Thursday, August 04, 2016

On planes, passports, and such

There was a conversation on my twitter timeline this morning that I wanted to reply to, but my reply wasn't fitting into one tweet, and then I got distracted by this silly thing called work. And then by the time I remembered I felt I should just bring it here.

A plane from India to Dubai crashlanded at the Dubai airport yesterday. And once it was established that all the passengers and crew were safe, beyond some injuries (although a firefighter died), most of the conversation online turned to the behavior of the passengers online during the evacuation process.

Every time you board a flight, and they take you through the safety procedures (which, let's face it, most people don't pay attention to, because "that's never going to happen to me"), one of the things they tell you is in case of an evacuation, leave all your belongings behind. In the case of this flight, there seems to be video evidence that these passengers didn't listen to that particular of advice.

And the internet (especially some of the travel bloggers I follow) went crazy with all kinds of "omg look at these selfish morons" comments.

And I get it, I do. When you're in that life or death situation, every moment counts, and every moment spent looking for things you absolutely cannot leave behind adds to the danger of the situation.

But. Let's take a moment to look at the other side of things, yes? This was an international flight, and I would assume the passengers (a majority of whom were Indian) were therefore a mix of business travellers, tourists, and migrants - people who were leaving their home country to work in another country. And when you're in those groups, on an international flight, going to a country that is not your own, you belongings matter. Right, I mean, they always matter, but when you're travelling or living outside your country, your documents and your passport matter more than ever. Because they're all you have that can let you go anywhere. Everything else - money, phone, clothes, electronics, gifts - can be replaced. More easily by some than others, depending on your financial situation. But your documents? Renewing or replacing them in ordinary circumstances is a nightmare. Can you imagine having to do them when you have nothing to prove who you are and that you have the right to be there?

I remember reading, when the Brussels airport was attacked a few months ago, about the Indian passengers who were stranded there when the airport was shut down. Jet Airways used to fly a fifth freedom flight through Brussels at the time, so most of these Indians didn't have a visa for Belgium. So they had to be kept in one of the hangars at the airport till alternate travel arrangements could be figured out, because they didn't have the right to leave the airport. And this is when they had their documents with them.

It's been six years since I was robbed in Italy, and had to spend a week borrowing money from coworkers each time I wanted to buy even a bottle of water. But every time I think back to that episode now, I thank all the serendipity that helped me not lose my passport at the time.

A couple of years ago, the fire alarm went off in my apartment building at 2 am on a Saturday morning, and we all had to evacuate. I grabbed my phone, which was next to my pillow, and my keys, which hung next to the entrance door. I can't remember if I had grabbed my wallet or not. But I remember standing on the road outside, shivering, and wishing I had grabbed a sweatshirt. And My passport. More than anything, I wished I had grabbed my passport, because if that darn building had burned to the ground, where would I be? It didn't, because the alarm turned out be nothing more than a bunch of drunk twits thinking they were hilarious, but I still wish I had grabbed my passport that night.

And I didn't have a hundred other passengers behind me to consider that night. So to the universe who doesn't read this blog, I say this: give the folks who were on that plane a break, will ya? They're dealing with enough trauma without needing the internet to dump on them too.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Where I ramble about fairy tales

There was this fairy tale I read as a kid - one of Hans Anderson's, I think? - called The Princess and The Pea. Basically this prince wanted to get married, but obvs, he could only marry a princess. So when a woman showed up at the castle because she was stranded or whatever and claimed to be a princess (which is something that made zero sense on so many levels, you guys), and the prince had the whole love at first sight deal happen, the queen panicked and said we must make sure she's actually a princess. Because naturally this was all before you could just Google someone.

Anyway, so what the queen did was, she had a room prepared for the alleged princess (can alleged be used as an adjective? it feels weird.) and had this bed with a dozen mattresses or something (and which had to be climbed with a ladder, for Pete's sake), and had a pea placed under all those mattresses. Her logic was that if this woman was truly a princess, she would be used to the best of comforts, and wouldn't be able to sleep because she would feel the pea. If she wasn't a princess, she'd be like, say,  me, and be able to sleep anywhere, anytime (including a DTC bus in Delhi once. True story.)

So the next morning, this princess comes down to breakfast, and is asked how she slept. And unlike most people who are put up as unexpected guests in the home someone you've never met in your life, and therefore are grateful for the hospitality and would lie politely, she went on about how she couldn't sleep a wink because there was something under her mattress.

