Damn you AmsterdamN!

I have always heard so much about Amsterdam.

Like you, I have heard that w**d and Prost******* (I hope I got the number of stars right) is legal. Oh and the unasked advice of ‘you must so visit the red light district’ from anyone and everyone even those who have never been to the city.  Naturally, my impression of Amsterdam wasn’t too hard to form. Yup it’s a party place alright and what’s the best way to enjoy partying it up? Stay in Hostels! With a bunch of complete strangers! And then you can party all night. Drink beer and eat loads of goodies and just never sleep. I am just kidding. Haha. The only reason I stayed in hostels was I’ll admit – cheap prices!

As soon as you step out of the central station, the first things you see are canals. Canals, canals everywhere, not surprisingly, this place is known as the Venice of the north (along with Brugge, Brussels). It’s quite easy to figure out the maze of waterways around the city because it is honestly not so big.

So I wanted to start off my day by renting a bike and going around the city. Well big mistake. The weekend I chose to visit was the Rainiest weekend EVER (you will notice all the pics are quite gloomy looking too).

My first stop was the Museumplain (Museum square), see I was determined to see the Van Gogh Museum while I was there, right opposite is also the Rijksmuseum but the only painting I have heard of Rembrandt is well of course the Night Watch so I decided it wasn’t worth visiting an entire museum for one painting and let’s face it, I could not spend another minute in the pouring rain. I had to get in somewhere nice and warm and museums are my favourite things to do. All I had on my list was the Vangogh Museum and Anne Frank’s Haus and of course the Dam Square and Red-light district.

The Vincent Van Gogh Museum wasn’t just a museum filled with his paintings. It was a museum filled with paintings of famous painters who have inspired or influenced him through his years as an artist. When Van Gogh started his work, he started with drawings when he was working in Antwerp (Belgium) and soon he moved to Paris and started to paint which led to the introduction of his famous work ‘The Potato eaters’, after which his paintings became more and more say colourful and that’s how he ended up with the artistic break through with the Sunflower series. I love the sunflower series paintings; of course there are many versions to it. The best one is in the National Gallery in London and the one in the Van Gogh Museum was very similar just not as bright (yes neither is my knowledge with paintings so much as you can tell). All in all it was interesting to see the transformation of the works of Van Gogh from his drawings to his paintings which all just seemed very structured and gradually improved with the years. It’s also ironic because a person who suffered from anxiety and mental illness through his life and who was unable to maintain an orderly lifestyle had surprisingly managed to capture the growth of his passion in a highly disciplined way. Van Gogh killed himself at 37.

Anne Frank’s Haus was my next stop, it was the last thing I had chosen to do on the Sunday and I was insane because there was a huge line outside and people including myself were crazy enough to stand in the strong winds and fierce rain storm with nothing but an umbrella. I was cold, I was shivering but this was something I absolutely wanted to do. The book chronicling her experience during the World War 2 had grazed more than one classroom over the years so it wasn’t surprising so many people wanted to see the place she talked about in her diary. An hour later I was inside, it was the most depressing feeling ever. It felt like all the words in the book started to gush right through me; the secret entrance, her room, her sister’s room, the tiny washrooms, the boarded up windows and the infamous tree. Secret Annexe was only a fiction of my imagination when I read the book but now I could actually picture it right here in front of me. It was so touching to see so many people gasp during the tour and some started to cry and one or two even broke down. I think that’s the beauty of the book. She was ONE girl, part of ONE Jewish family that went through the tragedy amongst a million others. I would personally recommend reading just this ONE book because I don’t think any human being has the capacity of sinking in the torture of the million others. Just ONE was enough to break us down.

(Pics are not allowed inside, but I just had to take one of the secret entrance, it was my fav part of the book so here it is)

There is so much more to the city if you don’t like to do boring stuff like museums and art galleries, you can keep walking on the famous Leidseplein which is a district with all the shopping and all the international restaurants to eat in, also lots of salsa clubs you can just take a peek in and practice your moves and run out before you start to look like an amateur in front of all the professionals (haha yes indeed), you can walk along dam square district which is the historical district and landmark of Amsterdam, take a tour around the inspiring historical churches and buildings in Amsterdam such as the Oude Kerk (old church) Amsterdam’s oldest parish church, located on the borders of the red light district and the Royal Palace, former city hall, built in 1648 and  situated in the west side of Dam Square.

Finally, Saturday night, a visit to the red-light district became an important part of my experience in the damn city. I would love to write about what I did and where I went but all I can say is that the place is probably their own little times square of Amsterdam; people come from all over the world just to visit this district. It’s supposed to be an area that Amsterdam is actually super proud of. A tourist attraction, a place filled with tons of people all happily and cheerily wandering about in the city in the middle of the night like newly freed spirits with that absolute high knowing that no one can touch them here. In a place where woman are showcased in their bare necessities in these little red rooms who ignorant tourists point at trying to make negotiations or just float by as smooth talkers. No one ever wonders what got them there in the first place, no one ever thinks about these women during the day, no one knows if they are forced into this, no one knows about the cruelties that take place in the brothels. Why bother? Everyone is here to have a good time right? Maybe this will catch your attention – No one knows that the prostitutes working in the red light district of Amsterdam are not required to be tested by law. No one knows what a disgusting, filthy and criminal sewer it really is. So next time, you take a stroll down the red light district of Amsterdam, you should know that no one not even Amsterdam has the right to be proud of such an area.

I learnt that the best kept secret of exploring Amsterdam (actually any city perhaps) is just to have an idea of a couple of places that you really want to visit and then let the rest pour in on an instinct basis. There is literally something new on every canal street and if you keep exploring you are bound to find a little surprise of your own just around the corner.

