Sunday, September 14, 2008

Farewell ???

Farewell ?

Not yet. I know there are just 7 more days till I say goodbye to 22 years of friends, family, teachers, experiences, memories, 22 years of my life. I keep saying that it hasn’t sunk in yet, that the thought of leaving home and studying in a foreign land doesn’t seem real enough yet...But today I met my professors from college. It was the first goodbye that felt strange; it felt like a transition from my previous illusory feeling to reality – that it was time for me to leave. I then said goodbye to 3 years of WHARF, Leo and all the sweat and toil - Another subtle reminder of the future that awaits me far away from home. I tried to ignore it simply because it felt like a growing sense of desperation, anxiety but eager anticipation at the same time....... too many conflicting emotions. Then came the “Bon voyage (Son+Rup) al Bash. The farewell dinner arranged for Sonal and me by Kartik, Anuj, Preeti and Ena. It was one of the best evenings I’ve had in a while and in some way it eased me into the process of accepting the fact that it was really time to bid farewell. There were sudden brief moments during the dinner when a random thought would just pop up in my head reminding me of the need to say goodbye. Uncomfortable? Certainly not. Difficulty in expression? Yes, very much so. Even though I’ve always felt a sudden surge of emotion when I’m about to say my goodbyes, I can never get myself to cry or turn into a mumbling sentimental wreck. The only time that happened was when I left South Africa because it was too intense an experience. But yes, I experienced a similar surge of emotion tonight, but found no way to express it. All I can say perhaps is that you guys have no idea how happy I was tonight and how terribly I will miss all of you. Thank you for this wonderful evening, which was the perfect goodbye. I’m not good with saying these things, so I hope you read my blog :)

People have been telling me for nearly 6 months now how painful the farewell will be and how much I will miss everything and everyone. Why do we need other people to make us realize things that we knew right from the beginning? Why this delayed sense of acceptance? Of accepting something inevitable that we were aware of all along? Which will be the most painful farewell of them all? Is there such a thing anyway? Aren’t all farewells tinged with a little bit of sadness?

I have a week more to discover it or perhaps a lifetime to understand it. For now, all I can say is, I will miss my life here, but I absolutely cannot wait for the new one that is about to begin soon. It’s not goodbye yet.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Religious weekend

I recently got back from a super-religious trip planned by my dad. We went to practically every temple in our native village and a few others. I was initially really not keen on going, but in a way I realise that it was nice to see where I come from atleast once before I leave for London. I obviously did not enjoy the religious part of it. My thoughts on that in my next post perhaps... but the travelling bit was wonderful. So this is a brief note on some interesting parts of my journey...

We were waiting at plaform no.5 of Thane station to catch the late night Siddheshwar express to Solapur and we were standing patiently next to this food stall at the far end of the plaform.....Thats when I noticed something




I wasnt carrying a camera, so this picture taken from my phone isn't good, but notice that greyish blur somewhere near the bottom of the white plastic bag in the top compartment ? THAT blur is actually a hyper-active mouse. I was shocked !!!!! Then within a few seconds I saw another one happily nibbling onto the packets in that upper glass compartment. I couldnt resist. I had to go and tell the person running the stall.

Me (in a very low tone) : Bhaiyya, aapke oopar wale compartment mein 2 choohe hain.

Him : Haan madam. Maloom hai. Kya kar sakta hai hum ?

Me : Aapko maloom hai aur aap kuch nahi kar rahe ?

Him : Kya karega madam ? Hum nikaal ke bahar fekta hai, phir bhi waapas aata hai.

Me : Abhi to nikaal deejiye naa. Nahi to kuch chooha marne ki dawai daal do wahan pe

Him : Kaise madam ? Galti se dawai khaane mein ghus gaya aur customer mar gaya, to mereko hi pakdenge naa ?