And so the queen was satisfied, the prince asked the princess to marry him, she apparently said yes, and happily ever after etc. was achieved.

There are SO many problems with this story on SO many levels, you guys.

Anyway. The reason I thought of this story recently is a skirt I bought some years ago, and which I finally fit into again. Every time I wear it to work, I forget that it has this hook at the back, right in the centre. So when I wear and get in the car to drive to work, it presses against my back and hurts. :(

And then I think of how such an innocuous, tiny little thing can cause such discomfort. Like a stoopid pea.

Thursday, July 07, 2016

Moods and music

If you hit play on Track 6 of the Indian Ocean CD that is perpetually in my car's music system as you leave my apartment in the morning, and head to the work place, if you time it just right - and not get stuck behind idiot Texas drivers - you'll reach the highway just around the tenth minute mark. And there is no greater pleasure than zooming down a Texas highway with the remaining three minutes of Charkha coming out of the speakers. And then just as you get off the highway, the track ends and Tandanu comes on, and that does me very nicely for the remaining ten minutes of my commute.

It's unusual for me to be this impacted by a track like this. For me, it's usually the words of a song that I pay more attention to. And it's the words that usually determine which song will suit what mood I'm in.

Certain songs suit certain moods. Certain songs bring on certain moods. Charkha is what I play in the car when I need to just listen, and not think about anything. 

When I'm homesick, and wondering why I live half a world away from friends and family, there's a verse in Kabira that jumps out at me:
Kaisee teri khudgarzee
Na dhoop chune na chhaanv
Kaisee teri khudgarzee
Kisi thaur tike na paanv
Ban liyaa apnaa paighambar
Tar liyaa tu saat samandar
Phir bhee sookhaa mann ke andar
Kyoon reh gaya

How's this selfishness of yours,
that you don't take the sun, nor take the shade..
How's this selfishness of yours,
that your feet don't stay anywhere..
You've tried being your own god,
and crossed all seven seas,
Still, there is a draught within your heart,
Why is it so..

When I do go back home for visits, and there's no pitter patter of paws on the floors, or no wagging tail coming to greet me, it still feels weird. And this song comes to mind, because of one line:
Sab kuchh wahi hai, par kuchh kami hai
Teri aahatein nahin hain

everything is the same, but something is missing..
the sound of your footsteps isn't there..
Extremely corny, I know, but ¯\(ツ)/¯

But the easiest choices are when I'm stressed, and need something to smash it out of me. And again, are completely unrelated to the lyrics. When I was in high school, it used to be Celine Dion belting out Power of love. Over the past few years, it's been two songs from Amit Trivedi's Season 2 episode of Coke Studio - Bari Bari and Badri Badariyan.

I heard these two songs for the first time around the time I was moving to London for two months, in early 2013. And halfway through my stay there, I had got a call telling me the princess may not be with us much longer. I started listening to these two songs on loop around then, and even now, three years later, they're what I turn to when I want to get away from the world.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

On old people

I had a very weird weekend. Old people are weird, you guys. And not just because of Brexit. Or the conversations from a couple of months ago.

I was out for dinner with a friend Saturday evening, and suddenly a doddering old man, who had been sitting at the table across from us with his entire family, stopped by as he was leaving, to say to me, "you have the prettiest eyes I've ever seen!"

I responded with an "aww, that's so sweet of you!" as his daughter (or daughter-in-law, maybe?) visibly cringed with mortification as she waited to help him out of the restaurant. And four days later I still can't decide if it was actually sweet, amusing, plain creepy, or all of the above.

And then Sunday morning I was on a flight, doing what I usually do on flights, playing Candy Crush on my tablet. And I was playing it for a fairly long time, because I had managed to unlock infinite lives for a two hour period. The old man sitting next to me woke up from his nap, and started watching me play. After ten minutes of watching, he finally decided to ask me about the game. He asked why I play it, how I play it, how long I've been playing it, and what's the point of playing it at all. And if the fact that I've been playing it for three years means I have a lot of time. And couldn't I find any better games to play?

