Monday, September 25, 2006

Weekend Round-up

Friday night:
  • Black Dahlia : A dark movie. . and gruesome. Not so nice for a Friday night.
  • Regents Park: Beautiful on a Saturday morning. Bee played tennis and I took loads of pictures - of the place not the tennis. Followed by coffee. Great start to the day.
  • Hampstead Heath: Went with some friends after lunch. Lovely. I loved the unkempt look, quite a contrast to the landscaped Regents Park.
  • Richmond: On an impulse. As we marvelled at Hampstead Heath, these friends wanted to take us to Richmond Park which is supposed to be even more beautiful. Well we didn't go to the park, but did go to a pub by the river. It was high tide, the water came in - picturesque!
  • Walking: With all these park trips we walked and walked and walked
  • Dancing: There was a party at a friends place in the evening, so lots of dancing till wee hours of the morning
  • Shock: Heard the Scissor Sisters version of 'Comfortably Numb'. How can they be allowed to do that to the does not qualify as a song as far as I'm concerned. Its shrill, has techno beats and is anything but comfortably numb. Horrible, horrible. This is Comfotably Numb, this is not !
  • Study, study, study: Finally, after 'faffing' all weekend
  • Break: Coffee in the garden. Can't afford to waste more time
That's it. Weekend over and will be back in 5 days and this time there'll be college friends, aunt, cousins . . everyone visiting London the exact same weekend, talk of timing! Here are some of the weekend pictures on Flickr

Have a good week !!

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Cheap thrills

Saw a group of people gathered near the tube station and went towards them thinking there was some problem and wanted to find out if I could help. But I discover that our house is on one of the routes of London Walks. Cheap thrills because I thought we lived in quite an obscure place (our tube station draws a blank with most people I meet). . oh well .. obscure it might be ..but atleast once a week a guide points towards our row of houses and says something about them. Must go on that tour sometime :)

Thursday, September 21, 2006

From sometime ago

Today I was reading about the Gujarat anti-conversion act and all the protests around it. Am not sure what people are more upset about - having to take 'permission' before changing religion or that Buddhism has been clubbed with Hinduism! I find all this strange and disturbing. Religion, God, these are so personal, yet world over people fight in the name of it.

I was working in Gujarat during the violence in 2002. Overnight curfew was imposed and suddenly I was home bound. For me, to start with, it was a logistical challenge, since I lived alone and didn't have a fridge and therefore was without any food. My landlady and some neighbours were really nice at that time and called me over for meals, which was a really good thing since the curfew was for over seven days. Meal time was also when I would catch the news on TV (since I didn't have one) and the horrors around the city and the state. Incidents like Best Bakery, Naroda Patia and Bilkis Bano were just inhuman and chilling. I still can't believe how people behave in a mob and even now when I see any big group and a hint of violence, it scares me.

I lived in the 'new' part of the city and with an exception of one night was never scared of being a victim (most of the violence was in the old part of the city). The exception was on one of the days when the shops on the main road near my house were broken and looted. There was a rumor of a 'Muslim back-lash' (most colonies I think were fairly homogeneous in terms of religion, not sure for a fact though). Everyone got together and decided that the men would be on guard all through the night and if there was any sign of trouble then they'd raise alarm so people could escape. The 'ammunition' they had was iron rods from a nearby construction site which didn't really count for much. I sat in my room, awake half the night with my handbag ready with money and passport (not that I was planning to go abroad, but its such a hassle getting a passport!) making my mental plan of how fast I would pick that and run. Thankfully, I never had to use any part of my plan and in a week things had calmed down.

A couple of weeks later I visited Ahmedabad to stay with an aunt for a weekend. There were so many signs from the riots - burnt shops, broken glass all over, burnt movie halls, the cloth market totally destroyed. It reminded me of when of 1984 in Delhi when we lived there. I still vividly remember standing on the terrace of our house and seeing smoke rising in the distance from the close by market being burnt down. And when I later went there .. it was much the same sight .. burnt walls and destruction.