Point

Me : Acha, to jab jab ho sake nikaalte rahiye aur ek "mouse-trap" wahan par daal deejiye ( I didnt know what the Hindi word was for that)

Anyway, I didnt know what more to say to him, my train was arriving on the platform. My advice to you - Unless you intentionally want to fall sick, dont bother eating at stalls like these. Who knows, there might've been more mice in there...


Anyway, I couldnt sleep the entire night in the train coz some idiots were snoring away to glory. Not one, but three people were snoring...It was very rythmic, no doubt, but so very disturbing. No sleep.

Reached Tuljhapur the next morning. That's where our 'kul-devi' is. Visited the temple....Took hours n hours to enter the sanctum sanctorum and it was a completely un-religious, un-spiritual experience for me. If anything, I was horrified, because people were throwing away banana peels inside the temple as if it were a garbage dump and there were paan stains everywhere. If this is what it means to be religious, then I do not want any part of it. Some pictures from the Tuljha Bhavani temple :





A lot of people do this at this temple. It's some form of devotion I guess. I've never been inclined to do so. My idea of prayer is quite different from this.






I do not like the way they slap the haldi and kumkum onto your forehead. Even if you do manage to form some sort of connection with God inspite of the crowd, the paan stains, the banana peels and the waiting, this completely kills it. My connection with God at this temple = Zero

This is what Tuljhapur looks like :





Nice town. I like the cows sitting right in the middle of the road...

That very evening we headed to Bijapur - my native place.



Paan stains on the inside of the bus that I was travelling in. Is it really so difficult to understand that spitting is disgusting ?




The landscapes however were beautiful. I felt great simply looking out of the window. I love this one especially...all the greenery with the sugarcane fields in the background.




A few pictures from Bijapur :







Buffaloes...It's very easy to spot them.










Little black pigs. I think they're adorable !!! They are all over the place. You can find them everywhere and if you're not too careful, in your house too ;)




Check out the spelling :)




Auto rickshaws run without meters in Bijapur.




Cows lazing around in the middle of the street :)


I like these pictures, not because they're funny or anything, but because they remind me of a simpler life. It feels nice to be free of complications, rules etc etc once in a while. I wouldn't advocate too much of it though.


Some other interesting pictures :



The glittery things that you see on that suspended tray are slippers. It is believed that these slippers were actually worn by Hanuman at one point of time. This is in one of the Hanuman temples in Halagani.




It is said that you should wish for something and then hold this stone with both hands. If the stone turns to the right, your wish will come true. If it turns to the left, you wish will not be fulfilled...And if it doesnt move, it implies that your wish will come true but after a long long wait.





I loved this !!! This was a Shiva temple in Shivgiri with this huge structure. It looks really elegant and dignified.

Thats all for now. I have one other temple to visit in Basar which will be a few weeks from now. That would officially complete my religious adventures before I leave for London...4 weeks more to go :)

Monday, August 04, 2008

Birthday Blues

It’s official now. I don’t like my birthdays anymore. For some inexplicable reason, I feel miserable during my birthday. Today was supposed to be a fun day, to meet with friends, catch up and simply enjoy myself...but I didn’t. For reasons unknown, I was feeling extremely low and was in no mood to enjoy. Even yesterday was alright, nothing special. I thought birthdays were supposed to be fun, something that one should look forward to and be excited about. What is it with me and birthdays ?

Friday, August 01, 2008

Happy IWE Anniversary !!!



Dear All,

It has been 4 years since that wonderful experience. The IWE was without doubt the best thing to happen to me ever… And even inspite of having some interesting experiences over the past 4 years, the IWE is still my favourite memory of all.

As clich├ęd as this might sound, for me the IWE was a journey of self discovery. Every decision that I’ve made since then has been influenced by the way I shaped up as a person at the IWE in South Africa..... and I cannot be grateful enough for it. I never realised that this was happening, but it was indeed. The best things that have happened to me in these 4 years have been greatly influenced by the IWE and the things I learnt there.




