Sunday, September 25, 2011

Murphy - Part II

Note to Readers: This is Part II of my post on Murphy. Click on the following link to read Part I:

“Hello, again.”

I looked up to see a familiar face but could not quite place him.

“Um. Hi.”

I think he read the confusion on my face because he squatted down on one knee to bring himself to my eye level.

“You don’t remember me?” he smiled and things kind of clicked into place. And I had no intention of admitting that.

“No. I am sorry.” I shoved the book I had been browsing, back into the shelf and got up. Damn. But I had been looking forward to splurging on books this quiet evening. It had been such a long time too.

“Really?” He had followed me out of the bookstore, even as I tried to reach my driver over the phone. Pick up the phone, I prayed. He didn’t.

“Yes”, I turned on him. “Now leave before I get you into trouble for harassing me.” I redialled my driver’s number.

He stood unperturbed next to me. “He is not going to answer the call.”

I started walking up the street. “Not until I want him to”, he continued to speak behind me.

I whirled around. “What utter crap! I do not know who you are, so stop following me around!”

“Really?” he asked once more in a quiet voice, laced with amusement.

And I simply did not know what to do. I thought of – and more than once, mind you – engaging all these people passing me by in putting him in his place but I knew that that would be of no use. Because despite my stubborn refusal to say it aloud so far, I knew him. Despite having met him just once months ago, I knew him. And I had known him a long time before that, curse his blasted soul.

I tried to change tack. “Okay. Okay. I know you think you are Murphy but look I don’t see how it concerns me in any which way. And you know it is not proper to harass a woman on the streets like this. You look like a gentleman, so it would be...”

“I have a deal to propose”, he cut off my tirade.

“A deal?” I sputtered, before reclaiming my usual glib tongue. “What sort of deal? And why would I be interested in that?”

“A deal that would rid you of that wretched law of mine.”

My eyes went wide at that. But I came to my senses. “Get lost.”

I quickly strode away from him, refusing to look back. My phone rang. My driver was calling to enquire where I was. I gave him my location and as I got into the car, I pretended to just cast my eyes around. He was nowhere to be seen.

Good riddance, I thought to myself. But then why did I feel as if I had lost an opportunity?

I had no answer to that, until we met again.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Latino Wonders

Don’t be misled by the title. It is not about wonder of Latin America. It is more about what Latinos found wondrous about us. I was flattered, amused and amazed – all of them put together at various points. Do tell me what you make of the following:
  • “How long did you have to travel to reach here?”
  •  “So, did you go to US to study English?”
  •  “Do you wear Sarees to office?” This was from someone whose wife was an absolute India fan and found India fascinating. He, himself, seemed to have a fondness for the country.
  •  “Do you eat with hand?” Same guy as above. He had to do this at some restaurant in Kuala Lumpur, where he had spent some years.
  •  “How come you speak to each other in English?”
  •  “Are all the people in India vegetarian? No? Then why are both of you?” This we got asked quite frequently, since both of us were Vegetarian.
  •  “Is India really as spiritual as they show in Movies?”
  •  “You have such nice skin colour? Everyone here wants it. I will give you a discount because you have such nice colour!”

Despite and because of everything, I found the people warm and friendly, as eager to show off their land and culture as any of us. Be it nodding a ‘no’ to our request of “English, please” or an “Ah, yes” when they did manage to understand what we were trying through bad mime. The clients and colleagues who very thoughtfully translated the Spanish menus, our queries for vegetarian food to uncomprehending waiters and waitresses and wrote down for us the places to visit during our free time.

So, Gracias, Latin America.

Latino Days

Yesterday, when the plane touched down on Kolkata’s NSC Bose Airport, I felt a huge smile split my face. Homecoming does that to me. And this time, I had returned from half the world away. Literally.

I was on a two week trip to Latin America. Chile and Colombia to be precise.

I was excited in the weeks leading up to the trip. But also very tired. It was an official trip and there was loads to be done in the days leading up to it. Late nights working. Whole nights working. Weekends. Early mornings. You name it and the chances were that I was working at that time. Add to that, the pressure of unseen clients, who were – surprise, surprise – very demanding. Even a few hours before we were to board our flight, my colleague and I were busy instructing the team who would be working at the office when we were gone. Phew.

Willy-nilly, we boarded the flight(s). And boy, was it a long trip. Forty eight hours, if you want a number. Including a twelve hour stopover in Sao Paolo. And no, we could not go out because that required a transit visa.

View of Andes from a plane
But the first sight of snow-covered Andes, as we approached Santiago, made me feel so glad. It was breath-taking. I have professed my love for the mountains in my previous posts. This sight took it to a new level. I had never seen the white peaks from the height of the sky. And there I was, having my jaw drop, eyes wide open and heart stopping with the sight of snowy mountains spread out like some feast for all hedonists below us. Awesome.

