Friday, May 14, 2010


More than a month ago I embarked on a trip with a friend to a country less frequented in usual tourist escapades…Poland….A country which had its share of tragedies and which was rebuild on both stones and souls, bricks and aspirations over time….There is something about this country which is unique…It has faced twin tragedies…the world war II and a long communist rule…Both of which had significant impacts on the life of people there. My desire to visit Poland goes a long way back since the time I watched movies like Schindler’s list and The Pianist. Part of it had to do with a personal desire to have a pilgrimage to the place where millions of people died in a manner unimaginable to us and suffered consequences of a Nazi plunderage the testimonies of which exist till date. And then there was a side of Poland which managed to hide its charming and beautiful past in the lovely town of Krakow where the churches and castles did manage to survive the rampage going on elsewhere. I had good polish friends back in Hamburg and probably it endeared me with the country as well.

My trip started from the city of Warsaw which had completely been rebuilt after a particularly devastation carpet bombing which had flattened the famous Warsaw ghetto in a lethal dominos game played by Nazi Luftwaffe. Our first stop was a relic from the soviet past called the Center of culture and Science. A typical soviet architecture which starkly did not gel with the city skyline and ofcoz the place was presumably boring.

Maybe it helped actually to enhance the charm of our next destination. The old Jewish town.

The pastel color buildings and the vast open square or rather a triangle with the palace façade on the right was outright impressive. An ideal place to bask on a sunny day listening to sounds of the horses galloping along the cobbled stoned path. (Of course you should be good at temporarily holding your breath when they go by).

The best part of visiting this part of town is unlike in Western Europe where such a place would be thronged by hundreds of tourists the place was fairly less crowded. This is arguably the most charming part of Warsaw where café’s and bistro’s seamlessly exist along with shops selling amber and tourist memorabilia. And as common in most of Europe you would find street artists selling their skills and wares or an odd musician playing his violin and in the backdrop dogs having merry along with children. It is a temporary transportation to things we calls, beautiful in life for the brief moment you spending in a charming place like this.

Splurging is not easy for most budget travelers in Europe and surprisingly Poland is an exception. The weaker currency (zlotys, 1 EUR=8 zlotys) allowed us to splurge on luxurious hotels and restaurants which otherwise is unaffordable somewhere like in Germany.

The next day we packed our bags early in the morning to Krakow. Our first destination was Auschwitz.

I suppose most of you know about Auschwitz-Birkenau which was the ground zero for Nazi crime. Please read the hyperlink if otherwise. Auschwitz is a good hour and half drive from Krakow and by the time we reached the place from Warsaw it was almost noon. When you visit a place like this you should be prepared that you are going to see something sad. I cannot imagine anyone going in to this place just as a tourist and not coming out unscathed or emotionally exhausted. As I entered through the same gates where millions walked in not to return you realize that you are entering a place that would forever be etched in human history. ARBEIT MACHT FREI the sign says…..(Work liberates you). A cruel irony indeed!

The concentration camp in Auschwitz actually exists in two different camps. The Auschwitz which is the smaller camp and Birkenau the bigger one where most people were actually exterminated. It takes atleast 3 hours to walk inside Auschwitz entering each rooms where we actually see what happened back then. Believe me..I think no body talked much inside the place coz its hard to….Cameras don’t come out easily partly due to the absurdity of taking pictures here and to a extend because you wouldn’t want to see them again and again. When you see those holocaust movies its true that they touch you. But it’s a different ball game when you actually see those heaps of glasses, toys , clothes, kitchen utensils, human hair etc heaped into gigantic glass containers for visitors to see. I would prefer to skip detailing the Auschwitz part of the trip.

Our next spot was the Birkenau camp.

Folks who have see the movie “Life is beautiful” might be able to recognize these famous rail gates.

Auschwitz makes you realize what the Nazis did to the Jews, homosexuals, disabled and others. But Birkenau makes you realize the true scale of it. The camp is so vast and seeming to end nowhere. Only few remnants of the crematoriums remain. But you get an idea how big it was. At one end of the camp you will find this.

