June 28, 2015

And the TGV can also run late

I had one of the most eventful journeys till date, it was my trip back home (Chennai), from Paris. I thought I had it all sorted, was traveling back in Emirates, one of the best airlines, did the web check, the previous day and was all set. Or so I thought... however, something went terribly wrong in my plan.

I was visiting the University of Tours, which is south east of Paris and a TGV takes about 100 minutes from Tours to CDG airport. So, I kept a generous allowance of an extra 120 minutes before I needed to show up at the airport. I was told by my French friends that the TGV is always on time and 120 minutes was way too comfortable. I believed them and was envious of the confidence and pride they had for their railway network.

It was the first train to leave St. Pierre de Corps (near Tours) to CDG, on a cold Friday morning in December, the beginning to the Christmas break. All the passengers seemed to be headed home, to be with family and there was festivity and cheer all around. Just as I was told, my train pulled in to the station, on the dot. We settled in, and I was looking forward to getting back home, just like the rest.

After about 15 minutes, I heard some announcements on the public address and I heard names of stations being listed, that were en route. I kind of patted myself for understanding their accent and was pleased with my progress with this ten day sojourn in France. Soon after, there was a station and most people trooped out. Soon after, I noticed the train was as fast as a slow, local train in India and I was feeling cheated for paying for a high speed train.

Soon, the train came to a complete halt and it seemed to be in no-man's land. Co-passengers seemed unperturbed and I heard another set of announcements in French. I finally decided to ask around and have them translated in English. It was amazing, how young and old alike, didnt know any English. They just stared back at me with an uncomprehending look. There were boys, aged 16/17, girls about the same, women in their 40s and men likewise. All of them looked puzzled when I asked, "Is the train running late?" in plain English. Finally, a Belgian girl came to my rescue, she understood French and a little English and I was finally told that the train was late and complimentary refreshments were being served in the upper deck! I asked "how late" to more blank faces. Finally, a gentleman at the far end of my coach came up to me and said I must speak with the Captain of the train who would hanging around, near the bar on the upper deck!

I trooped up and found a couple of them, in uniform, enjoying a drink and seeming very pleased about the train being late. I asked them if they spoke English and they nodded. I gathered from them that the train would reach the CDG, 150 minutes late!! Ah, well imagine, I kind of freaked out! I told them I had a flight to take and they coolly informed me that an announcement was made about the train running late and hence passengers travelling to CDG and those who wished, could board another slower train, at a particular station (I chided myself for thinking they were announcing the route the train was taking, much like the Kolkata mini bus conductor:-)). I mumbled something and managed to censure them for making announcements in French and not multi-lingual. The Captains seemed unaffected and agreed that I may not have followed the announcement but there was nothing they could do, except shrug expansively, one even helpfully offered, "Change your flight".

I went back to my seat and was wondering how to handle this unexpected situation. All my passengers showed a little more empathy now and seemed as concerned. With the help of the Belgian, I managed to get a French student to get me the Emirates number on his phone as the Belgian could'nt use hers, just like me (no wifi!!). And I unsuccessfully tried explaining my predicament and the lady on the other line kept repeating that I could show up 90 minutes prior to departure. I gave up. As my last resort, I called my husband back home, in Chennai and asked him to talk to our travel agent who would ask the Emirates staff in Chennai to see reason with their counterparts in CDG. And well, they were helpful and as a special case I was allowed to show up at the Emirates counter latest, by 1.45 pm as the flight was to depart at 2.20 pm. I ran up to the Captains again, and asked the approximate time of arrival in CDG and they said, maybe 1.30 pm and shrugged again!!

I mentally ticked myself off for agreeing to such a close connection and hoped that the train would indeed reach CDG, as promised by the Captains. Soon enough the train started but began moving in the reverse direction!! I pretended to be calm outwards but I was simply turning pulp inside. There was a lady who gestured to me with her palms together and looked up... yes, prayers was all I could do. I ran up to to the Captains again and they said that the train was going back a few stations to take another track, meant for slower trains and will eventually head to CDG.

And yes, the train did pull into CDG at 1.35 pm, I ran out with luggage and back pack, all the way up the escalators, travelators, like in the movies, and reached the Emirates counter, panting and sweating at 46 F, at 1.46 pm, and the counter was closed. Finally, I mentioned the name of the Emirates staff who had spoken to her Indian colleagues and they let me through. It was the huge, Airbus A380 and passengers were still boarding through the multiple entry points and I was the last to board mine. 

Its now six months since that journey but I can remember every emotion that I went through that day.


June 11, 2013

My take on the movie - Amadeus

Rarely can a dark character be so well portrayed, captured and so compelling! I guess the character of Antonio Salieri is so powerful that he makes Mozart's story filled with intrigue. For those who aren't familiar, Salieri is a contemporary of Mozart and is extremely jealous of Mozart's talent and fame. So intense is his dislike that it consumes him and yet, he simply loves the music composed by Mozart and acknowledges them to be miraculous and sees the hand of God through Mozart. Despite his jealousy, he realises that God had indeed chosen Mozart to compose music who is otherwise imperfect, lewd, vulgar and juvenile.

