Sunday, October 12, 2014

Him, her and a surprise

A series of conversations over a period of one week ...


Her: You better turn up this weekend. We have made this plan almost 2 months back, and I am in no mood to make any changes, forget about canceling the plan.

Him: Yes, dear! We must make it this time. Been a long time we went on a long vacation. I will do my best to ensure nothing untoward happens this time at the last moment. Let's keep our fingers crossed.

Her: Feel free to keep your fingers crossed. And wait to see what I do with mine if you don't turn up.



His friend: So, all set for the vacation?

Him: Yes, super excited.

His friend: Make sure you visit the three places I suggested to you. Without that, your vacation is incomplete. I am sure it will make it memorable.

Him: Yes buddy. The three places are a part of my itinerary.

His friend: I will of course keep on getting the updates on Facebook.

Him: Right! Hope I get a chance to get a sneak peek of the "other" place you suggested. (Wink, wink)

His friend: (Wink, wink) And yes, don't forget my "travel consultancy fee".

Him: Of course. I owe that to you. ☺

His friend: By the way, is the surprise on?

Him: Yes (Wink, wink)


Her: Are you going to take the usual 8:40 PM flight, that reaches here at an unearthly hour? You can take care of some last minute preparations if you come early.

Him: Honey, that flight is the best option available. All other flights are during day time. I can not leave office before ...

Her: #$^^$#%^& (Disconnects the call)



Him: There has been an issue. A consultant in my team committed a big blunder, and his backup has to travel home because of some medical emergency. All of us are pitching in to finish the deliverable. I am sorry dear, I know we have been waiting eagerly for this vacation. But ...

Her: Whatever! Why didn't you fight with your boss? Why should it be you every time?

Him: Did my best dear. You know how it is.

Her: #$^^$#%^& (Disconnects the call)



Client: You have done a great job in preparing this plan. It will make my life easier when you are away for two weeks.

Him: Thanks! I have also transitioned a few key activities to my second-in-line. I think he will be able to manage those activities perfectly in my absence.

Client: Great! You are all set for your vacation now. ☺




Him: Not happening dear. I am so sorry. We will have to ...

Her: #$^^$#%^& (Disconnects the call)


Him: Hello!

Her: (Disconnects the call after a long silence)



His friend: Are you sure you will be able to manage? From my experience, she will somehow make out.

Him: She will not come to know. Don't worry. I have planned it perfectly fine this time. She already hates you the most for your goof up, am sure the client would not like to hear the new superlatives being coined for him, it has been proven beyond doubt that the medical emergency for which our friend is traveling is not an emergency but a common hoax call.

His friend: 



Him: Hello!

Her: (Disconnects the call after a long silence)



Him: Have you used the new taxi booking app? I downloaded the latest version today morning before booking my airport cab. It has some new features.

His friend: Great! I will download it right away. What time will you be leaving?

Him: 6:15 PM

His friend: I can see the excitement on your face now ☺



His second-in-line: Have a great vacation buddy! Much needed break. And all the best with your surprise.

Him: I don't want to say so but feel free to drop me a text in case there is anything urgent.

His second-in-line: Hope the need doesn't arise!



Her: #$^^$#%^&

Him: (Making the payment to the cabbie) Hello! Dear, can we please talk later? I am on my way to the other office of the client.

Her: Why are you doing this to me? You know I don't like this.

Him: What?

Her: #$^^$#%^&

Him: Listen ...

Her: I will not open the door if you reach today.

Him: Fine, but I am anyways not coming today.

Her: You know I had taken out the extra set of keys from your bag last week you were here.

Him: But ...

Her: (Slightly irritated)  You know very well that I will be fast asleep at your usual time of arrival, because you told me you are not coming. And you better recall that I do not like to be awakened when I am least expecting it.

Him: Listen ...

Her: The next door neighbor is also out-of-town, and your friend, who was your savior last time you did a misadventure, is also out on a vacation.