The best part about the IWE ? The people I met. I can’t believe that we’re still in touch after so long, inspite of the distance and prolonged silence. All of you made me see things from a different perspective and I had something to learn from every single one of you.





To Harini and Gini – It’s surprising that all 3 of us are so very different and yet we get along so well. The unusual friendship that we’ve grown to discover over these years is something I will truly cherish.....And also, the fact that the 3 of us are still in touch with Fran makes me feel so happy :)

To everyone whom I’ve met since the IWE – Bea, Nithiya, Gini, Rachel, Chiharuko and Hyunmin – when I met you guys, it was the happiest I had felt in years.....And when I had to say goodbye yet again, it felt horrible !

To all 51 of you– Harini, Gini, Beatrice, Cheung, Panda, Esther, Cathy, Cedric, Kit, Kimmey, Hyunmin, Minsueng, Jung yoon, Nithiya, Rachel, Kelene, Shadwin, Neo, Liezle, Tsheki, Tshego, Pommie, Richy, Didi, Bee, Rea, Tintin, Ashley, Gayle, Nicole, Emma, Sophia, Kintan, Frisda, Teddy, Benz, Mareya, Pim, Sarah, Ahmed, Long, Ming, Grace, Violette, Chiharuko, Shie, Tappei, Holly, Max, Dung and Huong – I miss you all very much and “Ek us life vir jao”

And of course to complete the Ubungani family – Hanneke, Johan , Zuzette, Pieter, Luzego, Tracey and Marijtie - I wish that someday I’ll be back in the South African wilderness, sitting by the campfire, singing and talking to all of you.

Love xoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxo

PS : NokShanti is still the best. Undisputable :)

Saturday, July 26, 2008

My HSBC Scholarship Experience

So, I won a full scholarship from HSBC 2 days ago and it still hasn’t sunk in yet. I just felt like writing a little about it because it has been one of the best interview experiences ever.
In the first week of April, I had jus received my rejection for a GSS (Graduate Support Scheme) from LSE and I was very disappointed. At that very moment the HSBC scholarships were announced and in frustration I filled up my form within minutes, obviously not expecting to be shortlisted because I knew how competitive it was…but to my surprise I did get shortlisted and that’s when I started hyper-ventilating. After 2 months of freaking out I finally had my interviews.

First round of interviews :

16 of us were shortlisted out of 327 applicants – Chinmaya, Aastha, Surbhi, Shruti, Vrinda, Nimisha, Parul, Karan, Rohan, Navnit, Shahana, Garima, Kamla, Rashmi, Dia and Me.
We were called to the HSBC office at 8:30 am on the 22nd of July. This was supposed to be the first round of interviews with internal HSBC panel. I was so nervous that I felt numb and especially so after interacting with some of the applicants because they were all so brilliant and had accomplished so much at such a young age. Koninika Mitra from the HR department was extremely genial and supportive and kind of helped reduce some of the stress.

I think I was the fourth person to be interviewed by the head of Corporate sustainability and head of Commercial Banking I think at HSBC. While it was a friendly interview I was asked a lot of questions on present policies and my opinions on them and how in my opinion could certain issues be solved. Smooth interview. I didn’t feel like I gave any stupid answer, but I wasn’t convinced that I had given it my best shot either. It lasted around 20-25 minutes. I was nervous till the end. Finally after lunch, 8 of our names were called since we had been shortlisted for the final round of interviews – Vrinda, Chinmaya, Surbhi, Aastha, Rohan, Nimisha, Shruti and Myself. I was happy that I had been shortlisted, but probably a 100 times more nervous.


The Final Interview :

23rd July was supposed to be the final and deciding round of interviews with the external panel. The panel consisted of Mr. Pride- Country director of British Council in India, Mrs. Indu Shahani – Sheriff of Mumbai and Principal of H.R. College, Mr. Govindraj Ethiraj – famous journalist, Mrs. Pheroza Godrej – Environmentalist and educationist, Abha Narayan Lamba – famous conservation architect and there was one observer – Mrs. Malini Thadani- head of Corporate sustainability at HSBC.

