Learn to be a tourist

I am an Indian and I am proud to be an Indian, the reason i’m posting this as the first line is because the rest of this blog post is a rant. Sorry. OK. Please.

I’ve never gone sightseeing alone, in fact if I don’t find someone to hang out with I just end up sleeping in my hotel room when I am traveling. As of writing this I have spent 15 days in London, although I came here for ‘Business Meetings’ I did explore quite a bit and it was all alone! New experiences, few parts I liked and others I did not. Part of this new experience was to do guided tours, I wasn’t sure i’d do anything unless I went on one of those tours where a shepherd guides sheep from all over the world. So rant begins, Indians, we love to tell everyone that we know more than them! We love talking when we aren’t supposed to and of course we don’t know that keeping quiet when the guide is speaking is something one should always follow. What is worse than one Indian you ask? Two, yes two Indians babbling around like the winner would get candy from mommy. I’ve two experiences to share, one was at the ‘Home of Cricket’ Lord’s cricket ground and the other during a trip to Stonehenge.

IMG_1445

Lord’s, the mecca of cricket, the one place that will give every cricket fan goosebumps! Here we are the early birds roaming around in the museum, waiting for our guide to show up at 10 am and holler at us. In a group of twenty people here, there were six Indians, me included. There was an Indian family featuring two women, an over enthusiastic kid and the dad of said kid, the first hero of our story and another Indian dude, hero number two, who was there alone and I can only imagine why. The two heroes make eye contact and chaos was sure to follow! The guide shows up at exactly 10 and says, ladies and gentlemen please gather around, don’t be shy, lets begin the tour! The guide looks around and asks who is from India, sure enough the two heroes tried to be louder than each other and screamed here! Hero number one, lets call him Ram, shouts Virat Kohli, why you ask? I’ve got no answer! So hero number two, lets call him Shyam, shouts Sachin Tendulkar. No answers yet, the guide as confused as the rest of the crowd. The kid at this point is thinking about running away or at least trying to disown his dad. 1 Australian, 5 South Africans later we started the tour! The guide shows us the original urn that gave ‘The Ashes’ its name, and here we have Ram giving his son a private lesson that is unfortunately heard by Shyam who decided to chime in and now the rest of the tour group is trying to hear the guide. The story behind the ashes finally takes center stage and everyone is hearing it with utmost interest. You’d think these over enthusiastic Ram and Shyam know a thing or two about cricket, lo behold, they don’t have the slightest knowledge. They kinda reminded me of some of my under grad teachers who had no clue about any of the subjects they taught but still spoke out with confidence. Ram asks the guide why the Ashes are never in India, at this point i’m searching for cyanide because i’m done with life, Shyam laughs out loud! He then proceeds to say that the Ashes happens once in 3 years, I am tempted at this point to correct Shyam but you know what fuck it, the guide will do it, he does thankfully. As for Ram’s question about why the Ashes isn’t in India, each pairs of countries have a different name for the trophy they fight for when they play a test series (Border-Gavaskar trophy for India-Australia and the Pataudi trophy for India-England). The tour goes on and the guide says explicitly, no photographs in the pavilion. Ram and Shyam are busy wondering what they should do next to show their supremacy, the first thing that comes to their mind? Take out the phone and take a photo when in the pavilion, this old gentleman who is our guide loses his shit, asks them to put their phones away and now he has forgotten what he wanted to say 😦 From then on, it was a constant battle of the 3 guides, the one we paid for and the nincompoops Ram and Shyam, the blithering stars of the day. Every time the guide spoke about something Ram and Shyam said something to interrupt him and draw the ire of the tour group. The guide also made it pretty clear that he did not want people loitering around and breaking away from the group, he made it doubly clear to Ram and Shyam who had this tendency to walk all over the place and slow down the group. The guide explicitly called out to them multiple times over the course of the tour either asking them to shut up or stop loitering.

