Monday, 31 December 2012

Do-buy Part 2: sharks, spiders and pythons, oh my!

Once the seminar ended, I ventured out on my own.

My last trip to Dubai in April, I didn't do my homework (old habits die hard) on what to do and where to go. I just stopped by the Mall of the Emirates, did some quick shoe shopping (TWO pairs of shoes my size on SALE! ah bliss) and admired the Burj Khalifa as I passed it on the way to the airport. The tower was awe-inspiring and I thought the next trip I'd marvel at the view from the Observation Deck. It didn't happen. I would have loved to see the sunset. It must be a heavenly sight; why else would the online tickets for the sunset time slot be sold out two whole weeks before the date I pick? A weekday at that!

So I stuck with checking out Dubai Mall, its Aquarium and Underwater Zoo. Which in retrospect, is good enough. I didn't have time to see the famed Dubai Fountain or 'the beam of light shining upward from the fountain' that is supposedly visible from space. I dislike being rushed; everything splendid must be done justice to. I downloaded the Dubai Mall app on my phone and freaked over it. It was very convenient and helped me locate all the shops I needed to go to instantly.

I had it all figured out. It was 5 pm when I reached the mall. I gave myself three hours. Half an hour dedicated to making the required purchases - shoes and a couple of books. Two and a half hours at the aquarium and zoo. I was all set.

After buying a pair of shoes, I set out to find the mall's only bookshop, Book World, with the app guiding me. I finally spotted it beside Virgin and...

Oh. Mein. Gott.

It was the biggest bookstore I have ever seen.

This is just half the travel section.
I was too busy gawking to take more pix.

I thought Landmark in Pune was big. It's got nothing on this place. Book World by Kinokuniya (headquartered in Japan) is MASSIVE. A bibliophile's fantasy. My eyes widened like Belle's did when she saw the library for the first time in Beauty and the Beast.

"I've never seen so many books in all my life!"

(For readers living elsewhere that have seen so many books in all their lives on numerous occasions, you are fortunate to live in places where books are valued.)

Shelves and shelves stuffed with books of all genres imaginable, neatly categorized. Customer service assisted me by finding the book I asked for; less than two minutes later it was waiting for me at the cashier on the other end of the store. Talk about efficient.

And of course my timed plan went awry. The sheer vastness of the place and the number of books around me were overwhelming, even intoxicating, and I squandered precious minutes there.

Finally, I tore myself away, consoling my grieved heart with buying a book on writing, and dashed off to find the aquarium. It wasn't too hard to find—you can't really miss the signs or the gigantic panel if you're in the right section of the mall.

After twenty minutes (the thought that there would be a queue didn't occur to me), I finally got my ticket and went in. Before stepping into the aquarium, a photo session takes place in front of a green screen; you can collect the photo (I heard the attendant say it would cost 200 AED!! I'm pretty certain I heard wrong.. 200 AED for a lousy Photoshop job?!) once out of the aquarium.

The aquarium was actually a glass tunnel going through the tank. At one point in the tunnel, a ray had parked itself on the roof, inspiring tourists and visitors to make silly poses under it.
It was quite breathtaking, watching the sharks lurk past you and the rays and schools of fish swim by.

On to the Underwater Zoo.
So many colours!

Dory! Marlin! NEMO!

Water rat nibbling on a carrot =D

The not very fearsome looking lion fish, dressed in all its finery.

I love this colour on fish.

The 'Creepy Crawlies' section had plenty of ominous looking reptiles and a few roaches (ugh!) and spiders.

The Burmese python.

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

A shy iguana? Or maybe it was fed up. It never showed its face.

I half-expected the chameleon to change colour. Wish it did.

Now that's Stoicism and poise for you.

A gecko imparting the cliched lesson: 'If at first you don't
succeed, try, try again.'

This little fella kept trying to climb the glass walls it was confined in, refusing to believe that its feet, so adept at grasping at branches and scurrying through sand, were quite useless here. Its determination reminded me of the story of King Bruce and the Spider. When it saw me approach it scuttered away, almost embarrassed, eyes peeled for when I would depart and it could return to its half-baked but commendable attempts at escape.

The Arabian Toad (below) seemed a bit starved for attention. As soon as it noticed the glint of my camera lens, it hopped out and posed, almost regally, with its head in the air, as if it were the king of beasts. Disgusted with my inability to get my camera to behave and take a decent shot of it, it turned its back to me. It allowed me to click a couple of pictures of its backside, and then, deciding it had humoured the stupid human long enough, disappeared into the darkness with a hop.

"Buzz off, you half-wit."

Somehow I missed the penguin colony and the octopus. And a lot more. I think I accidentally skipped two sections. Pity.

