Friday, November 30, 2012

Photos: Trees and Shadows

A long time ago when I was using a point-and-shoot camera, somebody exclaimed. "You are facing the sun. The picture is going to be dark!". The person had a point. Since I was facing the sun, the subject would end up being dark and unclear. This might not be the best way to shot. But I love to face the camera and make the subjects dark. This makes the viewer wonder about the subject and form their own opinion. No image can be as effective as the one created by the mind. This is one of pictures I shot facing the camera.

This was shot in Amsterdam.

Picture Courtesy:

Tags: Photos


Thursday, November 22, 2012

A gallery and a restaurant

In the past two weeks, I have come across a theme for the first time. A gallery combined with a restaurant. I am not talking about the sandwich-salad-dessert counter. I am referring to a full blown functional restaurant. I have no reasons to complain because I enjoyed both the places.

The first place is called Le Bal. It shares the common entrance with an art gallery. The decor is subdued yet bright due to the white walls and dim lights. It is situated on road leading to a dead-end referred as impasse locally. The cobbled street leading to the restaurant exudes an old European aura. Art exploration or appreciation was not in my agenda. I was interested only in the food. The food is homemade and not industrialized in local parlance. It means they cook the food from basic raw materials instead of mixing semi-cooked food to produce the final dish appearing on the table. They have only a fixed menu, main dish with entree or dessert versus all three items together. Each item features only three choices. The entire menu is printed on a stationary with logo of the hotel and changed every day. The place was crowded and noisy. The food was delicious.
Menu of Le Bal
The second place is Bellevilloise Cafe. I was in this cafe because of the photo exhibition at the gallery  next doors named PhotoOff. The intention was have a quick dinner and then visit the photo exhibition with fellow photography enthusiasts. There is a long queue especially on Saturday night and you need a reservation. We given a table till 9 pm. Before 9 pm, we should be wrapping up and going out the door. The restaurant looks like a converted auto repair shop. The high ceilings circulates a lot of air inside the building and the glass on the roof lets natural light come in. When the tables were occupied, the sound levels increased. There was live music which made the evening more pleasant. The menu was written in chalk on blackboards which is indicative of a changing menu. The food was good.

I recommend you to try out both the restaurants. The first for the food and the second for the ambiance.

Tags: Restaurants,Gallery


Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Cin Cin and Cultural Learning

Cin Cin. Pronounced as Chin Chin. If you are wondering what this is, then this is how Italians toast. So they raise the glasses, clunk them together (gently as the purpose is not to break the glasses), and say Cin Cin. But my friend has an interesting experience which is also a cultural lesson.

My friend has traveled worldwide for job assignments. For a few assignments, he was living in different countries for a considerable length of time. One such assignment made Japan his temporary home. There, during a dinner party where top honchos of the company were present, my friend said Cin Cin after raising his glass. Everybody went silent. As a result, he became uncomfortable.

Then, somebody explained the whole thing to him. In Japan, you don't say Cin Cin at least when you are raising your glass for toasting. The way Cin Cin is pronounced, it sounds similar to what you call a small boy's pissing organ in Japanese.


Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Do you remember my pin?

Breakup is hard. The period after the breakup is painful and uncertain. No matter the bitter taste of parting, there is so much love still left over in you. So you end up being confused, longing for the voice and the touch. I have heard many instances of the post breakup period.

Breakups might be painful for the actors involved but provide moments of laughter and learning for the rest of us. The recent breakup I have heard about is about a couple who was living together and subsequently moved apart due to various reasons. This is the second time they decided to live together and then move apart. This time, it is almost the end of the cycle. Two weeks after the breakup, the boy calls up the girl. The first thing he asks, now hold your breath, is for the pin of the ATM card. The pin of "his" ATM card! "Do you remember my pin?".

When I heard the narration of the event, I was sure it was not the real reason why he called. Is it too hard to tell the real reason?