Him: Why are you telling me all this? I am not ...

Her: (Slightly louder now)  Are you sure you want to continue this?

Him: Continue what?

Her: You know what I am saying, and by now you should know that I know.

Him: You know what?

Her: (As if slowly reading from some carefully taken notes)  That you left your client office at 6:25 PM, that is 10 minutes late, on a cab booked for the airport ...

Him: (Wondering how in the world she knows that)  Honey, that is not for me. I made the booking for a colleague ...

Her: (Becoming a bit louder) ... but the cab stopped at your favorite snacks joint for almost 10 minutes and it was waiting for a long time at the usual busy traffic junction. You also took a different route today to the airport, you have reached the airport just now and the registration number of the cab is ...

Him: (Suddenly recalling the mobile app feature that lets his near and dear ones know about every step of his cab experience, and trying to make another attempt to continue his surprise by daring to interrupt her)  Honey, my colleague is also a regular at the same snacks joint, and he would also have passed through the same traffic junction. After all, he was also on his way to the airport, right?

Her: Your next cab booking that you will now say you have made for your colleague shows our apartment as the final destination. And I don't know any colleague who stays in our apartment.

Him: (Struggling to find another escape route)  Oops! That must be a mistake. I would have repeated the previous booking, as I always do. I will cancel that booking right now.

Her: Last chance ... do you want to sleep with the watchman? #$^^$#%^&

Him: No, I will reach my hotel late, and will perhaps not be able to sleep because of ...

Her: Send me a selfie on WhatsApp right now, that shows me that you have reached the client office.

Him: Honey, you know I am not on social media during office hours.

Her: Did you give your credit card to your friend? Our mail shows the transaction details for the payment he made to the cab.

Him: (Finally giving up, cursing himself for selecting the shared mail account for receiving the credit card transaction details)  Honey, not fair. You should have let me give you a surprise this time. I will reach home at the usual time. I know you will be waiting for our regular cup of coffee.

Her: (Triumphantly grinning)  Didn't I tell you that you can never hide anything from me? You should not have checked-in on Facebook after reaching the airport.

Him: Damn technology!

Monday, September 22, 2014

Learning has no age

Tangy Tuesdays
(This post has been selected by blogadda for its Tangy Tuesday Picks on September 23, 2014)

Earlier today, I was having a look at pictures of a ceremony. There was a big decorated stage, a lot of people sitting in front, so many cameras. The ceremony was presided over by the Governor of the state, and hence a lot of government and district administration officials were present. In the crowd, there was a group of around 10 ladies, all very excited and at the same time nervous, about the event they were participating in. The average age of the group was easily more than 50 years, but the anxiety levels could perhaps compete with a group half their age.

Their excitement was special for them because they were the star attraction that evening. There was an added zing because the event was a convocation ceremony. Yes, a post-graduate convocation ceremony for a bunch of enthusiastic ladies who at this age had the conviction to finish what they could not do so many years back - to finish an unfinished task.

The pictures, and earlier the event itself that took place almost 2 months back, leave me with goose bumps. All thanks to one particular lady in the group - My Dear Mother! Yes, there she was, my source of inspiration for so many years. It was a dream come true for me, as much as it was for her. One person who has always stood by me, any time, any where. One person for whom words do not come easily in my mind. I have in the past attempted writing some rhyming lines for a few of my dear ones. But whenever I even think about making an attempt to write about her, my mind stops. Anyways, the intent behind this post is not to write paeans about her. No words or feelings can do justice to this creation of God. The intent was to focus on the conviction shown by this bunch of ebullient ladies. It was to highlight the fact that you are never too old to learn anything.

For the last two years of her student life, I could see her getting jittery before the exams, getting up early to finish her studies, sitting late in the night even though India was loudly asking some questions on the television or Kapil Sharma was entertaining some heroine. She was all nerves when the results were expected, and questions like "what will my grandson think of me if I fail?" forced a smile on my face. The best one was the reaction when she missed the top rank by a whisker. Right before the exams, the group of ladies used to exchange notes and there were a few who actually couriered her some notes from another city. Such was the enthusiasm!

