Sunday, November 2, 2008

Of being rich (Vs just being vain)

Toothpaste For Dinner

The class has some rather interesting characters.

This one Indian cannot stop talking about 'my family business worth millions'. By the end of our first day, everyone knew that the person belonged to a rich family of business people (and that very little brain came along with the money). However, this person compensated for the hollow between the ears by buying food and goodies for all those who cared.

We had a lunch-time talk by the entrepreneurial network the other day. During Q&A, this person started off yet again on 'how I come from a business family worth millions'. The speaker was like 'Wait, do you mean in dollars or rupees?' She fumbled a little and said 'rupees but we have significant investment abroad as well'. By then, she had lost her face. Big-time.

MBA students need to do about 50% of their work in groups - this is the so-called studying and bonding time. Classes are held only for 50% of the working week - they are meant to give out assignments and tasks for groupwork. Groups are given designated study rooms within the school with all kinds of gizmos ever conceived by mankind.

A friend of mine is doing his MBA at Harvard. He sent me an email the other day about what happened when he was doing group study. There was this quiet American guy in his group who seemed to get bored and irritable - he desperately needed a change of scene. 'What are we doing here in this room everyday?' he asked, 'let's do an offsite study session tomorrow'. They agreed to meet at a wharf nearby at whatever time the next day.

When they all showed up, the guy was waiting there in his private yacht. He graciously invited them all in and drove the yacht to the middle of nowhere. Needless to say, all food and drink was plentiful and on him. He even had a mini study room arranged inside his yacht - complete with internet connection and overhead projector. They had an extremely productive session with breaks for snorkelling (he had stocked enough equipment for everyone). They're planning a slumber party in the yacht next.

My friend says that if you passed this guy on the street, you wouldn't look at him twice; his manner was so down-to-earth. Maybe that explains how he got into Harvard.

If only our Indian 'millionaire' could learn a few lessons from him !

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Of living on a student budget

Toothpaste For Dinner
Image courtesy

It's a hard life, being an international student. Cheesy but true. And if one didn't expect that to be so, the person doesn't deserve to be an international student in the first place.

After eight years of financial independence, my student life has been quite an eye-opener. All of a sudden, I find myself wondering about the cost of each meal. I hunt fervently for the local brands at super markets and am practically married to the 'reduced for clearance' aisle.

My homepage is . In our halls, we often have long and drawn out debates on how far we stretched the pound. Any one item that costs more than a buck is taboo. Social dos are practically non-existent.

If food is free, then it's got to be me! We have free dinners occassionally for some get-togethers sponsored by the university and those are the only sessions where people in come early. If an outsider saw the scramble for food, he would think it was a soup shelter rather than students at a top business school. Thankfully, the events are mostly attended by alumni who've been there before so they just look the other way.

This one year is somewhat of a penance for me; it demands extreme discipline and self-control. It hurts to see pretty things that I cannot buy. While I scrimp for penny savings, I know why and hopefully until when. Being on a student loan and eating into my family's savings makes me extremely guilty while spending on what I don't really need.

Some other students feel the opposite. A classmate spends close to 50 GBP every week on food (I spend 5-6). She lives in a separately rented flat ( finds it too hard to share bathrooms in a uni accommodation) and uses her mobile phone to make calls that are normally free from public telephones. There is another guy who will eat nothing but his native food and will spend anything to get it. And the best of all is the one who openly proclaims that his own company has a chartered jet (we all doubt it - the so-called company has no website).

I watched this video today that talked about how international students in Sydney are so hard up that they are 40% below the poverty line. It is ironic that people who are in pursuit of skills that help them to contribute to the wellbeing of society have to live in such pitiful situations; they are more worried about paying the bills than they are about studying. So much so that the university is giving the really poor ones free food.

Personally, I think money management is all about being savvy. It is possible to live on a spartan budget if one knows where to look. Most stores have food or other FMCGs on sale all the time. It might take extra effort to compare prices and find the best deal, but as the local supermarket chain so aptly says 'every little helps'.