There was a 'Fish Feeding' included in my ticket package; I assumed it to be a tank feeding with divers involved. Turns out you get to feed the fish yourself from a platform above the tank with the stinkiest bits of whatchamacallit. I tossed the pieces at the sharks but there were smaller, quicker fish that darted in and out, devouring the food in the blink of an eye, unafraid of coming within so close a proximity of the sharks' jagged teeth.

The Aquarium also offers cage snorkeling, shark dives and diving lessons for people who aren't certified divers for AED 875 (cost of lesson + dive). I think this is reasonable, but I would much rather go scuba diving in the open sea than in a claustrophobic tank with insipid tourists all around, furiously clicking away on their smartphones (yes I belong to the same class).

I also took a ride in a glass bottom boat! It was slightly unnerving to have just a pane of glass separate you from the sharks and rays. After watching some of The Glass Bottom Boat (1966) on TCM a few weeks prior, I was a little fascinated with the idea. It definitely wasn't the same, for one thing the glass was quite scratched (wonder if any of the sea critters are responsible for it—mental image of a shark going berserk and attacking the glass). For another, it was odd to bob on controlled waters in such a cloistered environment, with a roof on top of your head. It didn't deter me from enjoying the wonders of nature beneath my feet. The sharks skulked by the boat and below it, tolerating the mortals trespassing on their territory.

Next day trip, the unexplored areas of the zoo and the Dubai Fountain.

Part 1

Tuesday, 25 December 2012

my birthday gift to me.

Sixteen years ago, when we shifted into a new apartment, I got a spanking new study table for the room I was to share with the sister. It comprised of a desk, a shelf and a small cupboard. I lovingly arranged my Enid Blyton's and Roald Dahl's on the shelf and thrust some encyclopedias into the cupboard. When I had to 'study', I'd place one of Blyton's many adventure books into the pages of my text book, leaving the cupboard door ajar while reading, so as to conceal my transgression from my parents if they happened to pop in to enquire of my progress.

The study table underwent a startling makeover as it bore the brunt of our transitions, from childhood all through the teenage years. For one, half the Blytons, were replaced with the Harry Potter series. The smooth pine colour was scrawled upon with names of all the awesome men I or my sister crushed on over the years-the Backstreet boys, John Stamos (Full House), Gareth Jones (How 2), Tulio and Miguel (The Road to El Dorado - No. 1 on my list of all-time favourite animated movies), Aragorn and Legolas (The Lord of the Rings), even a couple of Bollywood actors at one point-in blue permanent marker. One entire side of the cupboard was covered in names of all our favourite witches and wizards from Harry Potter in whitener. Later, half the names were shrouded with a poster of The Emperor's New Groove (that'll be No. 2) from a teen magazine called Young Times. We were young; we were fickle.

After school, we moved to Pune and I shipped all the Blytons, Dahls, Potters, classics, novels there-I don't EVER let go of my books. I designed a study table cum bookcase for our room there, the mother got it made, but the sister hijacked it. When we moved back to Kuwait after MBA, I decided the table here had to go. I was a mature twenty-three year old and this embarrassment in no way validated that. I needed a new bookcase to house the books I'd bought in India (you may think I'm crazy carrying books back and forth across the Arabian Sea, but do you know how hard it is to find decent books in this country??).

I also wanted a writing desk. I actually really wanted my paternal grandfather's which was in Hyderabad. Ever since I learnt of its existence, I demanded to have it sent to me. I've been told it's a huge, beautiful, classic piece of teak furniture. I've never seen it but I'd like to own a tangible piece of family history, especially one that's akin to writing. I was also told it was just not practical. So I conceded to buy one.

Two years went by; my inertia coupled with my dislike of every piece I saw in Ikea inadvertently put off the purchase. The books however, kept coming in, mostly from clearance sales at bookstores closing shop, and would end up stashed under the bed and in every corner of my room because there wasn't an inch of space on or in the superannuated study table. But then, a couple of weeks before my birthday last Monday, I finally set eyes on this secretary desk in a furniture shop in Farwaniya:

and was enamoured with its antique appearance. I bought it instantly.

Kuzco took the words right out of my mouth.

I also found a bookcase to go with it. The two pieces were delivered to me after a week, during which I finally tossed out the aging study table, after painting over the names of my old flames and erasing all traces of my teen years.

I kept my tattered poster though.

I spent a happy weekend organizing my books and other bits and bobs that I've held on to, into the shelves.

Twain, Tolkien,
longer refugees looking for a home.

The postcard is a print of Caspar David
Friedrich's La Tonnelle. Google it, it's gorgeous.

