Last Saturday, I met a group of Malayalis in Paris. A recent acquaintance, who is fast climbing up the charts to being a good friend, asked me to join him as he was meeting with this group of Paris Malayalis. This group asked us this question. “How do you know each other?”.
I had to search my memory a few seconds and answer. I had met my newly acquired friend on Twitter. We had been talking to each other on phone for over 3 weeks. But we met each other in person only last week. We were already behaving like good friends who have known each other for long. That is the most interesting part. He also is the only friend I have made using the two social media(Twitter and Blogger) and have also met in flesh & blood.
The meeting with Paris Malayalis was also interesting. There were four of them. They were born in France. Some of them were raised here and others spent considerable time in India. But their Malayalam was flawless. They talked to us in Malayalam and spoke to each other in French. They even apologized to us for using French. As they have known each other since childhood days, French comes naturally when they talk to each other.
They could have told. "I'm French. My parents are from Kerala, India". But they never did that. I'm glad they didn't. I'm glad I met them.
I am no expert in bilateral relationships between India and France. But after living in Paris for the past nine months, I know a few things. They aren't many Indians out here. Of late, you see a lot more Indians here than before. Their purpose of visit is as a result of the offshoring related to Information Technology. France do want to make the influx as easy as possible. This is evident from their intention for opening a consulate in Bengaluru. Having said it, I am not aware if this consulate is operational as of now. Considering all these, it is indeed commendable on the French authorities to organize an exhibition to raise awareness of India in it's citizens.
The exhibition titled "Paris-India" is hosted on the 6th floor of Center Pompidou. This is a paid exhibition; being there on the first Sunday of the month which is supposed to be free entrance for all do not exempt you from the entrance fees. At the entrance, you are greeted with a wall exhibit of Indian flag embedded on a French flag.
The first exhibit is created using computer parts indicating the wastage from the modern technological development which flows into India.
Then, you walk into a circular room. Inside the circular room, there is another circular wall constructed which encloses a woman with a nose ring. On all the walls, there are many pictures and televisions running programs showcasing the modern India. One section of the wall depicts photographs from the major events in India right from 1947 to 2011. This is a very informative piece for anyone who doesn't know a thing about India. The posters indicating economic growth, various political parties and challenges like domestic violence adorn different sections.
There are many noteworthy exhibits. A motorbike resembling a bull, a village in LOC indicated with bullet holes created on black paper and a garland made of shaving blades to indicate Rajiv Gandhi assassination are the ones which caught my attention.
The most touching exhibits were a recreation of India's slum and the room filled with stainless steel utensils. The former highlights the economic divide clearly. It also shows how we as a country move forward with these differences. The latter evokes memories of Tiffin carriers we carried to schools.
There was a Bollywood section too. Clips from movies like Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham, Swades were being displayed. It was fun to see French attentively watching Kajol's histrionics.
There was two big rooms dedicated to homosexuality and also for hijras. Personally, I thought the space dedicated was huge for such issues which are not even treated in a big way in India. Neither do the majority of Indians have tolerance nor are aware of these issues. Then, why this should be given such a huge floor space?
Overall, this is a positive step by the French authorities to build relationship with India. In order to build relationship, the first step is to let everyone know about India, it's heritage and it's culture.
You might have the seen the long rectangular boxes used for shipping in either movies or in real life. In movies, the hero is fighting villains on top of these boxes. In real life, these might be hauled by either trains or trucks. Yes, I am talking about the containers. Have you ever wondered the impact of containers in our daily life? We may have not realized it. But the containers have changed the world we live in. Marc Levinson, an economist and a journalist, tells us the how containers changed the rules in shipping business and eventually making the world smaller.
At the beginning of the book, Marc gives us a glimpse of how a container terminal operate in the modern world powered by technology and hence very insignificant number of men. This is in direct contrast with the years prior to 1956 when the first container sailed off from a port. Before 1956 and also to some years from then, the longshoremen played a very important part in shipping. This also meant unions, rampant corruption and a job which was hereditary. If there is any one man that needs to credited for the container boom, it is Malcom McLean. Although he did not invent containers, it is his vision of the capabilities of containers that led to him to acquire a shipping company and transform the business.
The journey of containers is rampant with difficulties. First, the unions had to be convinced. Then, the ports had to be redesigned. Then businesses need to be convinced. But no one including the shipping industry, the government or the union could fathom the changes that would be triggered by containers. Most of the city officials miscalculated the impact resulting in the gradual deterioration of the earlier busy ports in the major cities. The unions miscalculated the loss of jobs as the earlier work of longshoremen were now shifted to the factories. The shipping industry miscalculated the impact of fluctuating fuel prices. The highly regulated industry in US added to the woes of the shipping industry.
Marc writes a captivating non-fiction book on containers. He drives it on facts and avoids any anecdotal mentions. Despite of avoiding anecdotes and humor, this book ends up as a very interesting one because of the narrative. He builds his novel in a well structured way so as to present the events to lead the reader effortlessly and naturally to the conclusion. He mentions the lack of proper scientific study on the effect of containers and also the lack of documentation available on containers in his preface. So it has been a challenge for him to find the material for the book. Against all odds, he succeeds.
If you are interested in non-fiction, this is recommended.
Parisian waiters are a separate breed. I have stepped into a Parisian restaurant and wondered when will anyone show up to seat me. I'm not sure if it shortage in human resources, lack of training or plain indifference. Anyways, I was at a restaurant in Montmartre yesterday with two of my Parisian friends. The topic of discussion gradually veered into waiters primarily because of the boyish antics of the waiter serving our table. That is when the essbama principle was revealed to me.
The essbama principle is all purpose benchmark for waiters. It is written SBMA and pronounced essbama. If you are wondering why, the letter b is not pronounced bee but ba. SBMA is an abbreviation and stands for Sourire, Bon Jour, Merci and Au revoir respectively.
As you may have realized by now, the first two letters guide how you greet and last two how you part.
One of the friends, who was with me, works in the hospitality second and this little gem of information comes from this friend. This is a good way of benchmarking waiters all around the world. Next time you are in a restaurant, use this principle to decide on the tip. If you are in Paris, you always have the option of not tipping no matter the quality of service.