Friday, May 24, 2013

Why are they making you do it?

Where do kids learn things? Of course, most of the education comes from us. But still, there are means unknown to us from where they learnt stuff which makes us wonder how did they learnt this in the first place. A recent conversation between a mother and a 7 year old illustrates this.

The mother is planning a sabbatical from her work. She was planning to take a long leave from the job, ride it out for next few months before deciding on the next stages of her career. She decided to break this news to her daughter.

Mother: *adopting a serious tone* Mom is going to stop working.

Daughter: *listening with blank expression*

Mother: *hides her smile and proceeds to drop the bombshell* Now, we have to be careful about what we buy and how we spend money.

Daughter: *takes a few moments to think and then* But why are they making you do it?

Mother: *confused* they?

Daughter: Yes, they. Your office firing you?

Mother: *a bit unsteady now* Why would they want to fire me?

Daughter: *with all innocence* Probably, you might have checked some sites on the Internet which you should not have and your computer would have crashed!

I am glad kids know there are things that shouldn't be done on the Internet. I am not sure who is teaching them. I was glad initially because this is the basic thing a kid should be taught. Then, reality sank in. When has restrictions stopped any of us?


Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Alstadt, a recurring theme in Europe

Alstadt. I heard this name for the time in Zurich during the spring of last year. My friend insisted I visit the Alstadt. I initially thought this to be the name of a street. Then I came to know this was the name given to a section of the city. I ventured into that section of the city and found out this part featured old buildings, narrow alleyways, churches and cobbled streets. In fact, this is where all the heroes and heroines in the Indian mainstream movies would shake a leg with all the white faces in the background staring at them with emotions ranging from happiness to astonishment to contempt.

A few months later in last September, I was again in Dusseldorf when my friend suggested Alstadt was a must-see. I was disoriented initially doubting if I was teleported to Zurich suddenly by mysterious forces. When the dust of disorientation settled down, I was appalled by the lack of imagination from Dusseldorf authorities to create a unique name for a section of their city. Why do they want to copy the Swiss? Since it was a must-see, I went there. But it was deja vu for me. The old buildings. The narrow alleyways. The cobbled streets. This is where I decided to find out more about the name.

Alstadt is a German name. It means old town. Now it was more clearer. Switzerland also speaks German like Germany although the purists might say it is a variation of German. For our discussion, we can safely say both these countries speak German. So, it is natural for them to call their old town as Alstadt. Last week, I visited a few cities in Switzerland and Austria. Guess what I found in one of the little cities in Switzerland named Chur. You guessed it right! Another Alstadt. Although the name might not sound unique, believe me the city nestled in the valley of a mountain filled with green trees and a stream along the periphery of the  city is a sight to be seen.

In Europe, most of the places offer the concept of Alstadt, in different names mostly. It is a nice place to hang out away from the machinations of a big city. It is also an epitome of what we all love about Europe. The quirky part of these old towns is if you have seen one you have pretty much seen most of it. Actually, this is the ideal place to sit in a cafe terrace to stare at nothing or for taking a quiet stroll through the streets interrupted by other tourists walking in the opposite direction and also overtaking you. Probably, that is what relaxing or unwinding is all about.

For me, travel is never complete without comparing it my homeland. Don't we have our version of Alstadt in India? In fact, every city offers one although we do not share the European or Western sensibility for preserving these old parts of the city. While Europeans try to preserve their architecture and serenity for posterity, we do not even care. Even if we do care, I don't think we will succeed because these old parts of the cities are still buzzing with business activities. If you don't believe me, check out the old sections of Bangalore or Pune. Talking about old sections, isn't Chandni Chowk in Delhi also an Alstadt?

Tags: Travel,Alstadt,Europe


Friday, May 17, 2013

Chettah chechi...

Right from when we were kids, we are taught to call elders respectfully as chettah, chechi, uncle or aunty. The last two words are familiar for everyone. For the first two words, if you do not already know, these Malayalam words are used to address anyone with reverence and are slightly older than you. Chettah is for male while chechi is for female. Call it the hazards of our upbringing, this comes out naturally for us. Hence we quickly judge who belongs to which category chettah v/s uncle or chechi v/s aunty and address them accordingly. This is the case anywhere in India although the words might change depending on the areas. The underlying principles remain the same.