During the time of the curfew when I could only interact with my neighbours, I was surprised at the level of emotion and hatred they had in the name of religion. Maybe I don't understand because *touch wood* I have never faced a tragedy or loss to it. Long back I had met a girl from Kashmir whose brother was taken away by the security forces and never came back, the intensity of her hatred towards them (the security forces and 'India') was scary, and we were only 14 then. Hatred leads to a vicious cycle I suppose, wish there was a magical solution to wipe it all away .. and get 'world peace'.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

The lighter side

I have been super tense since yesterday's interview, analyzing it over and over again .. living every moment in slow motion. I've totally lost my sleep the last two weeks and am prone to nightmares (about interviews and rejections) or waking up suddenly at 4am and not being able to go back to sleep. (I have now taken to playing solitaire on the phone to manage the boredom at that crazy hour.) This morning I was hysterical for an hour believing that my world will end and I shall be doomed if I don't get the job - I very badly want it to work out.

Some context to this whole job craze I keep going on about. A couple of years back when I decided to study further, it was a big decision. I was doing very well at work, there were some interesting offers I could consider, but I wanted more. Studying meant, I would be giving up my job. There was also the high cost of education as well as the opportunity cost of one year's salary to consider. Everything taken, I chose to quit and go to study. Everyone was very positive since I was going to a well-known place, it worked out perfectly in terms of timeline and I believed the world was mine to conquer after I graduated. I don't regret the studying part because I really did learn a lot and had a fantastic time at school. But now I wonder if it all made sense .. the hardest part is living up to everyone's expectations. There's also the HUGE amount of money I spent, not to mention the time and effort, and all eyes are on me to get that magical job which would justify all of this. Yesterday's job could be just that, so it makes it difficult for me to even breathe till I hear from them. There are few things I have wanted so badly - and the tension is killing.

I started out meaning to write about some funny experiences at job search and interviews.. but it became all soppy again. So back to the original plan . .
  • At video conference interviews I (and other classmates) sometimes wore a suit-jacket and all (for the benefit of the interviewer). . along with track-pants/shorts and chappals since the camera was on the table and they could see only half of me. Everyone passing by would ofcourse crack-up.
  • The above got me into trouble once when after my interview there was someone else and the interviewer asked me to call in the next candidate without disconnecting. I had a really tough time getting out, hoping he would not see my mis-matched clothes.
  • A great plan which we never put into action was to freeze during a video-con interview if it was turning uncomfortable and later tell the interviewer that the screen had frozen. We'd even enact how we'd freeze our hand mid-air in the middle of a sentence.
  • I know someone who spilt water on table and his interviewer, in what was the second interview of the day - poor interviewer sat like that till evening.
  • A dear friend was frantically applying for jobs at one point and sent a cover letter to a company without being careful about making appropriate changes in a copy-paste letter. She later realized that the one she sent had glowing lines about why she wanted to join the competition, a company she had applied to the previous day. (This is surprisingly fairly common).
  • A friend once asked an interviewer about the work and whether he enjoyed his work. The reply, "I do enjoy it on some days, but not everyday, there's a reason why its called 'work'".
  • I once got two rejection letters for the same job, that really hurt!
  • Worse, A friend once got a reject from a job he hadn't even applied for!
  • During the downturn (in 2001) everyone was getting a lot of 'dings' (rejection letters). So the class put up a bell in the cafeteria which people would ring to get out their frustration when they received yet another letter. It wouldn't stop ringing! (I've only heard this, not sure if its true).
  • And finally.... I heard of someone who was ten minutes in an interview before she realized it was the wrong one and her actual interview was in the next room.
That's for today. . this didn’t even come out funny and am now sadder. Shall now release some of the hyper energy in the gym! Good night and Good luck.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Its show time folks

Nice comfortable clothes traded in for the costume.
The make up put on .. not too little .. not too much (hopefully).
The lines being rehearsed last minute.
Butterflies in the tummy, wondering how the audience will react.
Will I convincing enough in the role?
Will they like the performance? Maybe even recommend it to others?
Fingers crossed.

Fifteen minutes to leave for the interview. . and instead of biting my nails off (half are already gone) thought I'd turn to my blog for comfort. Suit donned, shirt ironed, hair neatly tied, uncomfortable high-heels worn (to-look-taller-and- get-confidence), cell phone on silent, directions and details taken - check! Have an interview this afternoon and another one on Monday. Am really counting on the Monday one. .Its a good company, good role and a lot of future potential ... am praying hard. Please say a little prayer for me. I need all the luck in the world.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

This is amongst the most disturbing books I've read (actually am still reading it .. about 3/4th through). There are books in the past which have disturbed me, but in a different way. Like, 'A fine balance' .. but with that it's because of the oppression, the misuse of power and empathy for the protagonists . . but somehow they seem remote to me. With this book, its different, its the shock that something like this can happen.

