movie joke, “4 chapters happy, then start(ed) struggles!” This has been the story of my life, right from the kindergarten days.

It’s not as if I lack determination. For me to even complete the 4 chapters takes a whole lot of determination. Because the moment I open the book, all sorts of crazy thoughts enter my mind; thoughts ranging from Bipasha Basu’s complexion to the crocodile hunter’s adventures. It takes a lot to ward off such thoughts from the mind and concentrate on the task at hand. As you see, it’s a question of the mind and not the heart. I once considered taking classes to help me concentrate better. But then I thought that it would be even tougher to concentrate on concentrating. So I gave up that idea. If you have any ideas that you have tried and think that can help me, please do share. Meanwhile, in the adjacent room, my brother works on his computer as if the world is going to crash if he stops. The more I look at him, the more I am convinced that God has a quota system based on families to allocate intelligence to people. I mean, I think God gives a quota of intelligence to kids in the same family. He then distributes it among them depending on the mood He is in that day. I guess He decided my brother got 95% and I got 5%. That’s the only logical explanation I can give on why me and my brother are so different when it comes to matters of the mind.

Anyway, my weekend was mostly dedicated to studying. I must have spent 15-20 hours studying, or rather trying to study. This must be a new weekend record for me; it’s definitely my personal best for the last 10 years. I would have to go back to pre-engineering days to check when I last did that. Other than studying, I watched the Bucs suffer another terrible loss. And my own fantasy team was humiliated. I can hardly blame my team this time, since the manager (and my co-owner) himself was busy romancing his girl friend/fiancée in California while the players were battling it out in the field. Next weekend could mean an early season ending to the Bucs and my fantasy team. That doesn’t mean I will stop watching. When it comes to sports, there is always a back-up plan. Once the Bucs are out, it becomes time to root for the New England Patriots! I like the Patriots because they are the BEST example you will ever get of a team whose sum is greater than its parts. If I ever become a college Dean, I think I will include a case study of the Patriots’ organization in the MBA program.

Ps: For those of you that do not know who Bipasha Basu is, let’s just say she is the Angelina Jolie of India.

Pluto is no longer a planet

Just in case you didn’t see the news today, the Solar System now has only 8 planets. That’s right; Pluto has been taken off the list of planets by the International Astronomical Union. It seems Pluto didn’t meet the new guidelines for planets. How can they do that? I mean, just like that I wake up one fine day and find that my concept of the Universe is wrong. Now I have to go back and change all my Science/Astronomy basics. That’s too much of a change to get used to. Now when any kid in the family tests my knowledge by asking me this question, I have to remember not to jump up and say 9. I am also curious how this will effect astrology. Isn't astrology dependant on the planets at some level? Will astrologers have to change their concepts too? Interesting, very interesting.

Of super heroes and more

It’s been a busy weekend. I had to work on Saturday. So I could do little else. I watched a movie on Friday night, “Invincible”. It has a great story line (a true story) but the movie is pretty average. Today, I went to my cousin’s place for the Ganesh puja after which we went to watch Superman Returns in IMAX. I cannot believe that I hadn’t been to IMAX in the 7years that I have been here. Didn’t I tell you that I surprise myself at some of the things I DON’T do? This is one of them. I have seen such movies in Disney’s Epcot but not in a dome. It gave me a feeling of being in an Igloo. One of my wishes is to live in an igloo one day, for a day. I wonder if people in Greenland still live in igloos; may be some one there can rent it to me for a day. Coming back to the movie itself, it was the usual. You know, Spiderman, Superman, Batman, they are all the same. These are normal guys in the real world who like a girl and once they wear the special outfit, they become super heroes whom the girl likes! Towards the end, the girl suspects or finds out that the two characters are the same. It’s amazing that we keep going to these movies despite the same theme. One thought that probably occurs to every one is what we would do if we were super heroes. Apart from saving the world and falling in love with a girl. I would probably fly to anywhere Roger Federer plays Nadal or Safin and watch the game! By the way, “Batman Begins” is my favorite among all such movies.

I couldn’t help but wonder at the irony of the scene in Superman where he saves the plane from crashing and then proceeds to say, “Remember that statistically this is still the safest means of travel”. It was just before going to the movie that my friend called me up and told me the news about the plane tragedy in Kentucky today. I wonder how safe it is now. The last one month has been the most terrible in the history of the aviation industry; even more than the period after 911. This is the toughest business to be in. I feel sorry for them; every thing seems to be stacked against them and there is nothing that they can do. All these incidents are sure to freak out people, that is, if they are already not freaked out. I wonder if Superman would have said that if the movie came out a month later than it did.

Crazy people!

A guy in California bought a movie ticket for $1116. No, it’s not for a Hollywood premier graced by some celebrities. It was for a first day first show of the Telugu movie “Stalin”; starring who else, but Chiranjeevi (aka Mega Star in Andhra, my home province). I think this is the craziest way of throwing away your money. A lot of questions arise in my mind. First, is this a record for the priciest movie ever? I mean, has any one ever paid more for a movie? We should check the Guinness book. Why did he have to pay so much for the ticket when its actual price was only $10? How can they make it so public? I mean, isn’t it illegal to sell tickets at such an exorbitant price? And then they have this news published on a website, as if the guy made a donation to save the world! I mean, think of it. $1000 could save a thousand lives some where and this guy spends it on a movie he could have watched for $10 a few days later. May be I am exaggerating, but I want to get into the mind of this person and want to know what goes in there. The only possible explanation is that he probably is stinking rich and he wants to show how big a fan he is. There are a lot of people who drive to another city to watch an Indian movie. It’s understandable if the movie is never going to come to their place. Even though they know it’s going to be in their town a week later, they travel 4-5 hours to watch it. Can’t they wait a week? Are they going to change the movie script in a week? It’s a movie for heaven’s sake! Not a real life person or performance. Please tell me I am not the only one who finds this strange!

Now I am wondering if there is any thing I would want to watch so badly. May be if I get stinking rich, I mean Bill Gatesque rich, I would pay a thousand dollars to watch this from right next to the stage. Just may be.

Sleepless in Tampa

I am having trouble sleeping these days. The past one month, I have conditioned myself in such a way that I was sleeping at 4 every night and waking up at 8 in the morning. The last two nights I tried to sleep at 12 but I couldn’t. Instead, I ended up watching a 3 hour long 1950s Telugu movie, MayaBazar. Yes, yes, you can laugh all you want, but this is one of my favorite movies ever. I can never get bored watching it. Every time I watch it, I wonder how many Oscars it would have won if it was made in Hollywood. The movie has every thing, you know, action, romance (lots of it), comedy, great story line and a happy ending. And oh, there are even special effects! One slight problem – there’s a song every 10 minutes, some of which are ok but some are unbearable. It’s ok cos all I have to do is click my remote twice or thrice. I love mythological movies; they are absolutely fascinating. They don’t make such movies at all these days. Even if they do, it’s impossible to find actors who can do such a good job. As for the stories, it’s incomprehensible that some one could have such imagination. There are hundreds of sub stories within the main story and they are all linked superbly. You could argue that no normal being could have written such masterpieces and that’s reason enough to believe that it’s not really mythology but actual facts. I think if Hollywood makes movies out of these, they will make for bigger blockbusters than the LOTRs and Harry Potters!

