Friday, October 31, 2014

Ana-Maria, the woman in orange

Ana-Maria. Isn't that a beautiful name? Formed by joining two commonly used names, the two of them can exist independently but when concatenated form a more beautiful bond. I heard this name for the first time a decade ago. The Romanian software programmer, with flowing black hair, raised the levels of enthusiasm in the team to get the work done the fastest possible way. I was amused by the Ana-Maria effect. Years later, I came across another Ana-Maria when I was strolling the quiet streets of London a week back. I didn't know her name was Ana-Maria initially. But like the earlier Ana-Maria, this one too left an impression.

This Ana-Maria did not have flowing black hair. She had auburn hair. But it was not the hair that caught my attention. It was the color orange. She had a scarf and shoes which were orange in color. She was dressed formally. While I was walking the streets in lazy pace, she whizzed past my side suddenly emerging from back out of nowhere. She was not running, but she was in a hurry. When such things happen, you tend to admire the only view you have. But in this instance, the orange color was drawing my attention to her scarf and shoes. Since the time I took up camera, I have begun to like these colors. Give me red, pink, yellow, or orange any day. When you are photographing a person in a crowd, these colors are striking.

I still didn't know her name. But since she was walking in the same direction as I was going, I looked at her shoes and also her scarf. Scarf is an attractive accessory. When you don't see the face, scarf drives your imagination and paints a picture of the person in your mind. In this case, she had draped the scarf elegantly on her neck making her graceful and beautiful in my mind. While I was admiring her, a little girl and a man both dressed formally shot past me from my back. They were trotting after the woman in orange. In the midst of hurrying to catch up with her, the man was softly calling out her name. Ana-Maria...Ana-Maria. Very soon, they were able to catch up with her. With great efforts, I averted my gaze while the trio had a private argument in a public place.

Although I summoned up all the reserves of energy, I couldn't help stealing occasional glances at Ana-Maria and presumably her family while passing. Ana-Maria was on the verge of sobbing but demanding in whispers when she was not trying to suppress the anger and hurt  from escaping from her body. Her husband was intently listening but poised to put forward his point once Ana-Maria has finished. Her daughter was watching her not taking sides and isolating her dad or mom but while empathizing with both of them. As a family, there were handling it well. How many of us can do that?

Tags: Musings,London,Woman,Orange

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Big cities have quiet spots

What is the first thing coming to your mind when you hear the word city? Too many people? Busy pace of life? What do you find while browsing through the images when you are planning a visit to one of the big cities of the world? Crowded spaces! Despite the crowded spaces, a big city can make you feel lonely. As everyone is busy in their pursuit of happiness, a man or a woman becomes an island and eventually lonesome. It is an interesting philosophical statement. Strange as you might find it. The big cities can make you lonely not only because everyone is busy but also due to the quiet streets in the middle of the concrete jungle where you can hear a pin drop.

I love big cities not only because of the busy pace but because of different-as-chalk-and-cheese experiences. I was in London a week back. London is a big city, crowded but still secluded. During my exploration, I stumbled into a deserted street. The streets were lined up with office buildings and apartments, but there was not even a soul on the streets. It was an amusing contrast for me. Here I was in the middle of a crowd and two minutes later, I am walking through a street where there is absolute silence. Two minutes earlier, I would not have imagined the noise around me would dissipate thereby making straining my ears to listen to signs of life.

In a big city, you might come across a deserted street emerging from a busy street. For instance, take Trafalgar Square. You can cut across to the Mall from Trafalgar Square through a busy street or through a couple of small deserted streets. To imagine we left a busy square to enter a street with not a soul in sight is difficult to fathom. Sometimes you find lovers tucked away in these streets. Most of the time, a big city does not give you privacy when passions rises up. So you are forced to create an island ignoring the world. When you are lucky, it gives small islands of refuge.

