Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Bay area coffee chapter + my car

Waking up early morning, taking my car and driving up to a coffee place... that has been one of the most pleasant things living in a bay area. My fav cafes have been (in order of preference) -

1. Philz at Loma Verde, Palo Alto.
2. Dana Street Roasting company, Mountain view.
3. Sufi cafe.
4. Peets at Castro.
5. Red rock cafe.
6. Starbucks

What i like about these cafes -
Obviously the coffees. But not that much. But good coffee opens up all the senses.

The diversity of people around me. There are book readers, song writers , ipad readers, people with small cute children with cheese/chocolate on their faces, random activities like board games, crossword solvers, etc etc

The music, oh yes the music.

Just the community aspect of a coffee shop. The locality that comes with it.  Those who say that people are not social anymore, those who say that social networks only exists in online world.... they should visit these coffee shops. While they may be true at an overall level, these coffee shops help preserve the humanity in all of us.

Discussions, arbit discussions, overhearing conversations, strangers ......

And most importantly the feel of it. It takes effort to create a feeling and these cafes do it in such a style that it just makes my day.

Today, i think this Bay area coffee chatper is coming to an end. I am going to move back to India (many posts will follow to explain the process). And also i am going to sell my car, my awesome toyota corolla Sports model, the silver colored think tank which was able to understand me and had enough sense to override my traffic sense and sensibilities. The car that took care of itself, that never complained, never cried even when i made a dent in it, the car that never made a sound when i scratched it, the car that ran even when its tire had a puncture and i couldnt see it, the car that took me to all those places, the car that gave me such music to listen, the car which carried all those big luggage bags, the car which never gave me a problem ever, the car that took me to redwood forest, weekend drives to Half Moon Bay, vegas, LA, and everywhere. A great car!  A personal car. My car.  It is today, Jan 26 ( on India's republic day), we say goodbye. 



Volunteering at VVEducation

VVEducation -

Somebody at my workplace sent an email that volunteers were needed to build a fence for this NGO - VV Education. I was anyways of thinking for going for a hike on Saturday, so i decided that hike and building a fence will give similar workout but building a fence out in the open would be a unique experience and in the process, atleast some good will come out of it.

From VVEducation (Viva verde) volunteering

VVEducation is a small NGO that offers 2-3 day summer-camp like activities for school children from under-privileged schools. These kids who study in and around bay area, who live 50 miles away from ocean and in California which has such abundant natural beauty have never been to a beach, have never seen a redwood forest and have never been on a summer camp. VVEducation gives them an opportunity to do so in this completely natural setting near Half Moon Way with hills in the background, was serenity just being there.  VVEducation - the website has more details. 

From VVEducation (Viva verde) volunteering

So, overall for me it was just awesome. It was work, some rigorous work and lots of fun and happiness. There were about 15 volunteers, all from different backgrounds and we were here just to build this fence for kids whom we would never meet or never know. Being a sw. engineer and also by being lazy ( i like to believe that both go hand in hand), i have never done proper mechanical work before.... i want to do mechanical work, plough farms, do carpentry, and build fences :) . With the help of this gentleman, he guided me on how to use tools, how to use lever etc etc.. I took out nails, dug holes, screwed in nails, used axe-saw, rolled wire....all in a day. The whole thing was organized very well and being totally a DIY (Do it Yourself)  job, there were instructions on how to plant a fence.

VVEducation is doing a great job and i appreciate them for doing it. It has not been easy for them but they are very passionate about their work. Their reward is the smile on children's faces when they see the ocean for first time, when they draw milk from goats or just arrive there.

From VVEducation (Viva verde) volunteering

I also met this person there who is a organic farmer near HMB again.... she learnt this was a 6 month course at UC Santa cruz .... checked out that course and it looks very fascintating.  

From VVEducation (Viva verde) volunteering

The complete album link -

VVEducation (Viva verde) volunteering

Monday, January 23, 2012

Life in Nov 27 - Jan 10

I am writing this Life in series ending on Jan 10 even though today is Jan 22. This is indeed unusual but i think this is an admission of late blogging. But Jan 10 was the date i returned back to US from India trip, so it gives a natural end date  and i think combining too much info is not good for a post.

