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

Sunday, June 23, 2013

The Only Constant

Pic: Panaromic view from the balcony of my new apartment. Taken June 2013 by me.

Change. It has been the underlying theme in my blog. If you have cared to follow it since it's beginning. Which, if you are reading this post, I am sure you haven't. Because just like most things in my life, my followers also...well.... change. And I am not just talking about the blog.

Someone recently asked me what I blog about. And it seemed a bit narcissistic when I said "Me". But as bad as it may sound, it is true, I blog about me. To quote an ex-friend, if I was a reader of my blog instead of the author, I would never have read me. But thankfully I am the author, so I am bereft of the torture you have to go through.

Amidst all the massive change that continues to hit me and knock me off my feet, I am still living life to the fullest. Still believing in what I said two posts back "Life begins at the end of your comfort zone". Living by that philosophy every minute of every day for the last few months. I am sure you too are often met by the greeting "What's new?". I am sure that most of you don't have much to answer to that. Well, one of the luxuries of my life is that I can almost spend a day elaborating on that one answer. New job, new boss, new office, new clients, new field of work, new role, new reportees... new laptop, new phone, new visiting card and a new suit... new apartment, new furniture, new friends, new social life, new gym, new irregular workout schedule. So never.. never ask Merlin what is new, unless you want to spend the rest of the day listening to his answer!

Life has been a bit centered around the job. With the new job I stopped working my regular 10 to 5 which had gotten kinda boring, almost close to the dreaded comfort zone, and started working 8 to 12... 12am by the way. I was leading the largest deal I have ever worked on, in a new company, in a new domain with a new client. Which is as far from your comfort zone as you can get. But that is where I derive my kicks in life, I am weird that way. If I win this one, I would have hopefully established my presence in the new firm. And would have proven myself to... well... myself. Which for me is the most important thing right now. 

Life has also been centered around getting the newly acquired Stockholm apartment furnished in the right way. It is the on the 9th floor with a breathtaking view, it would be a crime not to furnish it nicely. In Sweden, one has to assemble all the furniture oneself, which, if you think of it as a jigsaw puzzle, might seem fun if it was not your own furniture. Some pictures of the progress below... although a lot of work still needs to get done.

Thankfully for me, some things do not change. My thirst for traveling is as how it has always been, albeit a bit ignored due to the changes. I shall keep my promise of sticking to the reduced run rate of exploring at least one new country every year. Hence booked a weekend getaway to Vienna, I am hoping it will help me unwind. Parents will be here in July, I somehow feel this gushing happy feeling that they manage to make a trip to Sweden almost every year, I am not sure if I would do that for my kid living in some far off godforsaken country above the arctic circle (if I was in good-old-India). That is why the whole concept of having kids and sacrificing so much for them still eludes me. I guess you gotta do it to feel it.

Amongst the other things that have changed, are also some parts of my life I would rather not had change. But then, you win some, you lose some. And I do believe all the cliché stuff that whatever happens, happens for the best. So I guess I will survive. What doesn't kill you only makes you stronger. Darn... I am slowly becoming Mr. Cliché wimp. Okay, okay I will stop now. Like every time I write a post which sees the light of day, I am promising in my mind that I will write more often. Maybe that is another "change" that is coming your way! :)

Living room by night. I got new curtains, but will put up updated pics later

Living room by day. When you live in Sweden, light is a prized commodity!

For someone who likes cooking, kitchens are one of the most important places in the apartment

Travel Diaries on the Fridge

That is a 55 inch smart monster with 3D and all the other hoopla. 
The boxes are the latest version of the Wireless Sony Surround 5.1

Sunsets are amazing from the living room... everyday!!

Monday, March 4, 2013

The Milestone Blogger

Pic: Clicked by me on the way to Hohenzollern Castle, Germany, March 2012
I have gone from being a regular blogger, to a non-regular blogger to what I call a "milestone" blogger. A stage where you do not really care about what your write, when you write, who reads your blog and who doesn't. 'Coz admit it, nobody reads the blog of a milestone blogger.