Tags: Musings,Breakup,Boy,Girl


Books: Cultural Intelligence

Today's world is a boiling pot of culture especially if you live in a city. Even when we are all from the same country of origin, our culture is different; by a tiny fraction for an outsider while by leaps and bounds for an insider. With this backdrop in mind, you aren't surprised when you come across this book written by Brooks Peterson.

Brooks Peterson defines culture and then goes on to explain how different cultures behave differently based on certain criteria. Thankfully, he doesn't use stereotypes although he cites examples from his professional/personal life. Using these criteria, he intends make us discover ourselves and how we may come into conflict when we are sitting opposite a person from the other side of the spectrum. He wants to sensitize us how the communication breaks down.

At the end of the day, the book ends up as a primer for the topic named Cultural Intelligence. It comes across as a brochure for what Brooks does for a living without offering anything concrete. If you are completely ignorant of how culture influences the professional world, then you may pick up this book. Otherwise skip to the end to check out the section for additional reading. That might serve you better. 

Tags: Books,Brooks Peterson,Culture


Monday, November 19, 2012

Books: Killing Floor

Jack Reacher has been traveling like a nomad. On his way to nowhere in particular on a bus, he decides to disembark in a sleepy little town in Georgia. In the first few hours in this little town, he is arrested by the cops for a murder. He himself is surprised and he decides to unravel the mystery. When he pokes around, a lot of skeletons tumble out of the closet in this clean prosperous city.

Lee Child begins the Reacher series with this book. The series has been so successful that Hollywood is soon coming out with their version of Jack Reacher. To sum up, Lee's Jack Reacher is a superhero. Reacher can accomplish a lot of things. He can charm beautiful girls, fight to kill without remorse and also quickly deduce people or events using his analytical skills. Most of the skills can be attributed to his military background. What Lee accomplishes is to thrill our senses with suspension of disbelief. This he does very well. The style of writing is humorous to mildly sarcastic. This works for the novel.

If you are in the mood for nothing serious, then pick up the book. I wouldn't ask you leave your brain behind. But I will definitely recommend you not to look for logical flaws or plot loopholes. This is best enjoyed without asking many questions and also by smirking at some of the implausible events.

Tags: Books,Lee Child,Jack Reacher


Saturday, November 17, 2012

Getting a good price for a house

Have you gone shopping for your dream house? If you are as old as me, you would have already done this once. As it is the case with any kind of shopping, this one is also stressful. If you have gone shopping and also is a proud owner of a dream house, did you manage to get the best price out of the seller? Recently, my friend narrated his experience to me.

My friend was able to get a good deal out of the seller. Of course, it was around the time the financial meltdown was happening and the property prices were falling. This was not the only thing that enabled my friend to pinch the deal. According to my friend, he arranged for his friend to visit. Arranging for a visit? I agree it sounds dubious and scary. But the phrasing is only for adding drama. It wasn't as bad as we would think it to be.

His friend visited the seller, evaluated the house and quoted a price lower than what was offered previously. The idea was to trick the seller into thinking the prices were dropping fast. Luckily for my friend, it worked. He got a good deal on the house.

Tags: Musings,House,Price


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Are you pregnant?

This is most difficult question to ask a girl even though it may be for a noble cause. When I say noble cause, I refer to causes like offering a seat in the Metro. A couple of days back, I was walking with a friend when he turned his neck to check out a woman who passed by us. When his neck and subsequently attention returned to where there were previously, I raised my eyebrows. He had a simple explanation. I wanted to check if she was pregnant.

That did open up the Pandora's box. A simple post is not enough to address all that. But he admitted about being very nervous about offering a seat to a woman in the Metro even if she looked pregnant. His concern is simple. How do I know for sure? It will be embarrassing to ask if a girl is pregnant and it turns out to otherwise. So he keeps quiet and looks elsewhere. If she needs a seat, she will ask. Then my friend gracefully gets up to offer the seat.

I have a different solution for this problem. I see someone tired or in a need of a seat (a need more than my need), I get up to offer the seat. My friend used to do the same earlier until someone asked him why he was offering them the seat. What do I say to that?