The big names in the panel really scared me, but at the same I was excited that I would actually get to meet them. I generally read about them in the papers, so getting to meet them and talk to them was a very big deal for me. I told myself that even if I didn’t get this scholarship, it would be totally worth it because of the interaction with these amazing people.
So again, I had to report at the Oberoi at 8:30 am. I was the second person to be interviewed. I cant remember how many bottles of water I drank and how many times I visited the bathroom.....it still did not quell my nervousness.
So, I enter the interview room. The setting was informal. We all sat around a table. The panel was sipping coffee, having cookies. All eyes on me. Oh my God !!!!! I sat next to Mrs. Thadani. Mrs. Shahani congratulated me on my university rank. Dead silence at the table after I said Good morning and blah blah blah. Finally Mr. Pride kicked off by asking me a question. The interview was a mix of personal and academic questions, current affairs, policy issues, my opinion on certain developments and my purpose in life. At this interview there were many questions that I had no answer to and I said so and at certain times I was rambling (I still feel a little stupid about that). I disagreed twice with Abha Narayan Lamba and I’m not sure if she was too happy about it. Govindraj Ethiraj was furiously scribbling notes in his notepad and asked me just 2 questions or so. I was completely overwhelmed by Mrs. Godrej and felt like a star-struck fan. Well, after lots of questions and nearly 30-35 minutes I was finally done. It was over. Nothing more that I could do. I walked out of the room feeling a little apprehensive because I wasn’t sure if that was my best performance. At the same time I must say, the panelists were incredibly nice to me. They did not grill me in a derogatory way and respected every opinion of mine even if it were different from theirs. I felt good about myself after the interview and so did the others. There was a general ‘feel-good’ atmosphere after every interview.

The wait is the hardest part I think..... And to be honest I was really intimidated by every other candidate. They had had more academic training than me, knew more than me and could rattle off theories like Bollywood songs. I felt a little silly actually.

Anyway, after everyones interviews and a few more visits to the bathroom, we finally left for lunch...And throughout I couldn’t stop thinking about my responses and what I should’ve said and what I shouldn’t have said. Oh the agony of waiting !!! I showed some of them around the Jehangir art gallery and then returned to the Ritz hotel and within no time, I was fast asleep on Vrinda’s bed.


The Award Function :

At around 6 pm we all left for the British Council auditorium at Nariman point where the award ceremony was to be held. The place was full, people from HSBC, British Council, NGO groups, students, us. In the beginning there was a panel discussion moderated by Mini Menon on education, leadership etc. It was very nicely done. After a short presentation on HSBC’s social initiatives, it was time for the awards to be announced. Heart pounding, sweaty palms, dry mouth, numb feeling, everything condensed into those few minutes.
The first award went to Rohan. Lots of clapping (mainly to relieve the tension locked inside me). I did not expect my name to be called out the second time. I was in complete disbelief when my name was called out. OH MY GOD !!!!!!!!! And it was done in pure Oscar style, with a background score and cameras following me till the stage once my name was announced. I received the award from Naina Lal Kidwai !!!!!! Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god. How many people my age actually get to even see her ??? Best moment of this entire process, especially when she told me that she now expects great things of me. Oh my god !!!What followed was madness, hugs from everywhere congratulatory handshakes, photographs, recorded interview. Wow. It was way too overwhelming.


The Overall Experience :

I loved the entire process for the simple fact that they made us all feel really good about ourselves. It was a confidence booster, even for those who didn’t win the scholarship.....And the kind of relationship we shared with the other candidates was amazing. There was no negative competition and strangely I find myself very attached to some of them. I hope they get the funding they need and make it to the UK so that they will be around next year as well. Nimisha won a DFID scholarship, so she will definitely be there :)
I just am so very grateful to Koninika first of all because they eased the process for us and calmed us when it was most needed.....And of course I have no idea how to thank the panel and HSBC for this amazing opportunity. I do not know what the future holds for me, but I do know that I’m going to make the best of this scholarship and work as hard as I can.