Unlike other typical characters, his jealousy and animosity of Mozart soon turns to anger with God himself and so his actions and manipulative moves are all aimed at squaring off with God!! I simply loved the way the Director has handled this strong emotion in a person and has so nicely brought out the fact that anger, jealousy clouds and eventually consumes a person and he or she lose their sanity. And so the story goes about how Salieri schemes to kill Mozart and also get him to write his own requiem mass (mass for the dead) and plans to take credit only to have the last laugh with God! But God has his own plans and Mozart dies leaving the Requiem Mass unfinished. The movie ends with Salieri confessing to his deeds to a Priest, as he is confined to an asylum for the insane, for more than 30 years after the death of Mozart.

Salieri is bitter that God chose him to compose mediocre music while he chose to bestow genius on Mozart! Such a brilliant capture of how jealousy, hatred, can simply consume a person to insanity. Extremely compelling

May 26, 2013

We Indians!


These past few years has exposed the Indian mindset like never before! There is obviously something in us that makes us do what we do! I say this in the background of numerous scams in politics, sports, and industry that seem to make the headlines everyday L And those of us who are not indulging in these, just don’t seem to care, such apathy. Corruption seems very natural in today’s world

This mindset probably comes from complete lack of values. This disease has spread so far and deep into the system today and affects all economic strata of society. It’s not just the deprived and underprivileged who indulge in these activities, there are super rich and moderately rich who seem to be as big a sucker as the poor.

What the reasons could be, I wonder!

While corruption and gambling may have always been there in our society, the systemic rot that has happened in recent times is something we probably cannot ignore. Not anymore! While a Anna Hazare or Arvind Kejriwal kind of Utopian solutions are highly impractical, there needs to be some kind of transformation of Indian mindset. We need to get back to learning from our leaders and heroes of past. A strong dose of our ancient wisdom is the order of the day. Gandhiji put it so well when he said, “Earth provides enough to satisfy every man's needsbut not every man's greed." Very clearly, our problem is that of greed! Perhaps, this is because of lack of faith in some way. At the risk of appearing to over simplify the cause, and being as utopian as some, in my view, if we can kindle this faith for the Supreme, we may be able reverse the decadence we say in society, today.


Being an eternal optimist I think the time has come for people, other than politicians, perhaps spiritual leaders, to bring about this transformational change in society. As Sri Sri Ravi Shankar often says “Faith is realizing that you always get what you need.” I would like to see this change happening very soonJ


May 25, 2013

Brains vs Grains!

Was fortunate to listen to an intellectual, Prof C. Rangarajan, recently. I was fascinated at the insights and humorous manner in which he dealt such a dry subject as “Indian Economy – the way forward”, till he started to speak on Agriculture! I was amazed how little the so-called experts know about the challenges in Agriculture and the complete lack of understanding the dynamics of Food Security in a populous country such as ours, which also happens to be an agrarian economy.


While he could rattle off figures and rates of growth in different sectors and also talk on how we can improve our present state of affairs, his total corporate style approach blended with a theoretical /academic knowledge of agriculture left me appalled. The rest of the audience, largely Corporate, being an IIM-A alumni meet, seemed to lap up every word he said and gave him a standing ovation too! He categorically mentioned that growth and development at any cost are important, and if that meant building a road in the middle of the forest, we must do it! I was shocked and totally dismayed. Every economist worth his money ought to know that growth needs to be inclusive and sustainable. Here was a policy maker talking like we can print a forest, just as we print currency notes! God help our country! Does he even understand that forests give us our oxygen and rain without which there is no purpose in having any growth! While I am no green activist, far from that category actually, I do think a balance and a sustainable growth is of paramount importance, and is being considered by every other country.

What finally irked me was the utter contempt with which he dealt with the subject. He said things like the actual number of farmers coming down was fine and that we can import foodgrains. He said we can move to increasing  the growth in the manufacturing and services sectors and forget about growing food. Being in this field and working with the likes of Prof. M. S. Swaminathan, I am sure there is no country with enough land to produce food for us! So, even if we do achieve 10% growth rate and all is well with Corporate India, fact remains that food cannot be imported to feed the entire population.

I seriously wish these decision / policy makers take some lessons from Professor Swaminathan. While, we need to improve the productivity, infrastructure, logistics and modernise agriculture, it is important for these intellectuals to realise that money cannot buy us food, anymore. As professor succinctly puts it, “Future belongs to countries with grains, not guns”. In other words, the wealth of a country needs to be measured by the food it produces. 

I came away home thinking how limiting our intellectual capabilities can be! I also realised how fortunate I was to have the opportunity to understand Agriculture from none other than Prof Swaminathan.