He then, a propos of nothing, asked if I believed in ESP. "Sometimes," I said. "Ok, let's play a game to see if it's real." "Umm, okay?" He then proceeded to ask me a series of ridiculous math questions, and ended by asking me to name the first vegetable I could think of. He was genuinely disappointed when I said peas, because apparently 80% of people say carrots.

I don't even.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

On democracy

A conversation at lunch, a few weeks ago. Three Indians, one American.

Indian #1: What are you people doing? Trump actually became the nominee!

American: Yeah, I don't know what people are doing!

Indian #1: You need to get it together.

American: I have it together. Politically, that is. My personal life is a bit of a mess. My point is, I'm voting the other way!

Indian #2: But, there has to be some safeguard, right? Don't you people have some safeguards? To prevent such a crazy person actually winning?

American: You would think.

Indian #2: I mean, what if a mass murderer decided to suddenly run for President? Would you let him?

Indians #1 and #3 turn to Indian #2.

Indian #3: You do realize...

Indian #2: Yeah, I just realized what I said. Okay, never mind.
Indian #3: Because this is democracy.


Here's my thing, okay? When general elections in India happened in 2014, I was vocally, and consistently, against the BJP. We all knew they would be coming to power, and Modi would end up Prime Minister, but a part of me held out hope that it wouldn't happen, and wanted to bash my head against the wall when it did.

But my thing? Is this. I could see why people supported the BJP, and voted them to power. Because the alternative sucked. I didn't agree with it, because even though the alternatives sucked, I didn't think voting the BJP to power was a good idea. Two years later, my opinion hasn't changed much. I still don't see a viable alternative, but I still don't see the BJP as a good idea. But I see why others do, or did.

They seemed less corrupt. They talked of "achhe din" and all the progress they would bring. The social side of them, which is the scary as hell side of them, was ignored for the idea of all the economic development that people thought would come. And since social stands are more important to me than economic stands, very obviously I was in the minority (not that I was able to vote, but still).

So here's my thing. I don't get the Presidential election campaign going on in the US right now. I haven't got it for the past year. I don't see how, or why, the Republican primaries have gone the way they did. I don't see how this country can choose the Presidential candidate they have.

Again, in my view, if you are a Republican, your choices were, granted, all horryifying to me. But not to you, surely? So the fact that Trump is the candidate they went with, out of the 11 options (or more?) they started out with, is something I am not able to fathom. At all.

I'm so very terrified for November.

Monday, June 13, 2016

On how the news hits you

One of the continuing arguments I have with my mother is that she refuses to stop worrying about her children. When the brother and I travel, and now the sister-in-law too, she wants to know when we take off and we land. I'm very sure she has news alerts set up for whatever city or country we're in at any given time, because she usually finds out about any shooting or tornado warning or any possible type of calamity within, I don't know, a 1000 miles of me before I do.

Case in point, this Sunday morning. I received a text asking how bad the shooting in Orlando was. I had no idea, because between getting up late, realizing I had to wash my hair, and rushing out of the apartment to meet people on time, I hadn't really glanced at the news, twitter, or Facebook. But just as I typed that text back, saying I hadn't seen the news yet, I caught sight of a TV screen playing CNN. And stopped dead in my tracks.

I could go on and on about how the news these days makes me feel sick to my stomach. The Stanford rape case, the Orlando shooting, the US Presidential elections - none of it is pretty. And I can't blame my mother for worrying about me when I've written in the past about going crazy with irrational worry when anything happens back in India.

A few weeks ago, after yet another exasperatingly frantic call asking about my safety, I had snapped at her, "do you realize, if something had happened to me, calling or texting me would be useless, because I wouldn't exactly be able to respond if I was dead?" After a second of pin drop silence, I was witheringly told never to say anything like that ever again. The fact that I was already feeling the pangs of guilt for having snapped didn't count.

This afternoon, one of the tweets making the rounds about the Orlando massacre that hit a little too close to home was this screen grab of someone's post:
"as investigators are inside the nightclub, where many of the bodies are still where they fell, they have to tune out the nightmarish sound of all of the deceased phones' ringing constantly as loved ones try to reach them."

Shudder, indeed.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

On Captain America: Civil War

Captain America: Civil War has been watched. Thoughts are tumbling around my head. So, y'know, post. Hopefully largely spoiler-free, but y'know, insert mandatory warning here.