My first thought when I bought the desk (besides that it was soo bee-yootiful) was that every night, I would spend an hour or two writing narratives and articles that had Pulitzer Prize-winning potential (just potential - eligibility to the relevant category is limited to American citizens) but the universe has been conspiring against me, I barely get to rest my elbows on it for an hour the entire week.

I may not have a lot of time to use my desk at the end of each day and there may not be any masterpieces drafted upon it smooth surface, nevertheless, just seeing it first thing in the morning makes me, as Kuzco puts it...sooo happy.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

The Watch Tower on Vetal Hill

She met them after spending a year abroad, greeting them in excitement. Friends of old, the three had decided to spend the early morning hours with a short hike up one of the hills in the city. Paths connected the hill to others, as well as to an abandoned quarry. There was a pool of murky water lying at the bed of the quarry; the three had once skipped stones there. She had failed miserably.

Ye olde abandoned quarry. 

They trudged up the trail that ran through thick shrubbery, listening for faint calls of the peacocks that lived within, reminiscing about other times spent there.

"There's a tower on this side," one of them said when they came to a fork in the path. "It has an awesome view."
"Is that where we're going?"

An image of a turret immediately flashed into her mind. Two recent summer trips in Europe and watching Disney films since infancy had conditioned her imagination. She drew a mental picture of a high, (no not too high, she thought, the top would show from above the trees), of a medium-sized (she had no reckoning of height) tower, made of stone, with a pointed tip and a window - no glass of course. The kind of window from which Rapunzel would toss her hair down. There would be a wooden spiral staircase inside.
She wondered how they'd never stumbled upon it on earlier trips there. Then, she knew why.

"Here we are!"
The mental picture shattered.
"This?" she said, almost hysterically. "You call this a tower?"
What stood before her held no resemblance to European architecture. It was a rickety structure (high, not medium-sized), the frame was made of rusted steel bracing crisscrossing in the style of X's, over and over. Planks of wood ran up all around it at angles. It was leaning slightly on one side, as though the wind was commanding it to bend.
It looked like a dilapidated water tower. Without a tank of water at the top.

She said so in great disdain.

The other two looked at each other.

"Are you coming up?"
"Of course not! I have to attend a wedding in two days and I'd like to be there in one piece!"
"Come on! There's nothing to it, even my sister went up this. We've been up lots of times. And the view is just amazing."

She did want to see the view. She'd missed the hills.

"How am I even supposed to get up this thing?" The first step was at a height of about five feet, there were no stepping stones. Heaving herself onto it was out of the question, the plank looked like it would disengage with excessive force.

One of them hoisted himself up to one end of the 'tower', strode across the bracing at the bottom and onto the steps, comfortably ascending them. He waited at the 'first floor' stair deck, which comprised of a single plank of wood nailed across the ramshackle frame on either side.

She followed suit, gingerly climbing onto the frame, walking across while hugging the structure for dear life (she was three feet off the damp ground), and then advancing onto the first plank of the steps. She took another step up, and felt the entire structure lean to one side, as though it was being weighed down. She screamed and retraced her steps back to the safety of the earth.

"Dude! Come on! We thought you were more adventurous than this!"
"I'm telling you, the view is to die for! And the wind is just amazing!"
"I have to go back to work in a week, there isn't enough time for me to recuperate if I fall from this thing!"

A group of young trekkers stood some distance away, watching. She waved a fist at them.

The two beguiled her into trying again with fabricated anecdotes of the structure's safety and promises of the awesome view and wind. The rigmarole was repeated in its entirety.

"I can't do this! Just go up, I'll wait down here until you return."
"I'm telling you man, nothing's going to happen! My sister is the biggest darpok* and she went right up to the top!"
"Fine," she snapped, making her way to the steps again. "But if I die, my mom's going to kill me."

When she got to the first step, she ordered one of them to go on and the other to wait until she'd reached the first 'platform'. She went up slowly, there were spaces between steps where a plank had fallen through. She held the round railing tight and wished there was another one on both sides, running between the sole rail and the flight of stairs, so as to reduce the wide gap that a person could easily slip through.

She cursed the added kilos that had leeched onto her in Kuwait, and the wretched gym membership she had spent so much on. She deigned to work out once a week or two but apparently one had to be more regular for there to be an adequate effect.

Twice, she looked down. Bad idea. She had a sudden visual of slipping through the wooden boards and dashing against the steel. She forced her head up, muttering a prayer and concentrating hard on getting up to the platform atop the structure and back down with all limbs intact. There was more safety in bungee jumping, she thought crossly.

Finally, they were at the top. A lone rail on each side was all that separated them from certain death. The platform was missing a plank and she refused to go any further, declaring she could see perfectly well from where she stood and that the sights wouldn't improve by taking another three steps.

