Saturday, February 28, 2009

The Search

Not usually one for human interest stories but I have followed on and off the search for Raoul Wallenberg and therefore can't resist linking to this fascinating Journal piece on the unending search and the effect on the family.

Sunday, February 22, 2009


in sunny(!) London after a crazy week in the city by the lake. It was supposed to be some silly training but people took this training way too seriously. Midnight every night and plans of shopping and meeting people down the drain. Anyway.


- Couldn't sleep on the flight back so ended up making long list of things one misses when one is not in the New World. Top two: Trader Joe's and Chipotle Burritos. Mountains and buildings and NPR and people are all there but nowhere close to these two.

- Every single bookstore (both city and airport) that moi went to had big, big books with pictures of President and First Lady on inauguration day. Right next to books on job hunting.

- Missed the boat on the deep discounts. Everything I bought was full price. At 1.34 exchange rate, I might as well have not gone at all.

- Not so bad. Still worth the trip as moi spent 16 hours each day staring at glistening lake. What prettiness!

- I am officially "one of the boys". That was the general conclusion my training team came to after 5 days of working together. One of them apparently went asked women in other teams how they felt being the only woman in the team totally forgetting that moi was in his team. This supposedly is a compliment.

- Babies. Too many of them. Thankfully, every single one of them slept through my visit. Worked all around.

- First day of training I could not understand why the firm hired only stupid people in the States. Then I realised they weren't really stupid, it was just the accent. Strange how here in Britain (true elsewhere too I am assuming), credibility takes a big hit the moment one hears the American accent. The only time moi wants to hear it is when calling a call centre - the rest of the world can do with some of that service.

- Yeah, yeah, Bill. All you Tams out there - anyone remember "No Thangamani, Enjoy!" from Agni Natchathiram? That was Bill's week. If you find the vid anywhere, send me a link.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Looking for dead people in snowy Paris (Paris Part 2)

Morning in Paris. Chotu steps out of shower all set to conquer whatever it is that he wants to conquer. Motu is playing with remote.

"Its going to snow today"

"It doesn't snow in Paris"

"You said that of London the day before it snowed"

"How do you know its going to snow today?"

"There's thing called TV. A chap inside it tells you about weather forecast"

"You are watching TV nowadays?"

"Yeah, I am beginning to get the hang of it"

"Yeah? Do they have English channels?"

"BBC World but its all boring. I also got sick of the French channels after a while. So not I am watching DW TV"

"DW TV told you it will snow in Paris today?"


"In German?"

"What language do they speak in DW TV?"

"Whatever. Lets go"

"You think I got it wrong?"

"I did not say anything of the sort"

"You think I can't understand German?"

"I know you can't"

"Well, how about this? Right now, they have this programme called Quadriga which is like this debate. They are debating the Vatican and the holocaust denier priest controversy"

"You are making that up"

"You watch it while I get ready and tell me if I am wrong. Make sure you use all that two semesters of German you supposedly learnt"

"Why are trying to pick a fight early in the morning?"

"Me picking a fight? Yeah, my fault trying to keep you informed about the weather. Won't do that anymore"

Chotu Motu were walking up and down back streets of Montmartre (after visiting three Boulangeries) when the flurries started coming down. Chotu ignored the little white thingies and kept walking.

"Hey, look, windmill"

"Moulin, yes"

"Are you now trying to prove that you know as much French as I do German?"

"Do you have an umbrella?"

"I am a Londoner. What did you expect?"

So we put up the umbrella and walked for another half hour in the snow (while not talking about it) until we found another cosy bakery to ride out the snow in. We bought another load of exotic French things and polished them off while watching the (unspeakable) snow fall all around us.

"What a lovely Parisian afternoon!"

Chotu choked on his coffee.

"Chill. Just for effect"

"What next? Oh, what a romantic city!"

"Ask me same time next week and I will say it and mean it" [1]

"Of course. Dude, there's some big cemetery five minutes from here. You think we should go?"

"Who is there?"

"Its Paris na? Bunch of people must be there"

"Like who?"

"I don't know. Sartre. Proust. Degas. Picasso. Camus. Truffaut. Godard"

"I don't think he is dead"

"Oh ok. But they must be all buried here only"

"Hey, isn't Wilde buried in Paris?"