Walking around this place I got a feeling that the ground was soft...almost cushion like…which actually gave me goose bumps when I though about why it might be…We spend a hour here as well and walked along the rails back to the exit. And then embarked on the drive back to Krakow.

Reaching Krakow at dusk we retired to our rooms quite early. I don’t think it would have been a good idea to enjoy Krakow just after a trip to Auschwitz.

The next day our exploration of Krakow began. Hired a golf cab for a ridiculous price and started the hip hop tour. Visited the Kazimierz which was the important Jewish part of Krakow. And then we moved along to the place I badly wanted to see in Krakow. The Schindler’s museum. Unfortunately it was closed on Easter Sunday. But I managed to see the famous gates and a glimpse of the factory through it. There is nothing spectacular about the place. But I was more than happy to be there.

Later in the day we explored the Wawel District, which was home to a beautiful church and an adjoining castle. And I must say Polish cuisine is actually good. I particularly liked the roasted duck and the famous zubrowka vodka. The town part of Krakow is typical old european with majestic churches like St.Mary’s church and a lively square in Stare Miasto. The square is an ideal place for a coffee or a beer on a good sunny day.

What was striking about Poland was how catholic the country. It was amazing to see the churches packed with people attending the Easter mass. The faithful were even getting chairs from their home as the seats in the church were overflowing. This was very unlike what I have seen in Germany where people are predominantly atheist.

Krakow was definitely the cultural capital of Poland where the squares and streets effused a charm of its own. I enjoyed having my regular coffee in one of the numerous café’s that dotted the main square. I also picked up my share of Amber for which Poland is particularly famous for…

Took the evening train back to Warsaw and checked back at the nice hotel in the city. Probably the best value for money hotel I have ever stayed in Europe! The last day of the trip was primarily to cover the places we missed on the first day in Warsaw.

Visited the calm and soothing Łazienki Park in the morning where you could stroll in the company of squirrels and peacocks.

I think the place would be awesome during summer when the trees would be lush green. We reached a bit to early at the cusp of winter and spring. Nevertheless it was a delightfully peaceful and tranquil place.

Later walked along the royal route which was dotted with buildings in neoclassical architecture. A really beautiful route which takes you all the way till the Jewish town in Warsaw.

And as we reached back the old town area we knew it was time to bid goodbye to Poland. Climbed the stairs of a nearby tower to get the aerial view of the colorful part of Warsaw which otherwise is jaded in character compared to Krakow.

Poland cannot boast of landmarks like Eiffel tower or a colosseum nor locales as touristy as its Western Europe counterparts. But it has its own little treasures which I felt were grossly underrated. Unlike the snobbish Pariser, people in Poland are quite friendly and eager to help you in the streets.

It was a trip worth taken and in some sorts a mix of tourist adventurism and personal pilgrimage. My travel mate was a school/college junior and a blogger as well who generously agreed to have a coffee which I was drinking like crazy…As I bid goodbye at the airport I went back to the shops to buy my last piece of Polish memorabilia. A small bottle of Chopin vodka and shot glasses to accompany!
Dziękuję Polska! ;)

Thank you!

My sincere apologies to all for the lull in blogging..Thanks a lot to all blogger friends who made me feel special!! I had to stop blogging mid-way due to several reasons..personal and otherwise....The space would be up and running soon.......

Sunday, February 28, 2010


The Elbe is the river which i see every day..on my way to has a calming influence on me....But just like humans the river has its own mood swings...i have some pics captured over past different seasons....some taken using my mobile cam...

I have started believing in sun signs...i am a crab and i like rivers... ;-P

Thursday, February 18, 2010

And life goes on!

During my vacation I was amused at how things haven’t changed much at home…Dad is still superstitious considering his strange belief that eating carrots are good for health…quite startling when you consider that he has a masters in botany!! Meanwhile Mom believes that we are facing a imminent shortage of food (which btw has no link to my consumption graph)…Why else would she insist on buying groceries every time I go out…Consider case studies below..

