Friday, July 23, 2010

An ode to my Bulgarian friend...

Someone told me that one should blog about ones most irritating habits. There are two benefits, One - you experience a lot of “self-realization” about how irritating you can be. Two – you might be enlightening some other soul who didn’t know that it was an irritating habit. So I have always tried to talk about my irritating habits in order to get rid of them. But some of them stay, it tough to get rid of them. Like this habit of me pinging/calling people when I am upset, telling them that I am upset and then not telling them the reasons. It gets on peoples nerves. But I have logic for this, if I am sad about something, talking about it, and re-iterating the facts because of which I am upset will only make it worse. So instead of satisfying my friends curiosity about the reasons, I try to focus the energies of everyone to more productive usage of trying to cheer me up.

Recently, I was extremely upset about one of those random things I get upset about. And I was talking to one of my oldest buddies. And as usual when asked, “How are you?” I said “I am ok” and then thought I shouldn’t be lying and said “I am not ok, but its just one of those things, it shall pass and I will be ok again soon”. And my buddy very sweetly said “You know you can talk about it if you want to”. And we continued talking about her most hectic schedule at the financial company where she works. Just when I thought that she has probably forgotten that I am not very “ok” she again said “You do know that you can talk about what is bothering you” and I once again said “No, its ok, I will be fine in some time, its one of those passing things”. And she didn’t say anything, she just sent me the link to this song. I was a bit surprised, it happens to be one of my favourite songs of all time. And it did the trick, I smiled and for some time forgot all about why I was upset.

Metallica - Nothing Else Matters

And so I thought I should tell you about this interesting friend of mine.

The friend I talk about is one of the people I have known for the longest amount of time, who has seen me through thick and thin, and stood by me through some of the roughest times in my life. She has laughed with me and cried with me, advised me on some really strange dilemmas and sometimes just been a person whom I could talk to for hours when I was alone in a strange city, sometimes strange country where I had nobody to talk to. Someone who has never really expected anything from me, but has given me unconditional support and has undying faith of my capabilities, telling me “You’re the best” at times when I have been really low on confidence. And now here is the shocker, I have never met this friend in real life. For all of you who have laughed at online friendships, for all those of you who have thought that “penpal-ship” and virtual friendships was one of those crazy teenage things, this will probably shut you up for some time, because this is a net friend that I talk about, whom I have now known for close to (or perhaps more than) ten years of my life and never met. When I first talked to her she lived not only in a different city, but in a different country in a different continent. And in spite of knowing that there would be very little chance of us meeting, we became very good friends.

Life sometimes turns out to be stranger than fiction. In my teen years, I was very fascinated about knowing people from different countries. So I embarked on pen friendships through some school programmes and had quite a few pen friends. But considering international snail mail was not the cheapest, the friendships were limited to one letter in maybe 3 or 4 months. And then the internet arrived. I got onto the bandwagon pretty young (little did I know that computers would become my profession and life later on) and was very soon hooked to all things that were on the internet. This of course included my desire to know people from across different countries and continents. I made a lot of friends including a very sweet girl from Bulgaria who knew very little English and was in a chat room to be able to learn the language as she dreamt of travelling to the US. You would think that it might be slightly difficult to converse with a person with very limited knowledge of the language, however it was not so. The blabbermouth that I am, I used to talk and this girl used to decipher me with a dictionary. And this continued, till she, along with help from her teachers at school and other sources learnt the language. There was no concept of blogs, but I remember writing these long memoirs to my friends in long never ending e-mails, which would drive them nuts. My Bulgarian friend also happened to be on the mailing lists, and I remember her telling me that she found my writing very engrossing and touching. I was surprised and I asked her how she could find it engrossing when she hardly knew the language and I still remember her exact words “The language is just the means to convey the thought, and I understand the thought, even if I do not completely understand the language”. Back in India I had limited exposure to how global cultures work, and I was surprised when my Bulgarian friend once told me that she had shown my writing to her English teacher, and her English teacher had immediately said that this is not an American person, it has to be someone British or Indian, because American English does not have such impeccable grammar. And hence I had learnt the nuances of American English vs British English.