Anyway, so where was I? Yeah, I am having trouble sleeping. I was preparing for interviews the past one month, that’s why the sleepless nights. Thanks to watching late night cricket games over the years, I am used to sleepless nights. So I feel very normal the next day at work. If I was home or in a car, I would fall asleep in a minute but at work I’m very ok. Ok, so to the main point. I finally took one interview this Tuesday and got the project last night. It’s a very short term project. I have mixed feelings about leaving my current job but I have decided to take a chance. It’s going to be a HUGE change for me in terms of my life style and I look forward to it. To all my friends that are finding about this on this blog, I am sorry that I didn’t take the time out to personally call you. It’s just that it all happened so fast and I feel so insecure right now. I hope you understand.

Stage Fear

Some people will find this surprising about me but I have a lot of stage fear. I feel really uncomfortable when giving presentations. I had 2-3 presentations in almost every class I took during MBA, but I didn’t improve a lot. I’m better when I rehearse thoroughly but it’s never very natural. It’s not as if I am not good with the topic. You could ask me to talk about tennis and I would still be tense. And no, I am NOT conscious at all about what the listeners think of me. Some people just talk as if they were born to do it. I don’t know how they do it. If I recorded my presentations and watched them later, I think I would commit suicide! I think Eminem had me in his mind when he sang “His palms are sweaty, knees weak, arms are heavy…” in the “lose yourself” song. I can add one more quality; my throat gets totally parched and after a while I start sounding like I have a throat infection. This is one of the things I have on my things to do list – improve my speaking skills.

I went out to eat after a long time tonight. I went with my cousin and a friend. It was a welcome break for me since I felt like I was studying and working too much! We always go to the same place, but I don’t mind it a bit. It’s my favorite place to eat in the town; not just food wise, but also the ambience wise. There are quite a few places in the town like that where you can just walk around and have fun. At the same time, you don’t want to do it all the time, cos then it will get boring. Anyway, we had a volleyball tournament the past weekend. A friend dropped by to play and it was nice to see him after a long time. It’s really important for me to play with friends; it’s actually more important than winning. When we play together, we know very well that even if we shout at each other it’s all good. We lost a really close game in the semi-final but it was good fun. Volleyball is great in the sense that I never take it serious. Of course, I like to win but I never think of it before or after the game. I just go and play.

Week 2

Week 2 of my stay here was much better than week 1. Work wise I feel a lot better and my room got better too. But there’s only one small problem which seemed bigger when I checked the cnn site this morning out of curiosity. Current temperature in Louisville – 39F, Current temperature in Tampa – 80F. What more can I say? I bought a portable GPS this weekend to help me get around the city. In true desi style, I used it for the first time to go to the temple. It was just a coincidence. I say desi, but it’s more specifically a Hindu culture thing. If you use anything for the first time, you present it to God before you do it. I guess it's to get God's blessings so that it will last longer. Kids are even made to present their shirts before wearing them for the first time. Can you believe it? Don't ask me the logic behind it. I couldn't explain half the things that we do. The usual answer I always got to complicated questions related to culture was "Just Do IT"! Nike just stole that caption from Hindu parents. I had to go to the temple cos it was Diwali and I had nothing better to do. This year's Diwali was a total contrast to last year when I was in India and celebrated it with my cousins. It was after a 7 year gap that I got to celebrate it. While it was a total blast, it was also a bit scary. You should be in India during this time of the year to know what I mean. On Diwali day itself, it’s ok, cos you know every one's going to fire crackers and you watch out for them. But it's not that easy. You could be walking on the street at 10 in the morning 5 days before Diwali and all of a sudden you could hear a "boom" under your feet. Just like the traffic, it's really amazing that no one gets hurt. My aunt had bought me an Indian outfit (sherwani) for the occasion and I happened to comment casually that I liked it. That’s it; since then every relative of mine has been sending me similar outfits. That’s the problem with family members; they show their love in extreme measures. I used to like a particular sweet when I was a kid and to this day they send me tons and tons of that through my friends. My poor friends are the sufferers. I still like it, but common, no ordinary human being can eat so much of it. The airlines can come up with any weight and item restrictions, but it won’t change them. These clothes that they sent, I don't know how you can possibly use them in the US more than twice or thrice a year. I could have worn one of them this Saturday, but the idiot that I am I left them at home back in Florida. Instead I turned up at the temple with torn jeans and a denim jacket (as per my friend’s advice), while all the other guys were impressing the girls with their desi outfits. In any case, I go to the temple just to worship, unlike a lot of other guys who go to check out the girls.

I spent the whole of Sunday watching football and ironing and arranging my shirt-pant pairs for the week. I am actually disgusted with the number of shirts I have. It’s a bad thing for a guy to say this but I think I have too many shirts. I swear to God I will not buy any more till my birthday next year and kindly don’t present me any shirts. Coming back to the GPS, its working pretty good. The way to test a GPS is to miss a turn and then see how long it takes to recalculate the directions. It did ok. But there’s one thing that’s annoying about it. If you listen to music in your car with a lot of volume, like I do, you have to keep looking at it to see the directions cos you can’t hear the lady’s voice. I am not sure if there’s a solution to this problem. I wonder how much I can trust it. Say I am driving to Florida from here. Would I be able to trust it totally and follow its directions all the way? I guess I should, or else there is no point in spending all that money. I hope I don’t end up some where in Montana! This is the 2nd electronic item I bought in two weeks. The first was an LCD monitor that I am yet to use. This week I am going to buy a shower clock. Hot showers are even more precious in this weather and I want to make sure that I don’t come out of my shower too early worrying about being late for work. As you can see, I am just trying to make my already lazy life even lazier.

Pure Magic

I am beginning to believe in ghosts. I swear to God I left my cell phone in the kitchen last night. Some how it ended up under my bed. The only possibility is the presence of ghosts in my room. I think the worst place to forget it is under the car seat when it’s on mute. These things happen to us when we need them the most. I think remotes, cell phones, keys, and wallets are the ones we tend to misplace a lot. It's strange that no one has yet invented an instrument that has the ability to find any item that we misplace, considering that all of us have this problem. You know, like a metal detector that works for every thing.