Tags: Musings,Pregnant,Seat


Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Movie Review: Thuppakki

An army man on vacation takes on a terrorist leader planning massive attacks in Mumbai. That is the story in a nutshell. So you have Jagadish(Vijay) who is in Mumbai for vacation, meets a girl(Kajal Aggarwal) on his parent's insistence, rejects her on various grounds, repents the decision soon, courts her shamelessly and spends all his idle time with his inspector friend(Sathyan). While doing all these, he accidentally uncovers a terrorist sleeper cell. Now he has to thwart their plans. He succeeds the first attempt. Then the sleeper cell leader(Vidyut Jamwal) is irked.

This time, A R Murgadoss addresses the issue of terrorism in this movie with an Indian army man as the resourceful protagonist trying to stand up on his own, never complaining about lack of anything. I like heroes who complains less and accomplishes a lot with less. There are a few of them from Indian cinema of late. But there are issues with this movie in spite of the interesting theme. The main problem with the movie is the first half where nothing happens and an interesting second half. If you analyze the first half, the best scenes are already shown in the trailer. In order to fill in the first half, unnecessary comic scenes with Sathyan, Jayaram(in the silliest role he has every played in his career) and Kajal Aggarwal (less said the better). The visuals looks stunning thanks to Santosh Sivan. The script by A R Murugadoss doesn't leave any scope for the editor Sreekar Prasad to make the proceeding racier. Harris Jayaraj's music is nice but the placement of the songs is not good for the narrative.

Vijay performs well as the army man often underplaying his weaknesses. Even though he doesn't get to sport army uniform, he gets to do many other things. The wardrobe has undergone an ocean of change. He also does what he has not done in most of the movies. He gets to mouth English and Hindi dialogues. Forget the diction. This is a good sign because Tamil actors(or read stars) are finally willing to change according to the script. Vidyut Jamwal gets to show off his mean side as the terrorist leader. Unlike Billa 2 where he had disappointing role despite a terrific screen presence, Vidyut is able to perform in this role. The biggest drawback of his performance is the voice over (sometimes in Tamil and sometimes in English), a mechanism used instead of subtitling, backfires and takes the steam off his performance. Then, that is the director's fault.

The movie is a cat-and-mouse game between the good and the bad. But the thrills are lacking. It is like a cracker in a cycle of cracks-fizzes-cracks. I recommend to wait for the DVD. Using this option, you can still get some work done while watching the interesting parts alone.

Language: Tamil

Genre: Thriller

Rating: **


Monday, November 12, 2012

Fooled by a beautiful girl

Have you been approached for an opinion or an advice by a stranger while browsing through the aisles of a shop? I am asking this question to men. Tell me, have you ever been in such a situation? Well, that is what happened to me at FNAC when I was casually looking at camera accessories. A beautiful girl emerged out of nowhere asking for help. She started in French and quickly switched to English when she knew the extent of my language skills.

To tell you the truth, I couldn't speak for a few seconds. There were two things I did. Both of the actions were involuntary. The first one was to look around to ensure the dazzling smile was indeed directed to me. Once that was confirmed, I rubbed my nose. That was primarily to hide my stupid smile. Of all the people, she wanted to ask me for advice!

She wanted to get a new camera and I looked like a guy who knew what I was doing. Did my ego get a sudden boost? You may take a guess. Now, I have to act the part. So I checked what kind of camera she had now. She was hesitant at first. It was a Sony. I asked her what her budget was. She had a 600 euros. That is quite a lot of money. Then she started laughing.

She introduced herself to me and pointed to my young friend watching from a distance. It was his girlfriend and they were playing a practical joke on me. We had a good laugh. Later she pointed out to my friend, "He was nice. He didn't even ask for my number while I was talking to him". What do I say to that?

Tags: Musings,Camera,Stranger


Saturday, November 10, 2012

Surprise might not be a welcome thing

We say one thing and might end up doing the entirely opposite. How we act out in the mind might not be the way we do things in life. That is human nature. Take the case of a surprise. Many of us love to be surprised. But are we really happy when there is a surprise in store for us. Recently, my young friend decided to surprise his wife. This post is all about that.