You may think i’m basing my opinion from just this one experience, let me explain. I’ve seen this happen multiple times but this was the first time i’d done group tours and experienced this first hand that it really irritated me and forced me to write about it. I did two group tours and I had similar experiences in both.

IMG_1267

This other experience is a variant of the first story, TL;DR is the group was annoyed. This was a day long tour called ‘England in a day’ which is bull shit because they make it sound like England can be seen in a day! Absolutely not, its a beautiful country and I could spend days just exploring London. Here we are at this super busy station called Victoria Coach station, the guide announces that the bus will leave in 10 minutes and if anyone had to use the toilets then they should do so now or manage to hold on until we reach Stonehenge. Nine minutes go by, all of a sudden this lady (of course she is from my motherland, India) gets up and goes to the restroom, i’m not complaining yet, she needs to go if she needs to go except the guide doesn’t see this and she comes into the bus and says lets go! The lady’s husband doesn’t say a word that his wife has gone to the toilet, instead the guide decides to do a count and realizes one person is missing. We see this lady now, walking slower than ever from the restroom with no sense of urgency or respect for time, the bus is waiting for her highness. Finally we get going and reach Stonehenge, the guide says please be here by 11:50, we need to leave on time to make sure we see all the sights on the planned itinerary, repeats at least four times. The crowd disperses and we all start moving towards the world heritage site. You take a bus that ferries tourists from the welcome center to the location of Stonehenge and back, there is also an option to walk and a walking path provided on the side of the road. There was decent pileup on this private road and I was like how can you have a traffic jam on a private road that is big enough for two buses to pass side by side. The answer of course lies in India, this couple decides to walk on the other side of the road which does not have a walking path and now the buses have to wait and pass each other more carefully! You’d think the couple would see this commotion and move aside or go to the right side but nope, as oblivious as a computer science student in biology class. I go around the beautiful Stonehenge, lost in thought and time and I suddenly realize i’ve only twelve minutes left of the stipulated time and start heading back, the bus ride takes five minutes and I needed to use the restroom but overall I knew i’d make it back to the tour bus with a minute to spare. I made it on time, we then waited for over ten minutes for this Indian couple who I mentioned earlier (the one where the husband did not give two shits about leaving his wife behind). I’m disgusted at this moment, there is a lady from Wisconsin sitting next to me and we started talking about tourism with guided tours and she told me there is always this one couple or one person who will hold back the group (she wasn’t racist like me, she just said couple in general). I want to write more about the trip but the theme of the situations where I was embarrassed by the behavior of my fellow countrymen were similar.

I’d like to reiterate, I love my country and I love and respect those from my country that respect others. I may be wrong in multiple way without knowing it but I make an honest effort to fit into the newer cultures that i’m mingling with!

Revisiting Home

I’ve been outside India for 3 years now, no reason for me to suddenly find faults with my city, though I found it really hard to cope with a lot of things. Traveling in Bangalore has been like playing Pokèmon in real life, while I kept running into Ratatas in the game every time I started walking, in Bangalore this is the case,

auto

Bangalore has exploded beyond its capacity and my only fear is its going to end up like San Francisco, a city where everyone wants to be but very few can afford! I kept complaining about a lot of things and my friends thought I was being an ass and a typical ‘America Return’ snob but it was more about feeling bad about losing my city to these radical changes.

I decided I wouldn’t ride or drive this time, two reasons for that, one the fact that my Indian license was now in shreds and secondly I had no plans of getting back to shouting on the road. I’ve been on a transformational path where anger is my last resort to things that annoy me, and I did not want a 3 week holiday to be the point of relapse! For most part being driven around by friends is amazing, and when nobody is around I just end up taking an Über and paying at most $5 for a really long trip during peak hours! Talking about converting my expenses to USD, its the exact reversal of what I did back when I moved to the US where every expense triggered a calculation in my head and then freaked me out when the calculation completed and I was paying 300 Indian rupees for a coffee. I digress. One day three friends and I were on one of the busiest roads in Bangalore downtown, in the US downtown has been the place with the tall buildings but in Bangalore its just the oldest cool part of the city I know of, we were trying to cross at a signal and lo behold four guys who thought they were the Beatles crossing Abbey road who don’t give a rats fart about the pedestrian crossing signal that said ‘Stay the f*** out’ of here till the vehicles stop moving amble across taking their sweet time and make direct eye contact with you and act like its all cool.