Even at this age, she is excited about her new smart phone, she is curious to know about making online bill payments, she will make 10 attempts to take a picture of an official document she received at home to send a clean copy to me. Whatsapp already figures in the list of her downloads, she has been checking videos on Youtube, and I expect her to send me a friend's request on Facebook soon. Guess how interesting her recommendation for me on LinkedIn will look like.

All this reminds me of one gentleman who surprised me with similar excitement and eagerness to learn at an advanced age. Takes me a few years back, when I was doing my engineering and was staying with him. Preparing for the semester exams the next day, I was struggling with a difficult problem in thermodynamics. Beside me was this gentleman, equally engrossed in his thoughts, trying to finish answering his set of questions. He was almost 70 years of age then, doing his post-graduation in Sanskrit language, that too by correspondence. That day, he was answering the monthly set of questions, that needed to be sent out. He was meticulously going through the entire routine, forgetting about his food, even his daily dose of newspapers. One more source of inspiration for me, that day and today, for the enthusiasm to learn at any age. What I make of this inspiration is anybody's guess, and a topic for another day! This gentleman was none other than my Maternal Grand Father.

Someone will ask, what was the trigger for this nostalgia? Well, I was interacting with a bunch of fresh MBA graduates, who, having joined the corporate life believe that their learning is over, and now it is all about earning. This FedEx advertisement is my all-time favorite to share with these studs.

Two messages - Learning doesn't get over, whatever be the age! Learning doesn't get over, whatever be the educational qualification!

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Of Ps and Qs

Having spent majority of the Frankfurt - San Francisco leg of my journey thinking about the unsolved riddle, and thanking to God that amidst my woes with Ps and Qs, i.e. pronunciation and queues, I managed with addition of just one more tick off in my list, the landing announcement made by the Captain added to my discomfort, as it triggered another series of thoughts in my mind. "What next?" and "When is the next tick off?" (check here and here for the earlier tick offs) were the questions rattling me.

Keeping my fingers crossed, I disembarked from the aircraft and followed fellow passengers towards the immigration check. My well-rehearsed answers from the visa interview came to my rescue once again, and I was on my way to the baggage carousel in just about fifteen minutes. By now, I had successfully managed two queues (one while disembarking, and the second one at the immigration counter), and was feeling better because pronunciation issues did not get me into any unfamiliar trouble with the immigration officer. This confidence helped me sail through my three days stay, and I was ready for the next leg of the journey - San Francisco to New York.

Driving to the airport, all the while talking to the Indian cabbie in Hindi, was a good break from accents and pronunciation. Missing from the list of suggestions and advises he gave me was the fact that the luggage trolley at the airport needed a swipe of my credit card to come out of the rack. This, I realized, only after failing to get one out with brute force and of course, after getting those "Oh, look at that idiot" looks. Tick tick six! Damn, isn't it so easy in India? After similarly struggling on yet another novelty called self check-in kiosk (yes, they were not so ubiquitous in India those days), I joined the queue for security check. Waiting in the queue, I was so happy to see exactly three more first-timers struggling with the luggage trolley and exactly two more novices learning how to use the kiosk. In close to thirty minutes, I was at the head of the queue, and at the receiving end of yet another, now familiar, stare from the security person. After "politely" being told that I was supposed to "check-in" the bag as well, I was on my way towards the check-in counter. How in the world did I think of taking the big blue monster with me as a cabin luggage? Anyways, my romance with queues continued. Tick tick seven!