I went to India on Dec3rd, the idea was to work from bangalore for the first two weeks and take next three weeks off as vacation. India trip as always is very exciting and an eventful experience in its own way. The trip coincided with my dad's surgery and it all went well. The last 7 blog posts, cover a few of the big highlights of the trip. Here are the ones that were not covered -

I had a 20 hr stop over at HongKong while coming back. I went back again on to Big Buddha and decided to visit Kahloon island this time. I had mis-timed my sleep so i was tired and sleepy for the entire day, not to mention alone,  so i couldn't enjoy as much as before. But i got to see Chungking Mansions, went for a walk inside and it was a great experience. The articles of Chungking Mansions are so true and this small world is indeed a place to see.  Wiki -

While i was at home in Dakra, i read many books. Some of them have been documented before on this blog. In addition to them, i reread Lord of the Rings and saw the unedited version of the Peter Jackson movie. I dont think that i have written a review of this book before. Rereading the book for a second time (and that too after watching the movie umpteen times), it was still fun. Tolkien's mastery of dialogue construction and story play is indeed quite amazing. The missing chapters from movie such as The house of healing, and Tom Bombardillo were a delight to read. The uncut movie version has few more scenes which was a delight to watch.

Most of my trips were done on flight but i did take train from Ranchi to Delhi. Here is a perspective shot from train -

On my first night at bangalore, i was hungry at 2 am. I went to Leela and had aloo paratha for 300Rs. It was a good one but 300 rs is quite too much.

Devi Arts foundation. Went to an exhibition that combined choreography and delhi life together at Devi arts foundation. Went with Aarti and thanks to the place suggestion by Parul. I was glad to see that the place like Devi Arts foundation exists, i may not have understood all the short movies but a few of them were definitely catchy. And art definitely requires more time to be understood.  Overall a good experience except for the fact that my wallet was stolen at the metro station.

The coming back flight movies were -
(a) The Debt - I liked it.  I think i am becoming a fan of Jessica Chastain. Helen Mirren is good as usual and the direction is taught. Good story!
(b) Life in a day - Liked it! A unique creative experimental documentary. People were asked to upload their life on the day of 24 July 2010 and their clips were combined to make a documentary on life on Earth. A good idea and worth watching.
(c) Thor - I started watching this movie to go to sleep and it worked but after i woke up, i had to finish it. Bad movie.

Went bowling with office gang at blore. Got five consecutive straight hits and still came second. I think that was sheer luck.

Met Rana, Aditi and stayed at their place at Blore. Great place and they certainly know how to maintain it.  Thanks for their hospitality.

Met Nandini, Nikhil, Rajesh, Parul and later Gurshi on this trip.

Donated blood for the first time. Woohoo!

Often episodes in my life look like future scenes of a Khosla Ka Ghosla movie when i am in India :). It is so true. On that note, i end my this episode of Life in series.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Day trip to Bodh Gaya

While i was in Dakra, Ranchi, i decided to go and visit Bodh Gaya. I went about a month ago and the only reason that i had not blogged about it is because i had not uploaded the images and videos from my phone (yes, that is my excuse)

The best part of the trip was the road journey from Dakra to Bodh gaya to Nalanda. It takes about 5.5 hrs to reach Nalanda, and the road is quite bad for the first hr or so but it is decent for the rest of the trip. This is the Jharkhand/Bihar part of India and i had not seen this part of India much before. There are many villages along the way. I was glad to see open lands, roads under construction ( a sign of development), agri fields, huts made of hay and a general feeling of calm and serenity on the trip. The villages/small towns grew along the roads  which is understandable from localite's perspectives but not good for traffic and road safety. I didn't find any good dhabas which is indeed a big disappointment for me.  Since i was not driving, i was able to enjoy it even more, although having a driver makes me totally uncomfortable.  Here is a driving perspective -

We went first straight to Nalanda but at Rajgir, we saw the first Visitor information center. I dont know whether i have blogged about this before but here it is how i plan my travel - I never do any planning. I believe that it makes the trip much more enjoyable (since there are no expectations). In US, i just drive to place and go the tourist information center and ask them politely - what should i do or what would you recommend me :) And thats it. So, i rely on experts and it has worked greatly so far. So, seeing the tourist info place at Rajgir totally excited me and i had to go in. Apparently Bihar govt. is investing a lot in tourism and the whole place was under construction but the guy did gave me a list of things that i should do. There was a map of couple of hiking trails, its a shame that i didn't had time to do those hikes.