Well, my Bulgarian friend did manage to master the English language, went to the United States for a short period, came back to Bulgaria, completed her studies, and being the ambitious and intelligent girl she is, bagged an awesome job at one of the top financial companies. She is in one of those extremely hectic phases of life, where she continues to juggle her studies (she is pursuing higher education) and a very demanding job, and she hardly gets time to talk. But we manage to stay in touch. I never thought that I will end up in Europe but here I am, and we keep talking of meeting up sometime, but it hasn’t happened yet. However after 10 years of being friends, meeting up seems to be just another trivial detail which doesn’t make much of a difference. As I say often, maybe we will meet up along with our grand kids someday 20 years down the line. Till then I will be happy to have her sending the “Nothing Else Matters” link when I seem to be upset without telling her the reasons why.

Monday, July 12, 2010

The Princess and Merlin

Firstly, no thats NOT me with the princess. I know post headers can be misleading. Thats the crown princess Victoria with her newly acquired husband Daniel Westling. This post is named as it is because this POST talks about 1. the princess and 2. the name Merlin :P And I look much better than the guy :)

I have this bad habit of blogging about events and happenings ages after it has happened. Now don’t give me that sour look, I know I would have fared miserably in a tabloid or newspaper. Which actually makes me wonder, did I really want to become a journalist/TV anchor/theater actor at some stage in life? ROFL. Look at the geeky me now. I don’t think I’d have done justice reporting about stuff ages after it happened just because, well I was lazy.

So the event that I ponder upon now happened last month. Crown Princess, HRH Victoria got married. I know, its not a big deal for most of you guys, but I was certainly excited. I’ve never really witnessed a royal wedding before. Nope, I wasn’t in the church, the princess did invite me personally a number of times to attend the wedding, but you know how lazy I can be, so I just chose to watch it on TV :). And she was totally adorable! She was not the usual uptight, up-in-the-air royal you usually see. She was totally excited throughout, nudged and shoulder pushed the groom a number of times during the archbishops never-ending monologue, winked at him when the priest said “you should have eyes only for each other” and squeezed his hand when the choir sang some romantic songs. She seemed more the young-girl-in-love-and-excited-about-getting-married than a crown princess tying the knot. She also insisted on having her father “giving her away” which caused quite an uproar in Sweden for a month, as the Swedish church thought it was a very sexist thing, well, to me it was much ado about nothing. She also wore a very modern, sophisticated and simple wedding gown, not the usual glamorous stuff you’d expect royalty to wear. Well what can I say, I have this thing for down-to-earth celebrities and I thought she is a very adorable crown princess!

I know that there has been talk about the kind of money being spent on royals, and on royal occasions like the weddings. Well, if you dig down deeper into the kind of value that royal ambassadors like Victoria add, it may justify some, yes only some of their cost. Victoria actively takes part in various social, political and charity oriented agendas on behalf of her father, the King of Sweden and the state of Sweden. Having studied at Université Catholique de l'Ouest in Paris and Yale, Connecticut, she is extremely well educated, smart, intelligent and has a very wide knowledge of international issues and concerns. She tours Sweden often, and lends an ear to the troubles that people have, in Sweden and internationally, working incessantly as an ambassador for the country. She has worked to promote Swedish tourism, design, music, environmental sustainability, and gastronomy in a number of countries, visited Bangladesh and Sri Lanka to help out with aid work during the Tsunami. Looking at her track record, unlike most young royals, she has kept away from any major scandal or controversy, except the media created ones like her “giving away” ceremony and her “marriage to a commoner” which I think is going a bit overboard. Well, I think shes adding more value than some of the politicians and “ambassadors” in India and Sweden on whom we are “spending” more money on, and who are doing much less for the nation. I also think we need smart young people like her who have fresh views and opinions, and even as a figurehead can take their responsibilities very seriously. I am a tax payer in Sweden, and at 40%, its not a meager amount. But I understand if a country wants to spend on preserving something that it considers a heritage, royalty to me is as much of heritage as any heritage building or artifacts that a country might have. But of course, that is my opinion, its more of an outsiders perspective, I don’t even have the emotional or patriotic attachment a Swede might have towards their royalty. And as for the discussion about spending money more productively towards removing poverty etc, well, we can have that discussion for everything the government does. And some of them are more relevant, like, can they stop buying arms and manufacturing arms and spend that money to removing poverty (believe me the money spent on arms must be 10 times that spent on a royal family)? No I am not a social activist, nor a social commentator, actually I’m quite a self centered guy, so I cannot comment on that kinda stuff, but its just something I wonder about. There are more important issues to bother about than money spent on royalty, who happen to be the pride and heritage of the nation.