This is surreal. It hasn’t sunk in yet. I’m relieved, happy, elated, excited, nervous, everything.



The HSBC Scholarship programme :

The HSBC scholarship programme has been active for the past 6 years. This year was the seventh year. Each year 2 scholars from all over the country are selected to join colleges at the University of Oxford , Cambridge and London. It is a fully funded scholarship up to a maximum of ₤25,000 per year. Check this website for more details :
http://www.banking.hsbc.co.in/in/aboutus/scholar/index.htm



I’m off to bed now. I haven’t slept in weeks and now thanks to this scholarship I can enjoy my last few weeks in India, before I leave for London. I ♥ HSBC :)

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Am I really 21 ?

My parents' generation were probably just worried about passing exams or getting married or wondering which bus to take home when they were 21. I do all of that, but there's just so much more to worry about. I can't believe I'm 21 years old. People my age are NOT supposed to be so tensed and worried. Right now I'm worried sick about financing my education. I do still have one scholarship interview lined up and a couple of results pending, but they're just making me so nervous !!! The possibility of not getting any of these scholarships is scary and even my performance at the pending interview is worrisome. I am no doubt excited to go to LSE and have the best(est) academic experience that I've ever had till date, but WITHOUT worrying SO MUCH !!! I'm just freaked out and I need a break. When will the first week of August come ??? Thats when everything will be crystal clear...AUGUST !!!!!!!!!!!!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

My Experiments with Food

It has been one year since I got back from Malaysia and I'm finally putting up some pictures. These are some of the things I'd eaten there, which I've been boasting about for so long.

Background story : I'm supposed to be a pure vegetarian. When I got to Malaysia and asked for vegetarian food, I was given tofu (which I absolutely detest).....Finally, after being fed up by the so-called vegetarian food, I didnt bother and ate anything and everything that filled my stomach...Some of it was yummmm, some were disgusting and in some cases, I had no idea what was going into my mouth... So here are some pictures of more or less everything I ate during my 3 months in Malaysia :








All of this was SO sweet. I had a sucrose overdose !!! And this was just week 1. I dont know why Malaysians put so much groundnut and coconut in every dish. It gets annoying you know.



Roti Canai...The only reason i survived in Malaysia for so long.



Roti something...



They serve juice like that everywhere...Whatever happened to regular glasses



Me secretly sipping dal at a McDonalds outlet...I think this was week 1...still wasnt used to meat...so Vivien bought roti and dal from some Indian place, poured the dal into a McDonalds cup and instructed me to eat it quietly so as to not make anyone suspicious. What better way to eat dal than sip it



Hokkien noodles... This was not good...at all. Period.





Ice kacang...not meant for me..... They put crushed ice with some coloured flavoured liquid (very much like our ice golas) into a bowl. Then they add semi-solid steamed corn, groundnuts, some slimy green things..... and its just not my idea of the perfect dessert. Malaysians love it and I just cant seem to understand why. Why groundnuts in everything !?!?!?!



As disgusting at this may look, I actually liked this. Really good chicken, piping hot with sticky rice and chinese green tea.



This is us eating that chicken that you see above.....Look how happy I am. I really did enjoy that meal.



Roasted chicken with salad, curry and rice. Whatever



Rambutans i think...Yummy tropical fruit. You know I had durians too and I actually liked it. Most people hate it. I publicly announce it - I LOVE DURIANS !!!!!



Street food. Again lots of coconut !!!



Some more street food. Baby Octopus sautey. Ok fine, I didn't actually eat this. I just took a picture. I got very close to buying this though. I was on some sort of an culinary experimental rampage. This was after some 6 weeks i guess :)



Pau. Ohhhhhh, my favourite Malaysian mini snack. Its kinda like vada pav...only the stuffing is much better... and the outside whitish bun is amazingly soft and yum. Different flavoured stuffings also. Heaven !!!