My friend meticulously planned a trip to Morocco. He wanted to keep it as a surprise for his wife. So he told her they were going to India to visit their family and friends. He intended to tell the truth just before they boarded the airplane. I listened to the entire plan when he explained with a smile on his lips. The smile signified his satisfaction in imagining her look of surprise on her face when the best laid plan worked out the way he wrote the script. Call me a pessimist. I was okay with the plan. But there was a lot of "what about"s? What about the gifts she is going to buy for the friends and family  in India? What about the new clothes she is buying to wear in India? What about the plans she is making with her friends in India? These were just the "tip of iceberg" questions I asked to my friend. A determined mind. That is how I will describe my young friend. He had an answer for all the questions, though not very convincing. Finally, he went on vacation to Morocco. When he returned, I wanted to know how it all panned out. He told his wife about the real plans a day before they flew out. She was furious initially. All is well that ends well. They had a great time in Morocco.

I am happy for both of them. For you, who is planning to surprise your loved one, I have only one thing to say. It is okay to surprise your loved one. But it is also in your interest to surprise them and not to shock them.


A Hot Madras Curry And A Beautiful Couple

I have always avoided anything that ends with Madras on a menu. Todate, all of it has been a disappointment.  Today, my opinion has changed. It was all because of a hot Madras Curry. It was spicy enough to burn my taste buds. At the same time, I am not complaining. What would have otherwise turned out to be a boring dinner with me gulping down the food while reading Facebook and Twitter updates on my phone ended up being a different experience because of the hot madras curry.

I didn't order the hot Madras curry. The beautiful couple, sitting right next to my table, had ordered it. They  were at least two decades older than me. Their faces lit up with a friendly smile while I was pulling the chair to sit down. When my order came, we had already exchanged quite a few words. That is the good thing about Parisian restaurants. The tables are so close that you are not eavesdropping but actively participating in the conversation happening in the next table. I was at a state where I was ready to talk with anyone. I had just wrapped up 4 months of agonizing work earlier in the evening in the most satisfactory way for all parties involved. I didn't want to eat alone tonight.

So we are sitting there, talking to each other with my dinner in front of me. When my food arrived, they suggested me to try out what they were eating. It was a Madras curry. I was embarassed because this is something a Westerner would never ask of a stranger. But when they insisted again, I obliged in order to be polite. The dish was indeed spicy. My taste buds went numb for a microsecond. Now the ice was completed broken, we started talking more freely and openly.

Here is their story. This is a summary of 40 minutes and put chronologically for easier understanding. The man is from Wales. The woman is from Vancouver. They met in Australia a few months back. Both of them are touring Europe together for the past 3 months. In this span of 3 months, they travelled 30 cities and 11 countries. Oh yes, they were excited to tell me the name of the cities while I was counting the number of countries often crosschecking with them to make sure I got the country right. Paris is their last stop and tonight is their last night before going home. They were impatient to get back home. All through the travel, they had only a general plan and made concrete plans as they went. Now, they are very tired.

I had only two questions for them. The aim was to cheer them up. It is so natural for anyone to get exhausted during the last leg of the journey. It is psychological. My questions were simple. Have they done anything like in the past? Will they be doing anything like in the future? The questions cheered them up. I was happy. When they answered me, it was my turn to be surprised. They have not done anything like in the past. Now, they are thinking of doing the same routine in South America. Tell me, what should should I say to that answer?

Before I sign off, I have a question for you. Would you do something like what this couple did when you are at their age?


Thursday, November 8, 2012

Books: Life of Pi

Yann Martel tells the story of a castaway who spends more than 220 days stranded on a lifeboat drifting in the Pacific Ocean. Can a story of castaway keep us glued to the book? The answer is yes because Pi has companions. But they aren't humans, they are animals. Soon, the number of reduces gradually and Pi is only left with a Bengal Tiger. What happens on the lifeboat between the predator and prey is told in the rest of the pages.