For me now it is just a journal. A journal of events. A memoir of the journey, the journey of life. The minutes of a meeting. The notes that I make at each milestone. That is it I think.. these are the milestones in my life. Need not necessarily be characterized by big events, but the smaller milestones, I like talking about them. Hoping that someday I will turn back and read them, and smile to myself. I keep getting inspired/impacted by the small things people say. Recently I pondered a lot on something one of the guys I admire most in the corporate world (let us call him AK) told me. AK said he was never really close to his father, who used to be the General Manager in a company, quite the busy man. But years after he grew up, post his father's retirement, he got access to his father's diary. And felt that he got to know his father through those pages. And somewhere in his mind he could join the dots through his fathers scattered thoughts on life. And learn some things from the lessons learned which his father spoke about in those pages. So yes, you guessed it right, I like imagining that some generation after me would someday read my blog and be able to join the dots. 

So coming back to the milestones. Believe me, I had no clue about what I was talking about the last time I scribbled "Life begins at the end of your comfort zone". I was just in love with the idea, it remained my gtalk status for quite a few weeks. But I repeat, I had NO clue what I was talking about. Yes it does seem fancy. I did like fantasizing about the heroic deeds of people who went out of their comfort zone and did crazy stuff. But hey, in real life, it sucks..... big time. No, I am not saying that it is bad, or that it is not thrilling, if I could rewind life and go back, I think I would still do all the things I did all over again. But it sucks, at least for the first few months. It is a painful process. Not advisable for people who do not like change. Who like familiarity. Who love their known environment. And since my last post I have been in utter pain, going through the process commonly known as "change".

Me being the narcissist that I am, I like drawing a similarity to an imaginary situation that would arise if you left Shah Rukh Khan in some settlement in northern Sweden. Nobody would recognize him as a celebrity, he would just be another Indian there, and would probably have to strive to make a living and be recognized and appreciated in some way other than his face and name. For me it was a similar feeling, going from being quite the "rising star" at IBM (oh I now have the privilege of revealing the company I worked for!) who was recognized as a force to reckon with by clients, subordinates and superiors alike, to "the new guy" who is grappling with the new acronyms in the organization. A nasty nasty feeling I tell you. It kinda threatens to kill your confidence completely. And I escaped by a whisker, just being able to rescue my self respect and confidence. Which is the thrill really, something that will certainly not happen to you in your comfort zone.

I probably sound a bit demented, but this is kinda tough to explain to someone who hasn't been there. So let me be a bit straight, the transformation was a tough one, but I have been able to keep my head above the water... and I think I will survive. And oh yeah, life is certainly more thrilling and more exciting, it is like jumping from the safety of your dry boat back into the ocean, and swimming away to whatever life holds in store for you. I do terribly terribly miss flashing my IBM visiting card at the client reception desk and getting that look of recognition, but it is absolutely exciting trying to make a mark without a fancy logo, and success in every deal is somehow more personal and if I may, also slightly sweeter, than before. I am on the verge of tasting my first big win, and I will keep you posted. In short, the ride just got more interesting.

Am I talking too much about work? Well, it has kind of completely occupied my mind lately. In other news, I have managed to buy an apartment in Stockholm. It is my second, after the one I bought in Bangalore, and it is smaller and more modest than the fancy Bangalore one. The bidding process was a bit too fast for comfort. I just thought i went to see an apartment to check out the process, but before I knew it, I somehow was owning one in the next 48 hours. The story is too bizarre to write about, the strangest fact is that the Swedes think that it is just normal to sign contracts for the biggest decisions in your life within 48 hours. Well, anyway, it is on the 9th floor and it has an amazing view, and I love the kitchen, which I have realized, strangely, is the favorite part of any place I live in. And I have the HUGE task of furnishing it, from scratch. Someone recently remarked on my sudden heightened interest in furniture designs "Tumi shonshari hoe gaecho" which amused me no end. I have quite the opposite image of myself in my mind.

Winter is almost coming to an end. The temperature remained above zero for a week, to the glee of most Stockholm residents. I travel more in my job now, plans to go on business trips to Delhi and Singapore in the coming months, also plan to cover Brazil sometime this year. I have no clue what this year holds for me, which is what excites me no end.

Till the next milestone comes... so long!