Lesson learnt: Its absolutely of no use to be an intellectual or be professorial in thinking, if its at the cost of common sense!


July 26, 2012

What ails Team Anna in 2012??

Anna Hazare and his team have started their agitation again! I am surprised by the lack lustre response by the media, this time. India’s channel, as claimed by Arnab G has decided to skip their 24/7 live reporting of the fast and even the print media are not interested.  Funny, how the headlines read this time, one paper even calls it as Anna Hazare’s circus in Jantar Mantar!! This same paper went gaga over his earlier fasts and agitations.

So, what’s the reason for the low turnout to Team Anna this time round??

Here is my take:

Anna Hazare is a very nice and well intentioned man but the movement per se lacks the collective focus and intelligence to carry it through to the logical conclusion of an effective Lokpal. Besides, his team members seem to be having divergent agenda and methodology, right from campaigning for state elections, taking an anti- congress stance, transparency within the Team Anna committee meetings and focus. Besides, formulation of Lokpal bill needs some wisdom, maturity and balance, mere sloganeering and social networking skills aren’t obviously enough.

The media did their bit in whipping up passions and emotions ran high with 24/7 reporting on TV in 2011. This helped them grab TRPs and the media barons were happy with Anna and his team. But Team Anna, instead of consolidating the gains and the ‘free’ support from media and youth, frittered away their chances. Many of the members became as brash and annoying as the congress leaders they were fighting! Thus began the beginning of the end. Today, media is quite apathetic to Team Anna as there is probably something better for them, to grab TRPs. They have realised that Indians like armchair activism and the likes of Satyameva Jayate programmes generate more revenue for the media houses and are easier to support (I mean politically correctJ).

The second theory of mine is that Anna Hazare movement was a media creation, in the first place. Media decided to back him and his team, and got the urban youth to rally around them and when the media didn’t back them this time, the same urban youth have gone missingJ

Prahlad's story - my eternal favourite

Even as a child, I always was fascinated and inspired by the story of Prahlad. I rarely attend discourses but I somehow seem to manage to listen many people speak on Prahlad! Just listening to his short life story of 4/5 years, somehow has an indelible impact on me.

Although, I grew up listening to the story of Prahlad from parents, Shri. Santhana Gopalachariar, mythological movies and Amar Chitra Katha, my understanding of Bhakti and Prahlad’s exalted status among other devotees of the Lord, has matured or rather evolved (or so I would like to think!). Recently, within a span of 10 days, I found myself listening to the story of Prahlad from two people, Smt. Vishaka Hari and Shri. Nochur Venkataraman. Listening to both of them gave me so many new insights about the ways of the CreationJ and quality of Bhakti that Prahlad had. Apparently in the Bhagawatham, Prahlad’s Bhakti is likened to how a fish gasps and pulsates when removed from water, similarly, Prahlad could not be removed from feeling the presence of the Lord, even for a moment! Such was his devotion and unshakeable faith in the Lord that he never experienced fear, even at the ferocious sight of Narsimha emerging from a pillar that brought alarm to the rest, including the mighty Hiranyakashipu. I have heard Guruji, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar ji say, fear is absence of bhakti or faith in the Lord. Prahlad is probably therefore the best example of Bhakti.

I realised that I really love listening to his story time and again! In lighter vein, I remember coaxing my brother and sister to name their sons Prahlad, with no successJ. I guess none wanted to be the Hiranyakashipu in the family!

July 19, 2012

Can we recreate the magic of the 70s?


As I watched the TV last night, I was surprised by the play of emotion on me, watching the most memorable dialogues and scenes from Rajesh Khanna’s films. I guess that kind of sums up the feelings of Indians who grew up in the 70s, an era of innocence, idealism and romance that Rajesh Khanna carried with great élan. I can hardly be described as a movie buff and yet news on Rajesh Khanna’s passing away took me to those yesteryears.

I certainly have no idea on what kind of person he was, off screen, but he simply was the best we had on screen. He belonged to an era when films did well if people went and watched them in theatres and spoke about it to their friends. There was no promotion of the stars, nor the movie, there was no news programme on “making of the film” by the lead actors, gushing inanities like they do, today. At most, we got to watch the songs on “Chayageeth” for those of us who were lucky to own a televisionJ. The only other exposure was on Vivid Bharathi on AIR where these songs became immortal.

Listening to people who worked with Rajesh Khanna, sharing their interesting tidbits and anecdotes got me thinking about life in the 70s. for these movie stars. I guess if you were successful in the 70s, with very little media at your disposal and not much of brand building and hype, it must be cakewalk for them, in today’s world. I mean, these people, be it the actors, the lyricists, the music composers, directors, had awesome talent and were so original. There were movies that were grossers by the sheer strength of the songs it had. Or a superstar like Rajesh Khanna could carry a movie on his shoulders and deliver a hit.

If only we could get them all back, they can easily push the current stars into oblivion, permanentlyJ