I think the funniest thing that happened was when a biker going down the wrong way of a road almost got knocked down by one of the wild autos and ended up shouting at the auto driver for not keeping an eye out for nincompoops like him on the road! Its great that wrong side drivers don’t cause pileups and crazy accidents like the ones that happen in other countries. I’ve always been someone who follows traffic laws and have earned the wrath of the people I share the road with and the people who are in the vehicle that i’m driving. My complaints aren’t something that i’m talking about because I don’t live here anymore! Just the other day, my friend rides her bike on the pavement to avoid riding her bike on the wrong side of the road and I had to explain to her why that was no better than just being on the road! One other incident there were two people on bikes who decided to have a friendly chat in the middle of the road, with their bikes facing opposite directions! The only thing missing was a table, cards and some whiskey, they could have had the perfect guys night out. The popular quote ‘Haters gonna hate’ can be modified to be ‘Honkers gonna honk’, and you are fine doing whatever you want and disrupting the traffic.

One thing the country does right for sure is water in the toilets! Here napkins and tissues are both terms used for the paper towels used to dry your hand, a lot of confusion has ensued after either my friends or I have asked for tissue at a restaurant in the US! A few of my friends are leaving to Australia and I’ve been educating them on the cultural and social mistakes I made that put me in an awkward situation when I first moved to the US, my first rule was to always say it’s nice to meet you the moment you meet someone and exchange names, regardless of not knowing a single thing about this person who could be a genuinely nice person, a thug, a trump supporter or a League of Legends player! You just have to say nice to meet you! Back home I know all my neighbors but in the US i’ve never interacted with any of my neighbors! Sometimes i’m in the elevator with them but its pretty clear everyone is avoiding eye contact, because eye contact is the worst thing one can do when trying to avoid talking to someone. At home if we run out of sugar or salt or anything else, all we need to do is go to the neighbor and you have a thirty minute conversation and the condiment that you were looking for! While back in the US, I just end up ordering food for the night and buying groceries the next day on my way back from work. There is a sense of belonging to the neighborhood that i’m enjoying during the break here.

Every time I come back home the only friends that I immediately end up meeting are my buddies from kindergarten to high school! It’s always a great experience to catch up with buddies who grew up with you, who got punished in school with you, who enjoyed success with you! Every time we meet its a laugh riot and to relive the stupid things we did as kids is such a blast and when we discover that not much has changed since then is a soothing feeling that makes you feel comfortable amidst the maddening changes around. This trip saw a couple of friends change their marital status to sedated, I mean married and I can only imagine that the next trip is going to see more people stare down the wedding well and I guess some even with kids that are going to call me uncle! To the journey ahead and to more trips back home I say, bring it on! This trip back home has been one of change, a better future, a trip where I could forget my work life completely and focus on what is most important, family and friends. I started writing this with just one thought on my head, what the hell is happening in this city but midway I realized I love Bangalore way too much to give it up for anything in this world, I hope someday I can be back home working in this beautiful city that saw me transform from a pre schooler to an engineer to a professional and someday a home owner.