"Along with certain other rock stars, yes"

"Lets go then. We can go and randomly find graves in the snow. What fun!"

"Maybe they will be totally covered by the snow and we have to dig them out. Cool"

"I know. Can you think of anything more interesting to do on a snowy Parisian afternoon?"

"Strange as it may see, no"

So thats the story of how Chotu Motu found themselves at the Cimetière de Montmartre on the one day of the year it snows in Paris. They were the only ones in the cemetery as obviously, Parisians seemed to have other interesting things to do. The guard at the gate looked strangely at Chotu and Motu before giving them a tattered map.

"Dude, wrong graveyard"


"Apparently most people are buried in this other cemetery"

"That Pantheon thingy? That I thought was meant for men of the revolution types"

"No, some other place. Pere-Lachiase Cemetery. This has only a few"

"Hello? This sign says there are more than a million people buried here"

"But not many we know"

"Oh. So now we are claiming to know these people"

"Thats there. Then how does it matter whose grave it is? Lets go around and find a few"

"Exactly. There's so many of them that we may know some of them"

"Truffaut. He is here"

"Oh good. Lets go find his grave. Then we can even give SB some story about how we took all pain and came here in the snow to see his grave"

"Does she even like him?"

"Does it matter?"

"I guess not"

"At this point, since that's the only person we know, lets go find the damn thing"

No, we didn't find it despite the map. But we did spend an hour walking up and down other graves.

We ended up liking this idea of visiting random dead people so much that the next day, we ended up at Pere Lachaise cemetery. Where Chotu claimed that we didn't need a map as he had it all memorised. Turned out to be a tragedy as after an hour, he had to go back out and buy a map. Not only that, we had to run all the way from Paris Nord metro teminal through French immigration, UK immigration, and security to make the train. But no worries. Getting lost in a cemetery has its advantages. In addition to rock stars, we found a few interesting graves - Chopin where a group of Polish school kids had a full orchestra going, some PLO types, and just as we were about to leave, this.

[1] So what if its 20 F and one is totally jetlagged? Its still so romantic to see the sun come up over the lake. Even if the lake is barely visible. No silly French city is going to beat my Hog-butcher.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Chotu Motu in Paris I: At the Pantheon

Chotu Motu walking in Latin Quarter somewhere.

"Oh there you see it"

"What do I see?"

"That dome"

"What about it?"

"We are going there"

"Don't think its on our way"

"Just a few minutes off"

"But its uphill and we are carrying stuff. Can't we do this later?"

"No, I have missed it so many times already. This time I have to go see it. I will carry your bag if you want"

"Are you offering to carrying my backpack?"

"Its not that heavy"

"You are serious!"

"Of course I am. Give na"

"Dude, what is this place?"

"What place?"

"That dome place. Some church type thing no"

"Oh, I see. That explains the indifference. That's the Pantheon"

"Which I thought we saw in Rome like ages ago. Wasn't that when you started crying?"

"What nonsense?"

"I remember this very clearly. You started swearing and crying because you read somewhere that Bernini melted the bronze at the Pantheon for that altar piece at the Vatican"

"The bastards! That still makes my blood boil"

"Bill darling, anything that makes your blood boil is serious entertainment for me. Is there anything similar in this Pantheon? Then we will surely go see"

"Dude, you really don't know"

"Don't know what?"

"About this Paris ka Pantheon"

"I know its like the Abbey where everyone is buried and all. So what? I have no intention of paying good money to see junta ka graves all over the city[1]"

"Who wants to see graves? We are nearly there now. Chal"

"This is slightly scary. I have never seen you so enthu about anything"

"Don't be scared. Come, lets go in"

"Dude, its like some 8 euros. At current exchange rate, that's 8 quid. I don't want to see graves and I have seen way too many basilicas to last me a lifetime. I see a Boulangerie right here. Maybe I will wait here"

"Will you shut up and come up?"

At this point, I was too curious to give up. So I trudged up the stairs to the basilica. Pantheon. Whatever. Chotu bought tickets. This obviously is a totally new experience for me - Chotu buying anything. I was speechless. I followed him inside. He stopped and I promptly bumped into his backpack.