That isn't her foot. In case you thought so.

The trees of the surrounding hillside were still a lush green, courtesy of the departing monsoon. She was glad she hadn't risked her life for a browning view. The clouds rode low, shrouding the sun, and the morning mist threw a haze over the city that looked so distant from where they stood. There was a slight wind, although it wasn't as 'amazing' as promised. The view had been worth it after all.

Civilization obscured by the morning mist.

The derelict 'tower'.
After a few pictures, they descended, making their way to the bottom. There were no incidents except one, when the structure shook slightly. The climb left no physical evidence on her, but for jittery knees and a strong reek of rust on her palms.

She went to the wedding and enjoyed it. A week later she was back at work in Kuwait, a longing for the hills buried deep in the recesses of her heart.


*darpok [dar-poke] - fraidy-cat

Based on actual events that occurred at the watch tower on Vetal Tekdi (hill) in Pune city. 
Dedicated to the two maniacs that took me up that tottering pile of planks.
Narrative and dialogue may have been embellished (just a little) to increase reading pleasure.

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Do-buy Part 1: it's the people that make the city

The mark left by the travel bug's bite has started to itch of late. I tried to subdue it with a trip to Europe, but it got much worse. It did subside a little after visiting India. And now after a day trip to Dubai yesterday, it's become latent, at least for now. It will never heal.

Like most GCC residents, I've been to Dubai a few times but only twice alone, both times for work. The first time was in April to attend a comic con (the post is overdue hence irrelevant, but it may still come). The second was yesterday, to attend an exhibition and seminar at Dubai's World Trade Center. On both occasions, I naturally booked the earliest flight out of Kuwait and the last flight in, offered by Jazeera Airways, to use the time after the event ended to explore the city. On arrival in Dubai, visa formalities and immigration can take well over an hour, so it's best to take the earliest flight and allot time out of your day for that if, like me, you're visiting the city for less than 12 hours and need a visa.

Obtaining a visa on arrival on both trips has been mildly entertaining. The visa officials (who are possibly all Emirati) at Dubai International Airport differ greatly from the rest of their cold-hearted kind (speaks experience, not stereotype). They're jovial, lightening the atmosphere with inconsequential banter. Perhaps it's their way of welcoming visitors into the emirate or making the daily grind of seeing thousands of travelers a little less monotonous..

I stood in queue at Passport Control for an hour (note to self: get in line as soon as visa application is in hand and fill it while in queue, do NOT waste time filling it on a table top). When my turn came, visa official number 1 (let's call him VO #1), returned my passport and the form I'd handed him, informing me I had to go to office 1 (the office with a big '1' over it) and convey the word 'manual' (I heard 'Emmanuel') to the man there (VO #2). I did so with a tinge of irritation, wondering what was up but not bothering to ask; there seemed little point in it with 30 or more people waiting their turn.

VO #2 did whatever he had to do and directed me to go back to VO#1 and say 'finished'. Again, I did as I was told without comment. VO#1, smiled at me when I announced whatever it was had 'finished', and said, 'Gul khallasti', Arabic for "say, 'finished'". His attempt at making a foreigner speak a little Arabic made me smile back. The long wait forgotten and the irritation dissipated, I walked towards the exit with a pleasant feeling, all vigour returning.

The security guard at the taxi stand pointed me towards the pink taxis - cabs for women, driven by women. I love this initiative. It's so empowering for women and makes the hassle of conveyance safer.

Dubai is a glamourous city, never failing to entice the tourist with a new attraction. It's renowned for its events, concerts, restaurants, parties, nightclubs, the next biggest or best something, but none of this is what really makes the few hours I have in the city so pleasant each time.

'The soul of a city is in its people.'

In April for instance, I was ferried around by the nicest taxi drivers I have ever met. En route to the airport from the Mall of the Emirates, I wanted desperately to see Burj Khalifa up close, but was apprehensive of being late for my flight (immigration takes FOREVER).  The taxi driver kindly assured me I had time and that it wasn't too far away. Since there is no parking right in front of the world's tallest structure, he asked me to get down, asserting that he would drive around the circle and return. I gazed at the magnificent structure, awestruck.

Burj Khalifa, Dubai.
The picture does it no justice.

The cabbie returned in a couple of minutes and we launched into a conversation about the sights and his family in Pakistan. I was grateful towards him for drawing my trip to such a memorable close.