A Fairy Tale Beginning – LUXEMBOURG

Once upon a time, an Indian woman named Simran i.e. yours truly, found herself in a country known as Luxembourg; right in the heart of Europe for a month. She was initially supposed to be vacationing on the Eurorail for the month but she had missed the train Raj was on so instead her company shipped her off to Lux city for work. Luxembourg is never the place you think off when you think of Europe, you think beautiful cities such as Paris, Rome, Barcelona, Prague, and Amsterdam but never do you once think of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg. But here I was in a place I have to admit I found out only existed three years ago. A place I had heard absolutely nothing about.

But this little country is in fact well-known as the fairy tale land; filled with fortresses, castles, and streets with little corners & cute boutiques. Lux boasted a population of over half a million primarily French-speaking with German and a trace of Luxembourgish. I had only just landed and even though I was jet lagged as hell I couldn’t wait to get out there and start exploring this beautiful city. Not knowing where to go at all, my first stop was obviously the tourist office. The lady at the tourist office was over enthusiastic, she spoke English but barely, with her hand movements and gestures she clearly was dying to help a lost poor soul like me or Luxembourg just didn’t get that many tourists and I was probably the first person to walk in that day. I am betting the latter.

If you do ever land up in the capital of Luxembourg, you should start with the visit to the casemates, the bock and the petrusse casemates; a tour of this abandoned fortified castle gives you a good idea of the history of Luxembourg. What was fascinating about these places that it was used as a military aid for thousands of civilians during both World War 1 and 2 where they would hide during air raids and shelling. I preferred the petrusse casemates over the bock ones because petrusse felt more authentic and bock well sort of felt like a tourist trap (but they are not surprisingly more famous). But never the less, the casemates are the cradle of Lux city and one must start their adventure from there (although I sort of ended up there by chance). The chill spot for all the tourists to hang out after work hours is Place D’armes which is bustling past 7 pm not a trait many other places in Luxembourg share. Its interesting that not many people know that the Dukè’s palace, the Grand Ducal Palace is actually open to visitors for viewing in the months of July and August (closed in Sep because he is back home duh). You might also want to check out the largest church in Luxembourg, Notre dame, nothing compared to St Pauls Cathedral in New York or Notre Dame Paris but still it’s something to admire while you’re there, Casino de Luxembourg, is not a casino, yea unfortunately that was the reason I entered the place, but it’s in fact an art gallery, a pretty smooth place to check out in the city for contemporary and out of the box art. Apart from the centre Ville, you can head out to Kichberg, the area my clients are based in, which is the home to the European centre headquarters and all the skyscrapers of the city including the Mudam (Museum of Modern Art)etc. It’s the area that houses the biggest mall Auchan as well as the biggest cinema in the country Utopolis. Nothing spectacular really but then again Europeans aren’t exactly big on indoor activities so one can’t complain.

Outside of Luxembourg city, you must definitely visit 3 out of these 4 cities, north of the country is Viandan, a city so beautiful that it will take your breath away (that’s not me it’s the brochure talking) but when you do get there, the first thing you do see is the castle of Viandan, you can’t miss it, it’s probably the main attraction to see in this city, a renaissance styled built architecture that was once the home of William I of Netherlands (ask me no more for that is all I learnt) along with its cable car ride leading up to a panoramic view of the entire city, You can explore this small little town in little under 4 hours; like I said, charming but still small. Oh and it also was the home of Victor Hugo, the famous French writer for some part of his life, in fact you can take a peek at his humble abode where he lived when he resided in Viandan. Half hour away from Viandan is Ettelbruck, I don’t know why people told me to visit this city, and I honestly didn’t see the big deal in it. I mean the grass and cows are cute really, coming from my home city that is truly nature starved, this was a real treat to the eyes at first and while I don’t agree that it gets boring to keep seeing the cows and grass, you do get used to it after a while so Ettelbruck wasn’t such a big deal for me, it was a lot like the main city but with probably 1/4th the population. However, the biggest surprise ever was Echternach! Wow absolutely loved it! It was hustling bustling with mostly Germans in that area on a Sunday. Everything was open! Hop on the mini train for a ride in the beautiful city or go canoeing and kayaking by the water stream, this place was filled with tons of activities to do and the town is right outside from a Cinderella story. You could just sit and admire the architecture and the medieval buildings forever; it is in fact the oldest city of Luxembourg. You could also just keep walking ahead of Echternach to hit the Mullerthal region, which was so gorgeous that it is actually termed the little Switzerland of Luxembourg. Something I found out only once I got home. There you go; I don’t think a trip to Zurich was even needed at this rate. I didn’t understand why the tourist lady hadn’t told me to come here first; it was absolutely breath-taking.

A weekend in Luxembourg is honestly all that is required to explore the Country, it was a relaxing weekend well spent and a perfect start to Simran’s DDLJ one month-long adventure in Europe, but the next weekend had to be a place away from the country. A place she could dare to be different and not herself; a place that could damn well take her to hell. Amsterdam.

My Manhattan Diaries

#1 The Evening Gown Hunt.

You might think buying an evening gown in NYC is a piece of cake, but when someone is looking for a cheesecake with just that little bit of cream, crumble base so perfect that it melts in your mouth right away and doesn’t add a calorie to your hips then buying that gown isn’t all that easy.

I was on a mission. To find reasonably priced evening gown from a designer shop and? Find Santa Claus while I was at it.