The book is about a man who collects butterflies and after winning a lot of money plots to 'collect' the object of his affection, an art student called Miranda. He kidnaps her and imprisons her in a cellar he has specially converted into a 'room' for her. (Am not giving anything away..this is at the back of the book.) The book is interesting because the first half is from the man's perspective and the second half is from Miranda's perspective in the
form of a journal .

Just as pure fiction goes, it is a chilling book. However, my timing of reading it makes it worse. At any other time, I would have thought this could only be fiction and not really possible. What makes it so scary is that with the recent news about Natascha Kampusch this is no longer just in the realms of someone's imagination but it can happen in reality. Scarier still, is that this is not the first time . . I was really shocked to see at end of the Wikipedia entry that there have been many instances in the past from around the world. I cannot even begin to comprehend how someone can do this to another person. . . or what it would like to go through an ordeal like this.. and not just for a week or a month.. but year after year. I don't think 'ordeal' even begins to describe the situation. . or that my little brain can comprehend the full horror.

This book is a reminder to me of the reality of possible horrors I believe can't really happen. . . especially to me. It makes me feel privileged to be safe and free . . and not just take them for granted.

Friday, September 08, 2006


The two dinners we had planned have both got postponed because people are out of town / have guests / work. So after nearly a month of house guests and such..we have an entire weekend with nothing planned. It feels like the lull before the storm (the dinners are postponed to next week and from the weekend after that, till mid Oct we have people staying with us and some even overlapping!). I love people coming over . . really. . but have been secretly wishing for a little teeny weeny free weekend. While its always fun with friends staying here, sometimes it can really sap my energy .. especially at a bad time like this when I'm nearly always on tenter-hooks and it takes everything in me not to blow up in their faces. So for a while, have kinda been wishing for just a s-m-a-l-l break to regain my energy. And here it is .. voila!

Am extremely excited at the prospect of all this free time. Perfectly co-ordinated with the arrival of my order from Amazon of some new books and music. I can also finally visit that creperie on Hampstead Heath that I've heard so much about. .and walk around town, to enjoy the lovely weather before it gets too cold. And for the rest of the while the most hectic activity I plan to have will be solving sudoku (my latest addiction), playing scrabble and reading.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Ulla Inga Hansen Yansen Yallen Tallen Sweden Swanson

Recently I was talking to a friend in India who was telling me how after her baby was born she has three maids and is so harried managing them and the driver .. ensuring things are on time. S-i-g-h ... all I get to worry about is the tube running on time. Anyway, I think I prefer it this way. I'm not sure I'd like someone else constantly in the house. Having a cleaning lady once a week keeps us going. Its anyway not the cleaning which is as much of a problem as the ironing. Both, Bee and I, hate ironing . . and since our current house has no balcony, we use the dryer which makes the clothes come out like someone has taken out a lifetime of frustration on them.

After moving here one of the first things I did was find out about a cleaning lady. So I get a contact, call up and we fix up for a particular day. The appointed time comes and goes and she’s not there .. I start panicking and then the bell rings - sigh of relief - I open the door for her. A short digression - before moving to London, we had a sweet Filipino lady who came once a week. She was really nice and very chatty. I open the door expecting a version of her (no reasonable basis for that). Instead, I am greeted by a taller-than-me, smart, blonde lady. Now, I have nothing against tall people but when I am in my shabbiest house clothes I do find someone taller, thinner and smarter a little intimidating. My first reaction - she reminds me of 'Ulla Inga Hansen Yansen Yallen Tallen Sweden Swanson' (was half expecting her to say that) from 'The Producers'.

After my initial shock, I gather myself together and show her the cleaning supplies. She tells me that we are very under-stocked and gives me a long list of things to buy. I thought separate cleaners for glass, kitchen, oven, bathroom, floor, general purpose (the catch-all!) would suffice - apparently not. With my promises of being better prepared the next time, she gets to work. I was making coffee for myself when she arrived, so offered to make her some. . she didn't want coffee but tea. Which was fine till she added that she had it with lemon and not milk. That sent me into a frantic dash about the kitchen looking for the tiny piece of lemon I am sure was around - as it is I have an under-stocked cleaning supply image..I did not want to add under-stocked kitchen supplies to it! Lemon found, tea done, I am back at my computer. Then I notice she hadn't taken off her shoes. . . it bothered me a little but I felt way too intimidated to say anything. As a general rule we take off our shoes at home because it keeps the house cleaner. After a few minutes of stewing over it, I muster the courage to meekly ask her if it would be ok with her to take off her shoes since we stay bare feet at home. She immediately obliges adding that she had initially not taken them off since apparently the British wear their shoes at home ... to which I mumble something about the Japanese taking off their shoes at home. In my mind I'm thinking - Japanese... what's the relation here.. and why the hell did I say that.