 

Cooking Tales: Iyer in the USA (Slaw Edition)

This blog is going to have my cooking adventures in this new country that I have moved to, USA, I guess most of you have heard of it. As a guy who doesn’t consume meat or egg I thought it would be really difficult to survive here, especially after a couple of trips to Europe where I sustained on a snicker a day, or maybe 4 snickers a day! Soon after arriving here, I realised everything I need to live an honest Iyer life exists here! All I had to do now was stop converting $$ to INR and get all messed up about how expensive everything is. This is quite a difficult phase, but a week or two and you will soon be speaking only in terms of $, miles and gallons, throw the metric system out the window. After 4 of us ran through 9 pounds of rice in as many days, I decided enough of rice. Lets just go to my first recipe!

Please note, I am not a chef so the things I mention here are for two reasons, I love writing and I want a place to keep these recipes alive. You may, mostly will not like what I mention here.

The Slaw! Well people call it Coleslaw, I am just going for another name people use. Ok, things you need

1/4th of a Cabbage (Use the white one, the red one is meh)

2 Carrots

1/2 an Onion

1/2 a Tomato

1/2 a Lime

1 tbsp Gingelly Oil

Salt and Sugar

That is all you need, it is a very simple process, just keep a big bowl with you and all the ingredients handy so you can quickly make this and move on with your life. If you have a food processor things get very easy!

  1. Fine chop the cabbage (use a food processor for quick chops)
  2. Grate the carrots after peeling the outer cover
  3. Cut the onions into medium size pieces
  4. Cut the tomatoes into slightly large portions
  5. Mix all of them in a big bowl and add some sugar and salt
  6. Squeeze out a lime and add a tbsp of Gingelly oil and mix well
  7. If you have Mayo add it on top as garnishing

Eat your way through this juicy salad! The oil gives a nice taste along with the raw vegetables. Its a nice change to have this instead of rice and rice and rice for breakfast lunch and dinner. The salad doesn’t look too good, but it tasted really good 🙂

Coleslaw

Google Play : Changing country

For a company like Google, i certainly expected them to have an easy switch option to change my country and then verify the new country using my IP or my last few google sign in locations! But no, this task is not straightforward at all! I just moved to the US from India and signed into my new android device using the ID i had created back home, only to realise that it would default to the Indian play store and there was absolutely no setting to change this to USA. I figured it was because of the payments methods I had set up, I went ahead and removed all the payment methods saved on my account! Next I changed all the addresses to the new address in US, cleared cache and data. No use, the play store still wouldn’t update to US!

   Lots of searching online and trying multiple funny things turned out to be useless, the play store just wouldn’t budge! Finally I figured what it needed! So for all the peeps moving to a new country, this might help. Follow these steps

 

  1. Remove all payment systems from your google wallet account [if they are bound to your previous country]
  2. Change all addresses [physical addresses] to a location in the new country.
  3. Open Play Store, open any paid app and click on buy!
  4. On the add payment page, close the app store.
  5. Open play.google.com on your computer, and move to an app you know is available only in your new country
  6. It will magically be compatible
  7. Now open play store on your phone, it would have updated

I am not kidding! You don’t need to add a new card, nor do you have to purchase anything! Just follow the steps given above and you will be good to go!

For example, google wallet is not available in India, but it is in USA.

The Curious Case Of The Surname

It is always exciting when you know your passport is going to get stamped with a visa! At least for someone like me who had the first flight well into engineering, a visa is like the chocolate that I never had. I submitted my passport details and a person called me up, let us refer to her as Julia Roberts for the sake of having a name!

Julia : Hello Mr Sriram, I just went through your passport and see that you do not have a surname!

Me : Oh I do not have a surname.

Julia : So is your first name ‘Aaditya Sriram’

Me : Nope

Julia : Ok I am confused now!

Me : My First Name is Aaditya and Last Name is Sriram

Julia : Alright, are last name and surname the same thing?

Me : Hold on, let me google it

****** 3 minutes ********

Me : Well according to this  Yahoo! Last name and surname is the same!

Julia : Well I think you need to get your passport corrected then!

Me : Na na, its ok I dont want a surname I’ll live with Aaditya Sriram as firstname.

Julia : You will have a lot of issues with government organizations if you do not have a surname!