Told in three parts - before, during and after the life as a castaway - and in first person narrative, the novel throws a thought provoking look at the harmony of life and perservarance of human spirit. We are all built differently. So naturally, there is an immediate hostility among all the occupants in the life boat. There is a urgency of survival when the overall number drops to two with only Pi and the Bengal tiger. Having worked in a zoo proves a blessing in disguise for Pi. The human spirit prevails. Pi is able to conquer the animal psychologically and soon come to peace with the beast. On a different level, the novel is also an inside look into the psyche of man.

I like books in the first person narrative. It puts you in the shoes of the protagonist. The language is easy to understand even though some of Pi's thoughts are absurd. This is justified as Pi is an young boy. Towards the end of castaway days, Pi starts hallucinating and crosses between real and unreal world. This is where the novel becomes heavy.

This book will emotionally drain you. It will also make you think about life and choices. Be ready for it if you are picking this one up.

Tags: Books,Yann Martel


A Problematic "No"

Today, I listened to a friend at work talking about stress. The stress was exerted by the most common villain in the workplace, the manager. The reason is simple. There is an opportunity which fits her profile at a customer site. She went for the discussion with the client and they were impressed. The client is ready to offer her the position. This is where it gets ugly.

The client wants her. Her manager wants her to take up the position. But. Yes, there is a but! But she doesn't want the position. She is a mother of two and will not be able to do justice to both her domestic and work responsibilities as this position demands travel and time. She thinks about it and declines the offer. Now her manager is not ready to let her go. He calls up relentlessly trying to persuade her. He calls every day, vainly trying to convince her. The repeated calls and endless discussions upsets her. She breaks down and cries at her desk. She takes a week off as she can't handle it anymore.

A week off has cooled down things at both sides. The manager has backed out. She feels much better. Now, let us forget about the roles and generalizations. This can happen to all of us. Where did it all go wrong? Are we unable to say an emphatic "no"? Are we unable to accept "no" for an answer? In a professional world, we have to stand up and say "no" when it is not possible. Of course, we also have to say the reasons why we are saying "no". At the same time, when we hear a "no", we also have to ask for the reasons. If we cannot find a solution for the reasons(usually these are issues), then there is no point in progressing further.


Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Photos: Salon du Chocolat, 2012, Paris

Do Parisians love chocolate? What else could explain the crowd inside the spacious Pavillion 5 of convention center near the metro Porte de Versailles on Saturday? Isn't Saturday a big shopping day for everyone? And they want to spend the time in sensing chocolate with all 5 senses.

The crowd made it impossible for me to take as many pictures as I wanted. With the yearly chocolate show, there is also a fashion show with the theme chocolate. Even when it was unfolding while I was in the pavillion, I gave it a miss. It was impossible to see anything because of the crowd. Forget about clicking a picture.

Still, I was able to capture some slices of what was going on. The pictures are given here for you to enjoy.

Picture Courtesy:

Tags: Photos


Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Where do you keep your USB?

USB is a convenient device. Small and light. At the same time can carry important files. It is easier to copy on a USB and use it to copy to another computer when there is no network or a painfully slow network. But where do you keep your USB?

Recently, I saw a Tamil movie where an Ukrainian girl hangs the USB on a chain around her neck. It not only provides safe house for the USB but also gives the protagonist to flirtatiously use his fingers around her neck. Well, I haven't found anyone hanging USBs around their neck except in movies.

Take the case of my young friend. He keeps the USB on a key chain. The key chain contains other important keys, his house key being one among them. The trouble with such an arrangement is when you are leaving work in a hurry. You want to copy files in a hurry. You connect USB, copy files, juggle with million other things and run out of the door. You did everything except disconnect the USB.

This is a likely scenario. Imagine there is a bridge. In local parlance, a bridge means a working day that is sandwiched between a weekend and a holiday. If you take the bridge (translates to a day off), you have a long weekend of 4 days. My young friend did this mistake on such an occasion.

Luckily, the USB was still attached to the computer when he returned back to work.