That was day 1 with our new cleaning lady, who I now lovingly refer to as Ulla. She's not really that scary .. and even offered to get me the balance of the cleaning stuff we needed. We've made our peace all is good..and anyway, as a rule I am very nice to anyone who does my ironing. But, just to be on the side of caution and self esteem, I make sure am bathed and well dressed before she comes.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

What's on the menu?

Warning : Its a looong cooking / foodie post..

I love cooking, especially for friends. There's very little cooking we do on a day-to-day basis since we switched a while back to salads and soups for dinner to lose weight (this works really well btw).
Perhaps it is this occasional cooking which also keeps my interest in it going. Not sure how much I would enjoy cooking if I had to do it day-in-day-out. All my cooking creativity comes out only when we have friends over. After a month of friends from out of town staying with us we have a two week break . . . so we're finally having a couple of the welcome parties which are long overdue from us. I am rubbing my hands in glee thinking of all the exciting new things I can try. I'm really bad .. I often try a totally new recipe when I've called people over and then am very tense at how its going to turn out.

I try stick to one type of cuisine in the menu .. but given my limited knowledge it sometimes is a problem. .. that's where I turn to the Internet for inspiration. When it comes to books .. I have two favourites. The Naked Chef and The N.I.A.W Cook book. I love recipes by Jamie Oliver - they don't have a million fancy ingredients, easy to prepare and most importantly .. even if its something I've never tried before ..its usually a success. The N.I.A.W cookbook is another wonderful source. Someone had presented it to us at our wedding .. and at first sight it looks very boring. Published in black and white with no pictures it has 2-3 recipes crammed into a page. The books has sections covering various different cuisines. While at first look the book does not look very promising .. it has rarely failed me. I've only tried the Indian recipes from it .. and even when some of them have had ingredients I wasn't sure would go well together.. they've turned out fine. I also like checking this site for ideas .. and I love the pictures.

Now I need to decide the menu for Saturday. Its a group of our friends from India. I can't decide if I want to make Indian food or something else. The problem with Indian food is that most of them make it regularly at home .. also they have a benchmark for comparison and since I don't make the best Butter Chicken and Chole .. am not too confident. On the other hand I assume that they all like Indian food and so can't go too wrong. . especially if that's what they are expecting. The other option I've been considering is Italian based here's how that would look ...

For starters - with the drinks

# Bruschettas - Its really easy to make and I have a basic recipe which comes out very nicely
# Bread with dipping oil - I still need to develop local knowledge on where to get good bread. .. in the worst case M&S has some interesting options. For the dipping oil - I had got some really good olive oils on a trip to Paris and there's some nice Balsamic vinegar too. The best part - its practically no effort on my part!

For the dinner - am a little confused here. Some of them are vegetarian and I am fairly clueless about using local vegetables like artichoke, asparagus, avocado etc which can add some variety to the veggie options. I must try them sometime to get an idea of the taste and how to use them. In the meantime .. here's the plan

# Risotto - I have a very good basic risotto recipe by Jamie Oliver. I've used it in the past and its comes out really well. My addition to it is adding mushroom and for non vegetarians mushroom and chorizo. Problem with risotto is that it has to be made just before dinner, otherwise it becomes too dry. Maybe if I cut everything and keep it ready, I might manage to put it together really fast. I generally don't like being in the kitchen cooking when there are guests at home...unless its very informal and I can ask them to hang around with me in the kitchen.
# Cannelloni - Well actually I make a variation of it. Instead of the pasta, I use crepes. Its an old recipe from my mum and I quite like it. Also its easy to make and can be prepared in advance.
# Penne in pesto sauce - I love pesto sauce and the good thing is it goes so well with a lot of things. A dash in soup or a sandwich really perks it up. Bee is the resident pesto sauce expert and makes it in bulk. Penne with pesto is one of my favourites and for the non vegetarians I usually keep bacon along with it .. the flavours go together very nicely.
# Salad - Ever since we've started having salad dinners we've been loading up on interesting ingredients. We now have nearly one shelf dedicated to salad ingredients. Also with all the other 'heavy' dishes, I think a light salad would balance it out.