Too many serious topics on my blog drive me nuts. So here is something that I have been reading about, and wondering about, and its kinda funny.

So there is this absolutely insanely popular celebrity blogger who has been writing about how insane it is to have anonymous names on blogs, exactly like mine. Urm, there is no direct offense, but of course you do get the drift. Its hilarious actually, to think of the people you know in real life having those absurdly weird pseudo names, like Emotional Atyachar, Lady In Love and Chocolate Kink. Erm... to think of it some of my more serious boardroom colleagues will have quite a laugh on Merlin as well. But I need to remind this insanely popular blog celebrity of a few things that differentiate more mortal souls from the likes of celebrity bloggers who use their own names:
  • Anonymous blogging gives me HUGE advantage of expressing my opinion without having to bother about what will be acceptable for me to say in a social circle. In the blogging circle that I maintain everything is acceptable!
  • I work in an industry where our online presence can be tracked and I don’t want my acquaintances to read about my personal life and opinions.
  • I also happen to be the face of my company towards a lot of outsiders, and when I blog about professional topics, I don’t want my views to be confused with my company’s opinions.
  • I know that using ones own name brings a lot of known people to ones blog, family, friends, acquaintances, colleagues and some unwanted people as well, which in turn makes one very conscious about what they write. I want to write without thinking what the “people” will think.

No, I still cant justify why I have a somewhat “fantasy” name. It’s a very old pseudo name I was given, one of the many. The others are more ridiculous. And I have always been a bit of a “fantasy” guy, the sorts who was always interested in Harry Potter, Merlin, magic and the type. Laugh if you will, but that’s the other side of me which most serious people at work don’t get to see :).

So Merlin it will be. As long as I have the ability to write without thinking about what the “others” will think, I don’t care how ridiculous the name is. And you know how much of a Shakespeare junkie I am, and well, you know what Shakespeare had to say about names. For those who know me, well.. you know me and the name doesn’t matter. For those who don’t, well.. keep guessing :P.

Ciao and more later!

Photo courtesy: My good friend AC who took great pains to get a position to be able to capture this pose, sorry I flicked it from your Orkut :)

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Itz my birfday.. again!

is mah birfday where r caek, dammit!?
Picture reference: Lolcats

Yes, “again” because it’s the second time on the blog. The first time I wrote all about the kinda stuff I do and don’t do on my birfday, and then went about giving the link of that post to everyone who’d look at me ridiculously and say “But why the **** wont you tell us your birth date?!!” till the point where they couldn’t look at that lolcat pic anymore. I shall spare you the agony of repeating myself about my birthday dos and donts. And its boring to tell you what happened on my birthday because the point of it all is that nothing much happens anyway. But just for the record I like putting it up here that it was my birfday sometime back. And btw, stop asking me the date. Everyone has his “weirdities”, being secretive about my birth date is mine. At least you know I am a cancerian :).

Some people wished me and some people didn’t. Like always. There were some new ones who persevered in their attempts to find out my birfday (background applause) and some old ones who forgot it and then tried a comeback after my tongue-in-cheek FB status “Thanks guys for your wishes”. Yes I know, I am mean. But let me have my fun, for heavens sake, on my birfday at least. I anyway think there is too much importance being given to birthdays. I wouldn’t care, except for the fact that I like the gifts. Which, btw, reminds me that you haven’t given me one. Yeah, I told you I am mean :). Did I hear someone ask what the best gifts were? The best one was the Georgio Armani perfume, I honestly haven’t worn anything that expensive in my life, thanks a tonne to you-know-who. And Iya, thanks for the flowers which you ordered sitting in another continent!