From India trip - Dec 2012

The Nalanda ruins was not as interesting as the museum next to it which is quite decently maintained. I think a little more of education will go a long way in preserving those artifacts. The actual ruins could have had more restoration efforts as it appeared neglected. The tourist guide was reasonably helpful. I think in its hay days, Nalanda would have been a masterpiece. I think we should build Nalanda 2.0 commemorate the institution. While coming back from Nalanda, i stopped at the Japanese temple and Bramha Kund. Bramha Kund is actually a hot spring but for some reason we like to associate religion to everything natural in this world. As a result there were hundreds of people taking a dip in that totally dirty water. I was totally grossed out, very sad that a natural beauty was so exploited and the local police were just not doing anything. There were scores of beggars, people watching clothes, bathing etc etc. This made me very sad.

We drove back to Bodh gaya, the plan was to stay there for the night but due to holiday season, they had blocked the road a km before the spot. Since i do not like my tourist places to be filled with people (gosh, how would i survive Indian toursim ( i smile as i write this)) i decided to ditch Bodh gaya and get back home. I also had a running cough so that was also a factor in getting back.

Listening to the Cricket commentary on AM while going and listening to local AM stations while coming back in night was quite an highlight. I like the govt. run radio and their mix of programmes.  I had the kachori and litti as the local food place at Gaya, it was decent but not that great. Homemade parathe with Karela was a big respite and an awesome delight!

The pics of the day trip and the entire India trip can be found here -

Travels with Charlie : In search of America

Travels with Charlie : In search of America
By John Steinbeck.

Wikipedia -
Amazon -

Every book that i read is a carefully chosen and has a nice background on why/how i came to read that book. Sometimes my book reading itself is a story (although not as exciting as the book itself). In this blog, i try to document that story while giving my opinion on the book itself.

I came to know about this book while listening to NPR (Thanks NPR!). On that show, the show anchor tried to repeat the same journey as John Steinbeck did in this book. The show anchor wanted to see the world as what John Steinbeck saw and how things have changed since. I think the story can be found here -
One of the segments in the story both the original and in NPR was about redwood trees and how magnificent they are and how Steinbeck was fascinated and his writings which was read aloud on NPR just blew me away. I think that i can simply attribute this show for my trip to go to Redwood national park in Thanksgiving last year. Had i not heard Steinbeck's lines, i may not have gone. But my story does not end here. I indeed went to the Redwood national park and hiking alone in Redwoods is one of my happiest moments of my life. But before i started my hike, as habitual i am to go to each and every visitor center, i went in and due to habitual sickness, i was looking at the books section when my eyes felt on this wonder. Now, here i am going to begin my 9-10 mile hike and i clearly will not be reading this book and i can buy this book anytime but now i have seen it and i have to buy it. I remember the  ranger/cashier telling me - "This is such a good book!". So without reading this book, i hiked with it for about 9 miles carrying this extra 250grams of luggage all over the hills and in between redwoods. Naturally, a sane person would finish the hike, snuggle under a warm blanket and read this book for it was cold that night and the place seemed just right to read it, but not me. I didnt read it that night, i think that the reason would be that i was happy/content that night and i didn't needed anything.  So, the book now comes back to Mountain view and then travels with me to India, to Bangalore-delhi-bangalore-delhi-ranchi and it is in the train journey from Ranchi to Delhi that i finally turn to this book. And needless to say, the Ranchi to Delhi train went like a blink and i was smiling most of the time on that train while my fellow passengers were throwing curious glances at me thinking that i am a weirdo. I think that "In search of America" in the title (they could only see the cover as i was reading the book) created a little discomforting scenario.

That was the story of how i read that book, now my opinion on the book.

It is a must read. Highly recommended. Why? I think first and foremost it is because of John Steinbeck's writing and his candid appraisal of his thoughts, actions and world around him.  Right from the first para where he talks about his affliction to go on a journey, his journey preparations and vignettes of people whom he meets and conversations, i simply love them. As i have admitted on this blog previously, i am a big fan of journey stories, the slow moving adventure with beautiful landscape in background, it just makes my style.  Without ruining the book, i would just like to mention that my favorites are (a) the conversation about roots of humanity, (b) Talking to the stranger family at the picnic stop, (c) Description of Charlie's actions and his thoughts.