Not having any female friends around the area, I turned to my next best friend, yelp.com. They directed me to Jovani fasions up on 37th street and 5th avenue. So I walked a couple of blocks and found the place, staring into the glass walls all these beautiful gowns priced at $200-$300 I couldn’t wait to try on. Problem? They are wholesale! Say what? But the lady directed me to a couple of retail stores that sell her dresses so I went to these places one by one. Great variety. Problem? They are wholesale but they will sell you one piece if you really beg and plead and are ready to try on the gown at the back in their storage rooms with cartons and no mirrors. So you could try Viver (64 west 37th street) or RK Bridal (318 west 39th street) or even Lafayatte on 6th avenue and 37th street. They all sell Jovani dresses and if you are lucky you might just find the one you are looking for. But after the 7th shop, I had had it. I wasn’t going to buy a dress that was hanging around in a shop with 100 others of her lookalikes. It didn’t make me feel so special you see. So I decided to leave the Fashion district and go to some “real shops” after searching at Macys and Bloomys (way over my budget) I landed at BCBG and there I saw it.; a gown with scuff sleeves and the perfect fit. Price $495 OH NO! But wait 60% off ..ah yes god was too kind.

I picked up the dress with the biggest smile ever handed my credit card and walked out patting myself on the back.  Mission accomplished. Now all I had to do was get the dress fitted to my height.

Little did I know what an Everest it is to find a tailor in NYC reasonably priced.

I was on a mission.

# 2 Pottermania

When I saw the ending credits of the last harry potter movie ever, I closed my eyes and thought. This is it. No more new harry potter experiences. No more books to look forward to and after this no more movies.

Boy, was I wrong.

A week later I found myself on 44th street and Broadway staring through the glass doors at the discovery times square at the harry potter exhibition. My mother looks at me and says “Ah yes $26 looks too much to me too” I looked at her aghast. I wasn’t DEBATING whether to go in or not, I was merely staring in disbelief. All those feelings came gushing back at me, another new experience? The harry potter exhibition, I just had to go in.

As soon as I walked in, the sorting ceremony began. After stretching my hand high above desperately just like Hermione in the movie I got picked third! And didn’t want to copy the others and be sorted into the Gryffindor house (although I know secretly that’s where I belong) I chose to be one of the clever Raven claws. After the sorting ceremony we were directed into the exhibition, which started off with entering the Hogwarts Castle and exploring the dormitories of the witches and wizards of the Dumbledore’s Army. Everything we saw were real artifacts used in making the movies. Once past the Hogwarts castle we found ourselves in the forbidden forest, which seemed as spooky in real as it does in the movies. For a real harry potter fan this was quite the treat. You get to pull out screeching mandrakes, pose on platform 9 ¾ and take a peek into the daily lives of the students. To top it all you get to purchase the every kind flavored beans from bertie botts (I started off with dirt flavor – gross I know)

I left the exhibition. Thinking this was it no more new harry potter experiences. I closed my eyes again. I then opened them and saw a poster and smiled. Staring in front of me was an advertisement of the newly opened Harry Potter theme park in Florida.

I guess some symptoms never do completely go away especially if you have the Pottermania.

# 3 The Alterations shop

I wake up early next morning. Yes. Must find a good tailor in New York City. Hadn’t forgotten my mission to search for Mr. Claus either. I googled a couple of places, put on my sneakers and hit the road. First stop. Sew Elegant – 108 west on 39th street. The lady was super sweet. She made me try the dress and complimented me endlessly. Ok then I thought. I don’t look that stunning also I know. Then she says “where are shoes?” huh what shoes? I thought. “Your heel size” she asks blatantly. “Oh, I don’t know, around 3 to 4 inches?” I said admiring the other gowns there. She frowned. “3 to 4 inches? So which one 3 or 4? Please be exact”. “Uh I don’t have the shoes yet you see” I told her bewildered (I mean seriously is it that big a deal) Yes it is apparently! She said demanding “You go get your heels and I will keep this dress ready for you”. Ok great I thought. How much? “Ah yes for you I give best price only 2 hundred dollars” Faint. That’s more than my freaking dress (yes you should’ve done the math already). Walk Out.

I wasn’t too lucky with the next two tailors either; I managed to get a quote close to 120 dollars at the legacy garment care on 26th street and Third Avenue though. But finally, I landed up at a great tailor. His name was Adele and he was Egyptian. Not only was he reasonably priced (for a tailor on 5th avenue hello?) but also he knew exactly what he was doing. He did insist on me being absolutely certain about the height of my heels and after much arguing I decided to buy the shoes first. Gosh. But because I have had so much experience in shoe shopping (Thank you S), that wasn’t quite hard. The dress fittings in all at the alternations shop cost me a total of $65. This is a highly recommended place for the lost new Yorker’s out there.

# 4 Dis & Dat

Tip 1 – When exploring the MOMA – museum of modern art on 53rd and 6th avenue, don’t forget to stop by their gift shop after. You will regret it if you don’t. It is probably worth a 100 Jackson Pollock’s out there. Ha-ha Just kidding. But their gift shop ideas are extremely creative. Not that that’s any surprise.

Tip 2 – Broadway shows are expensive. Your best bet for good seats and cheap prices is to go at 10 am in the middle of times square at the Duffy red carpet area and buy the shows available for their matinée afternoon ones at 50-60% off and great seats are usually guaranteed. We saw the phantom of the opera for $60 (original orchestra seating is $150) Absolutely Worth it!

Tip 3 – Walk like you belong. Wear comfortable shoes. Talk to Strangers (coz they will definitely talk to you)

Unfortunately, there probably isn’t anything more I can write about New York that hasn’t already been written, all I can do is account for my experiences as a person who is not an oblivious tourist and not a bred New Yorker but is someone in the middle. In the middle of Manhattan.

PS Believe it or not, Santa Claus is doing absolutely fine.