  • How perfectly cool is Black Panther? I mean, how perfectly cool is he?
  • How utterly adorable is Spidey? I've never been a Spiderman fan. I've seen only one of the gazillion Spidey movies that seem to have come out over the past decade or so, and was bored. But this Spidey - I think I will end up watching his return.
  • I mean, the minute they showed Bucky and that car, we knew who was in it, right?
  • MARTIN FREEMAN! How did I not know Martin Freeman was in this movie?
  • Is it a Marvel rule that when you introduce a new female character into a movie, she must have just a couple of random scenes that could be played by anyone, and then have it grow in the next movie? Natasha Romanoff seemed to feel that way in Iron Man 2 before the rest of the movies, and then Sharon Carter felt that way in Winter Soldier, but progressed to maybe five meaningful scenes in Civil War.
  • Is that why Marisa Tomei played Aunt May? Because she'll have a bigger role when Spidey returns? Because otherwise I cannot comprehend why Marisa Tomei played Aunt May.
  • Speaking of Sharon Carter, that kiss was totally forced, right? And we're sick of couples taking a moment to FINALLY realize they want to kiss just as they have to head off to battles and time is of the essence, right? But Sam and Bucky were totes adorbs in that scene, right?
  • Also, speaking of Sharon Carter, Peggy Carter! :( BRING THAT SHOW BACK FOR SEASON 3.
  • Chatty superheroes are the best superheroes. Give me wise-cracking Ant-Man and Spidey to watch all day long.
  • Vision is very... blah.
  • Did anyone else think the big cave like place they went to in Russia looked a lot like the prison in Guardians of the Galaxy?
  • This was a long movie. And had too many people. Lots of fun, and I loved all the people, but there were moments when yet another dude popped back up on screen and I'd think, oh yeah, we needed to get back to him too.
  • Can we go back to Martin Freeman and ask why he was there? I'm assuming he's going to pop back in for subsequent movies? This needs to be read up on.
  • And now for my favorite thing about the movie. I tend to whine, very often, that a lot of movies will introduce kick ass women, only to have them end up getting rescued due to some scenario or the other when it's crunch time. And so, I found it completely entertaining that during the main fight scene between all the superheroes, it was Wanda who kept roaming around and saving the various dudes. Although if someone can explain how she seemingly changed outfits from the scene in the garage to when the fight started, I'd be grateful.
This was such a fun movie.

Sunday, May 01, 2016

On weekends

I tend to whine that I end up having overly social weekends because I'm terrible at saying no to people. And I always tell myself I need to get better at saying no.

Turns out, if I'm asked to give up my Sunday to watch an SRK movie, I'm perfectly capable of saying no. No matter how great the reviews may have been.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

"You have smartphone, no?"

I was at the doctor's office a few weeks ago, sitting in the waiting area, and watching in fascination whatever home improvement related reality show they had on that day.

The gentleman next to me, who was at least 60, if not older, suddenly turned to me and said, "you're not very good at this waiting thing, are you? Don't you know you're supposed to be on your phone?"

I went for an Indian play this past weekend. The gentleman next to me, not that much older perhaps, but least a decade older than me, struck up a conversation with the opening words, so did you grow up around here? No? What visa are you on?

And having established that I was in fact on a visa, he told me all about the immigration reform advocacy group he is a part of. "You have smartphone, no? Open Facebook - I will tell you what to type and you can find our page."

I always rue the fact that too many of my relatives from the older generation know a little too much technology for my liking - not enough to be completely self-sufficient, but just enough to be dangerous. But what is with random strangers telling me how to use technology, yaar?

Thursday, April 07, 2016

On making wishes

Once upon a time, I was told that if you're passing under a bridge while a train is going over it, you could make a wish and it would come true. So on my way to college, when I would pass through Chanakyapuri and go through this underpass that occasionally had trains going over it, I would make a wish.

A decade later, I can't remember if any of those wishes actually ever came true. But what is there in trying?

I now live and work near an airport. And sometimes, I pass through the airport on my evening commutes (well, the service road of the airport - I'm too stingy to pay $2 every time I want to take a faster route). When you take this route, it also means you're driving under the runways of the airport, and every so often, driving under them while a Boeing 737 is taxiing on the runway.

So when I'm not wondering what would happen if the runway just collapsed with me under it and the airplane over it, I make a quick wish. Because why should planes not be given the same wish-granting opportunities as trains?