Now that I have set the stage, here is my question. Do you remember when you walked over to the other side in the sense you graduated from chettah to uncle or chechi to aunty? If you do, what was your initial reaction? Like I mentioned earlier, it is easy for us to map anyone to one of the four categories. But what happens when the roles are reversed? What happens when you are addressed as one of the four categories? To elaborate, everyone calls us by our name when we are growing up. This makes sense as we are in the bottom of the pyramid. As time flies, we slowly climb up towards the top of the pyramid. While we climb up, there are additions to the bottom of the pyramid. Very soon we reach a certain level in the pyramid where  people below us are forced to map us to one of the four categories. What was your first reaction when you were addressed as one of the four categories?

Being addressed as chettah or chechi doesn't evoke a strong reaction. It is because the age difference between the two people involved sounds ambiguously small. But being addressed as uncle or aunty is different. Here, the caller has put you in a different category with the age difference ambiguously big. Ambiguously small works is welcome whereas ambiguously big is not. Last week, I was teaching a friend's son how to address everyone in our group. I used an equivalent term for uncle in Malayalam to address my young friend. The young friend is young compared to me but he is old when compared to my friend's son. As soon as my young friend heard the term uncle, he recoiled in shock. He then requested to be called chettah. I smiled on hearing this. I will tell you the reason for the smile later. Of course, I persisted with my friend's son and my young friend was called uncle throughout our trip.

Talking about these four categories, I know someone, who is older than me, requesting my daughter to address her as chechi. Even though it sounded ridiculous, the requester looks very young and she deserves to be addressed that way for keeping good care of her. Moreover, the requester also belongs to our list of favorite people. At the same time, I also know someone who wanted to be addressed as aunty because of the hierarchy and at a later stage reverted back to chechi. That brings out another interesting point. When we are younger, we want to be placed at a more mature role and when we are older, it is the reverse.

Before I sign off, I will tell you the reason for the smile. Around 20 years back during my college vacation, a kid approached at the bus stop. He had some questions. So he began, "Uncle, can you help me?". I was taken aback as this was the first time somebody addressed me as uncle. I politely helped him and at the end, told him less politely not to call me uncle. So when my friend reacted the way he did, it was like holding a mirror in front of my face. But this mirror was showing me what happened 20 years back instead of the present.

Tags: Musings,Chettah,Chechi,Hierachy


Thursday, May 16, 2013

Pappettan meets a girl who has 2 crushes

If you are wondering who Pappettan is, click on this link and find out.

Pappettan has a lot of friends. One of his friends, a girl, was feeling down. Pappettan was concerned on seeing the girl sans her usual radiance. As a person who is determined to make the world a better person, Pappettan couldn't help himself but to go directly into identifying and solving the worry plaguing the girl.

Pappettan: *sympathetically and ready to wear the hat of a listener* Is everything alright?

The Girl: *making faces*

Pappettan: *puts on the listener's hat* Would you like to talk about it?

The Girl: *takes a long time and sighs* My crushes are leaving.

Pappettan: *shocked and takes a long time to digest the information*

The Girl: *lost in thoughts*

Pappettan: *cautiously* Crushes?

The Girl: *absentmindedly* Yes, crushes.

Pappettan: *trying hard not to judge his friend* You mentioned you like someone when we met last time. But I didn't know you liked many people.

The Girl: *sadly* That is true. I liked only one person. He has a twin. Now both are relocating.

Tags: Pappettan Says,Girl,Crush


Wednesday, May 15, 2013


The Loire Valley. That was the destination for the weekend. I have been in the valley almost 2 years ago, touring 3 castles in a day. It was a day trip organized by one of tour operators in Paris. This time, it was different because we were renting a car. Renting a car and driving cross country was exciting when I lived in the US. It is no more now. I don't know why, age or excellent connectivity if you look at other modes of transport. Anyways, the weekend turned out to be lesser of sightseeing trip and more of an eating expedition. Of course, dining is always accompanied by finer liquids that can be distilled or fermented. What can follow good food combined with alcohol? Peaceful sleep. As a result, I skipped the photo walk in the morning and slept it. If you have already written it off as a bad weekend, I request you to wait. No journey is complete without new learning. This journey was no different and the lesson was on relationships.