To be on a safer side, this time I chose to skip the kiosk, and opted for the manual counter. After three attempts at getting the pronunciation of Newark correct, or so I believed, I was again back in the queue for security check. This time I made it pass the lady, without missing the smirk on her face. After crossing the length and breadth of the airport for next half an hour, I reached my terminal and started waiting for the next announcement. All this while, I was a bit restless, mulling over the series of events till now. I was sure something was amiss. Knowing very well that my pronunciation had already made me drink vodka instead of water (Link), and remembering the exchange of confused looks during my second check-in, I walked down to the airline counter to verify my check-in details. Being assured by the executive that my final destination in the system is indeed Newark, I got back to the waiting area, with a lingering thought still in my mind that all is not well. Even the airport code of my destination on the baggage tag had no mention of New York, or Newark, or anything similar. May be they don't use logically derived airport codes in this part of the world!

Throughout the journey from SF to NY, the restlessness refused to subside. Another new experience, that of traveling with a no-frills airline, hit me when I realized that the meals on-board were not complimentary. To add to the agony, there were only some cookies available in the vegetarian menu, and the flight duration was almost seven hours. By the time I reached NY, hungry as a wolf, I was certain that my bag had not reached the same destination. As if on cue, I happened to see a lost baggage reporting counter right next to the carousel. I don't remember seeing one of those so conspicuously close to the carousel on any of the other airports I have been to. Missing bags was much more frequent in this part of the world it seemed!

Well as luck would have it, my fears came true and I ended up taking the service of the lost baggage counter. After providing all the relevant information, I walked towards the airport exit. The security person, on being asked about the taxi stand, advised me to take the more economical shuttle service to Hilton. Receiving such a warm treatment from the gentleman, when you are struggling in the cold weather and surprisingly wet night, felt nice. On reaching the hotel, my next surprise was eagerly waiting for me. I was told that I do not have a reservation in the hotel. After checking and re-checking the system multiple times, I finally thought of checking one of the multiple print outs I had taken. Only then did I come to know that the reservation is in Hilton Time Square, and I was standing in Hilton Newark. Wow!! Tick tick eight!

The receptionist was kind enough to arrange a cab for me. Here I was, in The Big Apple, with missing luggage and empty stomach in the middle of the night, with a slight drizzle and temperatures unexpectedly touching the lower single-digits, sitting in a cab driven by a dangerous looking, unknown person. To my relief, there was no more surprise for me till the time I reached Hilton Times Square. The cabbie, perhaps reading my mind, drove me through Times Square around 12:30 AM, and managed to bring a smile on my face. Who says dangerous looking unknown people are not kind?

Next two days were full of follow-up calls. Needless to say, getting through the IVR system was an exercise in itself as it didn't understand the way I pronounced my name. Having finally got the pronunciation of my name right (huh?), I was inadvertently directed to someone sitting in India, with the executive talking in a "known" accent. I finally persuaded her to speak in Hindi, which made things easier for both of us. Finally, they were able to trace my bag to, guess where, Las Vegas. Having worn an almost rugged looking jeans (well any jeans will look rugged after wearing them for more than 48 hours) and a round-neck t-shirt to the office on a Monday, it was such a relief on seeing my blue champion sitting nicely in my room, having spent one night in Vegas! By the way, did I forget to mention that I was not having any carry-on luggage, and ...

Recollecting my conversations during the second check-in process, it was another unsolved riddle shaping up - how did Newark get lost in pronunciation to become Vegas? I believe I should connect with Russell Peters in case he is looking for new accent and pronunciation jokes!

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Of water served with a lime twist

Spicy Saturday
(This post has been selected by blogadda for its Spicy Saturday Picks on March 22, 2014)
Having embarked on the first phoren journey with exactly four tick-offs from my quota of transgressions and a little loss of self-confidence because of certain events at the airport, I covered the flight from Mumbai to San Francisco with relatively less amount of excitement and adrenaline rush. From the usual I-have-paid-for-this-flight-so-I-can-take-as-many-chocolates-as-I-wish lady to the I-want-a-glass-of-water-even-if-the-fellow-passengers-are-still-not-settled gentleman,in-flight experiences those days, even on international routes, were not very different from what we see today. However, one small incident gave me a sneak peek in to what I was going to endure in a few days. This is what transpired ...