Anyway, it's been exactly a month since I came here. I am beginning to enjoy this place more. I stopped whining about the weather. Most of the days it's drizzling and cold when I go to work. So when it’s anything over 50 degrees, I consider it extremely pleasant. It was 70 today and I felt like taking my shirt off and going for a jog. I think the worst thing about this city is the planning of the roads. The traffic gets stuck all the time and people drive so slow. I find myself racing past Corvettes and Porsches in my Civic; so you can imagine. But the FM channels are really good, so being in the car is not all that bad. Almost every 10mins, you can listen to "Far away" or "Lips of an angel" on one of the channels.

My roommate/owner is a musician who composes for small productions. He gave me a guitar to use for myself and even taught me how to use it. I tried playing it but it was clear to me that its not as easy as all those desi actors make it look. On Tuesday, I finally went to the tennis club as a guest of a colleague. There were a couple of desi kids there, one 13 and the other 9. They came with their father who was playing with my colleague. So I ended up playing with these kids. We played best of 3 points in cycles. The 13 year old beat me 2 out of 3 times and his brother won 1 out of 3 times. They were unbelievable. The younger kid even dived for a point and I was frozen on the other side admiring it! To dive on a tennis court and win a point is like one of my dreams. It's one of the most instinctive things in sports. I have very weird dreams - dunking a basketball is another one. Some how, I think I have a better chance of becoming a millionaire than doing that. Anyway, after watching these kids, I started blaming my grandfather. Why my grandfather you ask? Well, if he was rich like these kids’ grandfather, I would have learnt tennis when I was 8 and not when I am 28! If you saw a very popular Telugu movie joke, you would understand this even better. I am just joking of course, but there are some that seriously blame their parents for what they weren’t able to do growing up. They just seem to forget that it’s never too late. They should look at my friend Jyothi, who still aspires to be a tennis pro.

Anyway, having decided guitar is not for me, I decided to try out some thing else. So I went to a salsa class last night. Salsa was ok but after that was Bachata which was very embarrassing. After the end of every move, you have to pop your waist up sideways! Now, please don’t imagine me doing it. I don’t understand why they do that. It’s great when a girl does it but guys doing it is some thing else. I will try out a few other varieties of dance classes before deciding on one style.

I hung out with friends from work this weekend. We all went out to eat and then watched a movie, "The Prestige". The movie is pure "MAGIC". It's made by Christopher Nolan, the same guy who made "Memento". Though this is not half as complex as Memento, it’s still good. I think I watched Memento two times straight and then spent the entire night researching web sites convincing myself that my interpretation of the movie was correct. I still wonder how some one could have so much imagination to come up with a script like that. Anyway, I have to go now and use all my imagination to watch TV. So adios.

Prince turned pauper.

The last two weeks have been extremely hectic. First it was all the farewells from Tampa. Every day last week, I was either having dinner at a friends’ place or was going out with my colleagues. The toughest was the farewell I had at work cos some of the girls/women were crying! I was close to having tears as well but as you know TOUGH men don’t EVER cry. Well, at least they pretend not to. I was asked to say something and as you know, I feel very inconvenient at times like that but when I saw the tape later, I couldn't believe I was so expressive. Anyway, I finally left Tampa on Friday and drove to Louisville, Kentucky. It’s a 15 hour drive but I stopped over in Birmingham, Alabama at my best friend’s place. We went to a movie that night, “The Departed” which was great except for the bizarre climax. I resumed my drive on Saturday to Louisville through Tennessee. I was expecting it to be a beautiful drive but it was very normal. I’m glad my 100k miles old Civic made it this far carrying that entire luggage (and the driver). By the way, if you are ever driving through Alabama, Tennessee or Kentucky, don’t even worry about speeding cos there are no cops what so ever, except for may be in city limits. I guess the people in these states are too nice. Why else wouldn’t there be any cops? I came across one single cop after I passed Georgia; so you can imagine. In Florida, there is a cop every 10 miles; yet it has the most accidents in the US. Talk about crazy people. I think that the southern part of Georgia is the worst place to drive cos there’s construction going on all the time. I’m not sure what their problem is, they never seem to finish it. It gets very frustrating driving through that and weirdly it always rains when I am driving through that area making it worse.

I arrived in Louisville last Saturday. It’s been exactly one week. Let’s just say it’s been an extremely tough week. I still don’t feel comfortable at work but I feel much better than I did after my second day. As if to greet me, a cold wave hit this week. The coldest day of the year in Florida would have been warmer than this! Well, one way to look at it is that it’s not as bad as in Buffalo. There’s 20 inches of snow in Buffalo and it’s not even the middle of October. Frankly, I don’t understand why people even bother to live there. That is a truly God forsaken place. Take out Niagara Falls and there's nothing there. If you want to see Niagara Falls, you can always go there in the summer like most of the desi couples do; you don’t have to live near it. I haven’t been to Montana or North Dakota but I guess they are worse. You know what kind of crazy thoughts enter my mind? What’s going to happen if the heater fails during times like these? Ok, it’s treated as an emergency, but what’s the guarantee that some one will come out in that cold to fix it? What will happen if your car breaks down when you are going some where? What if you are taking a shower and the water turns cold even before you realize it? I’m quite sure that I would freeze to death if I were in any of those situations. Even watching movies where people are driving with nothing but snow on either side of the road for miles (seen Fargo?) makes me shiver! This place is not that bad. From what I hear, it doesn’t get much colder than this, so that’s one good thing. I haven’t seen much of the city but it seems to be small. I think there is the Kentucky Derby race course close by, so I will go there some day. But first on my list are the Mammoth caves which are like 60 miles from here. So that’s one reason for you to visit me. They are among the US national parks, so I’m sure they are great. But then again, you never know. We went to the Everglades national park once and that’s the most disappointing place I’ve ever been to.

As for the work environment, there is nothing much to talk about it. It’s very formal and rigid. There is a little desi group with whom I go to lunch. They seem to be very nice people. And there is one extremely pretty girl in the group as well. She’s one of those girls that you come across once in a year. And as you probably guessed, she’s married. If I was Shah Rukh Khan, I could probably still make a move on her and eventually steal her. But I’m not, so that’s the end of that story. Anyway, so here I am in a totally different place struggling to hold my own. Life used to be king like in Tampa. My cousin used to do the cooking and my brother used to do the dishes. All I did was go to work and flirt with the girls, or beat the crap out of my co-desi tennis and basketball stars and feel like Roger or Shaq! And whenever the cricket tournament came, I would get an extra trophy when our team made the final, even though all I did was just win the tosses. Contrast all that to my situation here. Now, I have to run from my car to my building, and sit in my cube for hours trying to figure something out. God knows when I will play tennis or basket ball again. Some times I wonder what the hell I need money for. In any case, all my money (what ever little I made/make) goes to India and in the future it will go to my wife (virtual as of now). I know for a fact that nothing makes me happier than playing and I will never be able to do it more than I used to in Tampa. I think one day I will sit down and think hard about it. At the moment, I feel like it’s a contest on who is going to blink first in this cold – me or my car!