On Sunday, I was woken by a couple having an argument in the half-awakened state. I had no option but to hear what was going on as we were sharing an apartment. I was in the living room when the conversation with occasional downs and too frequent ups was happening in the adjoining bedroom. The husband was late to wake up and so he missed going out on the photo walk with the other photographers. The husband had even set the alarm. When he was scrambling to get ready, I could hear the wife pouting and defending her. "I tried to wake you up". If that was not enough, I could also hear a few seconds later. "Wear the other jeans. Your wallet is in that." Judging by the tone of the conversation, she hasn't even got up from the bed and trouble opening up the eyes.

Later that day during the late lunch, I observed a friend and his son. Though my friend is not strict on diet, he is very particular about what he eats. If I have to tell you about this, I will have to dedicate a book in his name. For the blog post, I will restrict by saying he is not the person who goes for oysters, escargots and other miscellaneous items which the French love to eat. We had ordered escargots and my friend promptly stayed away from the dish. His son was curiously eyeing the dish. The son looked at my friend. To my surprise, my friend encouraged his son, "You have to taste all kinds of food. Then develop your own likes and dislikes. So go ahead. Try it". As a result, his son tasted the first piece of escargot in his life.

When you compare these two events, they do not have any similarities. But is it really true? Both of these events tugged my heart. While fighting sleep and the husband's disappointment, why would the wife worry about a simple thing as his wallet? Why would a father ask his son to try out something he doesn't eat? Isn't that how relationships work?

Tags: Musings,Wife,Husband,Father,Son


Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Pappettan mulls over an arrangement

If you are wondering who Pappettan is, click on this link and find out.

The other day, I found Pappettan sitting still for minutes staring at his mobile. It was evident something on his mobile was disturbing him. Upon approaching him, I found out he was staring at a SMS. Why was a SMS causing pain? I decided to find out.

Me: What happened?

Pappettan: I do not understand this SMS.

Me: *cautiously* Would you like to tell me what it is...

Pappettan: *thrusting the screen on my face* Take a look it.

The SMS was a simple sentence. "If you are free tomorrow at 19h30, would you like to arrange me"

Pappettan: *helplessly* I do not understand what she wants.

At this point, what am I supposed to think? There may be many possibilities. But I take the route of suspicion. It is a woman who is asking if Pappettan is free after 7:30 pm. I agree it is outside the infamous cinq-et-sept hours. Still, a romantic interlude cannot overridden. Am I going fast? Are you still stuck at cinq-et-sept? Please use your imagination. Otherwise, you may feel free to use wikipedia. Google is not adviced as it leads to a lot of unwanted searches. Of course, I searched for the phrase in order to make sure you land in the right places.

If you were me looking at Pappettan, then you would also have noticed the innocent helplessness on his face. It didn't take long to convince me there was deeper mystery behind the SMS. An inquisitive me decided to dig deeper to unearth the reality.

Me: Tell me how did you get the SMS.

Pappettan: I had booked a room in AirBnB for my friends. She sent me this SMS.

Me: *thinking hard* Does she speak English?

Pappettan: Very little. She is French.

Me: *thinking even harder* When are you occupying the room?

Pappettan: Day after tommorrow by noon.

Me: *thinking really hard for an eternity and then exclaims* Got it!

Pappettan: *irrittated* What?

Me: *feeling like Sherlock Holmes and even tries to imitate Sherlock Holmes with an imaginary pipe* She is asking you to pick up the keys after 19h30. She is asking to arrange a meeting.

Pappettan: *in a confused loud tone* What???!!

Me: She might have accidentally hit the send the button before typing the word "meeting". That is why it came out as "arrange me". Do not look for grammar and syntax in it. You already said she is French and knows little English only!

Tags: Pappettan Says,AirBnB,SMS


Thursday, May 9, 2013

Books: One shot

This is the same book which was adapted to the screen as Jack Reacher. I have already seen the movie. which presented the first problem As you are reading up the series in the same chronology as it was written, this became the second problem. The first problem is simple. You know the main plot of the book and also the villains. The second is the decision to skip this one or not. When I read through the book, I couldn't help going back to the movie where I ended up back and forth between my memories of the movie and what I was reading. One thing for sure. If I had read the novel, then it would have greatly affected the way I reviewed the movie.