So I can't decide which it should be .. India or my mixed-up Italian. .. also with including penne and risotto and crepes .. I feel it might be too much of carbs giving all of them a similar feel. Will need to think about this some more ... at any rate will have some fun cooking this weekend.

Monday, September 04, 2006

A day like today

I like nice surprises .. (who doesn't?) .. and impulse plans. This morning Bee called from office to say that there was an offer at work to buy two tickets at a highly discounted rate to a particular musical tonight ... and he had got a couple of tickets for us. I'm quite excited about going out this evening .. and also happy to see Bee slowly being ok with a impulse plan which implies not being able to the gym this evening followed by studying for an exam (he's not t-h-a-t boring but highly methodical and planned which is a huge clash with me who is very disorganized and impulsive .. btw I like to believe that I have proved that we get work done in the same amount of time)!

This job search issue had got me really low. The weekend was full of pep talks from Bee and another friend. It actually got me raring to go by Monday morning! I have a general inertia problem - with some things. This job search bit is also bringing out the worst in me. When things go well I am pepped and ready to conquer the world. At a time like this when I need to show perseverance I've slowly been losing confidence and getting into a shell. Am the metaphorical ostrich hiding under sand and hoping the problem will just solve itself. (How I wish to be five again when this really did work ... I also truly believed that my parents could solve all the problems in the world .. of course at five, it helps that your biggest problem is homework being incomplete or someone calling you names.) Anyways, so here I was.. cribbing .. and as time went by losing my drive till I was doing very little real work on job-hunt. Its scary how I could lose all my confidence and irrationally hope that the problem would magically go away. Over the weekend, I finally owned up to the problem that I was 'in-hiding'. I have now been shaken out of my stupor and given the boost I needed.

Since this morning -
  • I have spoken to two people about potential leads
  • I got a yet another reject letter, but after the initial disappointment, kept going.
  • I have written to a few alumni who might be able to help .. need to do much more of this
  • I am looking for possibilities of unpaid / part-time internships to get some local experience - thanks for the idea Sunrayz
Not a bad beginning. . hope for more days like today .. when I feel positive, confident ... keep going and look forward to soon being back at work (so that I can then start cribbing about work life .. its a vicious cycle!).

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Fitting in

The last eight years I have craved for winter. After college I've only been in places where the seasons are hot, hotter, hottest (with a few days of minor exception . . but that can't really count as winter). I've missed the smart warm clothes, fresh cold air hitting my nose, snuggling under my comforter with a book when it's too cold to face the world. With the move to London, I've been very excited about finally seeing a proper winter. I have however, been assured by many that I'll get over my romantic notions by mid December and will then s-u-f-f-e-r the short days and perpetual drizzle. Till then!

Finally the awful heat is gone (and no point telling me I'm from India so I should not crib .. because in India and other places I've been in, there are technological advances like ceiling fans and air conditioners to deal with the heat and not one measly standing fan masquerading as a p-r-o-p-e-r fan).
Now, it's finally a little colder and time to take out a light jacket. Am not sure if its a correct observation, but one thing I feel differentiates the 'tourists' from the 'locals' here is their jackets. At the moment, am sure we fall into the tourist category. Whenever we go out, our friends have these nice lightweight jackets - usually black on week days and beige on weekends (very very predictable) and Bee and I have these over sized jackets, usually too warm for the current weather and in dark green, white and other vibrant unseen colours. Not only do our jackets look 'touristy', I also keep clicking photographs on our over sized camera - definite tourist giveaway. .. not that am trying to look local .. but still.

So this weekend we went jacket shopping. As I gather ..we need two light ones for now (weekday and weekend) ... and once its colder need another two (again weekday and weekend!). Yesterday, after a nice long walk and a brunch at Honest Sausage, we went jacket shopping. Many diversions into music shops and books shops later, we are now the proud possessors of a new 'London' jackets - black, light weight... and I must add - smart.

PS. On a totally different note, I tend to discover good music and movies much much after everyone else. Yesterdays find, David Gray - White Ladder. Very nice music (I have a strange way of appreciating music - rhythm and music - not the lyrics.. therefore I often like music irrespective of language .. not sure if others do that too)

Friday, September 01, 2006

No new mails.
Thats the end of yet another week .. and the hopelessness just grows. I never throught I was so unemployable. But I look up from the keyboard ....

.... and smile. I love fresh flowers and even when am down .. it can cheer me up!