Ps: Shah Rukh Khan is India’s most popular actor and in every movie that he makes, he falls in love with a girl that is already engaged or (worse) married and eventually either marries her or gets killed/dies of cancer.

Fighting loneliness

I have been eating out too much the past week or so. We went to this restaurant called Jeff Ruby's steakhouse last week and I think it is the best restaurant I had ever been to. The ambience was too good. The funny part is that it was decorated with colors that I least like, yet it seemed so good. The prices were equally exorbitant but since my employer was the one who was paying, I didn't mind it a bit! I tried out oysters and they were pretty good. I don't mind trying out any meat/sea-food. Not frogs or snakes but any thing other than that. Just when I thought I had heard of all the weird animals people eat, my Brazilian Indian friend who studied in France (and works with me in the US - talk about diversity) tells me that the French eat horses and the Brazilian eat donkeys! I feel like an animal rights activist right now. How can some one eat a horse? It's the most beautiful animal. But then again, I guess that's a racist point of view, cos if you believe in treating every one the same, you should also treat all the animals the same. Which means eating a chicken is the same thing as eating a horse. I find it tough to accept it though. Last night, we went to a Japanese restaurant. I hadn't been to one before. I went to sushi places and ate Japanese food, but I had never been to an exclusively Japanese restaurant. It was fun to watch the guy prepare the food. I could never do what he did. You know, stuff like throwing an egg in the air and catching it with the spoon. Being on that table felt like being at a blackjack table cos you have to share the table with other parties as well, unless you have one large enough to occupy the whole table. It also occurred to me that it wasn't too long ago that these two countries bombed the heck out of each other! Talk about patching up your differences.

I got my first glimpse of snow fall last Thursday. It looks good as long as you are not driving! The weather was miserable on Thursday and Friday. So much so that when it was 32 on Saturday (0 deg C), it felt like heaven. The monkey cap (aka ski cap) becomes the most important possession at times like these. Who ever invented the monkey cap should be given a noble prize! Personally, I feel like my nose and ears are the most delicate to the cold, may be cos of their big size, so the monkey cap works great for me. But there are two problems with this. One - you can't apply hair gel. Two - you risk being stopped on the road by a cop if you are the only one wearing it and you are carrying a tennis bag, which makes you look like some one carrying a gun.

The other day, one of my friends was asking me how I was fighting loneliness here. One of the good things about NOT having any one you know in a place is that you get a chance to try out new things. And you are forced to find new friends. I made some good friends with a few colleagues from work and we go out every weekend some where or the other. To be honest, after the initial home sickness, there hasn’t been a day that I got bored here, despite the cold. Monday and Wednesday, I have the dance classes to keep me occupied. And even though I have no idea what I am doing, it’s fun. Actually, I’m not doing that bad. I am ok as long as I am in the class. I forget the steps by the next class and have to wait for the instructor to show them again. I want to take private lessons but I’m having a tough time deciding between the blonde and the brunette instructors. May be I will just flip a coin and choose one. Anyway, I joined the tennis club about 2 weeks ago. It's pretty good. I am playing almost every day now. It’s great to play indoors cos there’s no wind what so ever and what’s even better is that I’m playing with guys that are better than me. We just hit and don’t play any games. The ONLY bad thing about tennis is that since it’s a one on one game, your level has to match pretty evenly with your opponent’s to enjoy a match; otherwise it becomes one sided one way or the other. Some of you might know this already - there are ratings to determine the level of a player. I am a marginal 4. To move to the next level (4.5) takes a lot. When I play a 4.5 level player, I can compete but there is very little chance of me winning. Likewise, when I am playing some one from 3.5 or lower, I know I could half sleep and still beat them easy. So that takes out the competition out of the game. Anyway, I have been stuck at this level for a while now since I have always been playing with guys at the same level and also cos we never practice strokes as such. We just go and play games. So there is very little scope for improvement. Now that I have joined this club, my goal for the next 3 months is to move a level higher.

At first I was hesitant to join the club cos of the membership fee. I thought it was ridiculous to pay so much just to be able to enjoy a sport. But then an inner voice asked, "Your cousin spent $500 for 6 sessions of facials, can't you do it for 3 months of tennis?" I had sudden enlightenment and immediately swiped my almost full credit card. You know what’s even funnier about the facials? It was originally supposed to be 5 sessions but they gave her a discount/bonus and made it 6. And she was thrilled about it! I probably shouldn’t say it’s funny, cos she can look at me and say, “look at this guy, he paid so much for a silly game!” As a popular Telugu saying goes (one that my mom uses all the time in reference to me), "evari pichi vallaki anandam". I won't even bother translating it cos it's hard to get the exact impact in English, but if any of you can, feel free to do so.

I am such a “KLUTZ”!

This has to be one of the sickest feelings in the world. I went home for lunch and cooked myself some pasta. It took me about half an hour to do it. So after adding the sauce I was all prepared to eat it. I put the bowl on the table and tried to drag the table towards the couch, all the while talking to a friend on the phone. Yup, you guessed it right. It tripped over and fell on the carpet. All of it. So I spent the next half hour cleaning the carpet and using curse words that I haven’t in a while. And instead of eating pasta with tomato and mushroom sauce at home watching Sports Center, I found myself eating spicy chicken crunch wrap supreme from taco bell at my desk.

I thought I was way past the days of dropping plates with rice and glasses with drinks on the carpet and the couch. I know; I used to be disgusting. I still do that in the kitchen (because it’s tiles) but I am very careful in the living room. In fact, if any of my friends drop something on the carpet, I give them “a look”. And then this happens to me today. When I asked my friend if these kinds of spilling accidents happen with her, (secretly wishing for her to say yes), she answered with an emphatic “NO”! She then went on to explain how she carries bowls with two hands and not one, how she tries to do only one thing at a time, how she DOESN’T put bowls on the edge of the tables and gave me a few other "eating in the living room" etiquette lessons.

I began to ask myself what difference there was between a 4 year old kid and me. Why does the tea boil over when I make it, even when I am standing right next to it? They say that a watching kettle never boils. But in my case, a watching kettle always boils over! Why does the spoon ALWAYS fall out of the utensils when I cook something? And why does the glass break and cut my finger while I clean it (happened last week btw)? With my confidence shattered, I went back to work. My colleague and friend Tom said, "So Kiran, who was the special date today? That was a long lunch you had with her". Ya that was the only thing missing in my lunch...more confidence broken. I told him what had happened and showed him the taco bell bag as if to prove it. He said without hesitating that I was a “klutz” and then proceeded to explain that it was slang for a clumsy person. At this point, all hope was lost. Thankfully, he also added, “That’s what my wife calls me every time I drop something!” Glad to know that I am not the only “klutz” around.