A sniper fires 6 shot and kills 5 people. The sniper is apprehended within hours after committing this insane act. While in custody, the sniper asks for Jack Reacher. Nobody in the city knows who Jack Reacher is. Fortunately, Reacher sees the news on TV and recognizes the sniper. He decides to visit the city in order to ensure the sniper doesn't walk away free. This forms the basis of Lee Child's book. Normally, Lee Child uses the narrative of Reacher to tell the story. Considering the plot and characters, this is a difficult to book to write using the normal technique. So the narrative changes through the book although the majority of the book is still told from Reacher's angle. This is also a book where Jack Reacher takes a while to make his appearance. When I say long while, it is almost towards the end of first chapter when Reacher appears for the first time. Till then, Lee Child sets the stage for his grand entrance.

The Reacher series is a thriller where we don't have to tax our brains. Reacher can see clues everywhere a normal person cannot but he is not Sherlock Holmes either. The series amuse us if we suspend our disbelief. Since this book has already been made into a movie, you can see a whole lot of characters have been hacked down or merged into smaller number of characters in the movie. Luckily for us, the novel is not shallow as the movie. In a movie, this technique might work but not in a novel. I recommend you to read this novel only after seeing the movie. This way, you get to enjoy the novel much more.

The other books in the series are.

Tags: Books,Lee Child,Jack Reacher


Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Have you kissed a man?

Have you kissed a man? I am not talking about peck on the cheek. Anyways, that is normal way of greeting here. I am talking about a real kiss. I am talking about lips on lips and more. Before you answer this, are you a woman? If the answer is yes, don't even bother to answer my question. The question is not intended for you. The question is directed at the guys. To be more specific, for straight guys. Apparently, this is what two straight guys ended up doing a few weeks back. Now, if you are a nice person, you may cut some slack for these two guys with an argument they were experimenting with their sexuality. I am not going to do so, not because I am not a nice person but because I know the full story.

The two straight guys are friends. They were fully drunk. They were in a very public place; as public as the queue lined in front of a discotheque. Now there were two beautiful women in the long queue waiting for their turn to get inside the disco. Our straight guys approaches these two beautiful women. The arithmetic looks correct so far. They are two men and there are two women. But this little arithmetic trick did not help our two straight guys in this particular scenario. The women were not impressed. Luckily, the women had a solution. Yes beauty with brains. I love it when someone offers me a solution on a platter. That is less work for me. So in such situations, I don't even complaint about the state of the platter. I guess our two straight guys were relieved. I also guess you now know what the solution was. The solution was a kiss. The two straight guys have to kiss each other. And they did! I am not sure what happened after their kiss. At this point of the story, I took a good look at both of them and ran out to puke.

This incident brings out an important question. To what length would you go to achieve something? Regardless of what people say, we all give our best to to achieve something we really desire. There are two elements which are subjective in the above statement - "our best" and "we really desire". What I regard as best might not be the same as what you regard as the best. What I desire might not get you excited. These are subjective. The unspoken element in the answer is what will we not do even though we really want to achieve something. That is the most difficult part to answer. No matter how articulate we are, this is something where we will not find enough words.

Tags: Musings,Flower,Kiss,Man


Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Photos: A kiss in the city known for lights and romance

How did I get this picture? The story behind this picture is equally interesting as the picture. Do you know this is a lot of people likes to have pictures that were shot with Tour Eiffel as the backdrop in their wedding albums? If you are in Trocadero, the chances are you will run into a couple in their wedding dresses followed around by a camera crew.

A couple of weeks back, I was in this area with my friends when we noticed the man in the black suit trying to take a picture of him and his wife with a point-and-shoot camera.Now, you can imagine the scene. How  can he take a picture that will show off their dresses and also the radiance on their face? It is an impossible task if you do not have a designated person handling the camera! 

Seeing the struggling of the young man, my friend approached the couple and offered help. Luckily we did not have to offer our credentials. The cameras around our neck and the lenses we were carrying was a good indication how serious we were in this field. In fact, they were very happy and gladly posed for the pictures.

If you are wondering about the couple, they were recently married. They are from Venezuela. They were visiting Paris for the honeymoon. They had brought their wedding attire all the way to this city in order to take some memorable pictures for their album.

Picture Courtesy:

Please visit the page of Photokkaran. Don't forget to "Like" the page if you enjoy the pictures.

Tags: Photos


Monday, May 6, 2013

Books: The Racketeer

The first question that comes into our mind after reading through the initial part of this book is about the title. Who is the racketeer? Is it the main protagonist, Malcolm? He is languishing in a jail, hating every moment of it, because he was involved in racketeering. The truth be told, he was caught unawares in the middle of a racketeering scheme. But now, he is looking forward to walk free by helping with the Feds solve the murder of a judge. So is the book about a wrongly convicted man yearning and working towards freedom? Yes, it is.