Me : I’ll manage 🙂 Thanks

This conversation actually threw me off gear and I ended up doing a lot of searching online about the case of the missing surname and figured life would be really hard without a surname in many countries! So then I called her back and

Me : Hello Julia! How you doing?

Julia : I am good Adeeetya! Whatsup?

Me : I decided i’d get the name on my passport changed!

Julia : I am glad you changed your mind, good luck with that

I’m sure she laughed out and made fun of me after that! Well so I freaked out and prior to this had a  very bad idea about how governmental organizations worked and how inefficient they are. My only silver lining was the fact that more than 50% of South Indians do not have a surname on their passport and they all get it corrected once they realise how this could bite their rear! Went through a million blogs and they all made it sound like a ridiculously easy process, i begged to defer and thought the only way to find out the truth is by going through the ordeal myself! My dad suggested I go through a Passport agent, but I wanted to give the Passport organization a chance to prove their organizational capabilities.

The following are the steps to get it changed, the online part of the process is mentioned on this post, as I’ve my passport office appointment in the future as of writing this post.

  1. Go to Passport Seva
  2. Click on Register in case you do not have an account already, else click on login. You know the charade!
  3. Once logged in, click on the tab that says “Apply for Fresh Passport/Reissue of Passport”
  4. It will give you a link to download a form, download it and fill it!
  5. While filling form, in the reason for reissue choose OTHER and type “NAME BIFURCATION”
  6. Fill up other details and save, it will generate a XML file.
  7. Upload XML file from the page whose link you can find on the login page
  8. It will create a ARN for you, now click on “View Saved/Submitted Applications”
  9. Choose the current upload and book an appointment

I went in for a tatkaal appointment as mentioned before and got my passport in 24 hours of the passport office appointment! It actually works when it is just name bifurcation, but again in my case I had no other change! It was the same address.

Carry the following with you for proofs:

  • Old Passport
  • Copies of the first two and last two pages of old passport
  • 10th Marks card [in case ECR stamp is on your old passport]
  • Address proof [in case of address change]
  • Yourself [yep you need to go]

It is a long wait inside the passport office though! So take a day off and spend it there! Do not go early do not go late! Be on time 🙂 Good luck to everyone! Get your passport on time and enjoy your study/work adventure in the US!

The Crayon Head

Crayons! A single word to describe the imaginative powers of Indians when there is commotion! Everyday on my way to and from office I go past at least one crowded spot where I just see people standing around something which I presumed to be really interesting. I never really had the chance to go see what was happening until recently, this one experience cleared all doubts that had accumulated over the last 24 years of mine on this earth. We love commotion! We love drama! We love drama and commotion with a dash of lime and lemon, in fact it is our favorite cocktail! It gets us high, it gets us involved in others business and sometime lands us in a pool of junk. What am I talking about? You know what I am talking about! Last week, I was at this car workshop getting my seat covers changed and some stickering done for my drive, KABOOOOOM! A loud thud and some screaming is all it took for all heads in a radius of 500m to look in the direction of the sound, such a response is only natural I guess. I saw a guy lying on the road and next to him was his bike, my Dad and I went upto him and helped him up and took the bike to the side. He had been hit by a car, a Mahindra XUV500 [retarded car] and a man with a shiny bald head driving it freaked out and just sat inside the car that was in the middle of the road! I asked him to move back and park to the side of the road, he did that. The guy who got hit was fine, atleast on the outset so my Dad and I decided to leave the place to let the guy handle the situation with the car guy. We had walked like 10m and when we turned back there was the huge familiar crowd, staring at the two gentlemen, the hitter and the ‘hitted’ 😛 [halli english on purpose] fighting a battle of words, it reminded me of this clip !