It is not true that big cities can't give you a quiet spot where you can relax and organize your thoughts. If you differ, then you haven't looked hard enough in the city. What I suggest for you is to take a series of right turns or left turns or combination of both from the main street. You will come across a quiet street. Before you leave, please  make sure you have a GPS enabled mobile or even a small map with you.

Tags: Musings,London,Streets,Silence

Thursday, October 23, 2014

St Paul's Cathedral, my sacred heart of London

Have you looked at St Paul's Cathedral from the Millennium Bridge? When you are the standing at the Tate's end of the Millennium bridge, you see the dome of the cathedral rising up into the sky. The dome is what makes this view unique. Right towards the lower edge of the frame created by your naked eye, there is a sea of people crossing the bridge. The dome and the human sea together makes this view unique and breathtaking.

The dome of St Paul's cathedral is a light show in itself. Depending on the mood of the sun, the dome displays different colors. This phenomenon makes the dome more interesting and exciting. Similar to putting hand into the cookie jar without knowing what cookie you may end up with, you will see a different color every visit. When you travel in Europe, cathedrals and domes are a familiar sight. Have you noticed dome is a significant feature in both Christian and Muslim places of worship? It is easy to differentiate between the domes (Christian versus Muslim) the way it is constructed.

For me, the sight of the dome from Millennium bridge represents a different thing. Have you climbed the small hill in Parc de Buttes-Chaumont? If you have climbed on top of that small hill, you will get a view of Sacre Coeur from there. The sun, if he likes you on that particular day, will play his magic on the domes of Sacre Coeur giving you a look that is equally breathtaking. The view of St Paul's from Millennium Bridge reminds me that St Paul's is my Sacre Coeur in London.


Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Your reputation precedes you

"I have heard about you." It is a fairly common statement. Consider the scenario. On a day at work, you meet a colleague. You extend your hands for a firm handshake and introduce yourself. The other person states his name. At this point, you realize the name had cropped up in a casual or a serious conversation. You decide to share this information with the other person. After your revelation, what is the other person's reaction? Is that person surprised, puzzled or uneasy? What would have been your reaction if the roles were reversed?

Yesterday, I was in a similar situation. I met a colleague for the first time. As soon as the introductions were over, I blurted out the truth. I have heard about this person before. I carefully chose the word "blurted" for I regretted sharing the truth. The other person was visibly uncomfortable. Luckily, I didn't have to analyze his facial patterns to find out what he was thinking. He carefully framed the response. "I hope you heard good things about me." It is ingenious but pointless. Ingenious because the unprepared gives out the truth. Pointless because there aren't many unprepareds.

So what can we do in such a situation? As you may have realized, there is no ideal answer to this. One way is to acknowledge and ask what context did the other person come across you. Who was he speaking to? The other way is  to acknowledge and apologize for coming across the other person for the first time. Try to find out what the other person is currently doing at work. What is past is past? There is no point in worrying what the other person has heard. You may be famous or notorious. Right now, you have to move on.

Tags: Musings,Work,Colleague

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Seats seats everywhere but not a single one to sit

I avoid the rush hour while commuting. Since I stay far away from where I work, I have to catch a very early train in order to be at work on time. Then there are days where you tend to miss the your original schedule and, as a result, is caught up in the rush hour. This occasion turns out the day on which you don't get a seat, and you end up standing till your destination. For commuters to London from Reading, this is a daily phenomenon. But I travel in the opposite direction away from the regular traffic.

During the rush hour, most of the seats are reserved. Just like in India, there are unreserved compartments although I have not figured out how to identify one. In reality, all the seats might not be taken. The reserved seats have a piece of paper sticking out of the top of the headrest. This piece of paper indicates the length of reservation with respect to the from-station and the to-station. You can still squat here, but you will have to vacate when the rightful owner turns up.

On the day when I took this picture, most of the seats were occupied, and these stubs were sticking out of most of the seats. I found a seat after the first stop.