So now that I have managed to tell you a lot about my birfday in spite of telling you I wouldn’t tell you anything, I shall reiterate my promise that you will find more of me on blogosphere nowadays. In spite of all the ardent speculations and disbelief about my proclamations of being here more often. It has been hot like crazy, I guess I had gotten used to the mild pleasant summers of Sweden. My Swedish friends look at me shock when I tell them that its hot, and I am like “Give me a break guys, just because I have lived in the 45 + degrees in Delhi and Nagpur does not mean that I wont feel warm in 30 degrees”

Things seemed to have calmed down at work mostly because its vacation time in Sweden. Some things are in the pipeline, like I am a part of a team that is designing a course for Stockholm University, will also be conducting the course with some colleagues in Spring 2011. Am also in touch with some professors from Stockholm University, have promised to “collaborate” with them by delivering some guest lectures in their courses. But the thing I was most surprised about was being invited as guest speaker for a conference being hosted by one of the Swedish organizations within my company. Its one of those fancy ones where the organization takes everyone on an exotic cruise and conducts sessions and seminars. I am of course honoured, but at the same time a bit hesitant. It is one thing to talk in front of students, that I have done and will do without batting an eyelid, its easy to talk about something you have done for a living for the past 6 years and are passionate about to people who don’t have the slightest clue about it. It is quite a different ball game however to talk about the same thing to people who have been in the industry for double the number of years, have very strong opinions about it, and are probably going to be asking questions which will really make one think. However I am taking on the challenge, and still think it is an honour to be invited as a guest speaker!

For those of you who are wondering how such boring things rock my boat, you need to understand the geek aspect of my personality. I have a tendency to be nerdy, and I am pretty unapologetic about it. I can surprise you more by saying at some point at the dusk of my life I plan to shift from the corporate to the academic life, which is not a choice made very often, and certainly not a choice pondered upon by people my age.

Which actually brings me to my age, and how relative it is. I like interacting with the “young” generation, thanks to my younger cousins and friends, and it is hilarious being looked upon as “old” by them. Amongst the innumerable disadvantages of working in an environment where nearly everyone is at least 10 years older to you, one of the very few advantages is that it always makes you feel really young. So all those homies who’ve been taking the cracks at me for getting old-er, guys give me a break, everyone around me is at least 10 years older, I feel like an infant. So spare me the “you’re nearly 30” lines, they really have no effect on me :P.

I’ll be up and around devouring my daily round of blogs, so long for now!

Friday, July 9, 2010

Accents: The Toggle Theory

I think I may have written a bit about accents and attitudes before. Its just too bad that I didn’t start the blog when I was still back in India. I think the opinions I had about NRI accents and attitudes back in India were strong enough not to be published in any public place. The opinions bordered between hopelessness and a “ewwww” feeling. However they might have changed now :).

For the benefit of my European/American friends (no I am not biased but I don’t have any Australian or African readership :P) NRI stands for Non Resident Indian, there are some snide takes on the acronym, but lets not go there. It is basically one of those breed of Indians who have optionally decided to settle abroad in a foreign country, for various reasons, technically Indian citizens who live and work outside India for 10 months or more in a yer. The percentage of NRIs might be small, but with a population of more than a billion people in the country, believe me the numbers are not negligible. As one of my Iranian friends was telling me, when she got down at Heathrow airport, she could hardly spot a single Englishman. There were way more brown/black faces than white ones. Yes, and you thought that it was England that had colonized India back in history. Well, whatever, so there is this breed of people called NRIs. Now why are they different? Because they happen to have adopted the attitudes, thinking and sometimes.. err.. accents of their newly adopted country. I pause before I say accent because that one is a sensitive spot for all Indians.

For those of you who have had any interest in accents, you must have seen/heard the Indian/Canadian comedian Russell Peters and his numerous jokes on the topic. Well, for those of you who haven’t, you must have noticed that the Indian accent doesn’t exactly make the girls drool and the hearts beat faster. Well, it might be good for a lot of other things, but in Russell Peters words “it wont exactly get you laid”. However in spite of all this, Indians are very particular about their accent. Just like there is no typical Indian guy, so also there is no typical Indian accent. It’s a big country of a billion people for heavens sake, the accent varies across the regions. There are around 26 states, and I think I can safely say that there are AT LEAST 26 accents. However the underlying rules do not change. The Ts and the Ds have a distinctive “hard” sound, with a lot of stress. The Rs are not rolled, the “I”s are not ignored, in fact they are stressed upon. Sometimes the “s” sound takes on a “j” or a “sh” sound, hence “it is the truth” becomes “eet eej the T(stress)ruth”. No don’t get me wrong, I am not making fun of anyone here, I am just stating facts. And that my friends, is the Indian accent for you.