A tale of two single guys

Back in February, I was searching for apartments to move in to. So one Saturday afternoon, I ended up at the leasing office of my current complex. And there was this EXTREMELY pretty receptionist. Now, it rarely happens that I hit it off straight away with a girl like that. But surprisingly, we ended up talking a lot. And talents I didn't think existed in me surfaced that day. Normally when I talk to a pretty girl, I find myself stammering, struggling hard to find words. So this was completely strange, it was as if God Himself showed me the path to this girl! When you meet a girl who can make you talk, you know she is "THE ONE", like Neal in "Matrix". What more, my brother who went to sign the papers after me, came back with news that she told him that I was extremely funny. So naturally, I was on the moon that day. I was already making plans for Valentine's Day the next week.

It was "crush at first sight". So the next day, I went again to the leasing office and she was there. I asked her to show me the apartment again. She agreed and we took off in a golf cart. That's when I noticed. Two brightly shining diamond rings on her fingers! There was still hope; what if they were normal fashion rings? So I commented about the rings, "those rings are nice". I couldn't think of any thing better to say. And just like that, she said, "Well, one's my engagement ring, one's my wedding ring!" And just like that my heart broke into a thousand pieces.

Only one person in the whole world could have bettered this story. My good friend Jyothi Prasad. This is his story from yesterday, in his exact own words. Actually, this is what took me back to my February episode. Here you go.

While I was getting the racket strung, there was a girl standing nearby. I started talking with her … after the intial “it is very difficult to find tennis partners in New York/ Central Park courts unavailability” dialogues, she asked where I was from . And then she told me where she is from (without me asking) and that she was also a beginner. Then we talked for some more time. She looked like if I asked her to play with me, she would say Yes..actual ga ammayi konchum interest chupisthunnandi… too much kada anukunna (translation - the girl seems to be showing interest in me, this is too good). Paapa baganey undi ….(girl seems to be pretty enough) So I was almost going to ask her if she wants to play with me once….romantic tennis match in Central Park..maybe…After some time, she said that she plays with her husband and the guy stringing the racket is actually her husband (husband on the left; me in the middle; girl on the right, while this whole discussion was going on) who is also a tennis teacher…

As you can probably guess, the hunt for "the one" still continues for both of us.

The Spanish Mack

My weekends were getting routine. You know, the usual sports, movies, and traveling, that’s about it. I needed some variety. That’s exactly what I got yesterday. I went fishing for the first time ever. Before yesterday, I had always thought fishing to be one of the most boring activities you could ever do. I couldn’t have been more wrong. I had so much fun yesterday, probably because it was my first time.

I met these two brothers from Goa while playing basketball at our complex. Really cool guys. They told me they go fishing once in a while and asked me if I wanted to join. That’s how I ended up going. We left at 5 in the morning. I can’t remember the last time I woke up at 5 on a Sunday. So I thought there better be a good reason for this. The plan was to catch the fish just when they come out in search of their breakfast. The two brothers looked like experts in fishing. They seemed to know what to do and more importantly where to look for the fish. First they caught the bait with a net, you know, really small fish. Then they hooked the bait to the fishing rod and used it to catch the bigger ones. It seemed so easy when they did it. Then I got to try it out. The technique is to feel the fish get a hold of the bait, and then pull it out. The problem for me was that half the time I couldn’t feel it, and the times I did feel it, I would pull it out too soon or too late. I had at least 10 baits stolen from my rod by the fish! They were getting the better of me. It’s as if the fish told themselves, “This guy seems to be a rookie, let’s keep stealing his bait”. Meanwhile, the two brothers were having great success. Time was running out. The pressure to catch a fish was increasing with every passing minute. Finally, after 3 hours of patience, it happened. I caught my first fish ever! A moment to cherish!

The fish was a Spanish Mack. I don’t know who came up with that name but I think it’s a really cool name. Mack is short for Mackerel. It must have been 2 pounds and 20 inches long. After a while, we moved to a different location in pursuit of Groupers. That’s when the best thing happened. There was a Dolphin, trying to eat away the baits of every one trying to fish there. At one moment, it came after mine and I pulled up my fishing rod at the last minute, causing the Dolphin to jump! It was like being in a Dolphin show. It is certainly fun to play with a dolphin from way up on the pier! The brothers didn’t like this at all, because it was driving away all the fish that were there. But I enjoyed it. We didn’t have any more luck. I ended up with just that one fish and the brothers with 5. The other guy who came with us caught two but had to throw them back since they didn’t meet the minimum size requirements. It was a nice way to spend the day and I wouldn’t rule out pursuing fishing as a hobby. I can readily think of 3 real world advantages of learning to fish.
– If all the computers in the world crash, and there’s no more software jobs, I can go back to my grand parents village and fish for a living.
– If I ever get marooned on a God forsaken island like Captain Jack, I can fish to survive.
– It can be a good dating activity.

Hooked on Seinfeld

I am watching a lot of Seinfeld episodes these days. I can’t quite say I am addicted cos I know a lot of people who can just watch the entire DVD collection at a stretch. This Saturday night, I was watching one episode in which Jerry meets the baseball player Keith Hernandez. One particular scene in it was the funniest moment that I ever saw on TV. There are a lot of times I have tears in my eyes and my stomach aches from laughing but this was beyond that. For Seinfeld fans, it’s the moment when George comes running out of the rest room with his pants down shouting “VANDALEY, SAY VANDALEY INDUSTRIES” and falls down, this after Kramer answers the phone in his own style and says “Yallo. What delay industries?”

I ended up watching the first DVD showing how it all started. I was surprised to find out that George’s character is based on the writer of the show Larry David. And Kramer’s on Larry’s neighbor. It’s hard to think that there could be a real life Kramer! And that Julia Louis (Elaine) is a billionaire heiress. A lot of episodes in it were real occurrences that happened to either Jerry or Larry. For instance, the one in which Jerry and George go to the NBC studios to present their idea without preparing for it; that’s exactly how it happened to Larry and Jerry. Of all the sitcoms, I think Seinfeld seems more real. I mean, these are things that actually happen to us. May be you could say that about “Everybody loves Raymond”; but only if you were married. All sitcoms are great but I think George and Kramer take Seinfeld to a different level. Just looking at them makes me laugh.

Watching sitcoms gets me to think about three things. One – why can’t we have these in India? You know, Hindi or Telugu sitcoms. All I see on Indian channels is people crying, ALL THE TIME. It’s not as if people love to cry back there. Two – How can these guys come up with things so funny, every minute, every day, and every sitcom? I mean you turn on the TV at 6 after work and you could basically just sit there till mid night laughing. Friends, Seinfeld, Ray, Becker, King of Queens, That 70s Show, Simpsons; you name it, they are all dead funny. And the last thought is the one that’s scary. If I could just watch these and laugh all the time, why should I even bother about any thing else? I mean, what else does any one need other than just to be able to laugh all the time?