Nando's chicken. Not bad.



Nasi goreng (fried rice)with chicken, salad and pickles. Without doubt the best meal I had at any Malaysian restaurant. A big thank you to Firdaus's mom who took us out for lunch that day.



I have no idea what this is. Not too fit for consumption.



Thai pineapple rice. Nice.



Japanese sushi and other seafood. I didnt have all of it. It was ok I guess.



The protruding fish tail put me off.



Yummy Korean side dishes. I LOVE Kim Cheeeeeeeeee...Slurp :P



Cold wheat noodles. Korean of course.



After the waiter cut my noodles with a scissor.



Some sort of weird Korean seafood broth. Didn't like very much.



Chinese dinner at someone's birthday party. I realised at this dinner party that I actually do like Chinese food.



Traditional Malay family dinner. This is what Firdaus's mom cooked for all of us. Thank you sooooooo much Auntie. Bestest dinner in the whole world. I hogged like a pig at this dinner party.



Multicultural farewell dinner, hosted by Claudia, Aika and myself. HongKong + Kazakhstan + Indian cuisine. Obviously people got intoxicated at the end of it and what followed was an unforgettable night with silly games, stupid talk, butt dances and ahem...more



Aika's special Kazakh lamb dish. Do you know that horse meat is a delicacy in Kazhakstan. You know I can eat chicken and lamb and fish and all..... but horses, I mean i ride them. I cant imagine digesting something taht I ride on. Will try it though. For sure.



Claypot chicken rice. So-so.



Kuey Teow I think. Better. Nithiya's favourite.



Nithiya's mom's special chicken-cooked-in-oven dish. Excllent excellent meal. I ate so much chicken that night, I can't even remember.



Breakfast at Nithiya's home. Some brown powdery stuff with some ochre coloured sugary stuff with banana. Nice and filling :)



Seafood extravaganza with Nithiya's family. This lunch officially qualifies as my initiation into the not-so-elite club of non-vegetarians. I ate everything on the table... and surprisingly liked most of it. My first tryst with all kinds of seafood.



Huge shrimp coated in groundnut. AGAIN



Fish with fancy fins and tail. This tasted GOOOOOOOOOOD



Crab. Not that good, but not that bad either.



Hammering the crab to crack it open.



Sotong (Baby Squid). I HATED this. Not only did this taste bad, but I always felt that their eyes were staring right back at me. Creepy baby squid. I did like the regular sotong goreng (fried squid) though. Very chewy and tasty. Babies just should not be consumed. Strict rule.



After eating everyone compares the heap of crab shells and shrimp heads next to their plate. This is what mine looked like. Wait till you see the next one.



This is what Nithiya's uncle's plate looked like. HOW do they eat SO MUCH seafood ?!!??!! And how can you put all the remains on the table with such a pretty table cloth !??!?! It's a Malaysian thing.


Well, that ends my guided tour of my experiments with food. I musy say I was very inflexible to begin with. Slowly learnt that if I want to see the world, travel to different places, I MUST learn how to eat EVERYTHING. I still can't get myself to eat pork and beef. No red meat yet. Lets see. In London perhaps.

I feel confident now that I can survive anywhere in the world without being too fussy and choosy..... And I'm happy about that. My dad however sprinkled some Ganga jal on me when I told him about everything I ate :D

I know I'll continue to try out new things and I'll continue to experiment with food. When I tried all this out, I felt such a strong sense of accomplishment and I enjoy that feeling and I want it again...so I will continue eating like this. It makes me happy to know that as every day passes by I become more and more flexible as a person. I've always been rigid with fixed ideas and opinions. I'm glad that's changing. I hope I turn into a better person with each passing day.

My conclusion : If you want to be a better person, start with food. Serious.