There were at least 20 people watching the drama unfold and my dad and I were watching the crowd watch, I guess that made us meta crowd! What started off as a two man battle just like the video ended up in a band wagon of peole arguing, few taking the side of the biker and few the car guy! Finally the car guy stepped back and let the volunteers carry on for him! The bike guy wasn’t hurt and he tried asking for money before the guy who was driving the car said this

I am a lawyer, if you want a settlement lets go to the court and decide!

The bike guy freaked out and said this

Atleast take me to the hospital and let me have my foot checked!

At this point I felt pretty sad for the bike guy, he was unnerved by what he had just heard! His bike was definitely broken, but I guess he did not have the right to ask for repair money but the hospital request was fair enough.  The car guy took him to the hospital and all of a sudden the crowd had lost their entertainment piece! After some awkward stares, they started speculating what had happened and then one guy blamed the biker and the other the car guy. There interesting insights into the physics of accidents too by the onlookers! Pretty fascinating! Seeing the crowd a guy on an evening walk stopped and tried to find out what had happened only to realise it was the after party that he had arrived late to.

At times I just feel everyone is looking for some weird stuff to happen to people around them just so that there is a entertainment! A similar thing happened around 5 months back, I guess my first paragraph is now contradictory! It is my second huddle moment on the Indian roads this. A lady had fainted and people were looking and discussing what could have happened, one guy said a car hit her and sped away, another lady said a bike had hit this woman while yet another claimed she just fainted [turned out this was the truth]. Seeing this I asked the crowd to help the lady into my car and I asked another lady to accompany me to the hospital where I admitted the lady. The weird part of this was that a Cop saw the lady had fainted and when I offered to help he ran away, what are public servants for? Welfare of people? I might have to read the fine print of human conscience to understand this kind of behavior from humans. The story doesnt end here, when I went back home from the hospital I got a sound hearing from my house help in front of my parents! We all looked on in shock, finally she told me I could land in a lot of trouble for helping unknown people falled on the road. A shiver and chill down my spine and I gathered myself to ask her what she was blabbering only to hear that she is saying this only for my good and she means only the best for me. This tale followed as a supporting argument

A lady was on the side walk of the road, in good clothes and dairly well groomed, a crowd had gathered and one guy said she should be taken to the hospital and an auto came by right then. This guy took the lady in the auto, on way the lady took out a knife and along with the auto guy robbed him.

I did not know what to say! Awestruck, I thought  this was a pretty good reason for people to just crowd around victims of accidents or incidents. Just to make it sensational they tend to use their colorful imagination to make the story more like an Ekta Kapoor soap! Stories are intriguing, the whole world runs on morals taught using stories, except the stories now are just murky and pure evil! I won’t deny, most of the stories are interesting and keep my head engaged in thought for a while but there should be a way innocent people get help when needed!

Rohit ditches Maggi!

From Maggi to Haleem, the rise to glory has happened in the ongoing series against Australia for the stylish batsmen Rohit Sharma who had been under performing till date. As per reports last week when Rohit breached the 100 mark it was said that 100,000 kilos of Maggi got burnt and was thrown because of his long innings. Post that event, people have started using Rohit innings as timer for pulav and fried rice, but today has changed the equation involving the length of Rohit’s innings and the kind of food being cooked.

  Haleem the popular dish that is generally available in abundance in the party town of hyderabad during the month of ramzan, requires a very long cooking time. Seeing the recent innings that saw Maggie boy getting to a 200 the hyderabad Haleem association has decided to use his innings as a tool to measure cooking time for the mouth watering dish.

Sehwag has to be used as an example of caution with which the Haleem association would have to spend money and follow the new time calculation mechanism. Sehwag since his 219 in 2011 has been putting Maggi to cook and coming out to bat and returning to the dressing room on time to eat it. Even worse now he is sitting and making Maggi for the rest of the Indian team since he doesn’t have a spot in the playing 11 or the next in line 15 players!

  This innings has also spelt the end of ex Indian opener Gautam Gambhir who has since decided to buy a part of the equity offered by the Haleem association of hyderabad!