Air Hostess (AH): Good evening sir! What can I get for you? (Pushing the big drinks trolley)

Ruminating Optimist (RO): Can you please get me a glass of water? (Feeling thirsty and dehydrated, with my facial expressions leaving no doubt about my state)

AH: I beg your pardon!

RO: Can I please get a glass of water? (Mind you, I was concentrating more on getting the damn pronunciation right. So emphasis was on the wa- of water which, coming from a newbie, sounded more like whoa- or voa- ... anything but what it is supposed to be. The -ter, as they say, was lost in pronunciation.)

AH: OK sir. (With an amused look on her face, what with the funny pronunciation.)

In around five minutes, there she was, with a glass of water in her hand, nicely garnished with a lime twist.

AH: Here you go sir.

RO: Thanks! (Feeling nice that she took special care to add the lime twist - what better than that when you want an energy boost. The glass was empty in a single gulp.)

The air hostess left a little more amused. I however felt a bitter taste in my mouth - may be the lime twist was not fresh.

After going through the bunch of newspapers and magazines I had picked up in the waiting area at the airport, I decided to shift my attention to the movie that was being played on the screen. However, the really uninteresting movie, coupled with the fact that I had no "good company" on the seat next to me and the taste of not-so-fresh lime twist in my mouth, I soon started getting a headache. Yes, movies released in 2006 with five-letter names starting with V- and ending with -h are capable of aggravating your headache when you are forced to watch them on the common screen hanging from the ceiling seven rows up. I waited for the headache to subside, assuming air pressure problems in the aircraft were the prime reason (did somebody say "incomplete knowledge is more dangerous than no knowledge"?). With no signs of recovery, I again requested for whoa-ter from the still amused air hostess, swallowed a pain killer with it, and tried going off to sleep, but to no avail.

Through all this, the air hostess' how-can-this-guy-be-so-silly look did not go unnoticed. Though there was no lime twist this time (may be I didn't look that dehydrated), I still had a bitter taste in my mouth. Damn the painkiller ... I should have checked the expiry date. But why was she giving me those looks? Anyways, the Mumbai-Frankfurt leg of the journey got over, with some Asian-Veg meals thrown in between. For a change, they offered, and I accepted, apple juice, and the rest of the journey was smooth.

On the Frankfurt-San Francisco leg, when it was time for another hydrating exercise (why do they insist on hydrating so frequently), the gentleman sitting next to me requested for whoa-ter, with his -ter too lost in pronunciation. He was served the familiar-looking drink, in a familiar-looking glass, with the familiar-looking lime twist, but the not-so-familiar smile on the air hostess' face while serving the drink (as against the amused expression in case of the other air hostess). I asked for the same, and got the same, with the not-so-familiar smile. The taste was absolutely the same. How in the world can they once again serve me whoa-ter with a stale lime twist. Losing my patience, I stood up to check with her. My eyes then fell on the bottle from which she poured the drink for both of us. It was my turn to be amused. It read in bold - S.M.I.R.N.O.F.F. Tick tick five!

And then, I started replaying the events of the day, or night, depending upon which time zone the flight was in. The air hostess' first amused look (alcohol and thirst-quenching?), the lime twist (energy boost, eh?), second amused look after my single gulp (vodka, bottoms up?), headache and the bitter taste ... all blocks of the puzzle started falling in place. However, one piece of the puzzle out of reach of my comprehension was to find out how was the sound of -ter lost in pronunciation the same as -dka lost in pronunciation? I needed to know because somebody's misinterpretation ended up making a teetotaler sip vodka for the first time in life.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

First time at International Airport

Although it has been close to seven years now, the experience of my first travel abroad is still vivid and brings a smile on my face. It was, like for everyone else, a mix of excitement and nervousness. The memories came back to tickle me last week while I was sharing them with a few friends of mine.