The Catch-22 of life

About the Author

It’s late at night and you are driving on a long seemingly never-ending road. You stop when you notice a bill board at a distance and you squint your eyes as you approach the border of a town where the signboard faintly says “It’s against the law to be able to read”. You think that the person who wrote this is totally crazy because how would I know it’s against the law if I wasn’t able to read in the first place? Welcome to catch-22. You’ve hit the town coined by Joseph Heller himself.

Born back in 1923, Heller is the American author of the comical satire historical book known as catch-22, regarded as one of the most highly accurate books based on American Servicemen during that time. He joined the US Army Air corps and flew 60 combat missions during the World War 2. His book, catch 22 is listed among the top 100 books of the century. He initially chose the number 18 but his publisher recommended 22 because it felt like a ‘funny number’. Heller died of heart attack in 1999.

Book Plot & Review (spoiler alert)

Sparked in the back drop of the second half of the World War 2, a military soldier named Yossarian wants to escape flying combat missions for the vain safety of his own life but the only way to be excused from it he learned was to be declared insane.

However, in Heller’s own words:

There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one’s safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn’t, but if he was sane he had to fly them. If he flew them he was crazy and didn’t have to; but if he didn’t want to he was sane and had to. Yossarian was moved very deeply by the absolute simplicity of this clause of Catch-22 and let out a respectful whistle.
“That’s some catch, that Catch-22,” Yossarian observed.

The book is split into various segments and is told through the eyes of Yossarian whose desire to live makes him seem like a complete coward faking illnesses to spend most of his time at hospitals trying endlessly to not get cured as opposed to marching out there to fight the war. He does his best to try to understand the glory and splendor it is to die at war but why bother when death is the end of it all anyway? As the story progresses, the secondary characters are unfolded around him and stories for the other major characters are developed in no particular chronological order; and although Yossarian is determined to stay alive through the war at all costs, he still cares deeply for the members of his squadron and their deaths leave him traumatized and deeply affected.

The book is well written and brilliantly structured but distracting at a few places. I didn’t find it absolutely hilarious but some parts did make me laugh. I think the book could most relate to someone who actually lived through the war and you can sense while reading that Heller has taken a lot of examples from his real life experience during combat. By the end of the book, Yossarian manages to lose all the members of his squad and he eventually wiggles free from this catch-22 situation and runs off to Sweden. The tone of the book turns from grey to black especially during the last few chapters of the book where the description is more detailed by the author and you start to feel a little empathy for the characters that you had only just started to take lightly a few chapters ago. An author once said a work of true fiction is when the book is able to provide comfort to the disturbed and disturb the comforted. But by the end of the book, I felt neither comforted nor disturbed. I only have respect for the author’s ability to comprehend an undefined situation and actually manage to define it.

Analysis

1- Catch- 22 situation does apply in our real lives; in 2007 I was giving an interview for a position in the accounting department of a Canadian Company. The Finance Manager asked me, “Why should I hire you? You have absolutely no experience”. I said, “Well no one wants to hire me precisely because I have no prior experience but how am I supposed to get experience if you don’t hire me in the first place?” Needless to say, I got the job. It was my first job ever fresh out of university and he was honestly the best boss I ever had. I never realized then I was caught in a catch 22 situation but I do now.

2- The main protagonist of the book, Yossarian is not your typical hero. You would think he is because he is the main character of the book and he is fighting the Germans through the World War 2 but his main concern is not to win the war for the Americans but to actually just manage to survive through it. He isn’t the conventional war hero because during that time lives were worthless and lost uselessly; so perhaps the best way to be a hero in those days was to manage to survive through it, something we are all trying to do with life today, aren’t we?

3- As the book unfolds, Yossarian realizes that Catch – 22 doesn’t exist, it’s merely a term made up by the American Bureaucracy to be allowed to do all the crazy shit such as kidnapping, rapes and murders of people because they have the power too. But in reality, they don’t.  Yossarian starts to fear the American Bureaucracy that he was fighting for more than the Germans he was fighting against. It signifies the rut we are all stuck in when it comes to the free market capitalistic philosophy of life. The parallel chord was struck between the secondary character Milo, brilliant but an insane man who manages to make a few bucks and profits through the war (something you first begin to admire then start to hate him for it) to the modern-day investment bankers or so-called corporate heroes whose pleas for public bailouts go unheard over the noise made by their private jets.

At the end of it, we are all very much in the same situation like Yossarain in the novel.  We go through life wondering what the meaning of life is but the only way to figure out the meaning of life is to keep going through it. Doesn’t that make it the ultimate catch – 22 of our lives?

PS – To All Americans, Happy Independence Day!

Just Be Average.

I know what you are thinking. Who the hell tells you to just be average? Don’t people always talk about being great? Achieve your potential to the fullest and at whatever you do, excel.

But aren’t there disadvantages to being someone great too? Great leaders like Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela also had major tribulations at home. They may have achieved greatness but their personal lives were nothing but a turmoil heading for a recipe of disaster. Now you are thinking two things. First, not all great men have failed in their personal lives. Next, you would rather achieve greatness such as freeing a country or winning a Nobel peace prize and accept being a horrible father or a husband compared to being just any common man who is a letdown for everyone in his life anyway. Win Lose compared to Lose Lose.