I think i can never describe why i liked this book. You just have to read it and figure out. All i can say is that i am so glad that i have read this book.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Movies - Dec 2011

A series of average/horrible movies characterized the month of december. Several were watched on the flight from SFO to DEL. Since Nov was hectic, there was a desire to watch mindless movies and that can be seen by the list below.
Mission Impossible 4  - Good action, better story/screenplay than MI2/3. But the ending is far fetched.
Dus tola - Good movie. Manjoj Bajoayi is very good. Brings back the local village feel.
Boondock saints II - Very similar to the Boondock Saints 1 in terms of style, writing and direction. But little weak story . Willem Dafoe in 1 was absolutely brilliant and his touch is missing from this flick.
Colombiana Mindless movie. Decent action.
Ra-one Horrible.
overheard HonkKong flick with wire tapping, spying and all elements of a good thriller is present but too much is tried in one movie resulting in a bollywood style story yet direction is good enough to keep it taut.
overheard 2 Same as 1.

Need to improve the selection going forward.

Partition of India: Legend and Reality

Partition of India: Legend and Reality
By H.M. Seervai

I ordered this book last time when i was in India from flipkart. It was delivered after i had left. But this time, i have read it.

This is an awesome book. For people who love history, for those who want to read under the hood, who want writing to be backed by facts and proof. A writing that is very analytical in approach and where criticisms or inferences are very well backed up. All those and more is there in this book and of particular importance is the subject on which many have strong feelings but few know what exactly happened.  This is an eye opening book but the requirement is that you have to read it with an open mind, free from bias and prejudices.

H.M. Seervai has managed a feat in historical account in an age where internet was not that prevalent and finding sources was not that easy. But what helped him a lot was that Britain decided to release all the official documents that they found while they were in India. Relying heavily on the later volumes, Seervai deconstructs the myth and explains reality as it happened. That the partition was a result of poor assumptions made by INC, that the efforts to not go for partition were made a lot by Jinnah and the Muslim league, that Gandhi could have prevented it if he was able to see beyond the obvious, that the Indian leaders where more preoccupied by self government and less by what will happen after that. At some level, i agree with Nehru's philosophy that religion should not be a part of a secular India but he didn't do enough to allay the fears of minority rights. And INC itself was playing religion based politics and there were people like Patel who were quite communal. There are eye opening accounts of people who played a major role - in particular Wavell and Maulana Azad.

What makes this book extra special is that Seervai has read opinions of people who had criticized his book and in his introduction, he deconstructs the arguments of his criticizers showing the fallacy in their arguments or just prejudice. The introduction is to be read after the book. Seervai also has a lot of praise for Maulana Azad and he denotes special section in his book on understanding Azad's book India wins freedom.

Highly recommended that every Indian should read this book.

Hunger games trilogy

It was Robert Yau who tweeted a link of the Hunger games trailer that told me about this book series by Suzanne Collins. And this is alsy my first Kindle read. It was Barbara who suggested that this book is a nice way to get familiarized with Kindle. Both of them were right. Hunger games trilogy is one of those again masala page turner flicks where you dont have to read between the lines.

Its amazing that my India trip coincides with these trilogies, In the last one i finished the The girl with ... series and this time it was Hunger games. While the concept of Hunger games is new to me (having not seen Battle royale),  the writing is as direct as i have ever read. Suzanne Collins writing just pushes the plot forward. There is very little description of the surroundings, of the scenery and very little character development. Everything that is written is written if it helps the plot. While this may be exciting to some, it just becomes too direct and it feels that you are reading a children fiction instead of an adult one.  But this does not mean that i am against her plot developments. I think she has a very keen knack on how to push the plot forward and thats what makes one read the trilogy at a non-stop pace.   It takes averae about 7 hrs to finish each book and thats why it doesnt hurt to read it. Among the three, i found mockingjay to be the most weird. While keeping Katniss out of action may be a more practical idea, in terms of reading it, it is very boring. The ending with Coin is too cliched. Haymitch is one of the more interesting characters and it is sad that he doesnt get more time in the book. The love triangle is not that great and it is one of the bigger disappointments.