Image courtesy of renjith krishnan
Having spent close to five man-days of effort between me, my boss and the travel adviser filling / reviewing the form, copying information from the last few approved visa applications, taking print outs and making full use of the xerox machine (and pricking my conscience once again on seeing that I scored more in Social Science than Mathematics and Science in my 10th Board, and still opted for Engineering), another three days during the hot and humid month of April doing rounds of the Consulate in Mumbai, while standing in the serpentine queues gulping random liquids available on the streets, and having ensured that I do all the right things (and avoid using all the "prohibited" words) during the interview process, I was on tenterhooks till the time I reached the airport, exactly four hours before the departure of the flight. Fortunately, for a change, there was no last minute drama, and I was delivered the visa and passport just when I was about to leave the queue outside the entry hall for the seventh time, to join it again at the back! My romance with queues had just started. Tick tick one!

With the newly purchased blue color Aristocrat (somebody had advised that a different color and a different brand is helpful while identifying the bag at the baggage carousel) and the new jacket for the forecast weather conditions (optimum utilization of baggage restrictions made me wear the jacket in that Mumbai weather), I was all set for the journey. Having crossed almost half the length of the kilometer long hall, I got irritated by the constant whistling by the security. Only when I noticed almost everyone staring at me, except for the gentleman in the expensive business suit who must be coming across such idiots during all his fortnightly sojourns to the International Airport, did I turn back and see that all that was for my silly act of transgression - I did not take my luggage through the X-Ray machine. Oops ... there goes a little bit of confidence. Tick tick two!

After checking in the luggage, I followed everyone towards the immigration section. I was so proud of the fact that, unlike other careless passengers, I did not have to make any last minute movements of luggage from the check-in bag to the cabin bag, or between the two check-in bags. After all, who likes to show the entire world how many pairs of undergarments are you carrying or for that matter how many packets of Haldiram Bhujiya and Mom-made Besan-ke-laddoo have you packed in your bag. All this while, I did not notice the small piece of paper in everybody's hands. I was made to realize this only after spending around half an hour in the queue when I was sent back some 50 places and a few meters to collect and fill the declaration form. Well, this was a significant improvement, having repeated this a few times outside the entry hall. Tick tick three!

Image courtesy of charlesdyer @ Flickr
With all the bags in place, forms submitted, all security measures dutifully followed (including the all-important, two-time removal & wearing of shoes, belts, wallets, jacket), honor and pride still intact (well almost, with the interesting concept of frisking making you all but ...), the two-liter, half-filled Bisleri bottle unceremoniously dumped by the security-conscious, environment-unfriendly officer in the garbage bin, and having ticked off three acts of felony from my quota, I finally reached the waiting area, just about one hour before the departure. As advised by a dear friend, I once again checked the multiple copies of passport and visa, the hotel address and local phone numbers hidden here, there and everywhere. More importantly, I double checked the bags for any unknown packets of white powder or unrecognized pieces of glass hidden inside the Parker pen I was carrying. Rest assured, I finally relaxed and began the last hour of my wait.

As I look back, a few things change over the years, a few remain exactly the same. Phones were not so smart those days, nor did they make you feel (or look) smart. Hence, the family in the next row was actually discussing, planning and looking forward to their holidays in the Caribbean, unlike what I witnessed a few months back. Then there was this lady sitting in the far corner all jittery with the thought of traveling alone with the little one in her lap. Yes, that can be some experience. Ask my dearie. And of course, there was this group of 20-somethings who were yapping their way to glory, trying to impress folks around with all those words they had memorized during the GRE preparation. All in all, everything around didn't give me a chance to notice that there were 20 calls I had missed from my Mom. There go the remaining 20 minutes of the wait, one each for the 20 times she tried to call me. Tick tick four!

The announcement came on time, giving me no opportunity to tick off any more chances, leaving enough in my inventory for the journey ahead ...