Monday, November 23, 2015

Getting back to being "Me"

A normal winter afternoon at 2 pm. Yes, Swedish winters can be dark and dreary. Taken with an iPhone 6

Maybe the me is good. Maybe he is just an intolerable, talkative paranoid wretch. I am not aware of all the perceptions, but I like the journey back.

Recently when I was still caught up in the obsessive corporate whirlpool, I had a critical senior exec meeting coming up. The meeting would decide whether the deal I had worked on for the last 6 months would get a green flag to go to the next phase, or be shelved. My boss loves to say this "In sales there are no runners-up. You either come first, or you come last, there is no in between" It sums up things pretty accurately. You either win the deal or you don't. And when you don't it does not matter how many months you worked on it, or how well you managed the deal. So essentially, this was a critical meeting that would decide the fate of all the sleepless nights I had put in. And I was a bit edgy. Had gone through my slides multiple times, and incorporated those last minute changes. 

So with a few minutes to spare before I took a cab to the client office, I decided to grab some lunch. As I must have stated before on this blog, I suffer from infrequent migraine attacks, and going empty stomach to a meeting does not help. So I strolled down to the food court a block away to grab a quick lunch. I ordered a Pad Thai at the counter and stood there waiting for it to be served. I was lost. There were a million thoughts going through my mind, passing by at the speed of light. I was pensive. To the point of  philosophically pondering on what life would mean if the deal was shelved. I saw the plate kept on the counter, and I paid and walked off, and remembered that I usually like some Sambal to spice things up. So I turned around and looked for the Sambal and that is when I heard her.

"Haven't I seen you somewhere before?"

I swear, her face had not even registered in my brain till that point. And then I looked. The daze broke. I was back on earth. And I drew a blank. There was no recollection, absolutely nothing. I smiled like an idiot trying to think what would be a polite comeback.

She tried to help "I used to work earlier at the Kista food court, and you had asked me where I was from, and you did not know where exactly Georgia was, you are the one with weak geography, you said you wanted to go to Moldova, you don't remember?". Yes that seemed like me, asking people where they are from. And discussing geography. And discussing how close I have been to that place or where I would want to go. But I had no recollection.

And then it hit me. I pictured myself, cheerful and talkative, striking up conversations with strangers in a country where people did not talk to their spouse unless absolutely necessary. That was me, then. And this was me, now. The guy in the grey suit with a grey look in his eyes. Mechanically doling out the required "Ursäkta" (excuse me) and "Tack" (Thank You) to be polite, but with the most impolite detachment that one can have. And the difference just hit me. I stood there, the plate in my hands, a bit baffled. The girl must have thought I was cranked up. 

I did eventually manage to have my lunch. I also said a polite "hejdå" (good bye) to the girl and walked out. I was able to grab a cab and made it to the meeting just in time. But the thought stayed in my head. And it was the beginning of the change. The beginning of getting back to being who I was. The intolerable, talkative paranoid wretch.Thank you girl-from-Georgia.

Friday, November 20, 2015

The Clean Up

A chilly autumn afternoon: The last barbecue of the year 2015. Clicked with an iPhone 6 in the midst of barbecue fever

I was not bluffing. I am back for real! Sometimes one gets carried away, off into the oblivion and it takes a jarring punch in the gut to get one back to reality. So I am back, wincing in pain, but with my feet on the ground, more in touch with reality and hopefully a better person.

It has been 2 years of absence. There have been those half written posts in my drafts but nothing really made it out. There have been numerous messages, extremely flattering, asking me to get back to writing, especially as my last post before I took the sabbatical, was, ironically, about writing.

I like to think (like everyone else) that my life is not the usual humdrum of lives I see around me. To each individual, his life is special. But really, I do believe that my life is kinda extra-ordinary. To the extent that I sometimes yearn for the ordinary. I have been told by many, jokingly and sometimes not so jokingly, that I have a narcissistic streak in me. And maybe that drives me to think that I have an extra-ordinary life. But to be honest, I do not take credit for it. It somehow always veers off from the ordinary. My life can be extremely happy, with massive successes and conquests, or extremely painful, with heart-shattering set backs, but one thing I can tell you it certainly isn't, it is never ever monotonous.