Why are Indians sensitive about their most exotic accent? Maybe because it is exotic, or maybe because, like every other race/nationality, that is the identifying feature. However, I can tell you one thing, if you happen to look like an Indian, brown skin, dark eyes, black hair, and do not have the typical Indian accent, you will not be taken very nicely by the Indian “junta”. Which is a condition which most NRIs suffer from. After having faced numerous situations where I was victimized and traumatized for having a “non-desi” accent where I pronounce S as S and not J or Sh, I finally found the perfect solution. A toggle. Yes you got it right, an option to toggle between the two accents. It works almost exactly like when you want to have two operating systems, and you keep an option on the login screen about which OS you want to log into. Just like that, an accent toggle. So in the beginning before entering a conference call, Id pause and think which accent should I “log in” with, and then after a point it came naturally. The only problem is, as you might have already guessed, when the audience is mixed. Well, I just go by the majority.

Needless to say my colleagues find it extremely amusing, some even find it hilarious. But it serves the purpose. It is amazing how an accent can give you an acceptance into a group. The moment I start hardening my Ts and Ds, there is a sudden transformation in the attitudes of my Indian colleagues, suddenly I am their Desi Manager. With Europeans, well it is more a cause for being comprehensible than being acceptable, other than the genius ones who have now given in to adapting to the Indian accent (you cannot be in IT and not adapt to the Indian accent). I am currently working on further toggles between the South Indian accent, the Punjabi (Delhi) accent and the amazingly wonderful Bengali accent (my teams work out of Bangalore, Kolkata and some friends are in Gurgaon). I strongly believe that “The Toggle” philosophy is the next big thing in International Business, I am thinking of approaching Stockholm University to understand if I should write a white paper on the topic :).

As promised, I am more here than I used to be. Ok stop cribbing, this IS more. Accept it :). I am a busy guy, but hopefully from next week I will have much more free time. So you will see more more of me :).


In case you didnt catch the Russell Peters fever, here is something for you:

Picture reference:

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Summer and the Archipelago

Ever had the experience where you keep writing incomplete posts for the blog, and then read it later and don’t feel like publishing it? Till the point where you have a list of half written posts and not one published for the last few weeks! Well I’ve been there a few times before and I am there now.
So this is going to be short and hopefully this is going to be published!

I am slowly getting into the Swedish mould of things. Slog like crazy in the winter with a morose mindset and have a blast in the summer. Nah, work never really slows down, except for the one month in July when everyone, every single swede, shuts shop and disappears to some exotic far-off beach in Asia. Really strange, I say. Sweden is the most beautiful place in July. And so when people ask me “So where are you going in Summer”, I invariably reply, usually greeted by surprise “I am staying right here, for heavens sake, why should I miss the most beautiful weather of Sweden?” But then that’s me, the non-Swede. If you want to get in touch with any Swede in July, please try calling the beaches of Malaysia, Thailand and Mauritius. :)

For a change I’ve been exploring the Swedish archipelago. I know, I know, I should have done this ages back, its my third year in Sweden. But what the hell, I was busy exploring Europe. But this place is HEAVEN! I am doing the hit-palm-on-forehead right now, for missing out such beautiful places which are a couple of hours boat ride from my place. Totally ridiculous. But this is all thanks to my dear Swedish friend J. Thanks J for the awesome tip AND the awesome company!!

You’ll be seeing a lot more of me in July, I’m gonna catch up on a lot of things, blogging included. So heres some of Sweden, you know whom you need to get in touch with if you want to be in Heaven :)!!

Love the clear water and the green algae... the weather was hot, but the water was pretty cold!

Love the sparkle! And my camera, which can capture it!

Our lunch stop at Grinda... lunch with a view :)

If I ever buy a boat, it would look like this :)

Stop laughing at the blurred out face, this is an anonymous blog, I HAD to blur out the face :P

Lunch stop at Vaxholm - fancy Italian joint

Cruise ship to Riga, making its way through the Archipelago

One of the larger islands on the Archipelago

Our cruise ship winding its way through the Archipelago on the way to Riga