Although, let’s not forget that everything comes with a price. You cannot possibly achieve greatness without passion and you cannot possibly be passionate without focusing on something hard enough and you cannot possibly focus on something hard enough without neglecting your other duties. The man coined Father of the Nation couldn’t manage to be a Father to his own son. While Mahatma Gandhi was focusing on fighting to bring down the British Empire leading his nation towards independence, his own son slithered into debauchery, transformed into various religions and finally met with a tragic end. Harilal Mohandas Gandhi was once quoted “He (Mahatma Gandhi) is the greatest father you can have… but he is the one father I wish I did not have.” Nelson Mandela on the other hand was married three times with his first two marriages leading to a divorce due to his political commitments and his inability in playing a decent role of a husband and a father.  In between lobbying as an anti-apartheid activist and spending majority of his time in jail, he proved to be a disappointment to his family life. After serving as President of South Africa, he then chose to marry a third time at the age of 80. And although, these two men had found their greatest cause of existence, it unfortunately turned out to be the sole reason for their personal failures. So whether your greatness verses your failures is a Win Lose situation or whether the heartbreaking fact that it is the only reason behind it is a Lose Lose situation depends on what side of the not so green grass you are standing on.

I was chatting with my client the other day, he was a senior consultant working for a software company who was serving an unusually long notice period and was desperate to quit his job because he had plainly gotten bored of it. When asked him why is his company asking him for a 6 month notice period? He said “coz I am great at my job and they are too dependent on me so I have to train someone else before I go. How I now wish I was just an average employee”. Somehow, that just stuck with me. He said it so matter of fact like, as if it was the greatest achievement someone could make, be just an average employee, nothing great. Who cares right? When asking my girl friends “Would you marry a great man? “Uh what do you mean?” they would ask. “You know someone great whose name could go down in history, someone who has probably invented something or someone who just thinks out of the box perhaps a leader or a politician of the nation?” “NO!” they would strongly reply because they just want someone ‘normal’ to live their lives with. No outliers, just someone who manages to stay in between the lines.

Interesting I thought, while we circulate videos on facebook and read thoughts for the day reminding us to strive to achieve the impossible, dare to dream and become someone great in our life; deep down we endeavor for nothing but normalcy. Perhaps to be someone great is to just lead an average lifestyle successfully? Could it be that simple?

Eventually, all you have to achieve is being true to yourself. Be who you are because if you are born for greatness or achieving to be great then be sure you’ll eventually get there and pay the price if at all and if you are not, then there is nothing to worry about because you’ll just be average and maybe that isn’t so bad after all.

The Social Media Objection.

I read The Fountain Head by Ayn Rand more than a month ago; it is a 600 page book that explores the philosophy of objectivism. People had initially told me this book really messes with your head; unsurprisingly I got influenced by what people said to me before I read the book and when someone asked me after “How did you find the book?” I said, “It really messed with my head”.

I have always noticed that my first reaction to a question is not my reaction, it’s someone else’s. Maybe that’s why when that person asked me, “How did it mess with your head exactly?” I had nothing to say.

Now, I do.

As defined by Ayn Rand, ‘Objectivism is derived from the principal that human knowledge and values are not created by the thoughts one has but is created by the reality that exists independent of consciousnesses’.

The book revolved around two core characters at extreme ends of the line– Howard Roark and Peter Keating, both these men are architects by profession but with extremely different ways of doing things. Howard Roark is a kind of person who knows what he wants to do; he has a mind of his own, an embodiment of objectivity not influenced by anyone or anything. He wants to design buildings with his own independent artistic vision and no client can convince him otherwise. Peter Keating on the other hand wants to achieve success defined by power, money and fame; no matter how, whether it’s by sucking up to his clients or back stabbing his colleagues or fiercely stomping on his senior partners to climb that success ladder. He is a kind of person who gets easily influenced by anything that moves and goes with the flow with no real thoughts of his own. He does get to the top of his ladder.

But he doesn’t stay there too long. The book does have a happy ending with the fame fall of Keating and with the triumph of Roark who gets the opportunity to design a monumental skyscraper in the heart of the city and who also gets to win the girl of his dreams in the process. But as someone said, things that are worth having don’t come easy and victory didn’t come easy for Roark either; I can safely say that, having read through the pain and suffering he had to endure for 600 pages.

The Fountain head was written in 1943, well it was published then, Ayn started writing it in 1929. But that was what I loved about the book, it was written back then, when the concept of objectivism had just started getting its due attention; although this book is popular now more than ever. Why it is more popular now is because objectivism is a concept that just cannot possibly exist in this day. It is merely an idea that everyone knows exists out there but no one can develop it further on their own.

I recently met a guy at a house party and we had a very stimulating conversation, it felt enlivening, the ability to connect with that one particular someone and having long uninterrupted intimate tête-à-tête about things that actually make sense as opposed to talking to a bunch of ‘friends’ about your summer vacation plans.

Before we parted ways, I asked him, “hey are u on face book?” and he replied “Nope, I don’t believe in social media”.

I thought “Weirdo!!” and ran.

With the social media up and rising, people just cannot be objective today. It is absolutely impossible to not get influenced by what someone writes or what someone says, whether you read the Economic times daily or you follow someone on twitter or you read a link posted by someone on face book. People have lost the ability to think for themselves; no you cannot come up with a grand idea in a matter of seconds and definitely not with being interrupted by constant bbm’s and status updates and continuous tweets because you do tend to read people’s status updates, their tweets and formulate your ‘own’ opinion based on it. How can you then develop your own independent style of thinking? Sit in a locked room? Immerse yourself into your work? Concentrate. Don’t let distractions get to you? We are out there exposed; exposed to 500+ people, 500+ random people that we talk to about, actually about absolutely nothing. All of these people are doing nothing but providing you with distraction. How can you become an independent thinker without listening to your one inner voice? And how can you hear yourself when you are multi tasking and listening to the voices of 500 different others?  

But the worst part is not that we can’t think for ourselves, but rather that people can’t make out the difference anyway. They don’t know if their thoughts are actually their own or that of that one random person they bumped across in the mall the other day. In today’s society, our minds are in fact nothing but a blend of everyone else’s thoughts.