So what I am trying to say that a lot has happened since January of 2014. A complete new chapter. Like turning the whole life upside down. In the end it is all about two things. Whether you had fun during the roller coaster ride. And whether you came out of it for better, or for worse. I certainly had the most titillating ride, but obviously. And I think I came out a better person.

A result of all these changes were the people in my life. I have always talked about how your life is the sum of the experiences you have and the people who join you in those experiences. A lot of them left. For reasons sometimes inexplicable. When someone cannot find joy in the reasons that bring you joy, then perhaps it is best for those people to leave. I was hurt initially, but eventually came around to the realization that these were the people who prioritized their own feelings of jealousy and negativity above my feelings of happiness and achievement. They were the ones who were upset when I was having some of the happiest moments of my life. And so, I realized, it was best that they left.

Some people just disappeared because I was obsessively busy with things I am passionate about. Perhaps I am at fault, and they made a wise decision. But you gotta do what you gotta do. There is this "knock knock" joke about how it cannot be opportunity knocking, because opportunity knocks only once. I opened the door without waiting for the second knock. And got sucked into what I think were the two most exciting years of my professional life. In the process I lost a lot of friends. I will be lying if I say I do not miss them. I would be lying if I say that I never wish they were still around. I never thought it would be an "either-or" option. I wish it was an "and" option. But if I had to go back in time I know I will make the same choice again. I believe in that proverb that in life, you always regret what you did not do, and rarely regret what you have done. I am not happy that I lost those friends. But I am happy that I have had the 3 most passionate and amazing years in my professional life.

Life has a way of cleaning itself up eventually. Cleaning up the intricacies, the complexities, the worries plaguing the mind, and sometimes the people you are better off without. And I am happy that clean up happened in my life. I am left with lesser friends, but they are the ones who passed the test of being there with me when I was at my worst behavior. And they were the ones who understood that the nasty ill-tempered guy who never had the time to catch up with his friends and family, is not who I really am, they are the ones who waited, and knew that it was a phase, it would pass. They are the ones who valued me enough to stick it out.

So I am back in more ways than one. Back to being more humble. Back to appreciating friends. Back to trying to pause and appreciate the things I have. And yes, back to blogging.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

The Next Chapter

Stockholm colors of fall: Clicked with an iPhone 6 on an introspective evening

It did not exactly start today. But it has started, in the blurry timeline of decades, the month does not really matter. What matters is that it is a happier chapter, and a better one. And what matters is I am back in the blogging world!

The path has been long, the battles have been gruesome. But in the end all that matters is that you came out alive, albeit a bit scarred.

As the season of fall gets rid of the old to make way for the new, so shall I get rid of all the old memories. And start afresh. I shall see more of you soon blogosphere!

Thursday, January 23, 2014


I feel most inspired to write when on aflight, when I feel a bit "above the nuances of mundane life" Pic clicked with a Samsung S3 on the way from Stockholm to Krakow in Oct 2013.

People should write. You are excused if you are handicapped at expressing yourself. If you are bad with words. Or if you have an uninteresting life. But too many people out there lead tremendously interesting lives, are good with words, have interesting opinions, and yet fail to put them down somewhere. And those thoughts are just blown away and forgotten, lost to oblivion, to laziness perhaps.

A lot of what we write stays on forever, especially in the age of electronic media and unlimited zeta-bytes of storage. I do not know if it happens with everyone, but I have been deeply influenced so many times by things I have read, sometimes written by people who are not necessarily famous authors. Sometimes anonymous quotes have inspired me. Random writings have made me think. General words on the internet have forced me to re-think. Blogs have made me want to do things. Books have changed the way I have viewed life, or at least some parts of life. Travelogues have made me want to travel. Life narrations have made me not want to go into jobs I would have sucked at anyway.

So when we read something that influences us, enriches us, rekindles thoughts within us, gives us something that we did not have, isn’t it fair to give back something to the world in return, some small portion of our lives that may someday enrich someone else? Why then does everyone not blog? Or at least write in some forum? Or opine in some way to the world?