Me: ”Amma…I am goin out for a movie…”
Amma : “Buy 2 packets of milk and 10 eggs in that case…”
*duh…okay… :-I *

Me:”Amma…I am goin out to meet a friend…”
Amma : “Buy 2 packets of milk and 10 eggs in that case…”
*eh…now??… anyways… :-/ *

Me:”Amma…I am goin to Bombay …”
Amma :“Buy 2 packets of milk and 10 eggs in that case…”
* it can’t be!! :-O *

Me:”Amma…I am…”
Amma :“Buy 2 …” (stops abruptly)
Me : “What Amma..?”
Amma :“What were you saying?”
Me:”Amma…I am goin nowhere in life”
Amma: “okay.. :-I”
* gotcha!! ;-P *

Me:”Amma…I am goin to the grocery shop…Do you need anything? “
Amma :“nothing!”
Me: “NOTHING!!!!”

And after a brief pause.….

Okay….Buy 2 packets of milk and 10 eggs in that case…”
* and life goes on… *

Living in such tragic environs it’s also the envy of many to have a bro who believes in God for all the wrong reasons…In one particular instance which left me shaken and stirred was the sighting of this remarkable man, kneeling down as pious as a bishop from Rome and praying fervently at the church…

”I believe in God, the father almighty…creator of Mohanlal and chicken curry”…

And I was thinking all along…things would change somehow as he grew older!! Sigh!

But then there are certain things which you never expect would change as it was proved recently…After alighting from the car my brother quipped...”Amma…you don’t have to lock the door…I ll do it with the remote”. She overestimated the technological advances cars have made in recent decades and left the car door wide open... It was after a brief moment and a few minutes at the porch observing mom who in turn was waiting to see the door closing act did we realize her sky high expectations…My brother looked at me and said in a tone which was desperately seeking sympathy...

.”You are lucky, Chetta... After all you see things like this only when you come down on vacation…”

Vacation or no vacation, certain things are constant…As is tradition in our family coupled with a hereditary desire to bargain with vendors especially the ones who sell fish, it is often with religious fervor we go shopping to the city market…And when dad alights at the palayam market he is a new man.. A man possessed by a strong conviction to get the best bargain and the freshest piece of avoli…someone who wouldn’t actually mind arguing that the onakameen is not fresh … someone who believes strolling across those stinking puddles of water and listening to the maniac calls from the fisher folk is the equivalent of a julie andrews singing and prancing at the meadows in alps!!! I ll never understand that!! Neither the post script which happens at home after every trip to the market... Ever since dad retired, he is missing the biology lab classes he took in school…I was not surprised when he pinned down a chicken in a vitruvian pose and started pining tiny needles on its body parts and explaining to mom the digestive system of a chicken…Amma being the english teacher listened to it with the same curiousity a Shelley or Keats would have about E.Coli bacteria. Those were days when I literarily wished we had bt. brinjal for lunch instead!

And to seek solace I visited my cousin who lives in kottayam…someone who had gone through a rough patch himself…The last time I met him, his angst was very evident…Evocatively complaining about a lack of purpose in life….It was heartening to see a very positive change in his outlook…He looked like someone who attended a couple of “art of living” courses and Robin Sharma lectures….But the happiness lasted only for a few minutes when I figured out his purpose in life was playing hangman, raising sheeps and harvesting crops in facebook…sigh…atleast that keeps him happy!! And that’s when I overheard his nephew talking in the other room over the phone…

“This time Pytho Korah’s theorem sure question daa…”
“ pazhuthilla…”
“okay da…”
“Rascals lawyoo….ayyo...athinte chit undaakilla! “
“okay da…”
“ninte achan schoolil poyyittu undoo?”
“ettaam class veryoo??”
“am sure daa…you can beat it!! Don’t worry!!”

The symbol of hope and the torch bearer of our legendary academic heritage doesn’t disappoint me…He would probably end up singing like Susan Boyle…. “I dreamed a dream in time gone by...”

And so would everyone in the family…………..