One or two of you are probably reading this and thinking how absolutely true all of this is. Now you are going to go off and deactivate your face book account, shut down your twitter account and are going to start thinking deeply and profoundly concentrating on work (yea right). Most of you, will deep down know this makes complete sense but will do absolutely nothing about it.

Bottom line being, what you just read now influenced you and I don’t blame you, because the book influenced me to write this in the first place. The only independent & objective part I added to it was the comparison of the fictional world Ayn Rand created post the great depression era to the reality era we live in now, subject to the depression created by our social media.

The India Illusion

As a friend once quoted “It’s easier to support the Indian Cricket team in the world cup but it’s a whole other ball game to actually love living in India”

“Uh what rubbish” I thought! I love India! Oh the smell when I hit Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport in Mumbai when I finally breathe in that air and realize yes I am home! Mere Bharat Mahan! Jai Hind! And something along those lines…

Yes well, with a 3 hour flight delay (why Air India of course), no sign of our pre booked taxi at the arrivals anywhere and the disgusting smell in the washroom, you have to believe you have arrived at an Indian Airport.

I wrinkle up my nose and muster up the courage to enter the ladies room, storming out with a brilliant idea, I looked at my mom and said, “They should honestly start charging to use public washroom! Like they do in London? Then they can use the funds to keep it clean!” Nope. My mom didn’t look at me like I had stumbled upon a million dollar idea and merely said “Well I already paid for you after you ran in” Uh oh I thought glancing at the two strangers collecting money in front of the washroom, I guess India has bigger problems than I thought.

We finally caught an overpriced cab for a 6 hour ride from Mumbai to Surat, Gujarat and well with so much time to kill I decided to Google some current year statistics on India –

  • The Indian economy is the world’s tenth largest economy by nominal GDP
  •  The Indian economy is the fourth largest economy by purchasing power parity.
  • Current economic trends indicate India is a leader to a large emerging affluent middle class society.

Nmmm boring, I yawned and went back to listening to my Bollywood songs on my iPod; I look outside my window, sigh* picturesque serene mountains with clouds melting from the sky, for a moment there I thought I was in a whole other country…nmmm…maybe Spain…no maybe…Canada…no maybe…and then a loud horn! Screeeech! and I stumbled across the backseat to look up in the front and see a bull staring wildly at me through the windshield crossing the road at its own leisure. Yup I am in India alright.

In case you are not an economics student but probably know that GDP stands for Gross domestic product but are still wondering what the hell does that even mean? GDP is the market value of goods and services produced within the country, in other words, the ranking by the nominal GDP is the position of that country’s standard of living (not taking into account the cost of living in the country) which is exactly what PPP does (to put it in simpler words).

But I am not here to lecture on economics, I am sure you did already know that 300 out of the Fortune 500 companies outsource their IT work to India making them the 2nd largest employer in the IT and services sector but what you didn’t know is how much corruption and bribery is out there in that same work force. You are presumably already aware that India has the third largest education system in the world (after USA &China), but what you didn’t notice is that even the best universities are probably overlooking the slums. I bet you heard about the $9 billion programme invested to improve India’s infrastructure but what you can’t look past is the unhygienic and dirty public restroom conditions in that same infrastructure. Sure! You are already confident with the way things are going that the average income per person could easily double within the next decade but what you are really worried about is the viciousness of the poverty circle and the many beggars out there ready to pounce on you at a red light.

Three days later, I landed safely back in my foreign land realizing who cares about things such as dirty roads, pollution, poverty and population in face of the statistics of India’s uprising super power and the brilliant facts that were laid out in front of me over the past weekend. I was feeling rejuvenated and confident about the future of my mother land now more than ever and nothing could bring me down.

A few hours later, I was rushed to the hospital for severe stomach pains. My doc put me on a drip and before the meds started to kick in, I could hear a faint conversation in the background.

Doc – “How did she get food poisoning?”

Mom – “Well, we just landed from India”

Doc – “Oh ok”

I passed out.

Illusion? That is my India.

Not Just another Happy Ending

15th June 2001

I watched the famous Bollywood flick called Lagaan that night. You know the story; they win the cricket match at the end of the movie. I mean it’s a Bollywood movie so you know it’s almost definitely going to end in happily ever after. You know that Aamir Khan is going to hit a six on the last ball and then celebrations will have to wait while the villagers scram around falling on top of one another and screaming and then all of a sudden! Darkness in the form of clouds emerge and after three straight long hours of praying to please the rain gods and singing of songs for the appearance of clouds to feed our starving yet heroic farmers in the movie, it FINALLY starts to pour and of course not without music playing in the background. Your head begins to feel familiar and ‘ah yes this is a Hindi movie after all isn’t it’ and your heart starts to think ‘Omg this is like the best movie ever, it better make it to the Oscars”. You are all smiles and teeth galore because you have won, I mean the villagers in the movie have won, but it felt like your win didn’t it? Just at least for that moment in time, it did.

 

 

 

19th March 2011

All across the world so much was happening around this time, my friend got me a book called the Zoya Factor (a story about a woman in her twenties who becomes the lucky charm of the Indian cricket team and leads them to victory with the world cup in 2011). My friend signed the first page of the book which read “Gifted to the lucky charm of the Indian cricket team on 19th March 2011, the year India finally won the world cup” I blushed and giggled and took the book from his hands, my heart pounding with hope for the next few matches to come. Yes! I thought; ‘please please do this for Sachin Tendulkar’. Similarly across the world, books are gifted, bets are wagered, sacrifices are made, all night prayers are held; forget the rural masses even the messed up urban youth is cursing against Team India only because they secretly want them to win and they do actually unfortunately still believe in jinxes when it comes to this particular sporty religion.