At the exhibition yesterday, a couple of sections of the hall were cordoned off so different presentations could be held simultaneously. Quite a few of the attendees sat strategically on the aisle seats, so they could move on if the speaker or topic wasn't particularly interesting. By doing this, they were of course blocking way to the seats in the middle and for a couple of lectures I had to stand at the back. I finally got an aisle seat myself at one held in the afternoon. Some time into the presentation, I noticed a man come in and stand at the back as almost all the seats were filled and there was nowhere to go without disturbing someone. I moved to the seat to my side. He came and sat down beside me, thanking me. As soon as the speaker concluded he turned to me and said, in a classy British accent, "thank you very much for moving, that was very kind of you." This expressive form of gratitude was very new to me.

On exiting the Dubai World Trade Center, I waited for a cab with a number of other trade visitors, who left before me as they'd been waiting longer. Ten minutes later, it was just me, a young woman and an older gentleman. The man hailed a cab for the woman who hopped into it gratefully and left. He hailed another cab and as it halted, turned to me and said, "This one's yours!"

That's the thing about Dubai. The people, irregardless of nationality, religion, level of affluence or education, are well-mannered, polite and considerate, and stand as a prime example of how humans should behave towards one another. Strangers extended similar courtesies to me in Europe. None whatsoever from strangers in Pune, all people do there is try to fleece you. Why do people in India feel only apathy towards their fellow countrymen?

What stood out most for me is that, in Dubai, if you smile at a stranger, he/she smiles back. Strangers in Bombay or Pune don't deign to smile back at you, unless you're a potential customer in a store, restaurant or hotel. Somehow, somewhere in the process of adapting to the change in lifestyles brought about by the immense inflow of money, we lost our sincerity and humanity.

Will we ever realize the enormity of this loss?

Sunday, 11 November 2012

the dazzling affair & the unquenchable thirst: Kuwait's Record Breaking Fireworks Display

For the past couple of weeks, K-town has been abuzz with a singular numerical figure.
Four million KWD (Kuwaiti Dinars).
For those of you that lead your lives elsewhere, that's the cost of the fireworks display that was held to mark 50 years of the issuance of the Constitution of the State of Kuwait.

Having witnessed last year's fireworks display in awe, we naturally planned to join the throngs of people heading towards Gulf Road to watch the extravaganza that took place last night, from Green Island all the way to Kuwait Towers. It looked like half the country turned out for the breathtaking show.

Sparkly! So sparkly!

We parked in the expansive lot between the Indian embassy and the Third Ring Road, dropped off the father at Burj Al-Hamam, and then the mother, sister and I walked to Kuwait Towers, attempting to buy water on the way there. I was so incredibly thirsty - we walked the whole length of road from Burj al Hamam to Applebee's and every single restaurant and ice cream cart we came across on the way was out of the precious resource. Restaurants like Abdel Wahab Lebanese Restaurant adamantly stated '"they did not give 'take away water'". I'd read that there would be volunteers handing out water like there always are in walks and marathons, but there weren't any.

Discouraged by the crowds laid out in camp chairs all across the beaches after Applebee's, we decided against going up till Kuwait Towers. We halted there (Applebee's) and found a decent enough standing spot on the sand, looking out onto the dark Arabian Gulf. There were screens set up in the middle of the water with moving show lights and far away into the distance, dotted lights shone from a string of boats lined up in the periphery of the sea, with blinking blue lights indicating the presence of the Kuwait Coast Guard. I envied them all their view, it was bound to be spectacular. The show was scheduled to begin in thirty minutes.

By this time, I was almost deliriously thirsty and didn't feel like I could stand any longer. I kicked myself for my lack of foresight for not getting a couple of bottles from home and thought longingly of the carton of pure unadulterated mineral water in the kitchen. I had never wanted water so desperately.

Which brings me to quote the classic and apt lines from The Rime of the Ancient Mariner -

Water, water, everywhere
nor any drop to drink.

You have to appreciate the irony.

Then, the show finally commenced after a countdown from 50 down to 1, thankfully taking my mind off my parched throat for the next hour.

It's not a great video, but note the 'squiggly' fireworks! The first time I'd ever seen them.

A couple more short and crisp videos:

This last one exhibits Kuwait Towers in a dazzling display of explosive colour:

After the last of the record breaking fireworks exploded (77,282 in totality) and the glorious colours quite literally went up in smoke, we started walking back. I was reminded of my dry throat. I have now truly come to appreciate this God given gift and the meaning of the word 'scarcity'. I kept trying to mollify myself with words like, it's okay, pretend you're fasting, but it didn't really work since I don't exactly walk 4-8 km when I'm fasting do I? It's not like I'm in the Gobi desert (even if this still is desert country). Kuwait has a production of 3.1 million barrels of oil per day (October 2011) and has one of the highest standards of living in the world. There is a fireworks show on that cost 14 million USD, that also secured an entry into the Guinness Book of World Records. And there is absolutely no water to drink on a stretch of 4.4 km of the more popular side of the coastline. Kinda makes you wonder what the point of all that oil is, when with all the money in the world, you can't get water when you want it!