The first three days in Santiago were spent in a whirlwind of workshops, meeting, telecons and dinners / lunches with clients. But I still could savour the view of those mountains from my balcony. The darkness that still enveloped the city at 7.30 in the morning. The biting cold that penetrated the two layers of clothes. The wide, clean streets. The very European and chic feel of the city. The Spanish architecture in the older parts of the city. And of course, the chivalry of Latino men. Yes, they open the doors for you and would never precede you when leaving a room. (I don’t particularly need this but it does make a girl feel good, I swear). I also spotted a couple of Marutis (the cars, in case you are wondering) and made me realize that it is truly a global world.

But it was not all good. Finding vegetarian food feels like a quest for Holy Grail. It got a little easier, once we located the nearest Subway. And then there’s the language issue. Getting people to understand English is nearly always an exercise in frustration. And no, it’s not an accent issue. The Latinos generally do not know English. Spanish is the lingua franca. It is not that difficult a language to follow if you are reading it. The staccato speech, however, is a trial. And the place is expensive. A five minute ride in the cab would cost you a couple of thousand pesos or about hundred rupees. Compared to India, though people told us that it is cheaper compared to Brazil, Argentina etc. Especially the branded stuff. We, however, found that buying souvenirs was also exorbitant. I think, we were also limited by our ability to bargain, with language and our so obvious foreign appearances being the leading causes.

Colombia was another six hours flight away. Now, this was a country, I went to with a lot of pre-conceived notions. Drugs, lawlessness et al, fed by books and movies, led by Mr. Forsythe and company. Also, Wikitravel advised not walking alone at night, not hailing cabs on your own and locking the doors of the cabs, when sitting inside!
So, I was pleasantly surprised in Bogota. I am sure that those parts of Colombia exist. But the area that we were staying in and the places we went to were decidedly upmarket, with a distinct cosmopolitan feel to them.

Bogota was also cold but closer to Kolkata winters – chilly but pleasant. My hotel room was airy, spacious and cheery, with full-length windows dominating one wall. The food situation was also better, though French Fries would turn out to be our principal source of sustenance in these two weeks that we spent in Latin America.

Metal Sculpture of a Salt Miner, Zipaquira
We had a weekend at our disposal. We chose to visit Catedral de Sal de Zipaquirá on the first day. It came highly recommended by a Colombian we had met in Santiago. It is an underground Cathedral, built in a salt mine. It is some 200 metres below the surface of the earth and you walk the entire way in and out. It is quite awesome and you can taste salt on your tongue even as you speak. There is a salt waterfall – an entire wall covered with raw salt. We also took a tour of the miner’s route, which involved a five minute walk in a completely dark and narrow cave, with our headlamps turned off. And trust me, it feels like hours if you have to let you hands be your eyes.

But my favourite part was the wishing well. It was a small pool, with coins of various denominations glittering at its bottom. You could make a wish by turning your back to the well and throwing a coin (denomination and currency irrelevant) over your left shoulder with your right hand. I made a wish and threw the coin. And it hit the water. Not everyone’s did. So, I like to live in hope J

Anyway, what surprised me that this man-made wonder is barely thirty years old and not centuries, like I had originally believed. While I was still awed, I realized that it was a very clever piece of marketing that we could learn from back home. Same was the case with El Museo del Oro (the Gold Museuem). Beautiful prehistoric and tribal gold ornaments, weapons and other artefacts displayed artistically with cleverly designed videos, photographs, light and sound shows that reel you in. And entry is free. It is well-maintained, with no empty cases or missing descriptions. The thought of Indian Museum trying something similar crossed my mind several times.

Once, the weekend was over, we again spent most of our time working, though on the last day, we visited this delightful cafe called Crepes and Waffles. It turned out to be a chain of cafes, quite famous in Colombia. It had, much to our delight, quite a spread of vegetarian dishes, including one called Gandhi!

At the end of two weeks, though, we were ready to return home. And my heart soared higher and higher as we changed flights at Sao Paolo, Doha and then finally at Delhi. It was fitting that on the flight to Kolkata, I saw one of the most amazing visions. A huge white lion, sitting regally on the cottony clouds, with the morning sun, shining bright. A pity, I do not have a picture to share with you.

Quite a long post this has been. So, I will end it here. Although I will definitely do another one on the most common questions / comments that we heard. It was strange being a foreigner and being the object of some other people’s preconceived notions.

An experience to remember, to say the least. This travelling to places actually half a world, three continents and seven seas away.
Until next time. Ciao.