"Can't you like..?" It was evident that he couldn't really hear anything. He was staring at something at the centre of the cathedral. Intently. I stared at him for a moment and then turned to look at what he was looking at.

Dang! Enlightenment! Totally forgotten this thing was at the Pantheon. Anyway, might as well make full capital out of it.

"What is it?"


"Can you hear me?"

"What is that contraption doing in a cathedral?"

Chotu heard me this time.

"What do you think it is?"

"Its like a giant well, let me think now..."

"Don't go there. Not the time for profanity"

"Profanity? I was going to say pendulum. What's profane about that?"

"The hell you were"

"Of course I was"

"Don't you think its time you shut up?"

"Are you going to wait for an entire hour?"

"Half an hour at the least"

"Okay, I might as well go see some graves"

"I can't believe you don't want to see this"

"Who said I don't want to see it?"

"You are going to see some silly graves you just said"

"But I am seeing this. I will come back and see it on the same plane once the earth rotates around itself for a while. What I don't want is to sit around and worship it"


So I went off and saw some graves. Funny things they have done - like putting Voltaire and Rousseau right across from each other. After death do us part types. And obviously, first (only?) woman resident.

When I came back from the crypt, Chotu was still sitting there staring at the pendulum.

"We can go now"

"If you want to do puja and all, go ahead"

"Its only a pendulum", Chotu said and walked towards the door.

"I wouldn't have known. For a while, I thought you had gotten religion"

"Come on now"

"Seriously dude. Next I know, you would start reading the book"

"I don't read books where I need Google for every line. Its not like the Name of the Rose or anything"

"I know"

"But this is about middle school physics. This kind of religion is what we need, don't you see?"

"If you say so. Dude, look, Rue laplace!"

"What? Place is a square. There is no rue called la Place"

"Not La Place. Laplace. Rue Laplace. We are in the univ area now"

"Why does that name seem vaguely familiar?"

"Vaguely familiar. The man who just had an orgasm just by looking at Foucault's pendulum is asking me who Laplace is. Do I have to remind you of Fourier and Laplace transforms now?"

"Oh that chap. That's what you EE people do. Not us"


"We don't do much with Laplace. Anyway, now that you have proved your geekery...."

"My geekery?! I don't remember anything other than the names. And if I may remind you, I wasn't the one who was worshipping Foucault's Pendulum like a moment ago!"

"You don't understand. This is not about geekery"


"No. This is about what you can do with these big places of worship which do not serve any ostensible purpose. Its about how a secular outlook can transform even the most useless of places to be centres of scientific learning. Every kid who goes into that building will have an understanding, a real one, of the world around him. That is cool. Whatever you think of it"

Yes, that's one of the longest Chotu has ever spoken. So I am speechless again for a moment.

"You do realise that what you arguing for and are so happy about is the Revolution?"

"If it takes a revolution, it takes a revolution. I have no issues with that"

Ah. Finally, the Bong speaks. And all I had to do was to get him to Paris.

Bonus picture: Chotu Motu on stilts in Paris. (Feanor: That is NOT romantic, just tall)

[1] Famous last words. That is precisely what we ended up doing. More grave stories coming up soon.

Monday, February 02, 2009

What's the worst possible thing...

one could be doing on a totally snowed under day in London? (Yes, I said London. Looks like London's decided to make me happy by imitating the city by the lake)

A. Sit at home and have hot chocolate while "working from home"
B. Attempt to go to work by going to tube station and then promptly coming back home
C. Get to airport to catch a flight
D. Get to random consulate, then queue wait 45 minutes in the snow only to have a chap come out and say that the visa section is closed as their staff did not turn up

Well, what can I say? Chotu Motu always had a sense of timing. If I ever had any qualms about surrendering my Indian passport, they are gone. Nobody can accuse me of being patriotic now.

For those of you (esp across the pond) wondering what's with all this naatak, trust me, you have no idea how unprepared this city is for adverse weather. You'd think all this obsession with weather would mean that they would do something about it. No way. Its like snow in Austin, TX. They don't even have snow trucks.

Oh, a couple more. One of our backyard, and the other from my office.

And now, let me get home before they suspend the Northern Line. Already most of the London Underground is greyed out.