Tags: Photos

Friday, October 17, 2014

Movie Review: Philomena

Two different people comes together in life for a purpose. When the difference is akin to chalk to cheese, we can expect a lot of drama and comedy. Hence, this approach is a commonly used one in the movies. Every year, there are movies of two people who can't stand each other taking part in a journey. Philomena is also based on a similar premise. The movie succeeds in giving you a lot of smiles and ends up tugging your heart because of the phenomenal actress called Judi Dench and a surprising performance by Steve Coogan.

Stephen Frears tells the anguish of a mother who goes in search of her son whom she had given up for adoption. He bases his movie on the book "The Lost Child of Philomena Lee" by Martin Sixsmith. Philomena Lee is played by Judi Dench while Steve Coogan plays Martin Sixsmith. Both of them are at a crossroads in life. Philomena constantly wonders what happened to the baby she had forced to give up for adoption. She was an unwed mother, and her family had left in an Abbey during her pregnancy. The sisters at the Abbey had given her son for adoption. Now that she wants to find out, the Abbey is not cooperating in her search. Martin has just lost his job and is trying desperately to overcome the depression. The two of them embark on this quest.

Martin and Philomena are different people. Martin is an atheist while Philomena believes in God. Martin has suppressed hatred while Philomena has nothing against the world. The situation is weird as we expect Philomena to be angry because she is the wronged woman. Philomena is grateful for all the niceties of life while Martin is rude. Philomena is full of wonder when she finally ventures out of her small world with Martin. She is naive. But her naivety is beautifully portrayed by Judi Dench. Judi Dench, with her performance, forces us to look at things we take for granted in a new perspective. The performance also raises questions. How can one be forgiving? Why isn't there any rage? Steve Coogan's Martin learns a lot from Philomena. At the end of the movie, he is at a place that holds more peace than when he started. Steve Coogan, who also wrote the screenplay, delivers a performance that hooks us as the movie progresses. He plays the bumbling Englishman with a characteristic sense of humor initially and later turns serious. Steve Coogan has sprinkled the right amount of humor in his performance thereby not making it heavy duty.

Watch it for Judi Dench.

Language: English

Genre: Drama

Rating: ****


Thursday, October 16, 2014

Books: DarkMarket

Over the years, the internet has transformed from a luxury to necessity. It is fast becoming a fundamental human right. In Finland, it already is. With internet proliferation comes a group of people who are exploiting it for making money. For instance, you have either heard about or received emails regarding the promise of treasure out of nowhere commonly referred to as the Nigerian scam. There are a whole lot of other scams. Misha Glenny uses his background in investigative journalism to trace the rise and fall of DarkMarket, one of the sites favored by hackers. In order to uncover the complex world of secrecy and anonymity, he travels from Brazil to Turkey via Scandinavian and East European countries.

Although the book chronicles the rise and fall of the website named DarkMarket, it is not a straight narrative. It does lack a chronological narrative. The book jumps back and forth between different characters and time periods. As a result, the book confuses anyone who is not reading this at a stretch. The book also will disappoint you if you are looking for conclusions. The authorities catch a major player behind the website as documented in the book. But after capture of this criminal, no one is sure if they have got the right person. The major success of the book turns out to be the shocker it delivers to a person who has adopted technology with both hands without realizing its darker side. These days, we conduct a lot of our day to day activities using the internet. Our online identities are vulnerable. An experienced hacker can effortlessly extract this information from our computers. The extracted information is sold cheaply to fraudsters who then uses it for various schemes. Any legal procedures against these people take enormous efforts, and sometimes fruitless, because these crimes extend international boundaries. With law enforcers spread across the world, it is difficult to keep it a secret and also to get everybody to  cooperate. Since there is a lot of money involved here, the organizations behind these websites are becoming like the modern mafia.

Technology makes our lives easy. At the same time, technology also has an evil side. We have been ignorant of the negative aspects. Misha Glenny wakes up from the slumber. Forget the lack of structure in the book. This book is still a must-read for you to understand the darker side of the internet. I am sure you will be afraid to use even the nearest ATM machine after reading this book.

Tags: Books,Misha Glenny,Hackers

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