People who travel should write about their travel, a lot of people who do not have the fortune to see the world through their words. People who are artistic should express their passion for their art, a lot of people (like me) without the instinctive flair on a canvas, on an instrument or some other place would love to know what it feels like to possess that talent. People who live extra-ordinary lives, people who do crazy things or even just interesting things, should write about those experiences. I am sure we all do something extra ordinary in our lives. Or think something that nobody else can imagine. Is it too much to just pen it down? Maybe nobody will ever read it. Maybe it will be forever engraved in the mind of your great grandson who never got to meet you. Maybe it will influence someone in some far away country (or planet, commercial interplanetary travel will be a reality in the next generation). We underestimate the power of words. We underestimate the interesting lives we all lead. We underestimate ourselves.

Saw this on my ex-CEO’s blog (who interestingly lives an interesting life and writes about it :) )
Earn respect not wealth; touch lives not gold; inspire confidence not fear; focus on people’s hearts not their ranks

Sunday, December 22, 2013

The Delicate NRI

A colorful Taxi ride home at Kolkata. Clicked with a Samsung S3 and an unsteady hand

Like most generalizations in the world, the ones about NRIs are also a bit unfounded. And sometimes wrong. I have bantered a bit about my dislike for stereotypes before on this blog, but they come back to haunt me again and again. So when I come back to India on vacations, I have to deal (and sometimes cater to) the image people have of what NRIs should be like. For the uninitiated NRI = Non Resident Indians, oft confused with ABCD where ABCD = American Born Confused Desis. Read Desi = of Indian origin (all equations for the benefit of my non-desi readers). It all starts with my colleagues who have to make arrangements when I am on official India trips. Out of their immense concern for me (which I completely appreciate, by the way) they make elaborate arrangements for pick-ups from the airport by a chauffeur with a placard. And when my wise chauffeur unwittingly abandons me at a petrol station in an unknown location in Delhi (not sure why everyone keeps asking "where was it exactly?", if I knew it wouldn’t be so much of an issue) for half an hour at 4am after a 25 hour flight and I freak out, it is "the delicate NRI" making a big fuss. And I wonder if I lived in India and was "the toughened resident Indian", if I would respond any differently. 

Or when the "toughened resident" friend has a puncture in the middle of Kolkata "Bypass" (read intercity), is not sure if the equipment to put the spare is in the boot, and panics.. and I take over the wheel, drive safely to a little known shady garage in the middle of nowhere and convince the mechanic to change the tires in the middle of the night, there is a lot of surprise about “Oh you can navigate the Indian system quiet well and you are know your way around shady areas and can convince mechanics!”. For ***** sake, I grew up in this country and lived a tough life in 5 cities, I can probably navigate my way around better and know more about those cities than a lot of people who have lived their entire lives there know. Given that it is a fast changing country and multiplexes have taken over nice cozy theaters and malls have become the norm, but believe you me, when you have a puncture on a highway and stop at a shady garage in the middle of the night, where the mechanic is indecisive about whether he should help you or take out a knife and rob you, the way you talk your way through  does not really change. And by the way, there should be a rule about not being allowed to drive unless you know how to change tires, and not being allowed to say "I am interested in cars" unless you know you should not be on third gear when you are hitting 60.

On the flip side, I do exemplify some of the common beliefs associated with NRIs, I am not used to all the noise - cars honking 24X7, vendors screaming, loudspeakers blaring music/political gyaan - anymore (Kolkata just drives me crazy, Bangalore and Delhi are a bit more sane), or the pollution (Kolkata again takes the first prize here). I stop for pedestrians when driving and fall ill when I eat roadside food (which btw does not stop me, who can resist golgappas), prefer mineral water while doing road trips in India and I get totally infuriated with people cutting queues (I am the irritating guy who will confront the culprit and ask him to get back in queue). But then again, some of my "resident" friends tell me they have the exact same opinions/experiences, so again, I am not so sure that I still adhere to the NRI stereotype. 

The people who never care about who is resident and who is non-resident is the family and extended family, I get the same amount of pampering and love as ever, NRI or not, and the love is directly proportional to the amount of food and sweets I am offered, my weight and "weak NRI stomach" not being limiting factors at all. Add to that no gym and no sports and being chauffeured around everywhere and you get a Merlin with a few extra pounds. Which needs to be burnt up very soon. Which is the New Year Resolution.

Oh yes, you guessed it right, I am in India for my annual India vacations! And if I am not back again to Blogosphere before 2014, here is wishing everyone a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!!