In my penny budget, here's what an average day's meal costs.
Cereal : 10p
Milk : 10p

Pasta : 4p
Sauce, veggies, spices : 20p
Chocolate Mousse (1 small tub) : 7p
Coffee : 10p

Noodles/Baked beans/toast with peanut butter : 20p
Fruit: 15p

Overall: 94p.
(All these foods are perfectly yummy, healthy, unspoilt, of good quality and nowhere close to the expiry date.)

The official definition of poverty line is 'an expense of less than 1 GBP a day on food'. Whoever created that definition doesn't know squat about how far a pound can go.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Of being grumpy

Not feeling so positive today.

The real classes have started and they are much more difficult than I anticipated. My fault.

After a week-long lecture session, our prof (who has authored the book we're supposed to be studying) has given us an assignment so freaking complicated that I can't figure out what the hell to do. My fault.

The above assignment is to be submitted groupwise. I am in a group of five with three other Indians and an African - out of which one of the Indian guys is serious about doing this well. The others are freeloading. Not my fault.

The British - or Scottish (or whatever) banking system sucks big time. Banks open from 10 AM to 4:45 PM Monday to Friday. Most of them shut shop on Saturday. You need to check their website to see if they're open. If you finally find one that is open and if you go there on Saturday (like I did today after walking a couple of miles in a blizzard - read below), you have to 'please take a seat' and 'someone will be with you shortly' in a couple of hours. My flatmate went to Barclays Bank the other day to open an account and after waiting for an hour, she was asked to 'please book an appointment for tomorrow to see a personal banker who can assist you with your account opening process'. To heal the wound, she was promised that 'you'll need no waiting tomorrow' only another 30 mins after she got there to open a simple savings account. System fault.

The weather is a sucker. The freaking blizzard totally messed up my umbrella - the wind just bent the metal rods and broke them with the ease of snapping a dry twig as if mocking me while I looked on helplessly. Soon after, it almost threw me over the pavement and right on to a shocked Scotsman. Not my fault at all.

Overall, depressed. This whole thing is , well, interesting. Or maybe it's just this dull weather. Like our British teacher says, 'Oh bother!'

Monday, September 29, 2008

Of some sights

Went to a local fair yesterday. These are some glimpses.

And the proverbial Scottish bagpiper

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Of some Glaswegian reflections

It's been a hectic week here at Glasgow.

From meeting new people across the world to finding my way in lone parts of town while understanding the nuances of Scottish culture, I feel as though a month has passed, not just a week.

The MBA class seems to be an interesting bunch of people. We have a professional opera singer (who looks just like Mel Gibson and has promised to get us tickets to the Royal Scottish Opera - weeeeeee!), stockbrokers, doctors, attorneys, an oil well engineer, bank officers and HR officials among others. I am yet to get to know everyone very well, but they come from different parts of Europe, Africa, Russia, Australia, China, UK and a couple from Scotland. Needless to say, over 50% of the class comprises of Indians.

To me, this is a very disappointing phenomenon. While I may not have been here if they hadn't taken in Indians, my contention is with the large majority that we seem to have - over 30 in a class of 65 ! I mean, here I am , spending all this money and effort to get an international experience, and what do I get? It's raining desis ! What makes it worse is that a large chunk of them (definitely not all) are here just to pass. Yeah - just to pass. While I do not understand why anyone would take the trouble of coming so far from home to an alien land and spending so much money just to pass, it could be parental pressure or the excess of money at home. I don't care. But what matters is that most of the scoring is based on groupwork. If those people freeload from my work, yeah, we have a problem !

#1 lesson in b-school : when asked for an opinion on anything (even in a casual situation), never answer directly. Nothing is ever 'good' or 'bad', merely 'interesting'. This way, we do not lose control over the situation, but others think we're on their side and divulge more information (we were actually trained to say this in different situations).

The teachers are pretty cool too - mostly Scots. Very informal, but serious where it matters. Some of them are authors of well-known management books.

The flat is more globally diverse than the school - we are 6 girls from 5 countries. And yes, we have fun doing girly things like cooking.

The city is beautiful (some glimpses in the next post), the locals friendly and the junkies dangerous. All shops close at 5 PM no matter what. The locals work very little but party very hard.

Overall, Glasgow is , well, interesting.

