Monday, June 06, 2011


Below is the question that was asked by one of my colleagues who works in the publishing division of the company I work for. I replied to him…I do not know whether it was published. Even if it did, I am sure it would have got edited. But my blog space gives me unlimited freedom and I am going to enjoy that freedom.
Q. Ever been stranded on a plane, at an airport, or at a hotel because of weather conditions? If so, shoot me a message with what happened, how long you were delayed, and what you would do differently next time. Any lessons learned? I'm writing an article and want your input

My reply

Oh yes, it happens all the time. My longest has been five hours at the Mumbai airport in 2005. Getting stranded is the best chance to chat up strangers/fellow passengers. I try to engage in simple conversations about their lives and things in general. Luckily, I have had very good success rate (100%). At Mumbai, there were a few things working in my favor. As the delay was because of the weather, I was not alone. There were so many passengers who had five hours of ‘nothing to do’ time. Plus, given my hotel experience, I am able to read people pretty quickly and tell who will engage in a conversation and who will be aloof….it’s easy, its common sense. For example, I will not approach a person who is reading a book. I look for those who are restless and are scanning the airport/hotel lobby; I approach them politely, look them in the eye, smile and ask a harmless question. Usually, they open up like a fountain, full of words.

These days, with the proliferation of tech gadgets (iPods, mobile phones etc), chatting up strangers is a hobby that I have been forced to put on the ‘endangered’ list. I have to work just a little harder. But still, I will not do anything differently; I will continue to chat up strangers. Lesson learned: Barriers break when people talk. Unfortunately, I haven’t clicked a photo with any of them. Its time I started doing it. Chatting them up and then photographing them with me in it will make a very good album by the time I turn 80. Be it a German, American, Russian or Brit…they all have the same standard stuff to say to me. “India is a beautiful country”, “it’s been great talking to you”, “Oh, I didn’t realize time X hours passed so quickly!”

When it’s an Indian I am talking to – the conversation is about bad politicians, our population and numerous things that could be better!

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Hybrid Theory

Met my Konkani neighbors in Gurgaon this morning. It so happens, their son works in the same company as I do. I wasn't keen on knowing anything more but this elderly lady said to me with a hint of sadness that her son is going to get married to a Punjabi girl. I jumped and replied "how wonderful, your son is doing his bit of keep India together, you must be very happy/proud". Confused, she gave me a quizzical look as my reply was not on expected lines.

Often I hear from pseudo-nationalists that India is going to disintegrate and China has long wanted it to achieve complete dominance in the region. It doesn't end there; they say America wants India to stay together as India is the only credible counterweight to China's hegemony in the region and eventually in the world. We were Bharat first. After the idea of nation states took hold, we got rechristened as India. From hundreds of princely kingdoms evolved India (version 1) which was divided on the lines of language - Punjab for Punjabis, Tamil Nadu for Tamils and Assam for Assamese etc.

As bizarre as it may sound, all the single Indians can keep the dream called India alive and solve America's problem. All they have to do is marry someone from a completely different part of India than their own. By marrying between cultures today, we are going to have hybrid Indians down the road that will not cling to one state in search of their identity. Caste lines will get diluted rendering vote bank politics redundant. My fertile imagination stretches further to think that this might lead to better governance. The issues which make a strong case for further division of some of the states today will become non-issues.

Don't get me wrong, I am not against states. They are important to achieve good governance. Our government has not done much since here is what I propose for India version 2. Consolidate India into 5 states; South India, North India, East India, West India and Central India. Union territories will get along just fine.

Friday, June 03, 2011


I have plenty of Punjabi friends - thick freinds. Punjabis love their food...or should I say, they love their butter chicken with beer. Hanging out with them for all these years, I have taken on some of Punjabi traits which is completely opposite to my docile southern Indian traits. Even after taking on some of their traits, I am such a misfit in a setting where there are plenty of Punjabis. I don't smoke, I don't eat meat but I drink and I obviously look a bit different. More than anything, I have lived here all my life, so I know what to expect from them....but they haven't been to south India all that much - so they do not know why I am like the way I am. Not their fault at all.

All they know is - south Indians are dark skinned, they have a wierd accent, eat masala dosa like there is no tomorrow, drink filter coffee and buy lot of utensils and gold. Oh, this is too much information for my Punjabi friends already, so they will be like, "let's just call them "madrasi" and that will cover anyone from any of the four southern states in India. One bright soul even told me that capital city of Tamil Nadu is Kerala! - He was a proud Jaat brother.

I am somewhat brown and if there is enough light focussing on my face - it is enough to confuse a Punjabi. In his mind, I am getting passed of as a "dark skinned" Punjabi than a "light skinned" madrasi. So goes one of my Punjabi acquaintances "you don't look like a south Indian"....that is all well, the real trouble is she expects me to take it as a compliment. Really, huh!

Some of the Punjabis I meet for the first time are a bit more adventorous. They tell me the differnce between the batter that is used for uttapam and plain dosa. When they get a rare chance to sound knowledgable about south a matter of principle, I don't intervene. I let them have it the Punjabi way.

It’s a constant dilemma – whether to ‘fit in’ or ‘stick out’.