Sunday, January 17, 2010

A prayer

Dilawar Singh aka Philip, as we friends call him is now in the hospital recovering from his third surgery...

A month ago Philip, Jaya and myself had met up in town for a pre christmas get together…We had reasons to look forward to in the coming month…I was going home on a vacation after a year...Jaya was getting married soon…and Philip was visiting India to start life afresh…Three of us wished each other good luck and parted ways that night…

My vacation was going as per plan…Surprising dad with a car on his birthday…throwing a party on his retirement…meeting friends and relatives…traveling around…the typical happy vacation for a once in a year visitor!! .A few thousand kilometers away Philip had come down to start life afresh…Going through a painful divorce he was under lot of emotional stress…….And he had decided to turn a fresh leaf and start life all over again, quit his well paid job abroad to find a new one in India and start everything on a clean slate…While Jaya and myself bid Philip good bye during the get together, I was not sure that I would be meeting him any time soon…coz he would never come back from India if everything went as per plan…I was both happy and sad at the same time…Happy that he was positive after going through the emotional atychaar on his personal front and sad that I would be missing a good friend back here…

Two weeks later I get a mail from Jaya…Her mail read…

“Hey...sorry to disturb your vacation…but I had to tell you this!…Philip met with an accident in India…He was driving in his new car with his mom in Delhi…His mom passed away on the spot…Philip is in serious condition…His number is xxxxxxxxx…take care...Jaya “

There are times in your life when you start questioning...”Why it happens to me!!” …But that day I was asking...”Why it happened to him!!”… To someone who had left the country where he was working for 10 years hoping to get over with trauma of parting with his wife and kid…how bad could it get!! I could manage only bits and pieces of information from his Punjabi dad…Two weeks later I got a call from Philip himself...

I am normally not short of words…But when I have to talk to someone who has just gone through a huge loss like this…or someone suffering from painful physical / emotional injury….I am at loss for words…But when he called up that day, the first thing he said…

“Hey dude…why don’t you come down to the hospital …there are so many beautiful mallu nurses here…!!”

I smiled at his sense of humor…his ability to joke and make me laugh inspite of what he was going through…Philip had multiple fractures on his hands…His facial bones were crushed…and a good deal of skin on his face lost….One of his eyes is probably damaged…A team of 8 doctors had performed surgery on him for 11 hours just after the accident…His face had to be simply held up by a assembly of metal rods and plates!!!.They were amazed how he was after all alive!!! But then he is a proud sardar who wouldn’t give up without a fight!! His jaw bones were broken and he could hardly speak…And yet he was checking out about my vacation…or whether I have gone bride hunting…and whether I was having a gala time with friends…He wished me a merry christmas….And when he ended the call he just said ‘take care’ as always..!!! Me?

I talked to him a couple of times later….Meanwhile I was back after my vacation and getting used to my routine life….A call few days ago, Philip told me that he was coming back to continue rest of his treatment abroad…Apparently it had already cost him 10 lakh rupees in a span of 2 weeks and unfortunately his foreign insurance wouldn’t cover it…He flew back alone from Delhi….a excruciating 14 hrs flight spending a night in between at an airport inside of being in a hospital bed… He wouldn’t even tell us when he would reach the city since he wouldn’t want anyone of us to bothered to pick him up at the airport…On the same day he got himself admitted to a hospital here…

Few days ago….Myself and Jaya went to the hospital to meet him for the first time since the accident…It was almost a month ago when we had met up last…We were chilling over some wine at one of the christmas markets back then ..All three of us had something to look forward that day…my vacation, Philip’s plan to start afresh and Jaya’s wedding… So we were obviously quite happy that day…But for my flight next day afternoon, I think we would have just stayed back fooling around… But that day when I met him in the hospital…I was shocked!! I was shocked that I almost cried!! Meeting him in the shape he was in, it was hard for us to just act normal…I tired my best to put a regular look and did not want Philip to know that how dismayed I was….But then we were not good actors!!