Thursday, November 28, 2013

A Bit More Around the World... in 14 days

A winter sunset captured as I land back in Stockholm after a 5 country, 3 continent, 2 week trip!
I give in. To writing about my travels. It is kinda hard to resist when that is all that seems to be happening in my life right now. I know I said that I abhor all those people who just travel around the world and then sit and write about it, almost as if to make other people jealous. But think about the fact that if that is all that is going on in their lives, they can either not write at all, or write about their travels.

To be honest I never feel like writing about the experiences, because words, in whatever permutations you put them in a sentence, will still fail to capture the wonders that you experience when traveling. I want to write about the people. And me being the talkative me that I am, I meet and interact with a lot of people when I travel.

This year, and to an extent this job, has made me travel a bit. London in the beginning of the year, India in Spring, Riga in summer, Nice and Monaco towards the end of this summer, Vienna in Autumn, and Brazil and India again now. Throw in the small stops made during transit, Qatar, Dubai, Istanbul. It provides for quite an interesting mix for one year. Compared to my resolution that I should travel to at least one new country every year, I managed 3 new countries, and a total of 7 countries traveled to, not counting the transits! 

But considering there was more business than leisure in these travels, for me it has been more about the people I met than the sightseeing. The environmentalist who was in São Paulo for a global environment seminar and talked about environmental norms in India and showed me pictures of birds and animals in Brazil, the professional brazilian kayaker (is that a word?) Pedro whose profession was to travel to different countries around the world to kayak down rivers, record videos, and send them back to the local Brazilian equivalent of Discovery channel (makes me feel "what kind of a boring profession am I in?). Or the old couple who looked 70+ and were traveling back from somewhere in Africa, struggling with switching on their mobile camera, whose independence at their age inspired me.. will I be independent, healthy and enthusiastic enough to travel to Africa after 70?

The person who made the most impact on me was the lady who was returning from Uganda with her newly adopted son. Travel is all about seeing new places, meeting new people and experiencing new cultures, but it is also about questioning your own beliefs about life. She made me wonder if I really believe in the purpose of my life. What I have spent my entire life trying to move away from... poverty, instability, slums, lack of safety... she has spent her life moving towards. She is a Pharmaceutical Sales Manager and a Yoga teacher, who dropped her regular life for a while to volunteer in Uganda where she got attached to an orphan 5 year old who lived amidst severe poverty, and decided to adopt him. And they seemed so perfectly happy with each other. Not to mention that it was sooo interesting to watch Kisule (the Ugandan-now-American boy) see ice for the first time in his Cola glass, and watch him see a plane land for the first time. Thinking about it, ice IS quite an interesting thing, it is transparent, slippery and tasteless, and numbs your hand if you hold it too long. And disappears and melts into water, I completely understand Kisule's amusement with the ice cubes.

For the rest, let me just give you some glimpses and narrate some things through the pictures:

The Brazil Hotel, if you stay in 5 hotels in 2 weeks, all the hotel rooms will be more of a blur...

... in case you need tips on where to stay for your Brazilian World Cup trip, you know whom to contact!

The exotic Brazilian food. After a point you stop asking what kind of meat it is. And if you are a vegetarian... well..

Caprihani and Cachaça are Brazil's gifts to the world. If you have not tried it, you have not lived

For a seasoned traveler, Wi-fi on board is not news. But being able to use your mobile phone for calls/texts IS news. Makes me think a lot of what happens if the exec next to me decides to go on a heated conference call during my peaceful flight.

The arid Sahara desert on my flight from Sao Paulo to Dubai. Cannot help but compare it with the picture of the Alps I took on my way to Cannes

A view of the snow-capped Alps on the way to Nice/Cannes. Needed to see this when I took the Sahara pic

Dubai in all it's splendor

Istanbul wares at the "Old Bazaar". And yes, that is authentic gold, in case you wondered

Bird's eye view of Istanbul

Some Istanbul collectables

A sunrise in India as I get off to an early start for work

Monday, July 1, 2013

Of Travel, Travel Blogs and Blogging

The Gloriette in all it's glory. Photographed by me June 2013, Vienna

I hate travel blogs. Nothing against travel writers really, I am sure it is the most fun profession ever. But travel blogs bring out the green monster in me; I get a teeny bit jealous, if you will. The logic is that I’d rather be doing it, or planning to do it, or not hearing about it. Which means I will read a travelogue if I am planning to go to that destination, it would be more of an information gathering exercise. Or if I want to alter my travel dream list in some way. But not otherwise. Don’t tell me about Haiti or Antarctica, it isn’t on my list, at least not yet. I know it is awesome and a lifetime experience and all that but still, I aint planning to go there yet, so don’t tell me about it.