 

 

 

2nd April 2011

Nothing beats that day. It was a Saturday. Night or day, wherever the hell you were, if you are an Indian you have got to be watching the match that will go down in History (unless you are part of that urban youth that believes in jinxes in which case you are probably shutting your eyes in front of the TV screen because god forbid you open an eyelid and Sachin’s wicket falls). It ended, people screamed, people cried, people danced on the streets; it was a night not to be forgotten. I was smiling throughout the week but then time passes and the smiling eventually fades, lingering on as just a happy memory…

 

 

 

Today

That memory was a while ago. Seems almost surreal doesn’t it? It may have just as well been Mahendra Singh Dhoni starring as our very own Aamir Khan and hitting the last ball across the boundary to win the Cricket world cup for us 28 years later. It may have just as well been another Bollywood movie on the TV screen and we a part of the Indian audience praying for our favorite actor to succeed in the movie, it may have just as well been that moment when it rained at the end of the movie with everyone staring up at the sky and thanking God for this blissful occasion.

I don’t want to describe that feeling in words, actually no wait, I CAN’T describe that feeling in words but just for the future, I want us to remember one thing, that when someone makes fun of our Bollywood movies and teases us about how our actors miraculously wake up from the dead or how the villain never gets away with the girl or how the Indian joint family does eventually unite at the end; let us show them the movie called Lagaan (released in 2001) and hand them the book called the Zoya factor (published in 2008) and then shove the 2011 cricket world up statistics down their throats and say.

“Yes, You Cynics! Its cause we do believe in Happy Endings”

Through the London Eye

An overwhelming sense of culture, a magnificent ingredient of history, a city adorned with beautiful architecture and a little bit of Harry Potter magic; a potpourri of all offers you the luminous city of London.

Spotted! Meg & I out and about in good ol London Town. Six days of fun, frolic and all kinds of cuisine imaginable. Whether it’s shopping at Harrods, Soho, Westfield Mall or Camden Street, London has it all; everything the world can offer you in one great city. While, all Meg had on her mind was to shop for six days, I wanted to sight see everything under the grey weather. So a pact was made, Meg would accompany me to St Paul’s Cathedral, the London Eye, Buckingham Palace, the Tower Bridge, the Tower of London, Big Ben and Westminster Abbey as long as we never forget to visit the gift shop and buy her something to fulfill her sense of achievement for the day . There was so much to see, from the Piccadilly Circus at Leicester Square to the National Gallery at Trafalgar Square; the city of London was set in the Monopoly mode and we just didn’t care where the dice would roll.

Penny joined our gossip girls crew two days later and we had to have dinner at this amazing Italian place down the road from Harrods, called Ciro’s Pizza Pomodoro, recommended by many a muggle folk back home, this was a must place to try for their infamous celebrity pizza’s and all other kinds of Italian food. Apart from Ciro’s, one other personally recommended place to eat is this cute little Thai place on church street in the town of Windsor right opposite the Windsor castle known as Thai River. Set inside a picturesque white washed pub complete with a cobblestone Alfresco terrace and a cozy homely vibe, you are sure to experience a country feel sitting out with fantastic food and wine. But honestly, the food anywhere in London was anything but disappointing, whether it was the Mexican food @ Chiquito or it was any restaurant in China town, you are sure never to experience a letdown with whatever cuisine you choose to eat that day. As a completely put off by salads person, the beetroot salad at the Brasserie Joel French restaurant at the Park Plaza Westminster Bridge London in particular was the most memorable dish ever  to take back home.

Once you decide to move on past trying out the food and stopping by the countless Pret A Manger’s around the city, you will come to realize that there is a lot to learn out there too. Try stopping by the Tate Modern near the Shakespeare Globe Theatre along the River Thames which has on display Ai WeiWei’s sunflower seeds until May 2011, not only is this one of the most controversial exhibitions in Britain at the moment, the artist himself has been missing since 4th April 2011 after his house arrest trying to board a plane to Hong Kong. I am no expert at art but when you look at the billions of sunflower seeds lying in front of you, you think of two things – Where the hell did he get so many sunflower seeds? And then you realize you need to ‘Dig Deeper Dee’ and wonder – How small and insignificant are we to the universe out there? The exhibition had more of a spiritual impact on me than its intended political impact by the artist and it did turn out that these seeds weren’t real sunflower seeds so my first thought did actually made sense, they were made of porcelain, each seed stroked with lead paint and no two sunflowers seeds were exactly the same which was easy to comprehend and at the same time would have been hard to prove wrong.  At the Tate Modern, some of my favorite art included Guano by Judith Reigl, Naked man with Knife by Jackson Pollock and all the six paintings in the room by Gerhard Richter depicting continual uncertainty. In the chapter of surrealism, one should not forget to check out the works of Pablo Picasso especially the sculpture of the head of a woman (Tete de femme) and what I thought was the highlight of the exhibition, A Mi Voix by Dorothea Tanning, a painting that was intended to be primarily set in white and grey tones but contained an embedded sense of color visible to the naked eye which I thought was quite remarkable.