Edit: This post would be incomplete if I didn't mention Sandy, the smart Brit. He was my hero starting day 1.

The prof was rambling on about learning styles (admittedly not one of the most interesting things to know post-lunch). One guy was sleeping in the 2nd row and sitting right next to him was Sandy. The prof saw the sleeper and asked Sandy if he could please wake up his sleepyhead neighbour. To which Sandy replied without flinching 'Oh no. You put him to sleep, now you wake him up !'

The prof threw a tennis ball at the sleeper (yeah, here they come prepared) and after some laughs about Sandy's repartee (which the prof admitted he enjoyed), the class resumed.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Of getting there (finally)

After completing loads (like tons) of documentation, running up and down the length and breadth of Kerala, packing and re-packing a zillion times, checking and re-checking another zillion times and traveling what seemed like a zillion miles, I am finally here to pursue my dream.

So far the experience has taught me valuable lessons in patience and persistence. If there's anything I've learnt in life so far, it is to never give up and to never listen to the nay-sayers.

And if a lazy bum like me can do it, then anyone can.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Of hope

toothpaste for dinner

As the days pass by, a sense of fear envelopes me. A huge responsibility attached to a huge reward at the end of it all. Can't remember who said 'With great authority comes great responsibility' - the sucka was right.

It's probably the novelty. The anxiety to take that big step for myself. The discomfort associated with getting out of the comfort zone. The exhaustion of having to do it all alone.

Each step of the way, He will be my companion. I know He will see me successful through these hoops. Each obstacle is just a thorn in the path - some more painful than the others. But I am made for the furnace. For someone whose life has been shaped by extreme discipline and smothered with success, this will be another examination. It will not be easy, but I will fight.

With God on my side, who am I afraid of?

Monday, March 17, 2008

Of gen-Y

The cousin came down from USA with her semi-American daughters aged nine and four.

The older one D is a bookworm - complete with soda-glassed spectacles, shabby clothes and scholarly attitude. I nicknamed her 'but why' because that is the only question she asks.

Me: Cows do not walk backwards sweety.
D: But why?
Me: We can turn our heads and bodies back because we have two legs, cows can't do that because they have four.
D: But why?

Needless to say, she is contemptuous at other mortals. And that includes her sister A who is just her opposite.

Bubbly and cheerful with big brown eyes, A is lovable and cuddly. She wakes you up with a tight hug and then proceeds to wring your neck until your eyeballs slowly pop out of your head. She loves music and dancing, laughs a lot, adores her brainy chechi to bits and is hooked on 'why not?'.

Situation : A needs help to use the restroom, so I volunteer. Later, she finds me going to the restroom and locking the door. I hear a feeble knock. When I open the door, A is waiting outside with tiny hands firmly across her chest.

Me: Yes, dear?
A: I wanna come inside now.
Me: Oh, you need to use the rest room?
A (indignantly): No, I wanna watch.
Me (open-mouthed): !#$&%^&*&*!!!!!!! No way, honey.
A: Why not?
Me: Because it is bad manners, sweetheart. You need to let people be alone when they use restrooms and not chase them like this. Now you're not a bad girl, are you sweety ?
A: Well, you watched when I did it !
Me: #!%*&#$%$&*%^& !!!! *ran out of the restroom for dear life*

I give up.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Of obsession

The friend and I were talking about life and its facets over a cuppa at the cafeteria.

She smiled at a girl and answered my silent question ' We stayed in the same PG in Bangalore a while ago'.

'That reminds me - I must tell you about this lady who ran this facility. She was kinda screwed in the head, y'know'.

Dangle anything that remotely smells like gossip in front of a girl and you instantly get her attention. I was all ears.

Apparently this Mallu woman was married to a jerk in Mumbai. He was drunk and broke and on one fine day, was thrown out of his shack for not paying his bills. He was out on the streets with the wife, a son and a daughter.

The woman went back to Mallu-land to recover from her trauma. With noone to support her financially or emotionally, she set out to become somebody in her own right. After selling her few ornaments, she set out to Bangalore to re-build her life.

It wasn't easy. Nobody wanted to rent a place to a jobless young woman. After rejections from several landlords, one finally gave in. Now she atleast had a roof to sleep under.