I don’t know about that, but I think if and when I start my own business, I will name it VANDALEY Industries.

When Bollywood is better than Hollywood

Hollywood may be the greatest movie maker on earth, but there is one aspect of movie making in which they are WAY behind Bollywood, or for that matter any other film industry in India. When it comes to snakes and capturing their sentiments, Indian movies rule! Indian movie writers get ideas that are beyond the realms of imagination of their Hollywood counterparts. Even if Hollywood did get such fascinating ideas, it would probably work extremely hard and spend millions of dollars to create an animation based on snakes. Guess what Bollywood would do (or rather did)? They just make the snakes take a human form! You know, make Jitendra the male snake, and Sridevi the female snake, and you have a masterpiece. Every thing becomes so easy then; although you could argue that it’s easier to make a real snake act than make Mr. Jitendra act. For those of you that are unfamiliar with Indian movies, Jitendra was a very popular actor back in the 60s-70s.

The majority of the Indian snake movies have one centralized theme – REVENGE. You know, a human villain kills a snake that happens to be the mother of another snake, and this baby snake grows up to take its revenge on the man. Mind you, the snake just doesn’t sneak through his house and bite the man; it’s never that easy. It takes the form of a human, most often a woman, a woman who can seduce the villain towards her (with a few snake dances) before turning back into a snake and biting him! Another form of a snake’s revenge can be hunting down thieves who rob a temple. In these cases, the snakes retain their original form but can perform stunts like Spiderman. Then there are movies in which the snake saves a house wife/step-daughter because she prays to the snake God. Scenes in such movies can range any where from sucking up the poison from the woman’s leg after another snake has bitten her, to protecting the helpless woman from a bunch of thugs. Check out this trailer of an old movie, it seems to have all the ingredients I have been talking about.
Nagina trailer

I guess I shouldn’t be making fun of these movies because I myself pray to snakes. In fact, one of my favorite festivals is what we call in Telugu “Nagulachavuti”. What we do is go to a snake pit early in the morning and offer eggs and milk to the snake. Sounds crazy right? But I absolutely love this festival and I miss it a lot now. Not a lot of people in India celebrate it these days and it’s sad. I always looked forward to it. Every single time, I would wait for the snake to come out of the pit, but it never happened. Even as a kid, I would insist on dropping the egg and milk inside the pit myself. That my hand used to tremble as I dropped the egg was a different issue. I don’t know why, I just loved doing it.

Anyway, I am reminded of all these things because of a movie coming out this weekend – “Snakes on the Plane”. I want to watch this movie even though I know it will not match the creativity of the Indian movies. But there is one small issue. There is ONLY one actor in Hollywood that I don’t like – Samuel L. Jackson. I think he is the only one in Hollywood who hams, you know, acts more than necessary with strong dialogues. For some strange reason, he suited well to the role in Pulp Fiction but otherwise he’s too much to bear. He is a polar opposite to Morgan Freeman. So I am not sure if I will watch it or not. I will let you know either way. By the way, don’t you think it’s been ages since Bollywood made a snake movie? I think it’s time for one!

Adidas vs Puma

This came a total shock to me today. Did you know that puma and adidas were founded by two brothers, who absolutely hated each other? I didn't know that until today. That's just not it. In the town where they set up the first branch, Herzogenaurach (Germany), there are two gangs of people, one who wear puma shoes and the other gang that wears adidas shoes! We all know that people are sometimes judged by what shoes they wear. Well, in this town it just doesn't end there, people look at the shoes even before they talk to each other!
Very very interesting and funny story. Some one should make a movie out of this. Check out this link for more...

Thank you Mr. Thompson!

Who the hell is this Thompson you wonder? Well, La Marcus Thompson is regarded as the inventor of the modern day roller coaster. If not for him, we wouldn't be experiencing such uninhibited joy when ever we go to a theme park. Think of it. Is there any other activity that doesn't involve any participation from our side, yet is able to produce such great thrill? All we do is go sit on one of the seats and the mechanics of the coaster do the rest. Amazing invention I think. It should be ranked right up there with Edison’s light bulb!

A bunch of us went to the Cedar Point theme park in Cleveland this weekend. We weren't planning on it as such. It was one of those things that just happened. A friend had to go there to meet some one and we thought we would just give him company. Cedar Point is regarded as the best roller coaster theme park in the US and I think it lived up to its billing. All the rides were great and one of them was just spectacular. Every one has their personal preference of coasters. Some people like twists and turns; and some like the speed. For me, it's the height of the coaster and the angle of declination. And when it's descending, it has to fall straight down, without any twists and turns. You have to see yourself crashing down. That’s when it feels the best. It's amazing how they do it. They take you to the top, dangle you there for that split second, and then boom, you are sent crashing down. It's that precious few seconds that I like the most. And the best place to experience it is in the 1st row. When it comes to roller coasters, there is one rule you should follow as sincerely as "Thou shalt not steal" and that is "Thou shalt always sit in the front row!"

To buy or not to buy

That is the $600 question I am asking myself now. The iPhone comes out tomorrow. Even though I have no intentions of standing in the line to get one, I was planning on getting it for a while now. But I have second thoughts all of a sudden. I want it because I use my iPod quite a bit at work and with an iPhone I wouldn't have to carry my iPod any more. I hate to carry things around with me where ever I go. That's one of the reasons why I don't like SLR cameras and camcorders. As great as they are, they are excess baggage to carry. You want to be "loose" when you go sight seeing. That’s why I prefer sleek things that fit easily in my pocket. I don't know how women manage to carry around those bags where ever they go. I couldn't imagine doing it in a million years. Anyways, the only reason I don't want an iPhone is that I hate the data plan. Think of it. We are always on the net, at work and at home. As if that's not addictive enough, I will now have it where ever I go. Even at home, the only thing I use it for is to check email and orkut scraps. I think it's a total waste of money, however little it may be. I think I still have another week to decide cos I don't think I can get in the store any time soon.

I think all those people that are already queued up in the line are crazy. The iPhone goes on sale on Friday at 6pm and the line started on Monday! Can you believe it? It's a phone for heavens sake. Some people are willing to stand 4 days in a line to buy a cell phone. That’s crazy as crazy goes. I thought all those people who were queuing up for the Nintendo Wiis and Sony Playstations were crazy, but they are nothing compared to this. Even funnier is that there are people who are paying others to hold their place in the line. I think that’s hilarious.