This is also a reason I do not write much about my travels, I talk about travelling and my love for it, but I do not dedicate posts to places I have travelled. And I won’t start now. The maximum you will get are a few pictures, and that Venice was beautiful. I would probably like to repeat the trip given the short time I had there. Austrian culture fascinates me, it is something I have not explored before in spite of having been fascinated with Mozart and Freud. Not to forget Sissi, the popular 19th century Austrian empress who has been occupying my thoughts so much through the last weekend that it certainly makes it worth a second hike to all the other palaces she lived in. Venice certainly goes up on the list of “Must Go Again”.

And as I write this sitting in a plane (of an airlines crazily called FlyNiki, although I booked in Finnair, almost feel cheated, damn these weird airline partnerships) as I approach the city I call home, Stockholm, I wonder how this trip has served it’s purpose. It has helped me unwind, and leave behind all that needs to be left behind. It has helped me sort things out in my head, about people who matter, about people who have stuck around versus people who have chosen to leave. It is ultimately not about fascination and passion, it is not about the intensity of feelings and experiences, it is about those who stick around. Friends, family, lovers.. the ones that need to be valued are the ones who have stuck by you. It has been quite a realization while walking through the castles and listening to fascinating tales of power, lust, love and betrayal in the royal families in the years gone by! Times change. Emotions don’t.

I was reminded recently by someone who claimed to be my “sole” reader that I don’t have much of a following. The conclusion was reached by observing the lack of comments on recent posts in Merlins World. I referred the person in question to some posts where I hotly debate about how anonymity and limited readership keep the integrity of the writer, and popularity and fame eventually and unknowingly make the writer… pardon my language, a whore (more here). You can deny it all you like, but that is how it has been with all bloggers that I have observed the last few years in blogosphere. An interesting flair with the pen, controversial topics, a sense of humor or sometimes just a pretty face gets them noticed. Active bonding, commenting and following other blogs, coupled with the “chain” phenomenon in blogosphere propels them to a celebrity status. And losing touch with their inner thoughts when they write, whoring with their words or sometimes just losing interest in writing is what leads to their decline. Writing is a passion, it has to come from within. It has to reflect one’s line of thoughts, one’s personality, one’s style, it simply cannot be pimped. And so I am happy that my limited (read zero) readership allows me to write any amount of crap that I want, without any kind of pressure to erm.. perform.

Do I miss the times when I had a regular  bunch of followers and a kind of a mini social circle within blogosphere, people I intellectually connected with, people I had conversations with in the comments section? Of course I do. Sometimes I go through my old posts and my eye wanders to the comments and I remember all the blogmates I bonded so well with, and I go back to their blogs. But with time most of them have stopped blogging. Some were never that passionate, it was just a fad. Some became extremely irregular, like me, making guest appearances once in a while. Some moved on to busier lives. Some got married. Some had kids. Some, well, just had better things to do. Some are still around and going full steam (hats off to the stalwarts) but have given up on me because I am so infrequent. Some are forced followers. People I force feed my posts to. People whose opinions matter. People who can say “Merlin, sometimes you write shit, I hope you do give up soon” and I can throw my head back and laugh. Well, poor souls continue to follow the blog, they of course won’t ever comment. They have given up on me too, in a way. Given up on trying to make me give up.

All I can say is, it is good to be back. I know I have gone through some turbulent times, and blogging has suffered. But like always, I hope I will be around more often. And continue to explore myself and be honest to myself through the blog. And I hope the readership continues to be limited ;).

Traveling on the train from Wien Mitte to Schönbrunn, this musician got up and started playing this song on his Accordion... and it instantly reminded me of this song, which incidentally, was shot in Prague, another one of my favorite cities.... signing off with this song... and this picture of Schönbrunn Castle
Schönbrunn Castle and a bit of Vienna city from atop the Gloriette. Photographed by me June 2013, Vienna