This woman was a warrior, if there was one. She promptly scoured the area to find working girls who wanted accommodation. She started with one girl and has not looked back since.

Today,it's been five years since she started. She runs a PG business that accommodates close to 50 girls. She drives her own Scorpio and lives in style. She gets anything (well, almost) done, provided she gets her commission - tickets in fully booked buses, movie tickets when the show is full house, admissions for weak students in colleges and so on. Every move she makes is for cash - no free lunches!

As I listened to the story of this amazing woman, my friend was less than impressed. 'But you know what the problem is ? That woman is obsessed' she said. 'She is greedy and no amount of money can satisfy her. The hardships of life have taken away the femininity in her - she now looks, talks and dresses like a man'.

That set me thinking - when people are deeply wounded by their experiences, do they become obsessed? Are such people screwed in their heads?

Well, life hasn't been always good to me either. I've been through some really bad times myself(who hasn't?). I remember when I was a kid, I loved cameras. I thought the ability to freeze slices of time on film was absolutely wonderful.

I was the poorest (financially) among all my cousins, so asking for a camera as a birthday gift was out of the question. However, I enjoyed posing for pictures and watching pictures of strangers whenever we went to the shabby old studio near our home in the village.

Once at a family function, one of my cousins proudly displayed her camera to me. I guess I was about ten years old then. As I stared at the object of my dreams with wonder and affection, I accidentally leaned over and touched it.

'Don't you touch my camera!!! she shrieked. The naive idiot that I was, I asked her 'Why not? I only want to look!'. 'Well, because you don't know anything about cameras, you don't have one, you can't have one! Now don't you dare touch and spoil my precious camera' she seethed.

I recoiled in hurt and horror, ran away, bundled myself in a corner and cried all night. My tears then gave way to determination. I would show her, I would! I would get all the cameras in the world if I could. I might be poor now, but I would learn and earn! I would someday own a camera - even if I never own anything else. I will someday get a camera way better than hers - this I promised myself.

I bought a camera with my first salary. Whenever I went abroad, I bought a few more. All sizes, shapes, features and costs. I learnt everything I could about photography. I can probably trace the history of photography with my camera collection. I still walk into every electronics shop I see and ask 'Do you sell cameras'?

The lucky ones with perfect childhoods and loving parents probably find this a little difficult to comprehend. But when life deals you a rough hand, certain seemingly insignificant incidents gets imprinted into your mind so deep that they refuse to go away. They shape and mould you into the person you are and become your obsessions.

So, I empathize with the PG woman. Her sense of helplessness when she was out on the street must have created wounds so deep she could worry about nothing else. She is probably making all this money to fill this deep void inside her - to forget her insecurities by wallowing herself in cash. But her wounds are too deep to be healed - she is now obsessed with money. And this obsession is being interpreted as greed.

Are we both screwed in our heads? I don't know and couldn't care less. But one thing I can say for sure - if you've been where we've been, you'll know why we do things the way we do.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Of Uncle

My move to the 2nd floor apartment in the ABC complex was uneventful.

The next morning was just the opposite. Inspite of having three bathrooms connected to three different water sources, there was no running water.

After cursing out loud for the walls to hear, I reached for my deodorant and kneaded its atomizer like a baker on his first shift. I locked the place to get to work and then my new neighbour told me why there was no water - a guy had fallen into the borewell in the compound and died.

This man told me the news with such ease that it made me wonder if such things happened here every other day. Apparently, the water needed to be pumped out and so all the pipes were closed.

'The guy' was a 27 year old bachelor who had recently purchased an apartment in this complex. He was yet to move in and was living with his elder brother's family in another apartment on the ground floor. This elder brother was married and had no children. An overdose of alcohol had made him walk right into the borewell. The rest was history.

All his relatives rushed in. The wife's father came first followed by the boy's devastated parents. They took the corpse away to their hometown, but we were given gruesome details on the different parts of his body that were partly detached and bled before he passed over.