It happens that when you see someone change so much in a span of a month, you forget how to react for a moment…We talked for a few hours in the hospital with Philip…A month on liquid food, the sturdy sardar had become a frame of bones…how much can a soup help! .His face disfigured and swelling all over…plastic surgery done with skin grafted from his legs….This was not the Philip I could imagine…Philip was tired…and in pain…but he was putting a brave face…A lesser mortal would have succumbed long ago!! On the way out from hospital, I did not know what to talk with Jaya...and I could see that she did not know either…

There are moments in our life when it suddenly strikes how helpless we could be…how fragile our life is….how much human relations matter…how important it is to love others...and to be loved…how desperate you would want god to hear you…..all these thoughts just came flashing by!! Some times when I have those one to one silent conversations with god I complain about trivial things which I thought were big in my perspective…we crib about people not reciprocating camaraderie, love…we crib about work…we crib about lack of respect from others….but then….when I saw real pain…i couldn’t help but think how naïve I was….I realized when I saw him the importance of having good friendships..(Not the 'hi-wassup-take care'-thing)..i mean real ones…how important it is to take care of people around you…how important a hug can be…I also realized how powerless as humans we are…

Dear lord, I know I have bored you several times with my little requests and its probably a overflowing mail box…but this time I really wish you would help Philip recover fast…Its hard for me as a fellow human being and a friend to see him and feel all helpless.. A little prayer for Philip to reduce his pain…to make his life worthwhile again!! Please give him the strength to fight and recover his confidence…to fight the adversities!! Over the past one week when I visit him I attempt to make him laugh with my silly jokes and though I manage to make him once in a while I realize deep down he is missing the love of a family…Its hard being in pain…but its harder not to have a family around…I wish to anyone who reads this…Love your family, your friends without any strings attached…Love them without expecting anything in return…these are little things which often we realize when it is too late….I wish Philip recovers soon and gets to start life afresh….as he had wished!!

P.S. This post probably not the happiest one to start a day with... but then i couldnt help express it...

For many who have asked how Philip is doin....
He is doing much better than the day I put this post...he has gained a few kilos thanks to some solid food he has started taking..On a positive note there seems to be some vision left in his damaged eye which could probably be rectified with surgery....He has a couple of surgeries in the pipeline...But the dude is in much better spirits now...Infact good enough that we actually had a beer together....Thanks a lot for all who have prayed for has definitely helped him!!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

A vacation gone by..

Sometime in December in a very immaculately planned mission otherwise called a vacation this soul took the avatar of a human being in search of a precious vital element for the survival of mankind. The avatar was accepted by the ayyo paavam malayalee tribe and they sympathized with desperate search of his resulting in a pact enabling the avatar access to copious quantities of naadan food which was consumed at a alarming rate which later lead to chaos in that part of the world…Vaiko threatened with blockade of livestock and poultry supply to the state, LPG tanks were blown up in protests against depreciating stock of food and a propaganda movie was released in malayalam sympathizing with farmers….Facing hostile conditions the avatar retreated back to Hamburg where he was welcomed by a crowd waving sausages and baguettes… The avatar now looks back with fond memories of those 25 days when he was transported to a wonderland where he swam with neymeens and karimeens and flew with quails and ducks….well ducks can’t fly but hey it was a wonderland!!

Sometime early December I took the flight to Trivandrum to begin my short escapade from realities of life…Considering that I had a hectic two weeks just before the India trip as I had to travel for work in Toulouse, I slept off during most of the flight…So as I landed in tvm next day morning I was hardly tired and whisked home by Dad, Mom and Bro from the airport…After a few days in tvm I started off with the detailed trip I had chalked out..