The National Gallery like the Tate is free for admission and is home to some of the many famous works done by artists such as Leonardo Da Vinci, Rembrandt, Van Gogh and Monet. For people with very short time to spend at Trafalgar square (shame on you), the highlight tour is highly recommended with over 30 paintings to express visit which includes the self portrait of Rembrandt at the age 34 (also a part of the royal collection at Windsor Castle), sunflowers by Vincent Van Gogh (such a blissful painting), the Ambassaders by Hans Holbein (don’t forget to check out the skewed skull at the bottom of the painting), the entombment by Michelangelo and my personal bestest (I know that’s not a word), water lilies by Claude Monet

Exploring London using the tube and the infamous red Double Decker buses is the best way to see the city for what it has to offer you, the high’s and the low’s. The people are friendly and the tube map is darn easy to read. Whether it’s getting lost on Baker Street trying to find your way to the Shakespeare Museum or it’s stopping by to buy chocolate pasta at the Borough Market, the public transport gets you to all the nooks and corners. We covered a lot! we lost 40 quid at the casinos on Leicester square trying to figure out the game of black jack, we saw the most popular west end production Wicked (which btw is totally wicked) broad way show at Apollo Victoria Theatre, we hopped on a train from Paddington to the outskirts of London to visit the Windsor castle, we spent a bomb shopping at New Bond and Oxford Street and once the budget bubble had finally burst, we decided to soak up some well deserved sun at Hyde Park for free.

By the end of the week, the last dreaded day had finally befallen the gossip girl crew and with nothing else to look forward to but the airport, we maneuvered our way towards Heathrow to board our plane with crestfallen and dejected faces only to look up at a billboard that read ‘Welcome to Heathrow, Europe’s biggest airport – makes the world seem smaller’. We smiled at each other; it was like we only just realized we were hardly a few hours away by flight and were absolutely certain we would come back.

So although I may not know the A for Art, the F for Food or the H for History but starting to learn ABC is easy once you get a great teacher; so thank you London, you have been great indeed.

You know you love me,

xoxo

Dee

Not just another Cricket World Cup

Yet another ongoing cricket world cup has connected the world this year. Some people follow it to the ball, some people just watch the matches their countries play in and some people cannot be bothered at all. I, on the other hand am just one of the billion Indians watching and rooting for my country to win every game till date. Sure they won some, they drew one and they lost one. And boy did that one loss hurt.

India last won the world cup in 1983 in England; well you know what, I wasn’t even born then, so I really can’t say I’ve seen India win the cup in my lifetime. But know something else; Sachin Tendulkar really can’t say he’s seen India win the cup during his cricket career yet. I might still live a couple of years and hopefully witness a win but this is probably the last World Cup Sachin is ever going to play in (I know some of us said that for the last one as well in 2007 and notice how miraculously he shut us up and came back in a better form than ever). Everyone remembers the match between India and South Africa on 12th March 2011, yup the match we lost (funny how we don’t remember the wins ever do we?) The top 3 openers scored 267 runs for India and the remaining 9 players contributed the remaining 29 runs. Sigh, another let down for us. We’ll get over it, we have a life guys come on, we go to work, we hit the gym, we go out dancing, we spend time with our family and friends and we’ll soon forget about it until the next world cup comes along in 2015. But what about the man whose career is cricket? What about the man who goes anywhere in the world and is recognized for what he does? What about the man who has always given it his 100%? Whose day begins with waking up in the morning and taking a jog on the cricket field and whose day ends with taking a shower after scoring a century for a match? What about his 22 years in Cricket and the numerous so called unbreakable records he has broken till date? He’s made us cry when he gets clean bowled at 99, he’s made us furious when he was under a duck spell for a while and he has given us oh so much joy when he sets the field on fire and much more to be proud of; for us he is the epitome of cricket and not just a form of entertainment. Harsha Bhogle, an Indian sports writer commented on the match with India vs South Africa and said “The Indian Cricket team owes the world cup not just to India but to Sachin Tendulkar as well”. As for me, I believe the whole of India and not just the Indian Cricket team owes this 2011 world cup to Sachin Tendulkar. True there isn’t much we as fans can do about it, we can cheer at the stadium, we can scream from our comfortable couches at home, we can swear and curse the day Ashish Nehra was born (yes I was so tempted to throw that one in) and we can let it all sink in and still continue to keep that faith in our Cricket Team.

Some of my guy friends lately have not been unfailingly trying to convince me that Sachin is an omen for the Indian Cricket Team; what’s their logic? “Every time Sachin scores a century, the team loses the game”. Chi’s response to that one was “Maybe the entire team is in awe of Sachin and takes the victory for granted once he has performed brilliantly”. That’s no reason is it? Can it be? Can a curse have befallen on one of the most adored and prized possessions of our beloved sport? Or can our mindset be so restricted and limited to believing in omens, curses and unlucky charms? Does performance mean nothing and does luck really have a lot to do with it? Is it really fair to blame Sachin for it? The funny thing is, theories keep changing after every Indian cricket match, “Indian cricketers cannot perform well under pressure you know” my mom will say innocently to my dad during a match, my dad will then scoff at her lack of knowledge of cricket and start to list down all the games where India have chased teams in the second innings and performed beautifully under pressure. ‘That’s the beauty of the game, you just can’t predict’ my dad always says. Ireland beat England. Who knew! The kiwi’s coughed up 100 runs in the last 5 overs in a game against Pakistan leaving us all bewildered. Who knew! My dad was right, you really just can’t predict the outcome and to everyone out there I say, shut up and stop trying to look for a reason to blame India’s losses on, no it’s not fair to say because Sachin scores a century India never wins (I don’t care what statistics say Chi) and no it’s not fair to say that India never wins when they are stressed out Mom and no it’s not fair to say that we lost the game because Ashish Nehra bowled the last over Vee and worst of all it’s not fair to say if India can’t win with the strong team they have this year they never can and never will @ KK.

In my world, I see India in the finals, I see Sachin scoring a century and I see India Lifting the cup once again 28 years later. No more omens, no more unlucky charms, no more blaming Sachin Tendulkar. His and my world makes sense again, a world we simply like to call, poetic justice.