Meanwhile, in another corner of the world, people are going berserk for tickets to the movie Sivaji. If you haven't heard of the movie Sivaji, you probably never heard of Rajnikanth, and I think you should take some time to know more about him. I can tell you only two things - that he is a movie actor from South India, and that, when it comes to having fan following, no one in the history of mankind beats this guy. At least, that's the impression I get. I think the adulation that the Beetles and Elvis Presley received in their prime put together doesn't come anywhere close to the adulation he gets. You get the picture. One of the biggest mysteries to me has been how on earth he became popular in Japan! I mean Japan, probably the most scientifically advanced country in the world. One of my friends recently explained that it's because Japanese believe a lot in super hero tales and when they see Rajnikanth, they feel like he is a super hero. It seems they simply love his histrionics. All I can say is, it's a good thing they haven't seen Telugu movie star Mr. Balakrishna or they would just go totally nuts cos when it comes to super hero stunts, he is better than Superman himself. What makes me wonder most about movie star fans in India is how they can have so much time. I mean time to do pujas before the movies, lay out posters, all that stuff. Do these people even work? If not, who is feeding them?

Anyway, back to the question. Who's more crazy - the guys waiting for iPhone or the guys performing pujas for a movie? Or am I being hypocritical? Cos I know I would have definitely watched Sivaji if it was in my town, and I am also planning on buying the iPhone. It's all very confusing. But I know one thing for sure. Even if I was starving for a week and had to stand in a line for a few days to get some food, I wouldn't do it.

I could stand in a line for 2 hours to get on a 2 minute roller coaster though, but that’s a different story altogether.


I was watching these old tennis videos online today, you know, of Becker, Edberg, Lendl, and they almost made me cry. It took me back to those times, late 80s, early 90s. Life was so much simpler back then. There were no life changing decisions to be made. Probably the most complicated decision I ever had to make at that age was answering a multiple choice question in the exam. Happiness was dictated by simpler things, like going out and being able to play, hanging out with brother, cousins, friends and getting good grades in school. If the elders let us go out and play, or let us watch sports on TV, we were happy. If they made us study, we were sad and couldn't wait to get older so we didn't have to study at all. As it turns out, it seems like studying for exams is a lot easier than making life changing decisions.

How I wish I aged like Benjamin Button!

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Queuing for Wimbledon tickets

The following events take place between 11.30am Saturday June 30th, 2013 and 1.15pm Monday July 1st, 2013 J In a tennis fan’s terms, between the 1st Saturday and 2nd Monday of Wimbledon 2013.

I already had tickets for the 2nd Tuesday. I got them thru the ballot. I hope you already know how the ballot process works. If not, check out I really wanted to go to the 2nd Monday. So I decided to camp for tickets. I got off the plane at 11.30am on Saturday. I was supposed to reach Friday but the original flight was canceled due to a storm in Louisville, KY (where I live) and I ended up reaching Saturday. As if that wasn’t enough, my luggage that had the tent and sleeping bag in it did not arrive. By the time I finished filing the missed baggage report and headed for the room, it was 1pm. 

I had booked the room thru AirBnB. The room was near the East Putney tube station. East Putney is one stop before Southfields. Southfields is the stop to get off for Wimbledon. Even though there is a Wimbledon tube stop after Southfields, the Southfields stop is more convenient to go to the courts. I arrived at the East Putney stop at 2pm. My cousin was waiting there. He lives in London and I had asked him to meet me there. It's a small station so it was easy to spot him. The room was a 5min walk from the station. It's an apartment building. It had 3 rooms and there were 2 other guests. It's not like a hotel, more like living in an apt where you have to bring your own things. I sort of expected this and brought my towel, etc. I booked the room only for those two days that I was going to camp for tickets and I was going to move to a hotel after that.

After a quick shower, I set out with my cousin to buy a make-do tent. He took me to a sports shop (I don’t remember the name) where we got a pop-up tent on sale for 20 pounds. I also got a sleeping bag for 15 pounds. My cousin said he didn't need one.

We headed out at 4.30pm, got off at Southfields station and walked towards the queue. It's hardly a 10 min walk from the station. After you get off the station, you have to go right. They have directions; you can always ask some one. The station itself is laid out in green carpet for Wimbledon like a putting course. As you walk towards the queue, you will see signs that tell you to go straight if you already have tickets and to go left if you don’t have tickets. The queue is in a big park (I think it’s called Wimbledon park) to the left as you walk. Really, it’s very obvious with a lot of stewards at the entrance and you don’t have to worry about missing it.

You can ask the stewards where the queue is and they will point you towards it. There are food stalls that you can see from the gate. The queue is to the right of those stalls. When you go there, there will be even more stewards and you can ask them where to join the queue. Its better you ask them since there is another queue with people standing. This is the queue for people trying to get the evening tickets for that day. Remember this - when in doubt, ask a steward J

We asked how many people were ahead of us and were told that we were probably in the 400s. We were ecstatic, since that meant we would get the choice for center court tickets. I hope you already know that 500 tickets are sold to each of the show courts every day for those in the queue. So if you want to guarantee a center court ticket, you need to be in the first 500. Some of the first 500 will opt for court 1. So even if you are not in the first 500, you may still get a center court ticket. If Murray is scheduled to play on court 1, it's quite possible that 400 of the 500 will opt for court 1. Also, we were in the queue for tickets to the 2nd Monday, which is considered as the best day of tennis in the entire year since all the men’s and women’s round of 16 matches happen on the same day.

We went to the end of the queue, laid our things down and sat. We started talking to the people next to us. Just behind us was a couple from New Zealand who live in London. They had done this 4-5 times in the past. In fact, most people we talked to had queued at least once before. Another guy close by was listening to the matches on the radio. Within a few minutes a steward came by and told us to set up our tents. The pop up tent was really easy to set up. As long as it doesn't rain, it does its job. Luckily for us, there was no rain expected.

By the time we were done setting up the tent, a steward started handing over queue cards. These are the cards that tell you what position you are in the queue. They are extremely important since you need to show them before purchasing the tickets. We were 436 and 437. 

You can leave the queue for a break. If you are with someone else, one of you can go away for 2-3 hours while the other is still there. No one is going to notice. Our neighbors told us both of them would be gone for a while and returned after an hour. We spent the evening playing cards. My cousin went to get some food and drinks for us. The instructions say there is a limit to what you can take inside the park but no one really cares.

One very important detail. The toilets are in the park itself at the other end. The urinals are pretty clean but I am not sure about the toilets. They were ok I guess. Since I had the option to go to the room I had booked, I never had to use the toilets at the ground. I didn’t have a problem using the urinals when I had to.

By the time we tried to sleep, I knew Monday’s schedule. The tent was spacious enough for both of us. But I did not have any thing to lay on the ground, except my sleeping bag. You can hear people talking in the tents close to yours. It was hard to sleep especially with my jet lag. I slept well for 3-4 hours late at night but not more. Once we woke up on Sunday, my cousin went to the room to freshen up. He was gone 2 hrs and then it was my turn. There's also a starbucks near the tube station. Throughout Sunday we were each gone for 2hrs at a time to walk around the area. Most of the area is filled with really neat houses and very quiet. The day was really nice, reaching 75F. The park was absolutely packed with people playing all sorts of games. You don't feel bored at all. The queue keeps filling in. Around 11am on Sunday, radio Wimbledon announced that center court and court 1 queue was full. Meaning there were 1000 people in the queue at that point. I think the center court queue was full at 8pm on Saturday night. Meaning that there were 500 people in the queue at that time. So if you want center court tickets for the 2nd Monday, you need to be in the queue by late Saturday evening at the least. I don’t know what it would have been if Federer, Nadal and Sharapova had still been in the draw.