It was a frightening thought - suddenly, pictures from CNN of kids walking for miles to procure water from wells in India and Africa began playing in my mind and I started getting flashes of what the world would be like if we ran out of water. Chaos, anarchy... the post-apocalyptic scenario of my ill-timed visions was little short of horrifying.

We stopped at KFC to try our luck there. A conversation that ensued with the cashier:

Me: A bottle of water please.
Cashier: We don't have water.
The sister: Can we have a glass of tap water?
(The sister drinks it all the time in Europe.)
Cashier: We can't do that, Ma'am.
The sister: Can we have a glass full of ice then?

Yes, we could, but that wasn't enough for me; I needed to feel the liquid gushing down my shrivelled insides and assuaging them. Finally, conceding defeat, I ordered Pepsi, knowing full well the sugar in it would dehydrate me further. Perhaps you can fathom how parched my throat was. The gas-less Pepsi was the most disgusting thing I'd ever consumed in a long time, and it incensed me that it cancelled out the good our walk did for me, but I drank more than half of it anyway. Made up for it by guzzling down a litre of water as soon as I got home.

The mother made a valid point: More and more of this country's residents are being diagnosed with diabetes, and all anyone could find to drink at this phenomenal event was Pepsi.. and other gross aerated drinks.

I now leave you to mull over my post with the pictures I salvaged from the blurry mess of photos taken with my iPhone:

and so, it begins

Second best firework on my list - for the brilliance of colour
(it follows the squigglies)

The sky lights up!

and my personal favourite.. The Illusory Exploding Tree.

Sunday, 7 October 2012

A monologue with the words in my head

To the words in my head:

It never ceases to amaze and exasperate me how you suddenly start bouncing around in my head on Pogo sticks, like kids high on candy, the second I turn my laptop off. But when it's on? Oh no! Then your kin must flee to skulk in some nook or cranny in the recesses of my mind, refusing to comply, like a teen that just hit puberty. You wouldn't deign to linger long enough for me to open a Word document, or find a notebook or some paper to scribble your form on, no matter how much I plead. You even made me miss my self-imposed deadline of publishing a post every fortnight. Selfish gits, the lot of you.

It gives you great satisfaction doesn't it, when I stare blankly at my laptop screen, waiting for you to come out of hiding and flow as beautifully and effortlessly as you do when I'm otherwise occupied. It's not that you're timid, oh no. Your hyperactive babbling is evidence enough of that. You refuse to relent even when I am in the office and have a demanding assignment on hand; you know well enough that I can't turn my back on it and pay attention to you!

This other matter has little to do with my alternate career as a writer, which, thanks to you, currently hangs from a precipice, but why not bring it up now and get it done with?
You do the opposite when I must make a point to someone. You deliberately disobey all rules of sentence structure, and shatter the very foundations of coherency in communication when I open my mouth to validate my thoughts, thus making me sound like a blithering idiot.

As far as writing is concerned, well, you can't elude me forever. For in just a few hours I will finally receive my iPhone that I so despise from the repair shop where it's been languishing for the past two weeks (the reason behind my distaste for the gadget will serve as a story for another time). Enjoy your shenanigans while you can. Your infantile antics are about come to an end, as I intend to lasso you and pin you down mercilessly onto the Blogger app the second I have my phone back online.

Consider yourself duly warned.

- A disgruntled writer

Saturday, 15 September 2012

the much-delayed return of what seems to be self-assurance.

Dear Reader,
(if anyone but me is reading this that is)

Have you been wondering where the devil I am? Excuse the archaic latter half of the interrogative if you think it inappropriate for this century; I have recently discovered Sherlock Holmes, and while I can't really recall reading it in any of his cases, I feel I must credit it to a possible dialogue uttered by Watson.

I digress, as usual. If you've been with me right from the beginning, you might perhaps be aware that I often do so. I think it a little entertaining. Do you?

Anyway. I have a confession/outburst/resolution to make.

This blog was meant to be for me. My little spot where I could nurture my writing. It was supposed to be an outlet for the creativity that lay dormant deep within me. It was meant to transform that dormancy into a seething, ferocious active volcano that would erupt with fabulous vignettes. Because I was told by near and dear and loved and not so loved ones that I had a gift with words. That I could write. That the drivel I often spouted had the potential to be something greater (okay those last few words are mine but the near and dear and loved and not so loved ones meant the same thing). For a time the volcano remained busy. But then somehow, somewhere, my blog lost its identity and as a writer, so did I. I began to crave followers, comments, page views, like an obsessed wanna-be tween with a newly uploaded profile picture on Facebook (I think I'm being unfair to tweens everywhere. I could accuse plenty of adults of harbouring the same obsession). At one point I even longed for my blog to be one of the most-read in the country. To be on those ranking lists. Phooey.