Back to the wife's father. He stayed here awhile with the family. He was a retiree, rich and handsome. He was always presentable with his hair slicked back neatly and his shirt always ironed. Over time, he started talking to me - we were soon on Uncle and mole terms. He even stored my mail when I was away. He once told me about how only his daughter remained (and boy, was she pretty). Everyone else dear to him including his wife, son and siblings were all dead and gone.

About five days ago, his daughter died in her hometown because of breast cancer. A minor bout soon aggravated and spread to the brain,causing sudden death. She must have been about thirty years old.

When we came to know of the unfortunate incident, we were shocked. The family had kept her illness a closely guarded secret.

The day before yesterday, Uncle killed himself.

I would rather not analyze whether Uncle did the right thing, because he will never come back. His bloodline is now off the face of the planet.

I will miss you, Uncle. Your smile,your black-rimmed glasses, the black mole on your face, your spoft-spoken manner and your inevitable question 'Why are you late?'. The chair you always used remains in a corner of the lobby, quietly speaking volumes.

I hope you rest in the peace you so needed. I, for one, will miss you sorely.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Of repeat rejections

I am sick of being rejected everywhere - for everything. I am plain sick of it all.

Each rejection is a harsh reality check. Do I not have it in me? Am I over-confident? Am I as stupid as some others I know, and just unable to admit it? Gawd, am I going to make a hideously ridiculous ass of myself?

What the fuck am I doing wrong here?

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Of Methil Devika

I'm the laziest blogger on this planet, but I saw this today and had to yap about it.

Ladies and Gentlemen, may I introduce to you Methil Devika?

*applause* Thank you ! It's an honor to introduce her.

For all those who've never heard this name, I assume you are alien to the field of South Indian dance. To read all about her career and other blah-blah, please go here.

Why do I care to write about her ?! Because I knew the lass from high school. She was the kalatilakam at school and district and revenue district (what the hell is a revenue district anyway?) level competitions, all because of her dance performances. There was nothing she couldn't perform - bharatanatyam, kuchipudi, mohiniyattom, folk dance, the works. She was invincible. I remember waiting eagerly for her performance during school competitions.

Needless to say, she was the heart-throb of all the just-turning-adolescent guys in school.

She was the arts champ in high school for three consecutive years - and I repeated the feat in upper primary (with zero dancing, thank you very much!). We were both selected as outstanding junior citizens of Palakkad - but the similarity ends right there. This one was destined for something great, and I....

But, I digress. We went to the same college and the trend continued on a much grander scale. She danced, they salivated.

By this time, she was a little who's who in the dance scene. She was busy dancing and I moved away from home, so our meetings were rare. The next thing I knew - she had signed a deal with a producer in Hollywood.

Wait, there's more. One would think dancing was a full-time job. Not for her.
This one went on to do her MBA with gold medal and even to Santhi Niketan.

(Note to God : What did you make her brains with ? Could I borrow the leftovers?)

Why this rant today? I caught a glimpse of her while channel-surfing idly (THAT's what my life amounted to). Upon further investigation, I realized that this woman was a judge on the Star Wars show on Kairali TV. I almost freaked out. A judge ?! a JUDGE ?!

Upon sane thinking, I realized that she was the right person for stuff like judging dance performances. Heck, she had devoted her whole life to it !

I watched the whole show in the evening (for anyone interested, the show goes on air daily at 7:30 PM IST). Among a slew of extremely ugly and un-talented - I just made that word up - and most probably stinking- people, she emerged; in all her glory and grace. The same old girl - with maturity thrown in for good measure. Still beautiful, still level-headed. A lot more knowledgeable. Said something about 'mukhanga abhinaya' which I chose to ignore. I was too busy ogling at her and worrying about my dismally mediocre life.

My mother was nostalgia personified. After preliminaries (such as appreciating her looks and progress), she got down to work - driving home the point that she had lived her life and that I had merely existed.

She was right.

D chechi - if you ever read this teeny-weeny internet tribute, I'm honored to know you. I'm your fan for life.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Of e-motivation

Got this quote in the inbox this morning:

'Everyone passes failures on the way to success'.

I hope and pray that's true, because I am passing thru a failure right now, and I truly, madly,deeply want it to be a stumbling block on the way to success.

Wish me luck!