While my cousin was gone, I finished a book I had started reading on the plane. The day went by fast. I really struggled to sleep Sunday night. May be I was anxious about Monday. It was almost as if I was getting ready to play :) We got up at 5.30 am Monday. It took us a while to put the tent back in the bag but it wasn't too hard. Once that was done, we went to the "Left Luggage" center.

These are basically big tents set up behind the food stalls within the park itself. People started lining up to leave their luggage. It took us about 5 minutes to leave our luggage there. Then we asked a steward if we had time to walk around and come back in an hour. We wanted to go to the room to use the bathroom :) He told us not to go anywhere since the the queue would start moving soon.

Around 7 am, we were asked to stand where our tents used to be. It was at this time that our NZ neighbors told us that we would be getting really good seats, basically the ones adjacent to the court. This was unbelievable news to us! All along I was thinking the queue was for tickets in the higher levels. Never did I expect such great seats. The ones I got in the ballot for Tuesday were higher level sections, so I was assuming that’s what I would get for standing in the queue. But it makes sense; they were saving some of the best seats for the true fans. My love for Wimbledon grew even more J My cousin immediately started to thank me for making him camp since he wouldn't have done it if not for me.

The stewards started lining us up and took us thru a gate. Once inside, they came to each of us, looked at our queue cards and asked us what court tickets we wanted. Obviously we chose center court. They tied a colored band around our wrists indicating the court we were to go to. After that, we were told there would be a wait for a while and we could go get some thing. There were a couple of stalls and restrooms near that queue inside the gate. I was able to use the rest room there and it was really clean. Around 9, the line started moving again. There's a small security check and then we move towards the stadium gates.

It takes about 45 mins to get to the ticket counter. Anyway, we had only 2 sections to choose from, and we picked the one at a 45 degree angle to the middle of the court. Since we were in the 400s in the queue, we could only get the ones on the referee’s side (the chair blocks the view a bit) and not the side facing the referee. I think if we were in the top 200, we could have gotten the ones facing the referee. Even better, but we would have had to be in the queue by Saturday noon! The tickets were some 80 odd pounds. They only accept cash.

We were inside the stadium just past 10. We spent some time in the Wimbledon shop. I was so excited, I wanted to buy a lot of stuff. In the end I got my cousin a shirt and a coffee mug. I figured I would buy some thing for myself on Tuesday when I would go back. We went to court 3 where Janowicz was playing Melzer. But there was already a line there. We waited till the end of 1st set hoping people would leave after a set but it wasn't to be. 

Even though a ticket to the center court grants you access to all courts other than 1 and 2, if you want to watch the matches on an outside court with seating (like court 3 or 10), you have to be there early. People with grounds passes will occupy them fast. You have to wait for someone to leave so you can get in. So we went to other smaller courts and saw the matches there. It was a great experience seeing so many matches going on next to each other. It’s like playing at any local tennis club.

We finally decided to go to center court around 1.15 or so after Serena’s match had started. It was a sensational feeling to walk in with it packed. I hope I get to do this again.

The Hunt for the Tongue Cleaner

Why don’t Americans use tongue cleaners? I had to go to three stores and search across 14 aisles before I could find a damn tongue cleaner. I normally bring a stock of them from India but I guess I must have misplaced them somewhere when I moved. If I needed a tongue cleaner in India, all I had to do was get out of my bed and get out of my apartment building. The one I bought this weekend cost me $4! Can you believe it? $4 for a piece of plastic. Any way you look at it, it’s a complete rip off. I think I should start a tongue cleaner company. But wait a minute, who’s going to buy them? So forget it.

By the way, “Lady in the Water” is a terrible movie. So don’t bother watching it. Miami Vice comes out this weekend. The trailers look good; we have to see what the movie has in store.

Rosie Ruiz

You probably have never heard of this name before. I certainly didn’t until I came across it today some where. She is the lady that ALMOST became the first woman to win the Boston Marathon in 1980. Well, almost. She had cheated in the most amazing way. She joined the 26 mile race in the last half-mile! You know what I mean? She was standing in the crowd and just jumped in to join the race! She had registered for the race earlier. All she had to do was just jump in and join at the end. The reason she was caught was that she wasn’t sweating at all and the organizers thought that was strange. Which is when some of the people in the crowd stepped up to tell the truth. What a funny story.

Wait, it doesn’t end there. To qualify for the Boston Marathon, you need to have bettered some kind of a mark previously in a marathon. Rosie did that in the NY marathon. Later, it was found that she had cheated in the NY race too; in an even more remarkable way. She took the subway to cover most of the race and then joined towards the end!!!!

Imagine if she had bothered to spill some water on her before she joined the race. No one would have ever suspected that she cheated and we would have never heard this wonderful story! Which makes me wonder how many such cheaters have won and not been caught. And how many of them have gone on to write books that have inspired us? 

An eventful weekend.

I watched Miami Vice on Friday. It conveniently makes my all time top 10 most disappointing Hollywood movies list. Do not even think of watching this movie. I don’t know why some one would want to spend so much money for two super stars and then make such a crap movie. There was one bright spot though. The gun fight in the climax was good. It was very real, you feel like it's happening very close to you. If you ever played paint ball, or even better, have ever been involved in real gun fighting, you will know what I mean. By the way, “War of the Worlds” and “AI” share the top spot of that list.

On Saturday, I found out that my mom got her visa approved for 10 years. That was HUGE for us, because it means she can keep coming whenever she wants and we (me and my brother) still have the option open for staying back in the US. Now she will probably spend 6 months here and 6 months in India. Like some business executive. She can go on pilgrimages when in India with my aunt and uncle, and when here, she can visit places that she hasn’t been to yet. And that is exactly what she plans to do! Every time someone close to me goes for a Visa, I cannot help but think of how our lives are some times out of our control. You can do every thing right; you know, do well in GRE and TOEFL, have good grades, but if the Visa issuing officer at the Consulate is in a bad mood that morning, all that will mean nothing.

It was also the weekend of our cricket tournament. We lost in the semis this time. We had a lot of players missing and the new players just didn’t gel well enough. Lack of team coordination clearly showed. This was probably my last tournament here and definitely my last as a captain. I do not have any more interest in playing cricket but playing for this team is some thing that I will definitely miss. And I will always remember the moments we had on the ground.