Because of the way John Grisham narrates the story, we also tend to suspect there is more to the story than freedom. Possibly, there is an angle of redemption in it. If there is how? This thought grips the reader after he/she has taken up this book. This is also what makes this book a compelling read. You may be already familiar with the genre which has made John Grisham famous. This book doesn't belong to the genre that made John Grisham famous. It actually starts where most of his books end. That is to say after dispensing justice.

Although John Grisham tries to provide a social commentary on justice system, ambition of the officials, greed of men and the prison system, the emphasis is on telling a simple story. Hence the social commentary is mostly hollow but helps to build drama and also makes a naive reader to choose sides. It was exactly what I was looking forward when I picked up the book. I didn't want a lot of twists and turns. A straightforward narration was good for me. At the same time, I also wanted to be surprised once in a while. That is exactly what I got.

This is a good diversion from anything that has been eating your mind.

Tags: Books,John Grisham


Sunday, May 5, 2013

Pappettan on s'il vous plait

If you are wondering who Pappettan is, click on this link and find out.

If you live in France, you know what is meant by s'il vous plait. Translated, it means if you please. Always to be found at the end of any request, this is the French way of saying please. Recently the "s'il vous plait" or SVP for short, came into a conversation featuring me, my friends and Pappettan.

All of us were at an Indian restaurant near Marcel Sembat. We had finished the delicious naans, chapathis and also the biriyanis. Now, we were set for the desserts.

Me: *at the waiter* Desserts.... *conveniently omitting the word menu and letting the waiter figure it out*

French Friend: *raises his eyebrows* No "please" at the end? Just desserts?

Me: *smiles sheepishly*

Pappettan: That is funny!

Rest of us: *after taking a moment to digest the statement and unanimously* What is so funny about it?

Pappettan: It is an Indian restaurant!

Rest of us: * waiting for Pappettan to unravel the secret behind the statement*

Pappettan: *explains as if he is talking to kids who have trouble understanding complex statement* You don't say SVP in an Indian restaurant. Still, the waiter comes to your table with respect, asking what you need and helping you out.

Rest of us: *still confused*

Pappettan: You say SVP in a French restaurant. The waiter comes to your table with a frown, throws the menu at you and walks away.

Rest of us: *spell bound as this is the truth*

Tags: Pappettan Says,Please


Thursday, May 2, 2013

Photos: Alone in front of the abbey

This was taken in front of the Abbaye St-Ouen in Rouen. It was sunny and a lot of flowers all around the abbey. I decided to shoot it from the ground level. Hope you like it.

Picture Courtesy:

Please visit the page of Photokkaran. Don't forget to "Like" the page if you enjoy the pictures.

Tags: Photos


Books: In fifty years, we'll all be chicks

What happens when a comedian who is also a talk show host writes a book? The book ends up like a script for the stand up act or the radio show. This is what happens with this book written by Adam Carolla. The chapters are dedicated to one issue or subject. If you step back and look at the entire content of the book, these are subject or issues that might not have any link to each other. On the brighter side, there are jokes littered in every sentence and at times, there are many jokes in one sentence. We can heave a sigh of relief here as that is what we are primarily looking for in a book like this.

I have not seen any of the shows of Adam Carolla before. I have heard about the Man Show before. If you are familiar with Adam Carolla's work, then you might not be surprised with the content of the book. I was not familiar. But now I have a good idea about what his shows are about. Adam primarily tackles the American paranoia and fear in this book. He asks everyone to be think before acting instead of acting without thinking. For instance, why would a barman card a veteran? Doesn't he look old enough to order a drink? He points out to a time when things were not like this. All these started in the recent years. And if it is going to continue like this, then we'all be chicks in the next fifty years!

In a way, Adam Carolla is asking everyone to be sensitive and intuitive. The funny and ironic part being he is asking to be this in the most insensitive and politically incorrect way. It can be forgiven. After all, he is writing a book that would invoke laughter. Political incorrectness is the surefire way to make us all laugh. Airports, politicians and entertainment are a few of the subjects picked by Adam. Hidden beneath all the jokes, there is also stuff to think deeply.

As a book, this is an extension of a stand up act. I advise you to download Adam Carolla's podcast instead of reading this book.

Tags: Books,Adam Carolla,Religion

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