Don't get me wrong. I'm grateful to my followers. It makes me feel good that there are people out there who think what I write is worth reading (even if a lot of them are my friends who I've coerced into doing so) and who take the time to discern the annoying-as-hell captcha code and post a comment. I still feel a thrill when on the rare occurrence, I notice a new follower has joined the ranks of My Beloved Stalkers.

Reading so many different blogs, especially local ones, somehow got me muddled about what I began blogging for. I'm not really interested in telling people here what to do with their time and where to go. There are plenty of other blogs on which they can find that kinda info. I don't care to give anyone advice. I will perhaps continue chronicling interesting events I attend as they are part of my experiences and I believe there's something to learn from every encounter, every experience, although I think my last few posts have only been about events, which is going to lessen. I'm pretty sure I have more to write about than to inform people in many words of what a good time I'm having.

Of course, it is a part of every writer's dream to be read. To be recognized. To see their name in print. To write something that an editor thinks is worth publishing. And get published. And keep getting published. On second thought, I'm not going to generalize. I don't really know any other aspiring writers (but one) so I'm not going to speak for anyone. This is a part of my dream.

I don't want to lose my touch and I fear very much that I will if I continue my disappearances for such frequent and prolonged hiatuses. I don't want my blog to die. I don't know why I stopped posting for so long - it might be listlessness, a waning of enthusiasm, an inexplicable reticence, of not wanting to be read mingled with a despair of 'oh who's going to read it anyway', which in retrospect is quite unfair, as I'm pretty certain there at least 8 people who regularly read my deviating narratives and like them. It's definitely not writer's block, for I have many more drafts than actual posts. I think I just have a serious problem with finishing what I begin writing - I need to be completely satisfied with the conclusion.

But this has gone on for far too long. I am suddenly overcome with an impatient fervour to just sign into Blogger and do nothing but type.

To ensure that something (of hopefully, considerable quality) is churned out at regular intervals on my darling blog, I solemnly swear that, henceforth, I will have a post out (and not just save it as a draft, but hit the 'Publish' button) atleast once every fortnight.

I do value and welcome your feedback, criticisms and any pointers you may have for me. How else will I improve? Whether you love a post or hate it, I want to know. Especially if you hate it. Unless it's in your nature to just hate and spread the hate for the sake of it. Then I don't really want to hear from you, as I dislike unnecessary unpleasantness, more so if it's uncalled for. The alliterations were unintentional (HA!!).

Oh and in case you were wondering where the devil I've been (come to think of it, I might have lifted the expression from a Wodehouse novel), I found my first full-time job and have been working since Jan-end, and vacationed in Central Europe (yes, again) for three weeks in Aug-Sept. So I've plenty to write about.

Since you've been such a patient reader, I'll leave you with a not-so-terrible photo I took (of Schloss Eckberg, a hotel in Dresden, Germany that serves the most gorgeous and delicious breakfast EVER) and Bertie Wooster's endearing words of farewell: Tinkerty-tonk!

Schloss Eckberg and the sun peering though the branches

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

music that moves you.

Sometimes, a piece of music touches you so deeply you feel raw, exposed. You wonder how is it that a non-living thing can understand you, complete you. And then you realize it is living...

I think Mozart's delightful sonata (E minor, KV 304) triggered those feelings in me. Or it might have been Antonín Dvořák's sonatina in G major, Op. 100. Or perhaps Jules Massenet's Thaïs Meditation..

I was thrilled to learn that the two musicians at last Wednesday's concert at Dar Al-Athar Al-Islamiyyah were from the Czech Republic (the Czech ambassador's car should have tipped me off). I could show off the limited (about 15 words tops) Czech I knew!

It was clear from his performance that Adam Skoumal, the pianist, enjoyed every minute of it, his head bobbing to the tunes along with the rest of him swerving to them. He played exceedingly well.. and he knew it.

And the violinist? Roman Patočka?

He seemed to be in a passionate affair with his violin, wooing it, refusing to take no for an answer. His bow was a blur of motion on the fiddle, as it strummed out one beautiful, heartrending melody after another, moving me to my very soul.

They also played a composition of Adam's to the public for the first time ever.

Of course, they received a much deserved standing ovation. After bowing and posing with their bouquets, they stepped off stage, deliberated for about 40 seconds, then returned, announcing they would play Debussy's Claire de Lune.

What a treat!