Visiting the maxim city was a dream come true….Though I spend less than 24 hrs in the city, it was awesome to jaunt around the city with 2 college buddies who gave me a quick tour of the metropolis and I was left wanting for more…Landmarks like Leopold café, the Taj Hotel, Gateway of India, the sea link all covered in a single evening with visits to two pubs to drink tea…err… ;-D .. A friend who fondly address his place of residence as ‘Candy Valley’ instead of Kandivili and another resident Navi Mumbai resident harboring dreams of a villa at Malabar hill never missed an opportunity to sing halleluiahs about their beloved city…It’s undoubtedly a city of contrasts which gives you the impression that there is something for everyone…taxi drivers and rickshawswallas who could teach a few lessons to their counterparts in other cities like Bangalore…witnessing a traffic jam at 1 am in the morning…finding a eat out serving fried rice and chicken at 2 in the morning….it was absolutely impressive to see a city that never sleeps…the day I left the city it only left me with a longing to visit the city again and hopefully for a much longer time…I missed meeting a good blogger friend of mine in the city too and I have to make up for it sometime!!

Arriving in Bangalore the next day…the city I know the best outside Kerala…I was happy to be greeted by more welcoming weather than Mumbai…Met up with a German friend of mine after almost a year and it was a short meet up...But very glad to meet up with her whose juggling act of doing a MBA and at the same time working a hotel left me impressed…sheer German ideals of self-independence!! I am yet to hear a Ph.D holder from India who would do that…I travelled to Mysore the same day to meet up with another old buddy….The next day morning I went to our office, the place from where I left almost 3.5 years ago…and it was a very nostalgic experience for me…the office had grown sprawling huge and the sight of the new buildings were jaw dropping…just like old times relished a breakfast at the office canteen…though there were hardly any recognizable faces insides the office anymore….I took the bus back to Bangalore to visit my grandma and other relatives…and Amma had arrived in the mean time from Trivandrum…At my uncle’s place is Bangalore I feel perfectly at home and there is no dearth of topics when family meet...Unfortunately time was short and we had to fly to naadu the next day..

Note: The new Bangalore airport is awesome…great ambience and feel and easily international!!

Meanwhile bro picks us up at Cochin and we drive down to kottayam…and we cousins did what we did best…get into nerves of the elders at home ! Ever since cousins got older, many getting married, having kids….its rare to get everyone in place for a full family get together…But thankfully except for 3 who missed out we had a wonderful family get together at a hotel in town…Like old times we cousins got to play dumb charades and pull each others legs…One of the best parts of the trip was meeting my peppy and cute adorable nieces who just were an absolute delight to be with…And my aunt had a lipsmacking kappa with yellu which I gorged in vivacious enthusiasm…Above all it was the company of loved ones that made the whole time I spend there memorable!

Being a very hectic vacation I couldn’t really relax at home...We did have a great time around with Dad's birthday, his retirement party and ofcoz christmas with family!! And ofcoz I did not miss visiting my favourite hangouts in Trivandrum….the beach, museum, the burgers in Ambrosia …A pleasant surprise this time was meeting up with school friends some almost after 10 years and one among them being a blogger!! We drove down to Kovalam beach and enjoyed a cup of coffee at dusk…And I also managed to meet mother in law of a very famous food blogger friend of mine!! :-)Being the foodie I am, I checked out my favourite eat outs there including new ones…
Note:Loved the buffet spread at the Keys hotel and the sandwiches at all spice !

Apparently this is now bro’s adopted city…and he invited me over to his place.. As they say in Thrissur, it is one city where it is okay to go round in circles! I guess Thrissurians get that one! ;-) Got to see the famous Vadakumnathan temple…whatay fabulous piece of architecture…and ofcoz other famous landmarks like Thiruvambady and Puthenpalli…Loved the local cuisine there as well…which was actually quite different from Kottayam / Trivandrum...

Though I met a fair share of hostile people in between like the rickshaw driver who was asking for 500 bucks for a ride from pattom to the railway station on a strike day to drivers along the city roads who would honk and take pleasure in breaking the rules, they were minor irritants…Travelling by bus or train in Kerala would normally not be exciting on a regular day few year back…But this around I relished the sights and the experience as much I would love going to a new place…

Well…I think it wouldn’t suffice to write how much I enjoyed the trip in a single post….Sorry to all my friends here for being lax at updating the blog and replying to comments…I have to catch up with a lot of blogs!! I was apparently not feeling positive to post anything here, the reason for which I ll explain in a later post…Wishing you all a lovely weekend!!