The review above may have more criticisms yet i read the trilogy. This is because Hunger games is like the action flicks such as the fast and furious series. You know its crap but there is still some fun in watching them.  After reading Hunger games, there is a serious need to read something more intelligent and having read the Song of ice and fire series so far, Hunger games feels very much for young teens.

The Kindle experience was quite good. Unexpected as i thought that i would never be able to get around the physical books but kindle is actually very well done. Having read one book on my ipad which was a vad experience, i thought that e-reading is not for me. But kindle's light weight and nice intuitive page turners are a delight.  The font and screen size was not a problem at all.

Love in the times of cholera

Finally i finished a Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Long long ago i started 100 years of solitude which i liked reading but for some reason i didnt finish it. This time, i started reading Love in the times of cholera. It took some time to finish it but it was a good reading experience.

I didn't like it as much as i like the Rushdie's books or even Pamuk's writing. But on its own it was quite beautifully written. His character sketch is very deep and his use of instances to draw the sketch is very unique and quite real. I flet that the backdrop of cholera was not as clear as it should have been. However,   the character of each of the protagonist is beautifully written. The ending is also quite noteworthy as it atleast made me satisfied. The other interesting aspect is the screenplay on how events unfold. We are told of the husband's death a lot earlier and then the background. This creates an interesting psychological advantage in the mind of reader. Overall a good read.

India diary, Dec 2011

Yes, the long awaited India trip finally happened. Writing this post while sitting at Dakra, about 80 kms away from Ranchi.  The following are a few noteworthy instances which were worth remembering.

1. Bangalore airport entry. I was bringing two macbooks, one personal and one office one, and as per Indian rules you can only bring one laptop. I was prepared to pay the duty that if they ask for it, i will pay the duty. One was in my hand bag and other was checked in. I see that the checked in suitcase has a big X marked on it with chalk. Interesting! I walk out and duely the checked marked suitcase is noted and i am asked to go to the screening section, they screen and whoa there is a laptop.  Here is the conversation after that -

Him: How many laptops do you have?
Me: Two.
Him: Ok, please come with me to the next room. (I walk over there)
Him: Please show the two laptops.  (I pull out the two laptops)
Him: Only one is allowed as per Indian rules.
Me: Ok, One is office one and other one is personal. I need both here.
Him: (Look at me)
Me: What should we do now?
Him: How old are these laptops?
Me: Office one is three years old, personal one is one year old.
Him: (Again looks) Ok, dont worry about it, you can take these with you.
Me: Thank you sir!

I bet that this would never have happened at the Delhi airport (ask Gurshi who had to pay duty) , only in bangalore is such a thing possible.

2. Wallet got picked up while boarding Delhi metro at Rajiv chowk. Was trying to catch the yellow line and along came a train which was jam packed, and at Rajiv Chowk all those people came out with all the push-pull and there was also a crowd who wanted to go in. And in that moment, my wallet was picked which i realized instantly but whom to catch. Lesson - Carry wallet in front packet. Loss of about  6000 rs but more issue is the painful process to get new cards and stuff.

3. Dilli-walla - In one way Delhi has been totally cosmopotalized/metrolized but there was a time when Delhi was about Dilli-wallahs - people who spoke sweetly, were friendly to others and used to live life happily. It is rare to find Dilli wallahs now a days but one fine Sunday morning, i took an auto rickshaw from Harinagar to District center and the driver was a typical dilliwallah. In those 20 mins, he told me about his childhood,  the day his bike was stolen and he was sad but his dad without saying any word bought a new bike, the day he bunked from school etc etc.  I think these people need to be sought out .

4. Delhi T3 airport - Quite impressed by the delhi T3 airport. Not because of its size but because of its art, in particularly the mudras depicted on that giant wall when one lands. The Dilli chat in the food court on first floor is also quite impressive.

5.  US returned. There was a time when i first landed in US, every dollar amount was back translated into indian rupees to judge its value. It has been only 4 and 1/2 years and now when we come to India, every Indian product's price is back translated into US dollars to judge its value. Inflation has been quite dominant in India but the lack of context of prices four years ago is hurting big time.