After the show, I excitedly cornered the rosy-cheeked violinist, Roman Patočka (pronounced patochka), greeting him with a 'dobrý večer!' (good evening, pronounced Dobree Vecher). He was delighted. I announced that I'd holidayed in the Czech Republic the year before and visited the Moravský Kras (limestone caves) and other gorgeous places there. I don't know why I thought he'd care to know that. I suppose like most people I'm under the illusion that on meeting someone from a far off land, you must immediately establish an inane familiarity with said land, no matter what the topic (when I tell foreigners I'm Indian when they ask me where I'm from, they almost always reveal their longing to visit Goa). Well in my case it wasn't inane. So there.

Back to Roman. He was as sweet and friendly as all the other Czech people we met in the CZ, with an adorable, disarming smile. Of course, I took a picture with him. Lately, I've been taking a lot of pictures with random guys - nomad painters, comedians, musicians, cosplayers..

I wanted to buy their CD but they were sold out.

I waved goodbye to them with a cheery 'Nashledanou' (Goodbye, pronounced Nas-khladanou) and they responded likewise.

I leave you with Adam's dramatic composition (that I listen to everyday) - excuse the not-so-fantastic quality. I tried.

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Timeline for Facebook Pages - What You Need to Know

As of yesterday, Facebook finally introduced Timeline for Pages, giving everyone until 30th March to make a graceful transition.
If you've switched your personal profile to Timeline you probably guessed this was inevitable.
So what are we looking at exactly? What's out and what's coming into play? Here's the lowdown on Timeline for Facebook Pages.

  1. Bye Bye Landing Page: In my opinion, a huge blow is that landing pages have essentially lost their meaning as non-fans now see the Timeline directly. A landing page was a fabulous way for companies to display their creativity and ingenuity (who didn't love Red Bull's *hint hint* call to action?) The page tabs still appear in the row of apps (in default icons, remember to change them) listed below the cover photo, but the landing page is no longer the default.. well, landing page.

    Red Bull's awesome now defunct
    Facebook landing page

    1. Cover PhotoA tremendous consolation for the loss of the landing page is the cover photo. Like the profile picture and image strip could be optimized, Facebook has very kindly saved page owners the trouble of designing multiple images in tune with their brand by having a single, gigantic, in-your-face image, with a width of 810 pixels. Use this real estate to convey what your brand all about. Click here to read about certain rules as to how the cover photo should be used.

                               LV effectively communicates the essence of its brand                    
    2. Highlight baybeh: The Highlight feature is pure genius. By clicking the 'star' icon in the corner of your post you ensure it's eye catching and unmissable, with Facebook automatically doubling the width of the post.

    3. Pinning: In tune with Highlight is the 'Pin' feature, with which you can ensure an important post gets maximum visibility and stays right on top of the page. Only one post can be pinned at a time.  It's a great option to lay stress on promotions, sales, announcements, what have you.

    4. Timeline itself: The essence of Timeline is to literally put out the timeline of your company, to list the historic events in its lifetime from inception to present-day. Best to get started on this.
      Check out Manchester United's history, with photos dating all the way back to 1878.

    5. Private message: Admins need to be more vigilant than ever as fans can now send a private message to the page. Messages appear in the Admin panel along with other elements available to admins, such as Insights, Notifications and New Likes, all in one spot. The layout for admins is a lot more organized and easy to get around.

    6. Longer About: The About section has shifted directly under the profile picture, allowing more text to be visible as opposed to the limited 250 visible characters the old design had.
    A couple of other great pages with Timeline:

    Burberry - having put into play all the above mentioned.
    Herbal Essences

    There's really nothing you can do if you dislike Timeline as so many Facebook users still do. In a field as dynamic as social media where change occurs so fast, it's best to be proactive and make the transition yourself (when given the choice anyway) rather than have it forced down your throat. With 840 million users, Facebook is obviously staying put and if you want your page to do the same, you should embrace the change as enthusiastically as a ravenous predator does its meal.

    Good luck!

    To learn more about Timeline for Facebook Pages, click here.

    the traffic jam of my dad's dreams.

    150 Ferraris were supposed to drive down Gulf Road from Kuwait Towers to Marina Crescent on the 18th of Feb, 2012 in honour of Enzo Ferrari's birthday. Only about 50 did.
    My dad was a very happy lamb.

    The cars all belong to people living in Kuwait.

    This was my favourite.

    The traffic jam of my Dad's dreams.

    I can't get over how awesome this picture is.

    At Marina Crescent, the owners parked their precious wares
    for event attendees to gawk at.

    oo.. shiny

    Too much red methinks.

    Best seats EVER! : 0

    Wonder if the guy in yellow Ferrari will ever see this? He definitely owes me.