Monday, November 5, 2012

Books: The Waitress was new

Neither a short story nor a novel. The size of the book in pages (as I read in Kindle format where I cannot the physically feel the book) does not qualify for the criteria of a novel. The style and theme of the writing is like that of a short story. As a result, what you get is a very short novel which touches you like a short story. The English translation of Dominique Fabre's novel tells the last few days in the professional life of Pierre, a bartender working in a nondescript bar somewhere on the banks of Seine. 

They say your entire life flashes before you die. Pierre is not dying. But the career is ending. At advanced age, Pierre is ready to retire. When his employer decides to take off on a whim without informing anyone and leaving Pierre to take care of everything, the latter revisits his life through reveries. So you have Pierre doing daily chores, giving confidence to his colleagues and consoling the employer's wife while his life flashes by him. 

Having lived in Paris, I have no respect lost for the waiters and the bartenders. But Pierre's life through Fabre's narration evoke pathos for this creed. I wouldn't call it heavy on emotions. The writing is fluid. The novel is short. So this provides a welcome diversion from the heavies or the superficial stuff you read.

Tags: Books,Dominique Fabre


Friday, November 2, 2012

Movie Review: Bachelorette

A wedding event that might turn out to be a disaster because of dysfunctional friends. There are twists and turns till all is well that ends well. Haven't we seen this many times on screen? Yes, we have. Bachelorette directed by Leslye Headland based on her own play is the latest addition to this genre. It is told from the girl's point of view and it does raise a few laughs.

So, you have three friends Regan(Kirsten Dunst), Gena(Lizzy Caplan) and Katie(Isla Fisher) who are in NY to attend Becky's(Rebel Wilson) wedding. The foursome were great friends from their high school years. They have seen ups and downs. The upcoming wedding is another up and down at the same time. It is a moment to rejoice for Becky while the rest of the three are not very happy about Becky being the first one in the foursome to settle down.

Leslye Headland's movie starts with jealousy. It then then traces the lives of the three friends through conversations and funny incidents. It peaks to a meltdown when egos clashes and secrets tumble out of the closet. At the end, everyone finds peace and happiness in their lives by correcting their past mistakes. Although there are funny moments, there isn't much to write about this movie. As for the performances, Kirsten Dunst stands out and Isla Fisher brings out smiles although she is playing the stereotypical superficial woman.

Watch it on DVD if you have nothing else to choose.

Language: English

Genre: Comedy

Rating: **


Photos: Chitchat by the canal

A couple of days back, I posted a picture which I clicked in Amsterdam. The canals are indeed an unlikely place to read. It is unlikely if you do not live in a city which is interconnected with canals. Walking by Amsterdam, you see a lot of sights which is not common in other cities. Here is what two gentlemen were doing by the canal. This is yet another unlikely place for a chitchat.

Picture Courtesy:

Tags: Photos


Thursday, November 1, 2012

A father talks about how fast kids grow up

Yesterday, I met up with fellow photography enthusiasts for a photo shooting session. It was a full moon day and we went to explore the area around Parc de la Villette. It was a learning experience for me where I mostly observed. Now, the fellow enthusiasts are posting really cool pictures as part of our mission. As for me, there aren't any worthy ones to showcase. Anyways, that is not the point of this post. 

I ganged up with two other photographers on the way back home. Three of us were from different age groups. But we had one thing in common. We were all fathers. Being fathers, our discussion soon turned to kids. Kids grow up fast. As soon as they step into their teens, the equation changes. I am not aware on how does the equation changes. But this is what I hear. That also formed the topic of discussion. One of us who had a 4 year daughter was articulate with his response. "I hear that a lot. For now, I am burying my head in sand and going to enjoy it while it lasts". That is when the third person decided to tell us his experience. The anecdote is from a few years back; a few years back when his son decided to move out of his home.

When the son takes a break from packing, he approaches my friend and tells him, "Dad, I have something to show you". Then the son leads my friend to the bedroom, opens up the cupboard and removes one of the top wooden pieces that serves as the separation to reveal marijuana plants. The son proudly tells the dad, "This is my secret garden". My friend takes in a deep breath, evaluates the situation and tells, "I'm glad you are moving out!".

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